30 Healthy Cooking Tips
By Chef K.T. Murphy
We all know a lot of your eating habits were probably shaped in your childhood. So, if you grew up in a home where you commonly ate fried foods, fast foods, and red meat then there’s a good chance that’s the style of cooking you use and prefer.
It’s fairly normal for your habits to be formed in your early years so there’s no need to feel guilty over your cooking style. However, just because the habits were formed in your youth doesn’t mean that you have to keep following those. It’s never too late to make changes especially when you’re trying to lose weight and improve your overall health and well-being.
Choosing healthy foods is important, but choosing organic vegetables isn’t going to help you lose weight if you roll them in flour and toss them in the deep fat fryer. It’s time to make serious changes to your cooking style, whether you are new to the kitchen or you’ve been at it for years. From the foods that you choose to place in your cart to the methods you use to cook – it all plays a role in your weight loss journey and in your bid to eat healthier.
- Smoking Point
Olive oil is one of the healthier ways to cook your food and as we know, it forms a big part of the Mediterranean diet, which is known for its health benefits. However, if you overheat olive oil not only do you affect its flavor but it starts to smoke and burn. This is breaking the oil down and sapping it of its health benefits. So, beware when you’re cooking using olive oil. Questions on oils, fats and cooking temperatures. I have written a book on the subject look under FATS
- Sandwich Wraps
Okay, so making a sandwich can hardly be counted as cooking, but this is a tip that you can’t ignore. Ditch bread and instead wrap your sandwiches in vegetables. Whether you opt to use Swiss chard, romaine, or you prefer to crunch of iceberg lettuce – it’s a great way to enjoy a sandwich without wasting your carbs. Use the biggest leaves so that your sandwich transports well and stays in one piece.
- Produce Preparation
When you get home after a long day at work and still have to make dinner the thought of peeling, mincing, chopping, and preparing your ingredients is exhausting. It’s probably one of the biggest obstacles you face in making healthy dinners and sticking to it. So, to remove any temptation to stray do your produce prep at the start of the week. You can plan your meals in advance and prep everything that you’ll need into handy Tupperware or bags ready to go when you need them. No one likes to be wasteful, so this should help you avoid trip-ups.
- Baked Not Fried
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to kiss goodbye to your favorite foods. If you adore fried chicken, you can still get that flavor and enjoyment from creating a baked version of it. It will take longer to do, but the cut in calories is well worth the effort. With every bite of that moist chicken, you can remind yourself of how much fat you’ve managed to cut from the recipe.
- Tofu Mix
Tofu isn’t always a healthy option, but it can be the perfect combination ingredient. If you’re making burgers, you can crumble tofu through the mix. Not only will it reduce the calorie count but it will keep your mix moist, which is especially important when you use lean beef. It brings down the saturated fat content, too. Don’t always agree with Tofu because of high estrogen content and it GMO base line I would prefer adding Cauliflower to burgers with Kale
- The Blender
Don’t overlook your blender for helping you lose weight. While eating your calories is more efficient than drinking them, a breakfast smoothie is a great way to start your day. It provides you with your fruits and vegetables, thus packed with vitamins and minerals and if you add chia seeds to the mix then you’re off to a healthy, rip-roaring start.
WebMD advises that if you live alone then be careful about your portion sizes- it can be difficult to cook for just one, but it’s important to stick to appropriate portions because you will overeat otherwise. If you’re working with a recipe, make sure you check the serving size and cut it accordingly.
- Not All Calories Are Equal
Just because you’ve heard olive oil, avocados, and nuts are high in calories doesn’t mean you should dismiss them from your diet. They are great sources of vitamins and minerals, and they provide you with a plethora of essential nutrients. So, don’t miss out on those because you’re afraid of calories – just make sure you stick to the right portions.
- Whole Grains
Refined grains go through a process, which inevitably strips them of the nutrients they once had. So, forget those and instead bring whole grains into your cooking. Instead of making rice choose quinoa, love pasta? Drop it for farro instead. You can also use whole grain flour when baking. If you aren’t too sure about making such a big change start out with a combination of both. You can do the same with rices – mix brown in (or quinoa) to get yourself used to the change in textures and flavors.
Why rely on salt and sugar to provide your food with flavor when there are so many other options out there? There’s nothing to stop you from creating spice mixes just for you – not sure how to get started? Read the ingredients listed on the mixes you buy from the store and replicate them at home. Create your own mix for pasta, chicken, fish, red meat, and other snacks. Not only will you save money, but you’ll cut your sodium intake massively and enjoy better flavored food in the process.
