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Is it possible to be a health conscious chowhound....share some delicious recipes and tips

  • m

Eating healthy can be really boring and being completely indulgent can make you fat. I am trying to learn to enjoy food that is healthy, but find that my tastebuds crave things full of fat like Phad Thai, Rice, Cheese and a host of other forbidden treats. Can you share some tips on how to jazz up healthy food. Also, just curious, those of you with children, do they have your chowhoundish tendencies and have sophisticated tastebuds?

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  1. I avoid low fat like the dickens. It is very unhealthy for us. Far too many simple carbs and sugar which make you fat fat fat.
    Lots of green leafy veg, we snack on cheeses and interesting nuts, dry cures sausages. We try to be very aware of the glycemic index in foods and cut out as much sugar and simple carbs as possible

    1 Reply
    1. re: Candy

      Hear hear! I am totally with Candy on this. I avoid trans fats, junk/processed food, simple carbs and sugary snacks (although I do bake a fair amount and am the first person to order a fine dessert) and eat lots of cheese, leafy green vegetables, and fruit. I don't eat a lot of meat although I don't avoid it. I love butter and cook with it frequently. Key factors are snacking only on healthy things between meals, portion control (although I hate this coy term), eating slowly, exercise, etc.

    2. Honestly, I think the typical foods that are easily accessible and filling in the United States are so out of whack that as long as I make a consciout effort to eat my five fruits and vegetables a day, there's not much room left in my stomach for junk.

      I could eat three bowls of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner before I come close to feeling full. Or I could eat one bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, a plate of vegetables tossed with salt and spices, and a whole fruit. much healthier, and I'd probably be full even before I got to the fruit. For me, variety makes me eat less while a big pot of comfort food has me constantly going back to the stove for more.

      Bottom line is, it's a pain in the patooty but I try to have three different things on the dinner table every day. I'm one of those people who needs to have a meat (fish counts) for dinner or I don't feel full. But it can be a pound of meat with not much else, or it can be a quarter pound of meat with a lot of different vegetables on the side and then fruit for dessert.

      Start experimenting with more spices, and fresh herbs as well as higher quality dried spices. It will make cooking more fun, and boring foods more tasty.

      Also, soups are relatively low calorie and can "hide" a lot of vegetables in them while still tasting hearty.

      1. Healthy certainly doesn't mean boring. Of course, it depends on what you mean by "healthy". For me, it means low cholesterol foods (lots of fish and beans, not so much cheese or hamburger), olive oil instead of butter (mostly), fresh vegetables (and lots of them), moderate use of salt, and a liberal use of sugar (hey, I can't give up everything at once!). And, most importantly, portion control.

        Focus on fresh, top-quality food that you really like, and experiment with new foods and recipes. Don't waste your time with food substitutes (like fat-free sour "cream" and splenda) that hurt your tastebuds and your metabolism. Don't completely cut yourself off from those "unhealthy" foods, either, or you'll find yourself binging eventually (at least, I always do). For example, chocolate is my top weakness - but instead of gobbling a pound of Hershey's chocolate chips, I buy the best dark chocolate I can and am satisfied with an ounce or two. Really and truly I am!

        Try roasting and braising your food. I love the rich, intense flavor of roasted vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of good herbs. I also rely on caramelized onions quite a bit. (They make great French onion soup.)

        Speaking of soups - great tip, Pei - here are two recipes for relatively healthy ones. The first is a wonderful caramelized leek soup that tastes like it's full of cream, even when it's just a bit of oil (I replace the butter in the recipe with olive oil, of course). I've posted about this one before, but I just can't resist mentioning it again.


        The second is a Fennel-Tomato Soup that I "invented" from the leftovers of a Fennel-Saffron compote - again, I replaced the butter with olive oil (and used much less of it, too).


        Keep trying - eventually you'll retrain your tastebuds to actually crave healthy food. I now love plain steamed brocolli - no cheese sauce needed - and I crave plain brown rice.


        1. Well here's a great key lime pie recipe (direct from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach that I've altered to be low(er) fat. Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but it's delicious.

          Here's the actual recipe...

