First and foremost, I think food should be delicious. It should be satisfying and be so good you want to do a little shimmy. When I cook, that is my ultimate goal. I want to leave my guests wanting seconds and saying, “wow that was good!”
I also strive to make my dishes healthy. This may seem like an enigma to many people – how can food be both delicious and nutritious?!? But it is absolutely possible! And not as difficult to accomplish as many people may believe. You simply have to choose the right ingredients to pack both flavor and nutrients into the dish. I have discovered several healthy food swaps that accomplish this goal. (Disclaimer: I am not a dietician – these are just things I have tried and found to be successful.)
I have 10 specific tricks I frequently use to keep my dishes light and yummy:
Zoodles, Spoodles, Boodles, oh my! (aka veggie noodles)
One of my favorite wedding presents is my kitchen aid spiralizer attachment. It can turn almost any veggie into a beautiful curly noodle. I have used it for beets, zucchini, yellow squash, and sweet potatoes, but you can let your imagination run wild and try out other veggies (they just need a firm solid flesh and be large enough to fit the attachment). You can then use your noodles in a variety of different applications – pasta dishes, salads, slaws, side dishes, etc. The best part are the noodles are a fraction of the calories of a regular pasta noodle, contain nutrients, and, in my opinion, are much more flavorful than regular starchy noodles!
The beauty of greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is a one of my favorite ingredients. I use it to bake, make sauces and dips, and add creaminess in my smoothies. I have used it in cheesecakes and frostings. I have also used it in savory applications. Why is greek yogurt such a beautiful ingredient? It is low in sugar and fat (I use Fage Fat Free Greek Yogurt) and contains calcium, protein, and probiotics. Plus, I do not think you lose flavor by substituting it for other ingredients. For example, I use greek yogurt instead of mayo in my green goddess and ceaser salad dressings and you cannot event tell the difference!
Forget the Bun
This is as simple as it sounds – just omit all or part of the bun or bread portion of sandwiches/burgers to save on calories. I will admit I am lucky because I am not a huge bun/bread person to begin with – I much prefer the meat and toppings and find the bread only gets in the way of the real goodness of the sandwich. But if you are a huge bread person, not to worry! There are so many good, low calorie bun options nowadays, you just need to find them in your local grocery store (I always try to find whole wheat options that are around 100 calories). Better yet, you can also use veggies for buns, for instance sweet potato rounds (baked until golden) or roasted mushroom caps.
Bye bye sugar….hello honey, agave, and maple syrup
I LOVE dessert. I LOVE to bake. A dangerous combination. It leads to dessert every single night. No reason to feel guilty about it! There are plenty of ways to lighten up my favorite desserts. One simple swap I use it to omit regular white sugar (which is devoid of any real nutrients and causes the body to store fat) and use other sweeteners, such as honey, agave, and maple syrup. These sugar substitutes contain no refined sugar, are high in minerals and antioxidants, and are actually sweeter in taste, so you can use less of them!
Spices are your friend 🙂
Do not be afraid of spices. Spices = flavor! Best part…they are calorie free. I love experimenting with new spices to see how they can elevate my dishes. I have also learned that you do not need to be scared to add a decent amount of spices (I mean watch how much spice Bobby Flay adds to his dishes in Beat Bobby Flay…and he is hard to beat). I add liberal amounts of spices to my dish to make them pop! Some of my favorites are smoked paprika, chipotle powder, cumin, coriander, cardamom, celery salt and garlic salt. Another cool tip – you can reduce sugars in dessert and pump up the spices and it makes the dessert even tastier!
Make the switch to the dark side….Dark Chocolate that is!
Confession: I use to hate dark chocolate. It was much too bitter and did not satisfy my sweet tooth. But just like good wine, dark chocolate is an acquired taste. As my palate matured, my dislike for dark chocolate dissipated. In fact, I have done a complete 180 – I love dark chocolate (it has a more complicated flavor note and I enjoy its bitter bite) and am less keen on milk chocolate (it is much too sweet). I am glad I made the switch to the dark side: dark chocolate contains much less sugar than milk chocolate and is an antioxidant rich superfood!
Fruit is nature’s candy
As a kid, my mom frequently told us, “Fruit is nature’s candy?!” We dreaded hearing these words because it usually meant we were getting an apple or banana instead of the gummy bears we were actually craving. Now, I have to admit, my mom was right. I enjoy fruit for dessert all the time. Fruit is delicious, naturally sweet, and so much better for you than actual candy. I love to enjoy a big bowl of ripe berries with a dollop of coconut whip cream at the end of the day. I also love grilling stone fruits like peaches in the summer and pairing it with vanilla ice cream. Heck, I even throw fruit into my savory salads. Fruit is my jam and there is never a shortage of it at my house.
Oat flour/whole wheat vs. white flour
Oat flour and wheat flour are my flours of choice when baking. Both are very versatile. They can be used for breads, cookies, cupcakes, and many other baked goods. They both give a great, nutty, hearty flavor to the baked goods. Oat flour even has a little sweetness, so you can lower the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. They both also contain much more nutrients than white flour. Oat flour is often gluten free, high in fiber and protein, and offers a wide range of anti-inflammatory and antioxidative health benefits. You can find oat flour at health food stores such as Whole Foods or you can make your own by grinding oats in a food processor until they resemble a fine powder. Whole wheat flour is also high in fiber and contains several vitamins, including folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B-1, B-3, and B-5. I enjoy experimenting with these flours in my kitchen to create the perfect healthy treat.
Avocados are not just for guacamole
I mean don’t get me wrong…I love me some guacamole. But there are tons of other ways to use this delicious fruit (yep I did have to look it up to make sure it was a fruit and not a vegetable). You can use it in the place of oil in dressings/sauce (like a green goddess or pesto) or in baked goods (like brownies and cakes). You can use it in smoothies. You can just eat it straight because it is so creamy and delicious. And it is packed with good fats and nutrients, so it is a great, guilt free substitute.
You can do what with cauliflower?!?!
It seems a few years ago, cauliflower was a forgotten vegetable. It was always the last to go on the veggie platter at any of my family gatherings. Now it is everywhere. People are crazy about cauliflower. And for good reason. It is mind blowing all the ways you can use cauliflower. I have used it in so many different ways: pulsed it until it resembles rice, cooked and formed it into pizza crusts and nuggets, cooked and mashed it so it resembles mashed potatoes, cut it in large chunks and roasted. The possibilities are endless! It is a great substitute, and again, will help you save on carbs but not lose out on flavor.
Using these simple swaps has enabled me to create amazing dishes that are low fat, wholesome, and healthy. You will see these tricks used frequently in my cooking and baking (and I may have a few new tricks up my sleeve). I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well these tricks work, and after the first bite, doing the “wow that taste good” dance. Because you should have your cake and eat it too (mmmmmm…..cake!)
I love experimenting in my kitchen and inventing fun, unique recipes to share with others. I hope you come along with me on my healthy culinary journey!