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healthy meal ideas?

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Hi there. Can anyone help me with some suggestions for healthy and nutritious ways of cooking ordinary foods? There are so many resources for this sort of thing on the web, but I just get a case of option paralysis. I just visited DH’s relatives in the south and I was taken aback by how much fat and empty calories are part of a regular diet especially in places like that. So far, I plan on replacing our standard snacks with carrot slices and cherry tomatoes and using whole wheat pasta instead of white and the same for bread. Anymore ideas?

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  1. I assume from your post that you're looking for cooking methods and substitutions, as opposed to actual recipes. Here are a couple:

    When you're making casseroles, pasta dishes, or soups, increase the ratio of vegetables to meat/starch. You'll get the same volume of food for less fat and calories.

    Start your meal with broth-and-veggie-based soup. It'll fill you up, and make sure you get your vitamins.

    Measure out the oil you use for cooking. It's rare you'll need more than a couple teaspoons, but most people use much more by accident.

    For salads, there are a couple things you can do. Either serve the dressing on the side and dip your fork in; or make dressings using a small quantity of highly-flavored oil (like sesame or walnut).

    Substitute nonfat greek yogurt for sour cream, cream, and sometimes cream cheese.

    For meat loaf, tacos, and casseroles, use half meat and half beans or lentils. You'll get more fiber and less fat.

    You might want to go veg one night a week. Check out www.meatlessmondays.org

    Hope this helps!

    2 Replies
    1. re: piccola

      I was really interested in that link, but it said the page expired or something like that. Do you have another option of how to get there?

      1. re: Sweet Pea

        Sorry - I forgot that it changed a while ago to www.meatlessmonday.com

        It's a pretty user-friendly program, though it's not vegetarian (they use fish). And there's a lot of sponsored content.

        Still, a couple things are really worth it. Check out the chili recipes!

    2. Definitely switching to whole wheat pastas, whole grain breads and brown rice will make a big difference in your diet. I would recommend eating one or two vegetarian meals each week -- a great option is black bean chili. You could also substitute veggie burgers or turkey burgers for beef burgers -- great flavors, less fat and cholesterol. Cooking Light magazine has a lot of good recipes that show you how to "lighten" everyday recipes. Trying to incorporate more fish into your diet -- especially salmon -- will also be very heart healthy.

      1. Switch to Natural peanut butter instead of the processed junk that uses hydrogenated oils & added sugars...SO much better peanut flavor! Dijon mustard is a tremendous flavor enhancer without adding fat...try Epicurious' Dijon Fish Fillets recipe at their website (cut the butter in half). I agree with others who suggest using beans for meals once or twice a week; there are tons of great "black-bean-something" recipes out there! Have fun experimenting!

        1. If you're looking to change purely for health reasons (why else?) then don't forget to pay attention to all the fruits, veggies, fish that you're buying and where they came from. "Atlantic" or farm raised salmon contains all kinds of additives and dye, many regular veggies don't have the same amount of vitamins as organic produce, and beef grown without hormones is a great option if you're cooking for kids too.
          A book I've found really interesting and easy to digest is the Great American Detox Diet. It's quite a bit more strict than I could actually live, but it does have some good info on what's really in our foods. Of course, Fast Food Nation, if you haven't already read it will keep you away from convenience food for quite awhile. Good luck and have fun!

          1. Cooking with broth instead of butters and oils, particularly in stir-fries and or mashed items like potatoes.

            Watch out for low or nonfat items laden with sugar to replace the fat taste.

            Egg whites substituted for whole eggs, or eggbeaters. Use all white and one yolk for egg salad with reduced fat mayo.

            Herbs and spices enhance flavor without calories. Grilling is also a great cooking method to impart flavor without calories. I also love using garlic and onions to flavor.

            1. I find that salads are a great way to have healthier meals. You can make them with added meat - leftover or newly grilled steak or chicken or turkey - sliced and added to salad with lots of veggies - raw chopped broc, caulif, peppers, radishes, spuds, etc. in addition to lettuce. Salade Nicoise is also good - sort of a glorified tuna salad - I add potatoes and serve with hard-cooked eggs. Green beans, tomatoes, basil, olives NOT CANNED!!!!!!!!!

              Serve the salad with a soup made from canned or homemade chicken stock cooked for a while with onions, garlic, some herbs (I always use thyme) and a veg like winter squash, leeks and potatoes, watercress and potatoes, carrots (topped with pureed roasted red peppers - can be purchased at market - which I stole from Chez Panisse Cookbook)

              1. "places like that", huh? You're painting with a rather large brush, don't you think? Personnally, I'm amazed and appalled by the way my in-laws eat, but I didn't think to blame it on them living in the "north".

                3 Replies
                1. re: danna

                  I am trying to remember the last time I heard someone say "I can't wait to get up North for a good meal" lol...but they will beat the doors down to get to"places like that" in the South.

                  1. re: danna

                    hey, "places like that" invented "gravy" (as in biscuits and....)that uses Hershey's chocolate syrup, and is served to children as breakfast.

                    Every region has its fatty, unhealthy foods. My English Dad's favorite breakfast (and so delicious, too) was a bacon sandwich where you dipped a piece of homemade bread into the bacon drippings, then folded it around the bacon. He died of a massive coronary at age 57. His counrty-folk ancestors probably got away with eating like that after doing hard manual labor all day, but should we try it these days?

                    Fats give a comforting mouth-feel, but can be used in moderation. Like as little as practically possible, in any given recipe, especially if you're cooking for children. Would I want my grown kids'favorite comfort food to be chocolate gravy or hummus spread? It's worth thinking about, and encouraging.

                    1. re: toodie jane

                      Gosh, I don't know why I'm being so disagreeable in this thread, but I can't help pointing out that hummus has somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of it's calories from fat. Not sat fat, of course, but still, that's still a lot of fat.

                      My grandfather was also a fond consumer of pig, and other sat fats. He also died of a coronary, but he had his at age 96. He was a farmer, so I agree with your theory about hard manual labor improving your tolerance for fats and other excesses.

                  2. I make this regularly for my meat-and-potatos guy and we both love it. (The link isn't working but it's Rachael Ray's Chicken Cigars from foodnetwork.com) And it cooks up fast (but watch it so the filo doesn't burn) with the prep easily handled the night before (cutting veggies). I've done this with ground-up turkey.

                    I also jazz up the recipe by throwing in fresh corn (or frozen if out of season), tomatos, broccoli, etc., depending what's in season. The filo dough gives that crispness that is needed without a heavy dough. I also make about 4 giant cigars and then cut in half when done for serving.

                    For a Tex-Mex feel, I add cilanto, jalepeno peppers, tomatos, onions, some lime juice. Then add pico de gallo as a side.

                    For an Italian feel, I cut back the cummin and put in Italian seasonings (such as oregano, FRESH parsley), maybe some tomato sauce, some parmesian cheese, olives, spinach, mushrooms.

                    Greek Style: add Kalamata olives, feta, parsley, tomatoes, oregano, spinach

                    I find that if I add more vegetables to the standards, it cuts down on the meat/fat consumption while increasing nutriants.

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