          Key Lime Pie Recipe - Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant

          1 cup plus 2 tablespoons graham-cracker crumbs
          5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
          1/3 cup sugar
          3 egg yolks
          1 teaspoons grated lime zest
          1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
          2/3 cup fresh or bottled Key lime juice (see Note)
          1 cup heavy cream
          3 tablespoons confectioners'sugar

          Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine graham crackers, butter and sugar. Press mixture into bottom and sides of a buttered 9-inch pie pan, forming a neat border around edge. Bake crust about 5 minutes or until set and golden.

          Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment and a nonreactive bowl, beat egg yolks and lime zest at high speed about 5 minutes or until very shiny. Gradually add condensed milk, and continue to beat 3 to 4 minutes or until thick. Reduce speed of mixer to low. Add lime juice and mix just until combined. Pour lime mixture into crust. Bake about 10 minutes or until filling has just set. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

          To serve, place pie in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. In an electric-mixer bowl, combine cream and confectioners' sugar. Whisk until nearly stiff. Cut pie into wedges; serve very cold, each wedge topped with large dollop of whipped cream.

          Yield: 8 servings.

          Note: Fresh juice is far superior to bottled juice.

          Per serving: 460 calories, 7 grams protein, 25 grams fat, 50 grams carbohydrates, 160 milligrams cholesterol, 195 milligrams sodium, 49 percent calories from fat.


          So what I like to do to make it low(er) fat is get rid of the pie crust step all together. Instead buy a pre-made low fat graham cracker crust, thus eliminating the butter. Then, instead of sugar, use Splenda, and instead of regular condensed milk, use the fat-free version.

          It then becomes an amazing low-fat pie and it's still gourmet!

          1. If you eat well most of the time, you have room for the full flavor, full fat, full everything version of what you really enjoy. But, make sure it's something you really enjoy. I never make a fat free or low fat cake. I'd rather have a small piece of great cake. Same with most things. I agree w/ Pei that if you eat all the servings of vegetables and fruits that you need, you won't have as much room for the junk. When we order pizza, I have a huge salad or veggies first. Then I only have room for a slice and I really enjoy it rather than just wolfing down a few slices. And, make the healthy foods easily available so you're not automatically reaching for junk for no reason. Be in control and have the junk food you want, when you want it. As my friend put it, I'm a junk food snob--I only eat the best.:-)

            1. I think health consciousness and being a chowhound can go hand in hand. My chowishness is more along the lines of being very conscious about the freshness, flavor, and balance in every meal I have, and less so about fancy restaurants with fancy rich sauces and multiple courses.

              Cooking for yourself is the best way to be health conscious. There isn't much editing you can do to baked goods without a noticeable decline in taste, but everything else is easy!

              -- don't use oil in salad dressings. Balsamic + dijon, lime juice + honey + cumin, experiment with different vinegars...
              -- focus on protein in every meal
              -- eggbeaters instead of eggs in casseroles, omlettes
              -- if recipe calls for melted butter added to sauce, risotto, or anything that's relatively rich to begin with, leave it out
              -- nonfat milk almost always does just as well as whole or low fat. I strongly believe in substituting low-fat for full fat (ricotta, sour cream, cream cheese, milk, cheese, etc.)
              -- be generous with spices, citrus juices and extracts when called for in recipes. Get excited about fresh herbs.
              -- boneless skinless chicken breasts and fish
              -- marinate, marinate, marinate. if using store-bought, check the labels carefully. or make your own with a little oil, lots of citrus, fresh herbs, lots of spices
              -- cream of any vegetable soups DO NOT need cream or butter! boil whatever veggie in low salt broth, toss in a potato too and blend that up, you'd be surprised with the richness and consistency without added fat.

              1. Don't eat fast or processed foods. Sweets are treats, once or twice a week. Don't drink soda at all. That should do it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pikawicca

                  exactly. and the less you eat out the better, if you're trying to lose.
                  hopefully everyone knows what processed is: anything that includes corn syrup, generally, or added flavoring (like low-fat yoghurt, packaged bread, cold cuts...most things americans eat, i wonder why people don't know how to lose weight??)

