Healthier Cooking & Baking Tips

The days of needing lots of calories, fats, sugars and salt are long gone. But there’s still plenty of tasty ways too enjoy your favorite cooked and baked goods without sacrificing flavor.
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8 Tips for Healthier Cooking

These tips will help you lighten up your go-to dishes without sacrificing flavor or banning your favorite comfort foods. Pass the mac & cheese, please! 

1) Make creamy dishes without the cream.

Creamy sauces like those in fettuccine alfredo or homemade macaroni and cheese are often loaded with butter, heavy cream and/or cheese. Ditch heavy cream and make velvety sauces with low-fat milk that’s thickened with flour. Here’s how: combine 1 cup low-fat milk with 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour; whisk over medium heat until bubbling and thick. Cup for cup, thickened low-fat milk saves more than 680 calories and 53 grams saturated fat vs. heavy cream.

2) Try cooking with less oil.

Extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil are good go-to, heart-healthy options for many recipes. But they still pack about 120 calories per tablespoon, so use them sparingly in your favorite sauté, salad or soup recipe. When cooking on the stovetop, cast-iron, nonstick or enamel-coated skillets and pans let you use the least amount of oil with very little sticking.

3) Get crispy “fried” food without the grease.

Skip deep-frying and try this oven-frying technique: Dip chicken, fish or vegetables in milk, buttermilk or egg, dredge in seasoned flour or breadcrumbs, then coat with canola or olive oil cooking spray. Place on a wire rack set on a baking sheet and bake at 425° to 450°F until crispy and the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Two pieces of oven-fried chicken have about 40 percent fewer calories and 4 grams less saturated fat than two pieces of traditional fried chicken. 

4) Amp up flavor without the salt shaker.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium consumption to less than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon salt) per day (and less than 1,500 mg for some people). Replace some of the added salt in a recipe with sodium-free flavor boosters like a squeeze of lemon or lime and/or chopped fresh herbs. Keep an eye on sodium in convenience products like canned broth, tomatoes and beans too.

5) Use whole grains in baked goods.

Replacing half the all-purpose flour in baked goods with whole-wheat flour adds fiber (10 more grams per cup) and boosts other nutrients, including vitamin E, zinc and magnesium. Try using regular or white whole-wheat flour in muffins, breads and hearty cookies; use finer-textured whole-wheat pastry flour in cakes, pie crusts and delicate cookies. 

6) Go for egg whites in place of whole eggs.

An egg white has only 16 calories and 0 grams of fat compared with 54 calories and 5 grams of fat in an egg yolk. Try using 2 egg whites in place of 1 whole egg in almost any recipe.

7) Add grains or vegetables to meaty dishes.

To keep ground meat dishes like meatloaf or burgers satisfying without tipping the calorie scale, add whole grains (like bulgur or brown rice) and/or diced vegetables (like mushrooms or peppers) to the meat to bulk up portion size. It’s also a great way to get more whole grains and vegetables into your diet—foods we typically don’t get enough of. Try adding 3⁄4 to 1 cup cooked whole grains or diced vegetables for each pound of meat. 

8) Reduce cheese, keep the flavor.

Using less cheese gives any dish an easy health upgrade. Opt for bold-flavored cheeses, such as extra-sharp Cheddar, goat cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano to give more flavor impact with fewer calories and less fat.

5 Tips for Healthier Baking

Lighten up your baking with these tips to help you reduce fat and sugar and add fiber, making your favorite treats even healthier.

1) Make them more heart healthy.

Swap out some of the butter, margarine or shortening for heart-healthy oils, such as canola oil or olive oil. For every tablespoon of butter you replace with heart-healthy oil, you eliminate at least 5 grams of saturated fat from your baked goods.

Tip: When you reduce or replace butter in a recipe you may lose some of its tenderizing and moisture- retaining properties. Be conservative with your substitutions until you find a good ratio. 

2) Replace unhealthy fats.

Consider replacing some of the butter with nontraditional baking ingredients, such as nonfat plain yogurt, nonfat buttermilk or even fruit or vegetable puree. Adding a liquid-like ingredient helps keep baked goods satisfyingly moist, even with a reduced overall fat content. Try replacing up to 4 tablespoons of butter with an equal amount of a liquid ingredient.

3) Add fiber to your baked goods.

Replacing some (or all) of the all- purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour and/or oats is an easy way to help you get the recommended daily value of 25 grams of fiber. Most of us fall short of that goal, even though fiber is important for GI health and good for your waistline, since it helps you feel full. You can often substitute whole-wheat flour at a one-to-one ratio, but for treats with a more delicate texture, try using half all-purpose flour and half of the more finely milled whole-wheat pastry flour or mild-flavored white whole-wheat flour. You’ll still get the added benefit of extra fiber without much "wheaty" flavor.

4) Keep sodium in check.

Some baked goods can be surprisingly high in sodium. Aim for no more than 1⁄2 teaspoon salt per batch of cookies.

5) Eliminate trans fat & other artificial ingredients.

Steer clear of ingredients that contain partially hydrogenated oil (or trans fats), such as margarine and most vegetable shortenings. Consider swapping out other artificial ingredients, such as artificial food dyes in frosting, for a drizzle of chocolate or a sprinkle of finely chopped nuts.

Source: Eating Well® 5 Tips for Healthier Baking & 8 Tips for Healthier Cooking