If you ask ten people about their New Year’s resolutions, at least half of them will disclose a new or renewed effort to lose weight. If you wait three months and ask those same people how they’re doing, you’ll discover most will have abandoned their weight-loss plan. Some will have tried in earnest, while others gave the plan a good deal of lip service but did very little to actually inspire change in their lives.
Change is difficult at best, and the change necessary for weight loss or healthier living often seems overwhelming. The majority of the well-intentioned population will make claims to go to the gym every single day, cut out all fat from their diet, or never again indulge in their favorite treat. The problem with these goals is that they are unachievable, and certainly not easily maintained.
While I am no fitness or nutrition expert, I am a fan of looking and feeling good. That said, I know firsthand how difficult it is to consistently align my actions with those desires. I don’t want to eat like a bird or have grilled chicken and broccoli for every meal. Even if I vowed to eat this one meal every night, my own preferences would inevitably take a backseat to the greater needs of my family.
With that in mind, I found a way (many ways, in fact) to keep my family full and satisfied without making drastic and unwelcome changes. I simply had to re-evaluate how I prepare our favorite foods and make small, and often undetected, adjustments. In the process, I’ve helped my family cut unnecessary fat and calories from our diets.
I have compiled some of my favorite cooking tips and tricks. I can’t promise amazing weight loss in 3 easy steps, but I can promise that incorporating a few of the below will, at the very least, help you feel more hopeful about reaching your health goals.
- Gobble it up. Substituting lean ground turkey for beef will cut your calories almost in half (and save you from having to drain your pan). I have successfully made this substitution in spaghetti, lasagna, chili, goulash, burgers, meatloaf, and more. If you haven’t substituted before, feel free to ease yourself into the idea by first substituting only half of your beef and then gradually increase the ratio of turkey to beef.
- Ditch the yolks, folks. I have yet to find one recipe calling for eggs that didn’t taste just as good when I used only the whites. For cakes and other baked goods, I compensate for the omission by either adding in an extra white or simply stir in a teaspoon or two of water to get the right consistency. When making scrambled eggs or quiche, you may want to use one or two whole eggs if the color of an all-white dish is off-putting.
- Be creatively cheesy. Most of you who have dabbled in low-fat eating have probably tried to use fat-free cheese for your favorite casserole or snack and are likely familiar with the non-melting quality of said cheese. I’ve found that I can use fat-free cheese for some dishes, like salads, where melting is not required. For a casserole, however, I like to use a mixture of two-percent and fat-free cheese, with full-fat cheese sprinkled on top for good measure. This way, you get all the melting and taste benefits without nearly as much fat as if you’d used the same quantify of full-fat cheese. I typically buy each different variety, but mix them together in a new container for ease of use when I’m cooking.
- Give vegetable oil a bad name. If a recipe calls for ½ a cup of oil, use ½ a cup of unsweetened applesauce instead. It provides the moisture necessary to bind your ingredients together and gives your baked goods a light, fruity taste. Plus, you save approximately 90 calories per serving.
- Think yogurt. Most people think of yogurt as a breakfast item, but plain, low-fat yogurt is the perfect substitute for sour cream in dips and dressings. Just make sure you don’t pick up vanilla instead or your taste buds are in for a shock…..or so I’ve heard. This substitution saves you 170 calories per ½ cup!
- Go wild! Introduce your family to wild rice and drop 18 calories per serving. In addition to fewer calories, you’ll get higher fiber and much better nutrition than you do with white rice. Wild rice holds up well in soups and casseroles. If you’re not quite ready to make this substitution, choose brown rice. Either of these options is far better than white rice.
- Adjust your spud strategy. Many people bake potatoes as a “healthier” option to eating French fries, but sabotage their plan by loading up on sour cream, butter, and cheese. If you love baked potatoes, try using sweet potatoes instead and/or replace the toppings with low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese or salsa. I don’t like baked or sweet potatoes, so my preference is to slice regular potatoes into thin strips and bake them for a lightened-up version of French fries. My kids LOVE turkey burgers and baked fries and they have no idea the meal isn’t the same as what’s in their favorite McDonald’s Happy Meal.
- Enjoy a Diet Coke….cake. Yes, some will argue the perils of artificial sweetener, but I’m including this tip as I simply don’t know how I’d manage a low-calorie/low-fat lifestyle without the creative use of diet soda. For any boxed cake recipe that calls for eggs and oil, you can replace those ingredients with 12 ounces of diet soda. Choose your soda based on the flavor of the cake – dark soda for chocolate and lighter soda for flavors like lemon and vanilla. My personal favorite is Diet Sunkist in French Vanilla cake. Yum!
- Whip your cake into shape. Cake is a great dessert and can be made in a fairly calorie conscious manner if you use tip #4 or #8, but most of us like the sugary icing just as much as the cake. You can have both if you forego traditional toppings and use Cool Whip instead. You can also put cool whip between two graham crackers, freeze, and enjoy a fun “ice cream” sandwich!
- Rebel against your recipe. A friend of mine laughs at my use of the word “recipe” as she says that my recipes consist of ingredients without any quantities. Guilty as charged. I find that I can tweak recipes in order to accommodate both taste preferences and desired caloric intake. For example, if a stir-fry recipe calls for a pound of meat, two cups of broccoli, and one cup of carrots, I might change that up to ½ pound of meat, 4 cups of broccoli, and a cup of carrots…and throw in some mushrooms and zucchini. This way, the bulk of the dish is vegetable-based instead of meat-based.
There you have my culinary secrets that help me feed my family tasty and guilt-free meals. What are your favorite cooking tips?