- Crushed Garlic
Do you want to get the best health benefits possible from your garlic? Then crush it. It preserves the health compounds that help break blood clots up. Of course, it’s at its most powerful when it is raw but the majority of people don’t enjoy eating raw garlic. So, once you have crushed your garlic allow it to sit for around 15 minutes before cooking. This will give the compounds a boost so they’ll last through the cooking process.
- Rinse Your Canned Goods
Yes, they’re convenient, but don’t just empty those foods straight into the pot to heat. Whether it’s vegetables or beans, rinse them before you even think about cooking them. They’re often higher in sodium because of the liquid they’re packed in, so a rinse is a must. In an ideal world, you would only use dried beans, but life is hectic and sometimes canned is the only option.
- Bean Dessert
You already know beans are super healthy – they’re packed with iron, fiber, and protein and you should eat them often. That doesn’t mean you need to sit down to a giant bowl of beans, or even include them in dinner, if you really want to get creative you’ll look into baking with beans. Yes, there are hundreds of delicious recipes out there that feature beans.
- Vegetable Count
There’s no such thing as too many vegetables, so when you’re faced with a recipe that suggests you use a cup of peas add two instead. You don’t need to use the same vegetables that the recipe suggests, you can get creative with your options. Whether it’s a salad, casserole, or a quesadilla. There are plenty of ways to increase its health factor by just increasing your vegetable count.
- A Fridge Makeover
This might just be exactly what you need to turn your cooking life around. Keep all of your healthy items near the front of the fridge where you won’t miss them. Don’t forget to clear out expired foods or items you’re not likely to eat. Keep anything you shouldn’t be eating completely out of sight, and if possible don’t even have it in your home at all. That can be difficult if you’re the only one trying to lose weight, though.
- Open Faced
If you don’t love the idea of wrapping your sandwich in vegetables then you can opt for the open-faced sandwich instead. You cut your carb count in half by using just one slice of bread instead of two and just pile your ingredients atop that one slice. You still get to enjoy the same textures and flavors, but you can slow down and enjoy it even more as you dive in with a knife and fork.
- Lean Cuts
Okay, you already know that turkey and chicken are the leaner meat options, they have less cholesterol and saturated fat content, too. However, that doesn’t mean you are stuck with just those two types of meat – you can still enjoy red meats like veal, pork, and beef by choosing the leanest cuts possible. What constitutes lean? Well, according to the USDA, a lean beef cut should contain less than 95mg of cholesterol, be under 4.5g of fat, and weight 3.5 ounces. Remember that when you’re in the grocery store. Also, avoid marbling and those cuts graded prime – your healthiest options are select or choice cuts.
If your recipe is calling for heavy milk or cream, mayonnaise, or sour cream forget it – instead substitute it for Greek yogurt. Not only is this a healthier option but it will also provide an extra boost of protein, calcium, and of course, probiotics!
Whether you’re enjoying a bowl of pasta, a plate of curry or it’s your cheat day and you’re having a thin crust pizza… throw some leafy greens at it. There’s no cooking involved but it gives you a delicious side salad with minimal effort and plenty of nutritional value.
When you are using a recipe, don’t be tempted to stray away from it, especially if it’s a healthy recipe. It will likely have been weighed precisely and those ingredients are what have balanced the calories, fat, and everything else that goes into it. So, if it says half a teaspoon of salt don’t round it up to a full teaspoon. Don’t eyeball ingredients when you’re working on healthy recipes either. Use the proper tools and carry out the measurements exactly.
- The Ultimate Conundrum
One of the hardest things to manage is meeting your dietary needs when someone who shares your home eats differently. Whether it’s your children, a partner, or even a roommate, it can be quite the challenge. You can do it, though, and the best way to do it is by using similar ingredients even if you’re having entirely different meals. If you’re having Mexican night there’s nothing to stop you from making a delicious, but healthy, taco salad while everyone else dives into tacos or burritos. You might feel jealous when you watch them put it together, but pico de gallo is healthy and packs a flavorful punch and once you’ve married them with leafy greens and avocado you won’t be as envious.
- Maximize Your Nutrients
Here’s the thing about vegetables (and fruit) – if you’re cooking them you need to do it properly so you don’t miss out on their nutrients. Steaming your vegetables is always an efficient way to make delicious side dishes without compromising their vitamin and mineral content. So, avoid boiling vegetables, and where possible, leave the skins on – that’s where all the best nutrients live.
- The Citrus Substitution
Some people can’t stand the thought of eating vegetables without first adding some sort of topping (whether it’s cheese or a sauce) – if you aren’t a huge fan of natural vegetable flavor ignore sauces and instead try a squirt of citrus juice. Whether you go with orange, lime, or lemon, it can elevate the flavors of your vegetables. Not only is it a great stand-in for salt, but it’s also a great salad topper or base for creating your own salad dressings. If it’s good enough for lobster and oysters…
- En Papillote
What? This is a great way to cook your fish (or chicken). Simply wrap it in its own little packet (whether you choose foil or parchment) and allow it steam in its own juices as it cooks. It’s a great way to maximize flavor without increasing the calorie count with oil or butter.
