Sure, you can just buy a meal from a hawker centre or eat out, but if you really want to eat more healthily and save money, get chopping, stirring and sauteing. “With home cooking, you know what’s in it, you can adjust it to taste and it’s a good way to keep your portions under control,” says JoAnn Cianciulli, food-TV producer and author of L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook.
To help you jam-pack your meals with better-for-you fuel, chefs, bloggers, dietitians and other foodies share their healthiest cooking tips.
Cut the cheese.
To reduce a recipe’s saturated fat and calories, forget swopping in low-fat or non-fat cheese. Instead, “cut the amount of cheese a recipe calls for in half and use a sharper cheese that’s naturally low-fat, such as parmesan, romano, asiago or manchego, to intensify the flavour,” says chef Jonas Falk.
Make over mashed potatoes.
“Replace some of the potatoes with steamed cauliflower, for a lighter texture, a boost of nutrients and fewer calories,” says dietitian Natalia Stasenko.
Try this thickening trick.
“Use pureed chickpeas or white beans to thicken soups and sauces rather than flour and butter,” says Amanda Skrip, a natural-foods chef and health coach.
Bring home the bacon (flavour).
In recipes that call for bacon, such as quiche, substitute it with smoked Spanish paprika or chipotle powder (add it when you’re sauteing the onions and other ingredients). “You’ll get the smoky flavour without the calories and saturated fat,” JoAnn says.
Use plain, low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt instead for just about any recipe (dips, sauces, dollops on a baked potato or nachos) that calls for sour cream, saving 45 calories in each two-tablespoon serving. Greek yogurt, with its creamy texture and tangy taste, mimics sour cream with little or no fat and as much as 50 per cent more protein. “You’ll never know the difference,” says dietitian Rene Ficek.
Secret sauce: Balsamic vinegar reduction.
“It’s a healthy substitute for buttery, salty sauces or sugary barbecue sauce,” says Rene. Bring balsamic vinegar to the boil, then simmer until it’s reduced by half (about 20 minutes). Add a tablespoon or two of fruit-infused flavoured vinegar for an additional layer of flavour, such as strawberry vinegar for chicken.
Whip up a dream cream.
“When you’re making whipped cream, use one cup skimmed milk plus one tablespoon cornstarch instead of heavy cream to reduce saturated fat,” says dietitian Jenna Allen.
Slash sugar, get zesty.
With recipes for desserts like cookies, “cut the sugar in half and add orange or lemon zest or a teaspoon of vanilla, hazelnut, rum, caramel or almond extract,” says Jennifer Iserloh, chef and owner of skinnychef.com.
Zest can emulate sweetness and halving the amount of sugar won’t change a recipe’s texture. At 16 calories in each tablespoon of sugar, you’ll save 256 calories per omitted cup. “You’ll put any dessert recipe on an instant diet,” Jennifer says.
While preparing meals, stop and look at the recipe and think, how can I make this meal healthier? “Pick one thing; it could be to add a vegetable, increase protein, use a leaner meat or switch from a refined grain like white rice to a wholegrain like quinoa,” says Dr Samantha Brody, a naturopathic physician.
Sneak in produce.
The next time you’re making tomato sauce for pasta, lasagne or meatballs, give it a nutrient and fibre boost by adding pureed white beans, frozen spinach, finely chopped mushrooms and pureed zucchini, Natalia says.
Reserve butter for baking.
Forget using apple sauce, pureed prunes or mashed bananas instead of butter in baking. Just use butter. “You don’t want butter in every aspect of your meal, but it’s okay to reserve it for dessert,” says Kristy Lambrou, a culinary nutritionist. “Dessert should taste like dessert.
Onions – a decent source of quercetin, which helps keep blood pressure low – are a recipe staple. “Save time and money by pre-chopping onions and freezing them in a sealed plastic bag. You can pull them out whenever you need them to get cooking right away without fuss or tears,” says Jennifer Fugo, a certified gluten-free health coach.
Skip the pre-rinse.
Don’t rinse raw chicken before cooking. “Bacteria on it can be splashed around your kitchen, potentially contaminating other foods that don’t get cooked, such as fresh produce,” says Dr David Acheson, a food-safety expert.
Any potentially harmful bacteria on chicken will be destroyed during cooking anyway. Poultry can go from package to baking dish, pan or grill. The same goes for beef, pork and fish.
Similarly, consider pre-washed, ready-to-eat lettuce good to go. But do rinse all other produce. “Anything that comes from a field that isn’t pre-washed should be washed, including heads of iceberg lettuce and whole cantaloupe,” Dr Acheson says.
Say yes to the dressing.
Forget bottled salad dressing, with its long list of iffy ingredients. Make your own with lemon or lime juice or apple cider, red wine or balsamic vinegar and olive oil. “An acidic ingredient like lemon juice or vinegar helps the body absorb the iron and minerals in greens while the oil allows us to absorb fat-soluble compounds, such as vitamins and antioxidants,” says dietitian Ali Miller, who is also a certified diabetes educator.
To curb salad calories, “chop lettuce and vegetables finely. The small pieces will meld, creating a flavour explosion in your mouth and you’ll need less dressing,” says Devin Alexander, author of The Most Decadent Diet Ever! and chef on the television show The Biggest Loser.
This article was originally published in Simply Her August 2014.