Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Feb 1, 2009 12:38 PM

"healthy" cooking for a fan of "unhealthy" food?

I LOVE food! Specifically salty, fried, meaty food with an emphasis on comfort. However, I've reached the point where I need to think about making a change. I cook regularly, but most of what I make is meat-centric with a healthy does of butter or bacon fat for flavor. How can I EASE myself into a healthier lifestyle? Any good cookbooks that will help? Thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Ooo - butter and bacon. Hard to give those up! I cook healthy (IMO) and still use both. But they tend to be accents rather than major components of what I cook. I am not a fan of 'substitute' foods, like margarine or turkey bacon. I'd rather have less of the real thing.

    I think one easy way to improve your diet is to add or substitute whole grains. You get more fiber and nutrients (and more flavor) when you use brown rice, whole wheat pasta etc. Another important change to make -increase your servings of vegetables, for instance by adding a salad or vegetable soup to your meals.

    The thing I notice that's off-putting in a lot of 'healthy' foods is how flavorless they can be. I still use strong herbs, sharp cheese, salty cured meats etc. when I cook. But I add them in a way that lets a little bit contribute a lot of taste.

    I think just a few changes could make a big difference without making you feel deprived. Good luck!

    1. Great advice lupaglupa. All of those are good suggestions. I think that the one about trying to get MORE of veggies, etc, rather than cutting back on the tasty (read="bad") is important. A recent study showed that people who tried to get at least 9 servings of fruits or veggies per day, without making any effort to cut back on other food, lost more weight than people who tried to avoid certain things. The theory is that if you get really full on some delicious crunchy salty lemony sauteed asparagus (for example), you will be less hungry and consume just a smaller portion of whatever meaty entree you're cooking. Eating just slightly less of the unhealthy food will make a big difference in the end. Barbara Kafka wrote a great book called Vegetable Love which has some great veggie recipes. It's my bible. Spices will be your saving grace.
      Also, and it might seem obvious, but people still don't drink enough water... drinking a lot (I mean, more than you feel like you need) of water will also make you less hungry for the other stuff.
      I'm also not a fan of substitutes but there is one I like- I recently switched to ground turkey in my (delicious) homemade red sauce with whole wheat pasta- my boyfriend definitely had to adjust to the whole wheat pasta (it tastes different) but he DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE the ground turkey. I swear to god. Later when I told him he said he knew something was different but i swear he ate it and never questioned it. And he hates healthy food.
      Good luck!

      2 Replies
      1. re: CoryKatherine

        I, too, have had success with turkey...we use turkey sausage almost *all* the time now...for dinner (as in Italian cooking) and for breakfast (the Jennie-O turkey breakfast sausage patties have much less fat and salt...I admit, it's a "processed food" but one that my son accepts, no questions asked and is waaaay healthier than our beloved Jimmy Dean sausage--okay, okay, I STILL use that for biscuits and gravy on the RARE occasions that I make it! One of these days, though, I will try subbing in turkey breakfast sausage for the JD's) You can very easily start using ground turkey as a mix with ground beef, and then go totally with the ground turkey...if you mix in spices, you likely will not notice the turkey flavor!

        1. re: CoryKatherine

          We do use ground turkey and the many delicious chicken sausages that are available. At our hose we still use 'white' pasta for some dishes - like pata primavera. The taste of the whole wheat pasta is too strong for some things but it works well with bolder pasta sauces.

          CoryKatherine - I agree with you about drinking more liquids. And don't forget how healthy wine is :)

        2. I really enjoy cooking light magazine and "light"versions of Everyday Food magazine., Nice options for things like pizza (made healthier), burgers, meatloaf, etc. I also worked a healthfood lunch counter many moons ago and we made this fantastic mushroom burger (no meat) that was really soooo hearty, no one missed the meat. If sounds good I'll shoot over the recipe. Good luck.

          4 Replies
          1. re: lexpatti

            Yes, I swear by cooking light; however, I add a bit more spice than they require and use homemade whipped cream instead of 'non-fat whipped topping'. Egh.

            I've also made the transfer from unhealthy-to-healthy food, and one tip I recommend is getting a bunch of veggies on your plate and taking a bite of vegetables with your meat. This helped me associate 'vegetables' that I didn't like with good taste. Now, I pop mushrooms like candy and have broccoli for a snack.

            One last note: as others have said, you can't completely ditch your old favorites. Just dial back on portions. And finally, exercise, exercise, exercise! Even if its just a 30 min. walk, it'll make you feel better. Best of luck to ya!

            1. re: ApprenticeGourmet

              "Eating Well" is another great magazine for healthy recipes and information about nutrition.

            2. re: lexpatti

              Oh those burgers sound amazing!! Could you provide the recipe??