- Two Grains
It can be a challenge to incorporate grains into your cooking when you’re not in love with the texture. However, you can pair two grains together to disguise the texture and make it more enjoyable. The key here is choosing two grains that have the same (or similar) cooking times. You may need to do a bit of experimenting to get it right, but isn’t that half the fun of cooking?
- The Right Dairy
For the lactose intolerant among us dairy can be quite the problem – but it can also cause acne, stomach upset, and congestion for others, too. So, reduce your dairy intake by choosing almond milk in your cereal, enjoy a breakfast parfait using a soy yogurt, and try pizza without the cheese. You don’t have to say goodbye to dairy altogether, you should just know when to substitute.
It’s a wonder anyone even uses salt in their cooking anymore when there are so many herbs available, especially considering how simple it is to grow them. A bit of thyme, sprigs of cilantro, a dash of parsley or even crushed rosemary is enough to elevate pasta, vegetables, or just about any dish. Fresh is always going to provide you with the best flavor and nutrients so if it isn’t that easy to get hold of you should consider growing your own.
- Applesauce Baking
This probably sounds immediately more appetizing than baking with beans (but don’t know that until you’ve tried it), baking with applesauce is an excellent option. It can be used as a substitute for butter as well as eggs. If you’re swapping, the butter out it’s a straight swap when it comes to measurements. For eggs, a quarter cup of applesauce will replace a large egg.
If you haven’t heard of wet sauté then you are in luck. Forget oil to cook your vegetables in and instead use broth. Just double the amount of olive oil that your recipe calls for and use broth instead. It’s a delicious way to save calories.
- Veggies Veggies Veggies
You can eat vegetables at any time but throw them in with your eggs for a seriously healthy breakfast option that will fill you up and keep you on your weight loss plan. If you generally enjoy an apple at breakfast, why not try jicama instead? Of course, you can also throw vegetables into your morning smoothie – spinach doesn’t affect the flavor too much, and carrot adds the perfect touch of sweetness.
Instead of having pasta noodles with your dinner make vegetable noodles. One of the most popular options for this is spaghetti squash or zucchini. It’s a great way to cut your carb intake and increase the nutrient count on your plate. It’s a win all around.
The importance of keeping your fat intake to a minimum is obvious, choosing lean meats and opting for reduced-fat dairy products is going to help you stay on track with your weight loss goals and make the cooking process far healthier right off the bat. While olive oil, olives, nuts, avocado, seeds, and fish are fatty products that may be higher in calories they are still healthier options – they contain omega 3 fatty acids and provide you with a wealth of nutrients. Remember, trans fats are a no-no, no matter who you are.
The whole process starts when you are in the supermarket pushing that cart. So, be wise when you choose your products – don’t pick up skinless chicken, avoid convenient foods that come packaged in boxes. In fact, when you’re shopping you should aim to stick to the perimeter of the store, as this is where all the fresh products are kept. When you get into the middle of the store that’s where tempting baked goods, processed products, pastries, and sugary drinks are hiding.
When it comes to using oil in your cooking you can limit it by covering your pan using a pastry brush (or using a spray). You can ditch oils for your cooking and choose vinegar, broth, wine, stock, citrus juices, and others instead. When you are cooking, your vegetables in a pan add the oil after the vegetables instead of before. This will limit just how much the vegetables absorb.
Instead of choosing a creamy sauce, sour cream, or butter opt for fresh salsas, chutneys, or pesto. Remember to cook your vegetables in a way that will maintain their nutrients, so choose to steam, and leave the peels intact. You can also stir fry them, which is a great way to keep that, crunch in them, which is a sure sign that you haven’t overcooked them and sapped them of their nutrients.
Reduce your salt intake by getting creative with herbs and spices. Too much salt increases blood pressure, which can lead to a whole range of health problems. So, don’t reach for the salt shaker before you’ve even tasted your meal.
Just remember these cooking methods when you cook: braise, steam, boil, bake, or grill. Spend some extra time working on your presentation – your eyes need something visually stimulating to look at just as much as your taste buds need something delicious to eat.
Going on a crash diet doesn’t work – it makes you more likely to binge eat unhealthy foods and you will constantly battle your cravings. It’s okay to enjoy a treat without feeling guilty. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes or be put off if there are ingredients you should avoid. There are plenty of substitutes you can make to increase the health content in a recipe and reduce the calorie and fat content.
All the best