Purchasing healthy food is really just the entry point to healthy eating. Think about it. You purchase beautiful, organic zucchini at your local green market. What a healthy decision that was. Then you go home, batter it up and fry it, or fry then douse in mozzarella cheese for zucchini parmesan. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Does that mean eating delicious zucchini parmesan is out for life? Certainly not! How we cook our food makes all the difference when it comes to healthy living. But, that doesn’t mean our favorite foods should be completely off limit. Learning how to lighten up your recipes is the best way to keep your comfort foods in your rotation.
Paula Deen was often criticized for her love of butter. I can still recall her clearly saying “add two sticks of butter”, as she seemingly thumbed her nose up at her critics. We all know what happened to her. Now, Paula has changed her views and revamped her recipes to create healthier versions without sacrificing taste. She’s lost weight and reclaimed her health without giving up the food she loves. That’s the key really, learning to revamp recipes and looking for excess additions that are not needed, like two sticks of butter.
Before I start cooking any recipe, I preview it looking for excess oils, butter, sugar or cheeses. These are often the easiest thing to substitute out or modify. Other areas are the methods of cooking, for example, sautéed lightly in olive oil vs battered and deep fried. For example, I like to bake my meatballs and chicken cutlets in place of frying them in oil.
Here are some tips you can use to modify your favorite recipes to create healthier delicious versions.
Bake Don’t Fry
I don’t fry meatballs or chicken cutlets anymore, especially if they are going into a sauce for further cooking. This saves me the unnecessary calories and fat from the oil and produces a delicious lighter version of this staple Sunday dinner. For my meatballs, I still use meat, but have substituted ground bison as a healthier option. My family really hasn’t caught on as the taste is similar. I have also used ground turkey, but when I do I don’t bake the meatballs prior to entering the sauce. I just roll them and place them in. This keeps them moister as baking seems to dry them out.
For chicken cutlets, I place them in egg and then bread crumbs. I make my own bread crumbs to ensure quality ingredients, but store bought could work as well. To make bread crumbs, I personally use gluten free bread. I slightly toast it in the oven on a cookie sheet then place into my food processor (I use this in my meatballs as well). You can season the crumbs anyway you wish. I keep it simple and just use some aged parmesan cheese and Italian flavored seasoning. Once the chicken has been dipped, it goes onto a cookie sheet which has been sprayed lightly with avocado oil. I bake it for no more than 20 minutes (depending on thickness) if eating as is. If you spray the top with a mist of avocado oil it will brown nicely. If I am using in a chicken parmesan dish, I cook for 15 minutes then top with cheese and small amount of sauce. No longer do I drown my chicken in sauce as it’s totally not necessary.
Grill don’t Fry
Rarely will I sauté my vegetables in oil anymore. I have an Optigrill that I purchased after a sleepless night watching infomercials. It was the best investment ever as I use it for almost everything. As a reformed vegetable hater, I have come to love the simplistic flavoring of vegetables. In the past I would douse my vegetables in sauces and cheeses and cook them to the point of mush to get them down. All this just added necessary calories and fat and likely destroyed any health benefits found in the vegetables. When cooking eggplant parmesan, a favorite addition to Sunday meals, I stopped frying the eggplant. I don’t dip them in flour or egg anymore either. Overhaul of that recipe included grilling the eggplant (no oil required) , then just adding a small amount of sauce and cheese. I leave mine right on the cookie sheet and personally love it this way. If I eat the fried version now I find it often repeats on me. Try it out and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If cooking for a crowd, you can assemble in the pan just like you would after frying.
Here’s the link to see the Optigrill. What I love about this is the ease of cleaning. The whole thing comes apart and goes in the dishwasher, unlike the Foreman grill that I never used due to my inability to properly clean it. Additionally, this grill has automatic settings so you literally set it and it tells you when it is done. No more cutting into things to see if they are cooked, or dried out overcooked food. I’ve never had a bad steak on it. No, I am not a dealer, nor do I make any commission on this item. Just love it.
Use Broth instead of Oil
When stir frying quick meals, you can use a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth in place of oil or butter. This method adds a nice flavor to your food as well as moisture. You will save calories and fat from the oil during the cooking process. Since we know that healthy fats are an integral part of our diets, when eating you can serve these broth sautéed vegetables with a salad. I like to use avocado oil and lemon juice as a nice dressing over the top. Since I cooked it in broth, I don’t have to worry about having too much fat in one serving and can add a drizzle of oil to the salad.
Be Choosy about Cheese
Cheese is something I love, but don’t often cook with. For those recipes that call for cheese, I’ve learned to substitute healthier options. No, I don’t buy low fat, part skim cheese. Not only is regular cheese not that bad for you, the reduced-fat version has several drawbacks to it. Low fat cheese has a very high sodium count (20% more) and the taste and meltability are just plain awful. Next time you are buying something labeled low fat, I beg you to read the label. You will see a long list of ingredients and that’s really not cheese in my book. Truly sounds more like genetically modified fake food.
One of my favorite choices is Cabot cheddar cheese. It has four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes. When using mildly flavored cheese, you need to add more cheese to taste it. Instead, choose a cheese with intense flavor like feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan. Try mixing one of these soft cheeses on your chicken parmesan instead of shredded mozzarella. With the sauce and cheese combination you likely won’t notice the difference. Since I don’t eat parmesan often, I stick with the mozzarella, but purchase freshly made mozzarella from my local store.
When a recipe calls for a significant amount of ricotta cheese, you can substitute half the amount with cottage cheese. This will retain taste and texture while reducing some of the fat and calories. This works really well in baked ziti and lasagna. When making cream based recipes, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream. You will still get the same creamy taste with half the fat found in heavy cream. For any recipe that calls for mayonnaise, you can substitute a homemade dressing made from Greek yogurt and dijon mustard. When mixed properly it tastes like mayonnaise and is far more healthier. I use this all the time on my tuna salad. Lastly, substitute out any pre-made salad dressing or marinade. They are all laden with chemicals and sodium and totally unnecessary. For salad dressing, I am a big fan of avocado or olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar. Simple, easy and healthy. For marinades, I use wine or vinegar and lemon juice with spices. They contain far less sodium, yet they tenderize and flavor just as well.
I’ve talked about giving up coffee creamer. My recipe for coffee includes ingredients that are similar to Bullet Coffee. I’ve substituted out my sugar filled creamer with healthy superfoods. You can see my coffee recipe in many of my past posts, or email me directly for it. Here’s the link to the site where I purchase my coffee, Ghee and collagen protein.
There’s something about eating clean delicious food that is not laden with unnecessary oils, cheeses or spices. I’ve become a minimalist when cooking these days and have come to truly love the taste of my food. I used to add so much salt to my food and now find it not needed. It didn’t happen overnight, but making these simple changes to my cooking over time have allowed me to wake up my taste buds. Why would anyone need to add sugar to a dish of fruit? The fruit alone is sweet and delicious. I’ve only shared a few of the many ways you can revamp some of your favorite recipes. Thankfully, the internet offers many ways to search for healthier recipes. Cooking Light is a great magazine that carries many simple to cook, healthy dinner options. Have fun with your menu planning and be brave. Be willing to try new things and be open to experimenting with food. I am willing to bet you too will come to love the new versions of your recipes.
If you have healthier versions of your favorite food, please consider sharing. I’m always looking for new ideas. Here are two of my favorite cookbooks for light, healthy meals.