You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or be a culinary expert to cook a delicious tasting meal. You also don’t need to be a nutritionist to create a healthy recipe. Making healthy meals can be simple, convenient, and fun. One of the best parts about preparing meals at home is that you have complete freedom to make it your own. You determine the portions, control the ingredients, and the amounts used. You can even tailor recipes to meet your personal needs and preferences.
Key Elements to Creating a Healthy Meal
When building a healthy meal, aim to follow these three elements on most eating occasions: balance, variety and moderation. Try to include some level of variety without complexity. Simply build your meal with balance in mind, incorporating all five food groups (fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy). There are easy ways to heighten the nutritional value of most any meal.
Example One: Dress up your salad. Swap lettuce for rich pigmented leafy greens like spinach. Add a protein like grilled chicken or salmon. Top it off with dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. Layer it with a yogurt or oil-based dressing instead of a creamy dressing.
Example Two: Amplify your oats. Prepare with milk or soy milk instead of water to add additional nutrients and creaminess. Top it off with fresh fruit like bananas or berries. Dress is up with nuts and seeds like walnuts, slivered almonds or chia seeds. Drizzle on some honey, add cinnamon, coconut flakes, or dark chocolate. You can even mix in a scoop of your favorite protein powder.
Example Three: Burgers for dinner. Substitute white buns for whole wheat. Make that burger stand tall with lots of fresh greens and veggies. Add a side like grilled or roasted asparagus, broccoli, eggplants, or zucchini.
Cooking Methods and Techniques
The cooking methods and techniques you use can help boost flavor. Also, depending on the method - you can retain nutritional value and even reduce the level of fat. For example, steaming vegetables instead of boiling helps to retain some nutrients that get lost through the boiling process. Often times with boiling vegetables you can actually see color leach from the vegetables. Nutrients can also be left behind in the water. There are little things you can do to be more mindful about how much fat you consume when it comes selecting and preparing your proteins. At the grocery store, choose protein sources by opting for lean cuts of meat or selecting ground meat options that are 93% lean (or higher). You can also trim away some of the fat on the cut of meat prior to cooking.
Other methods to consider:
Remove skin from poultry
Try cooking methods like braising, baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, sautéing (stir frying)
Braising: brown protein in pan, then add liquid (water or broth) to cook slowly
Broiling: cook protein under high heat for minimal time
Grilling: cook food over flame to allow fat to drip away
Poaching: simmer proteins in liquid (water or broth)
Sauté: heat oil in pan and cook small pieces of mean on high heat
Include plant proteins such as beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds
Spice It Up
We live through senses. When it comes to food – meals can entice our sense of smell, taste, and vision. Meals should be visually appealing, aromas should draw us in and the taste should be fulfilling and satisfying. One way this can all come together is through flavoring – especially by using herbs and spices. Herbs and spices can help enhance a meal’s flavor and aroma. We’re not just talking about salt and pepper. Change it up. Introduce new herbs and spices that can take your dish to the next level. Flavor it up with oregano, parsley, paprika, cumin, thyme, basil, chives, garlic, or onions. There are hundreds of different spices to choose from – fresh or dry. Experiment and have fun!