Lightening up your diet doesn't mean saying goodbye to all the things you love. No way! Get creative and you just might surprise yourself with the tempting and well-balanced dishes you create.
The most obvious place to start shaping up your recipes is with the ingredients. Replace high-calorie items with lower-fat and lower-sugar versions:
- Substitute evaporated skim milk or buttermilk in place of cream (for everything except whipping)
- To thicken soups, gravies, and sauces, use puréed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or a slurry of cornstarch and cold water instead of cream or roux
- It's a painless sacrifice to use leaner cuts of meat too: skinless chicken breast, pork loin, ground turkey breast, and beef round and flank steak are all tasty, low-fat choices
- Turn to non-meat sources for some of your protein needs, too: beans come in all kinds of interesting varieties, as do tofu and soy-based meat substitutes
- Try whole grains in place of refined ones. You might find you prefer the taste and texture of whole wheat bread, brown rice, bulgur, barley, and quinoa over white bread and white rice
- Use low-fat or nonfat sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, cream cheese, and salad dressing
Say it with seasonings. Instead of reaching for the cheese when something needs a flavor boost, explore a wide array of flavorful, low-calorie ingredients:
- There are dozens of varieties of vinegars to try, not to mention citrus juices and zests
- Add richness without adding fat by caramelizing your onions and roasting your vegetables at high heat, rather than just steaming them
- If the spices and herbs you use most are more than a year old, toss them out and start with fresh ones--you'll be amazed at the flavor difference that fresh spices can make
- While you're at it, coax maximum flavor out of dried spices (not herbs) right before adding them to your recipe by toasting them in a pan over medium heat until fragrant
- Hint: you can buy dried herbs and spices in bulk at a fraction of the cost of bottled ones in most health food stores and large supermarkets
Most diet no-nos are high in fat and simple carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar) and low in complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and lean protein. The solution? Instead of a big plate of fettuccine Alfredo and a few slices of garlic bread, try starting with a salad, followed by a plate of fettuccine and vegetable Alfredo, with at least half the pasta replaced by steamed fresh vegetables.
Apply the same proportion fix for all kinds of food:
- In omelets and scrambles, decrease the amount of eggs and make up the volume with veggies
- Add finely diced vegetables to meatloaf, meatballs, and burger mixtures
Are you baking? Substitute some of the fat with fruit purées and cut the sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. You won't miss it!
- Add a little extra vanilla or cinnamon to fool your mouth into tasting sweetness
- Replace up to half of the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour
- Sneak fruits and veggies into your baking with shredded carrot, zucchini or minced apple, and add frozen berries to pancake batter
It's easy to add lots of excess fat to a dish with each splash of oil or pat of butter. Try this solution: Use a spray mister to lightly coat the pan with just enough oil to help the food brown, then add small amounts of water, broth or juice to keep the food from sticking to the pan and burning.
Send your favorite fried foods to reform school by "oven-frying" them:
- Dip food in seasoned flour and shaking off the excess
- Next, dunk in beaten egg whites, dip in a plateful of breadcrumbs or crushed cereal. (Add flavor to the coating by mixing in salt and freshly ground pepper, chopped herbs, or grated Parmesan cheese)
- Bake on a nonstick pan at about 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) until the inside is done and the outside is golden and crunchy
Try this with chicken strips, pork chops, seafood, and all kinds of vegetables, especially eggplant, zucchini, onion rings, green tomatoes, and lightly steamed broccoli or potatoes.
Don't forget the dipping sauce! Instead of tartar sauce and salad dressings, try all the wonderful varieties of mustards and salsas out there, or just use reduced calorie versions of your traditional favorites.
- If you're ready to shape up your lifestyle for good, invest in some high-quality nonstick pans so you don't need to add extra fat to keep food from sticking
- Use your broiler pan and roasting rack to let the fat drain off meat while it cooks
- Use paper towels to blot excess fat off ground beef and pork. Most food actually tastes better when it's cooked this way--since the surface gets nicely browned--instead of boiling in its own juices.
As an alternative to nonstick baking sheets, you can just line the pans with parchment paper. (Parchment is coated on both sides with a thin layer of food-grade silicone to avoid sticking.) Use muffin liners rather than greasing the muffin cups. For best results, cake pans, even nonstick pans, should still be greased or sprayed before using.