By Layne Lieberman, RD
We all know it’s better to cook at home than rely on restaurants to satisfy your stomach and take care of your health. Restaurant chefs and cooks are trained to use salt, sugar, and fat to add flavor to most dishes.
Unfortunately, a lot of recipes—particularly ones that have been passed down from generation to generation—rely on these same unhealthy tricks. The good news is that even your most gluttonous go-to comfort food recipes can be altered to be healthier. It simply takes a few substitutions and healthy cooking techniques to do the job.
Here are my 15 favorite recipe rules which I use to make any homemade dish healthier. (Need some initial inspiration? Browse my favorite recipes!)
1. Use grass-fed lean meat, organic skinless poultry and sustainable seafood without preservatives (4 ounces per serving).
2. Use organic low fat (or fat free) milk, plain yogurt and fresh cheeses like farmer or ricotta. Use 2 egg whites to replace one whole egg. Small amounts of freshly grated cheese like Parmesan add a nutty flavor.
3. Use extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and flavored oils like hot pepper sesame oil to replace refined oils and solid fats.
4. Use avocado, hummus, and natural nut butters to replace sandwich spreads. Use plain nonfat Greek yogurt to replace sour cream.
5. Choose a method of cooking that uses minimal fats like roasting, steaming, baking, braising, poaching, and microwaving. Don’t overdue the grill because carcinogenic compounds form when cooking on high heat.
6. Use herbs and spices as a substitute for salt in cooking. Or use small amounts of sea or rock salts mixed with your favorite herbs.
7. When baking, use dried fruits, applesauce, and fresh fruit to replace at least half of the sugar. Opt for pure maple syrup, honey, and other natural sweeteners.
8. Choose natural and low sodium condiments and sauces like mustard, vinegar, salsa, and all-fruit preserves.
9. Use fresh lemon and lime juice to add brightness to a dish.
10. Cook with natural vegetable and fruit juices, chopped tomatoes, and low-sodium natural broths.
11. Center recipes on the availability of local and seasonal vegetables (non-starchy and starchy). For example: eat corn in summer, cabbage in winter, asparagus in springtime, and apples in the fall.
12. Stock up on sweet onions (shallots or garlic), carrots, celery, and mushrooms and use as a base for many sauces. Red onion is one of my favorite ingredients.
13. Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, rolled oats and whole-grain pasta.
14. Buy organic frozen, dried, and canned foods when fresh is out of season. Rinse canned food to reduce the salt.
15. Use a variety of legumes and nuts like chic peas, lentils, tofu, walnuts and almonds to replace animal protein.
Layne Lieberman, RD, is a Culinary Nutritionist and Author of Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy