Growing up in an Italian family, calories, fat and fiber were not exactly on the forefront of my mother’s brain. I admit that I grew up on sausage, meatballs and white pasta. Pizza, olives and all varieties of cheese were staples in our home. But, I give the woman props. She raised five children on my dad’s salary alone. We were a busy family, too- being taxied from band practice to track meets to swim lessons. But unlike today’s families where a trip through the drive-through is a regular outing, eating out ANYWHERE was a treat back then. My mom made sure we had a hot meal on the table every night.
Fast forward 26+ years. I have paired my love of food with my love of health with a career as a dietitian. And while I only have two children, life is still hectic. I made a promise to my husband that unlike my mom, I would work out of the home BUT continue to cook the majority of our meals. And while I’m no chef, I’ve acquired a few simple tricks to make food healthy, while still being yummy. After all, if it doesn’t taste good- who will eat it? Below are some tips to reduce calories and fat and boost fiber in your meals.
To lower calories in your meals, start with vegetables. Today’s meals don’t have to be meat based. Aim to eat at least six servings of vegetables per day. While that sounds like a lot- consider that 1 cup of spinach cooks down to nothing and can be added to your morning omelet. You can also add salsa to your scrambled eggs or snack on pepper strips, cherry tomatoes or snap peas between meals. At lunch, pack frozen vegetables or a side salad to add fiber and fluid to your meals, which has been found to curb appetite.
Another way to reduce calories (as well as fat) is to use leaner meat. When buying ground beef or turkey, look for varieties that are 90% lean or higher. For example, Laura’s Lean beef is 92% lean and 8% fat. Ground turkey can contain just as much fat as ground beef if it is 85% lean and 15% fat. Trim skin off chicken and turkey before cooking as well as fat around pork and steak. Choose lean cuts such as pork tenderloin in place of chops. Grill, bake or broil meat instead of frying. Or go meatless entirely and opt for black beans and brow rice or quinoa for your meal.
To limit fat in recipes, choose dairy products made from skim, 1% or 2% milk. As long as cheese melts- it’s cheese to me! Shredded varieties are often made with reduced fat milk. Butter, oil or other fat can be reduced by 1/4 in baked goods without changing the flavor or texture. Sautee vegetables or lean meat in non-stick cooking spray or broth instead of oil to cut the fat content in your recipes. Try it- you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Another sneaky trick when making dips or dressings is to substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream. The tart, tangy taste mimics sour cream and boosts the protein and calcium content of your meal without fat. Don’t even tell your guests you’ve made the switch. It will be your little secret. Try Greek yogurt cream cheese in place of the original. It contains more protein and less fat, with the same great taste.
To boost fiber in your diet, make the switch from white, processed grains to whole grains. While the calorie count is the same in white and brown rice, brown rice digests slower than white, which has been found to regulate blood sugar. Whole wheat pasta boasts 5-6 grams of fiber per serving VS a wimpy 2 grams in traditional white pasta. Go for 100% whole wheat bread over white bread and bran cereal over corn flakes. Eat whole fruit and reduce intake of fruit juice. Add beans to sauces, salads and soups. These are loaded with appetite-killing fiber and your colon will thank you!
Finally- be conscious of portion sizes. It’s fine to eat lower calorie food, but all calories add up. Use a smaller plate, drink plenty of water and stop eating before you’re stuffed.