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Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 9:46 a.m.

Get creative and have fun for healthy cooking

By now you should have caught on that I feel strongly about continuing to eat familiar favorite foods while maintaining my weight in a healthy way. Achieving the full extent of this lofty goal takes a combination of creativity and patience. When I look at a recipe, I can tell fairly quickly if I want make it as written or completely break it down and rebuild it before serving for the first time.

The Creative Component Part 1

Simple Recipe Swaps:

  • Omitting or reducing the oil and butter works in many recipes (may not work when baking).
  • When baking - Fruit or squash purees can be used in place of some butter or oil.
  • Low or non-fat yogurt may take the place of full fat sour cream.
  • Low-fat Buttermilk or half and half may work in place of heavy cream.
  • Lower fat goat cheese (chèvre or feta) may take the place of shredded cheese in some recipes.
  • In some recipes you can reduce the number of egg yolks called for to lower the fat.
  • Consider using a leaner type or cut of meat for your recipe to cut calories and fat.
Examples:

  • Ground turkey for ground beef
  • Chicken sausage in place of pork sausage
  • Flank steak in place roast beef (cooking method and time will change)
  • Fish or tofu in place of chicken
The Creative Component Part 2

Add bulk:

The second step to lightening a recipe is adding ingredients that increase the nutritional value and keep the portions generous. Fruits and vegetables are my go-to portion stretchers. It is rare for me to cook pasta without dropping a couple handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables into the boiling water with the noodles. The pasta and veggies will be tossed with the sauce and served as a single entree.

Side Note: By delightful coincidence my large mesh strainer fits into the top of my favorite pot comfortably enough to pop the lid on. This discovery has enabled me to steam vegetables over pasta water without dirtying more dishes or taking extra time. Glance around your kitchen to see if you can find creative uses for what you already have on hand.

Be Patient

Patience is crucial when the swaps don't workout the way I envisioned. There is indeed a learning curve. Not every swap or, as I like to call them, "experiment" results in a crowd-pleasing new recipe. When things go a little wonky I don't write off the meal; I take the time to think about what I like and don't like about the attempt. Sometimes a recipe really needs the oil or butter to give it a crispy edge or pleasing mouth feel so I make a mental note to add a little more the next time. Sometimes the added vegetables or fruit create a mushy or sticky texture. In this case I consider reducing the additional ingredients or adding more dry ingredients for balance.

I am always tickled when asked cooking questions, specifically questions related to swapping ingredients. In general I feel that it is important to feel empowered in your own kitchen. If you want to try swapping ingredients do it. Think of the process as playing and the results as learning experiences. Even if you create a result you would prefer not to duplicate you will learn something and as long as you learn something you can't fail.

Story tags » Cooking

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