We love a good challenge in the EatingWell Test Kitchen and finding a way to make comfort food healthy, but still delicious, is the ultimate challenge. We've worked our makeover magic on some of America's favorite comfort foods and here we're sharing our 10 secrets of healthy cooking so you can make your favorites healthier too.
10 Secrets of Healthy Cooking
1. Go for the flavor. Enhance food with bold flavors from healthy ingredients like fresh herbs, spices and citrus. When your food has great flavor, there's no reason to feel deprived. A little Dark Chocolate Sauce goes a long way on low-fat, homemade ice cream or frozen yogurt. Make a batch of this and keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Dark Chocolate Sauce
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
6 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar (use 1-2 tablespoons more for a less-bittersweet sauce)
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 cup hot water
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine chocolate, cocoa, sugar and coffee granules in a food processor. Process until finely ground, about 1 minute. Stir together water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. With the food processor running, add the syrup mixture, then vanilla. Continue processing until the sauce is smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. (The sauce will seem thin, but will thicken during cooling.) Transfer to a container and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. Stir well before serving; if the sauce seems too thick, stir in a little water.
Makes 1 3/4 cups.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 71 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 13 mg sodium.
2. Choose low-fat dairy. Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are a good source of calcium. Replacing whole-milk dairy products with low-fat or nonfat versions is an easy way to cut saturated fat from your diet. This recipe for low-fat Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream cuts some of the egg yolks and uses low-fat milk along with fat-free sweetened condensed milk in place of heavy cream to cut the fat and calories while adding sweetness and a creamy texture.
3. Use smart fats. Not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated (e.g., olive oil) over saturated fats such as butter. But still use them in moderation because all fats are loaded with calories. We gave the coastal classic New England Fried Shrimp a makeover by cutting back on the tons of oil traditionally used for frying. These shrimp are still golden brown, crispy and delicious!
4. Go unrefined. Pick whole grains over refined ones. Whole grains like brown rice and bulgur have their bran intact and thus have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients. We combine 90%-lean ground beef, mushrooms and bulgur into our healthier Meatloaf recipe.
5. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 5 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Pick produce in a variety of colors to get a range of antioxidants and vitamins. A calzone is the perfect vehicle to get more vegetable servings in; try Corn & Broccoli Calzones.
6. It's not all about the meat. Meat is a great source of protein but it's also a big source of saturated fat in many people's diets. So eat small amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry.
7. Keep portions reasonable. Even though we would all like a magic bullet for weight control, it really boils down to calories. One of the easiest ways to manage calorie intake is to watch your portion size.
8. Use sweeteners judiciously. Sugars of any kind, whether corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, add significant calories without any nutritive value.
9. Keep an eye on sodium. Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it's wise to watch your sodium intake. The USDA's dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) daily.
10. Be mindful and enjoy. Make conscious food decisions rather than grabbing for what is most convenient. Make sure it is something delicious and savor it. When you enjoy what you eat, you feel satisfied.
By Carolyn Malcoun
When associate editor Carolyn Malcoun came to Vermont to attend New England Culinary Institute, she knew she didn't want to work in a restaurant but knew that she wanted to do something in the food industry. Luckily she discovered EatingWell, where she's able to combine her love of food and writing.
Related Links from EatingWell:
Find recipes for Updated Mac & Cheese, Ultimate Beef Chili and more in our comfort foods collection.
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