              1. re: STA1985CH

                Here it is, the herbs really make a difference too so don't skip that:
                saute sliced mushrooms (portbella are great too) in tiny oil and splash braggs liquid amino (don't put salt on while sauteing, the mushrooms will release too much water). use a nice big healthy whole grain bun, melt cheese on one side (mont jack is great), the other side of the bun either sliced avocado or guacamole, shredded carrots, sprouts, the mushrooms and sprinkle with Garlic Pwder, Cayenne Pepper and Spike Seasoning. I also do this in a roll up as well. The flavors are addicting.

            3. Yum, I love ground turkey! In addition to using it in red sauce, I've made a shepherd's pie with ground turkey & ground lean pork, whipped potatoes w/ garlic & horseradish (made w/ chicken broth for part of the butter), and various chopped up veggies that was tasty and satisfying.

              I agree with the good advice to not 'cut out' all these foods. You'll feel deprived, which is not a very nice way to be.

              I like salads to begin with, but they take on a whole new dimension when you add delicious, meaty flavours. Like little bits of real bacon /pancetta /back bacon crisped up on the stove-top, or briney olives, or salty feta, or deeply savory double-smoked cheeses. Or vary the texture with some radishes, toasted nuts, or apples for crunch. Often, I find what seems "lacking" for me in a non-meat dish is more the chewy texture of meat, rather than the meat per se (mushrooms, esp portobello, are also great to mimic this). This way, you get the delicious salt-savory flavour of meat, but embedded in a big plate of healthy vegetables.

              Homemade thin crust pizzas, for me, always feel like a healthy indulgence (I buy dough balls at the grocery store). I find you end up using a lot less of the ingredients than you think you'd need (you have to, otherwise the crust gets soggy!), but still get the great flavour. Plus, it's super easy to incorporate veggies like mushrooms, peppers, arugula, spinach, onions...etc. and still get your fix of spicy Italian sausage, for instance.

              Legume-based recipes are surprisingly satisfying. Hummous (sprinkle some smokey paprika onto it), white bean dips (I add a bit of chicken broth and... yes, a smidge of bacon fat... for depth, but you can always omit), split pea soup... all these things satisfy that craving for rich, creamy food, but with little of the health-related costs. If you're craving some thing deep fried, try a falafel... deep fried balls of mashed chickpea may not be the absolute healthiest thing in the world, but you get that satisfying crunch without the saturated fats, and with the added benefits of fiber and vitamins.

              If you're looking to cut back on sodium (I am a sodium fiend myself), I've found that roasted garlic (or garlic in general) added to sauces, etc., is really helpful. I read some research recently about why it's so hard to come up with a sodium-replacement (a myriad of reasons), but the food scientists recommend garlic as having a similarly satisfying flavour profile. Adding heat in place of salt seems to help in some dishes too.

              I think the advice to fill up on delicious vegetables is great. If you start your meal with a really fantastic salad that includes tastes you really enjoy, or have appealing vegetable or whole grain-based side dishes, you won't go crazy with the meat main.

              One blog I really like for healthy cooking is Smitten Kitchen ( The author eats meat, but used to be a vegetarian, and so includes a lot of vegetable or grain-centric dishes in her repertoire. It reminds me that a main course doesn't *have* to include meat to be delicious, and her gorgeous photography pushes any last vestiges of doubt from my mind. Be forewarned though, if you have a soft spot for baked goods, you will need to excercise some willpower... this woman is quite the baker!

              1. due to my husbands heart health issues, we've changed our diet considerably over the last year or so....think first about ADDING good things- veggies, raw or roasted Whole grains...think polenta, brown rice,.
                I have used turkey bacon in the past as a way to transition.....sort of like methadone. just don't expect it to taste like the real thing, and enjoy it on it's own.
                There are some good brands of chicken sausage, the one I buy is a local store brand.
                I still prefer butter to substitutes, just use more sparingly. I use olive oil when appropriate.
                Explore different types of seafood.....
                vegetarian meals came later, now we really appreciate them.
                I also have made meatballs/ meatloaf using a combination of ground bison, pork and small amounts of beef.
                after a while, you don't miss the fatty stuff. (salt, on the other hand, is a more difficult thing to avoid)
                good luck

                1 Reply
                1. re: maomi

                  One of the nutrition experts on Oprah last week - an M.D., if memory serves - said turkey bacon is no healthier than regular, and has the same amount of fat. She questioned him on this and he repeated it - next time I'm shopping, I'm comparing labels.

                  I think another good trick involves plating your food. Instead of the typical "pie chart" arrangement, mentally divide the plate into thirds going straight across, so that the middle strip is the largest, and make that the vegetables, with starch and meat on either side of it. The eye is tricked into thinking there's more meat than is really there.