                2. It can be a challenge to cook delicious, healthy meals. Here are a few simple suggestions:
                  1. Decide what you can't live without, be it Pad Thai or chocolate. Allow yourself the treat, then plan the rest of your day's eating around it. So, if you're planning on a heavy dinner, have vegetable soup and a salad for lunch.
                  2. Make lots of soups. As long as they don't include cream, cheese or coconut milk, they are likely to be low in calories. Think broth-based, lots of veggies and/or beans, and optional meat/fish/poultry in small amounts. Bonus: make a BIG pot, then freeze in single-serve containers. You'll always have a healthy lunch on hand that can be ready in minutes.
                  3. Most "fatty" recipes can easily be made more healthful. We love Indian food, but when I cook it at home I usually use half the oil/ghee/butter called for in the recipe.
                  4. Stir-fries are another easy, healthful meal. Use LOTS of veggies (think lots of colors---red peppers, orange carrots, yellow squash, green bok choy, purple cabbage), and small amounts of oil and meat/chicken (optional, or use tofu). Garlic, ginger, tamari, chicken broth and some dry sherry add flavor.
                  5. Check out Cooking Light magazine. Their recipes tend to be more "gourmet" than other "light" recipes.
                  6. Stay away from most packaged or canned products. Buy ingredients as close to their "whole" state as possible. If you must used packaged items, check the ingredients. If you can't pronounce any of the ingredients---put it back on the shelf! Also watch out for trans fats. Even if a "serving" has "0" grams of trans fats, it may still have up to 1/2 gram. If ingredients list any hydrogenated oils, the item contains trans fats. We should all be eliminating ALL trans fats from our diets.

                  1. To answer your second question first, raising a Chowhound takes the same effort. Encouraging good choices, realistic portions and always offering NEW whole foods. My teen is a work in progress :)

                    With regard to eating healthier...there is no better time than now to re-invent your palette. Everywhere we go, healthy choices are vogue. Feeling better, stronger and sharper is a great motivator! Good luck!

                    1. I make Pad Thai at home (Cook's Illustrated recipe) and add veggies -- I always thought of it as a fairly healthy meal. Maybe there are other things you crave that you ordinarily get at restaurants, but could make better versions of at home?

                      My super-health-conscious mom often makes fried side dishes, like fried eggplant in chick pea flour, or vegetable patties (we are Indian) but we eat one or two on the side with rice, lentils, and plenty of vegetables. I grew up eating this way and now I find that I actually prefer it -- I'd rather have a couple of fried chicken fingers mixed into a crunchy salad than an entire basket of chicken fingers, which seems too greasy. Maybe it's just a matter of getting used to it.

                      As for rice and cheese, there's always brown rice and whole-grain starches, and low-fat cheese if you're just melting it. But in general, I think combining a little unheathy stuff with plenty of heathy stuff is a good way to go and doesn't make you feel deprived.

                      1. I think of myself as a health-conscious CH. I make just about everything we eat, so I know exactly what goes into each dish. We avoid processed starches and sugars, eat lots of vegetables cooked fresh every day, buy organic or local whenever possible and eat out very selectively. However I never compromise on flavor so when butter or pork fat are called for, I use them.

                        This year I've been making a conscious effort to cut back on the amount of meat we eat, substituting whole grains, legumes and other forms of protein. Whole cultures eat these as their staples and we're finding them very appealing - Indian dals and vegetable curries, Mexican bean dishes, Middle Eastern grain salads. It's become part of our regular diet and I think we're better off for it.

                        1. As for raising chowpups, for me (with a range of 2-15 y/o), it has been a matter of balancing a respect for their preferences (for example, one was very sensitive to textures, another doesn't handle spicy heat), with an expectation that they will enjoy at least trying new foods. In practice, that means treating the experience of an untried cuisine, restaurant, ingredient, or dish, as an adventure-but without risk. Calvin Trillin's daughter famously required a bagel when dining out, "just in case." For my kids, they've been encouraged to be bold with appetizers, and we make sure that there is something "comfortable" on the table beyond that.

                          The 15 year old loves Indian, Thai, Cambodian, and Vietnamese foods. He's eaten kangaroo, emu, alligator, and goat eyeballs. When given a choice of restaurant the other day, his eyes gleamed when offered the option of Persian, which he had never tried. OTOH, when invited to go on a reconnaissance mission, he returned saying "It smelled really good, and the descriptions sounded okay, but without much variety. But, Mom, the food looked like ______!" We went out for comfort food, instead.