Over the years the serving size of all meats has become so large that there is not much room left on the plate for other items. As meat serving-sizes increased, the serving size of sides decreased, especially in restaurants. Unfortunately, the most nutrients per caloric content are in the sides – especially veggies and fruits. And no, French fries DO NOT count as a vegetable.
A primary goal for everyone who wants to enjoy a healthier body should be to eat less meat. An important fact that most people either do not know, or ignore, is that many plants have more protein than meat. All protein intake does not have to be from meat.
The body does not need so much protein – especially from meat. Most North Americans eat many times over their protein needs every single day, which is causing a host of health problems such as kidney stones, gall stones and other issues.
Eating less meat is good for the environment. Sounds strange, but it is true. It takes far more water and resources to create one pound of meat than it does to grow one pound of vegetables or fruit. When you take that fact into account plus the fact that there are other foods with more nutrients per calorie, it just makes sense to use meat as a condiment – to add flavor and texture but, not make it the main course.
Cutting down on your meat intake is easy, even if eat out a lot. If you keep in mind that a little goes a long way you will be happy with less. The body does not need more than 2 to 4 ounces of meat on any given day. Yet, in restaurants, they specialize in 16-ounce steaks (a full pound).
Try something new! For a party of four, rather than each person gorging him/herself with 4X the amount of necessary protein, take a much healthier approach. Order one steak and four- six sides. Share the steak and the sides. Enjoy a healthy amount of steak with delicious, healthy sides as you savor the flavors and save a lot of money.
When you eat at home, make stir-fry, casseroles, and other dishes where meat is not the main course. Use meat as part of a wrap, a pita, or a healthy pizza. By making meat a condiment you leave room for more veggies and whole grains which are truly the powerhouses of vitamins and minerals that you need to build and sustain a healthy body.
In order to maintain a well-functioning and illness-free body, it is important to eat healthy meals that have been prepared using healthy cooking methods. This is common knowledge, yet many people completely ignore the facts and choose not to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
As suggested above, a critical component to healthy eating is how the food is cooked. You can start with fresh, delicious, and healthy raw ingredients, but if you choose the wrong method of cooking, you will end up with a meal filled with fat and calories.
All raw ingredients can be cooked using a number of different methods. In this post we will discuss the healthier cooking options for meats, fish and poultry.
Please take note: Healthy does not mean bland!
Frying in oodles of butter or deep frying in fat are not the only methods which produce a delectable meal, but they are among the least healthy methods because they add a lot of fat and calories.
As you know, there are different cuts of meats and poultry, and each of them has different characteristics. However, a common factor that determines the nutritional value of any cut is the way the animal or the bird was raised. Be a selective shopper and a health-conscious cook:
Avoid meats and poultry from factory farms.
Buy “choice” or “select” grades of beef as opposed to “prime.”
“Loin” and “round” red meat and pork have the least fat.
When buying poultry – keep in mind that white meat is less fatty than dark meat.
Trim all excess fat from red meat.
Remove all skin from poultry – eliminates 45% of the fat.
Healthy Cooking Methods
Roasting is a delicious and extremely easy method for cooking meats and poultry. You can make it even healthier by not adding oil or butter. Meats should be roasted on a metal rack that is placed in a large pan so that the fat can drip off.
You can roast tender cuts at high temperatures, 425 °F. Less-tender cuts can be slow-roasted, pot-roasted, or cooked in a slow cooker.
Yes, the pan drippings are wonderful; but, if you can resist the temptation to use them for basting, you will have an even healthier meal. As a substitute for basting – use tomato juice, lemon juice, or wine.
Another closely-related, healthy cooking method for fish and small pieces of chicken is to wrap the pieces with a few diced vegetables, herbs, and spices in an aluminum foil tent, and bake in the oven.
Grilling and Broiling
Grilling is a direct heat method that requires no oil yet delivers an end result that is utterly delicious. The best part is that it is suitable for almost all kinds of meats and poultry – and you keep the heat outside during the hot summer months.
One word of warning: avoid charring your meats and poultry. Studies have shown that eating a lot of excessively charred food increases the risk of various cancers.
Broiling is also a direct heat method similar to grilling, but it is done in an oven. You do not get the wonderful “smoky grilled” flavor, but since the meat essentially cooks in its own juice, it is still very good. This is an ideal method for the rainy season or cold winter months.
Tender cuts are best for this cooking method. Cuts that are less tender can be braised or stewed.
Grilling fish is wonderful and provides a tasty dish. BUT – since fish cooks very quickly, you must be careful not to overcook (which is a sure way to ruin good fish). All you have to do is lightly sprinkle the fish with your favorite herbs and spices, grill for a few minutes on each side (until barely cooked through), and you will have a flavorful, healthy main course ready to serve in a very short time.
Using a Pressure Cooker
Tougher cuts of meat can be prepared in a pressure cooker with excellent results. It helps in tenderizing the meat and retaining the nutrients by reducing exposure to high temperatures. This method is easy to learn with new-age pressure cookers. You can also make wonderful soups and stews with this method.
Stir-frying is a quick, easy, and relatively healthy method of cooking. The relative healthy term comes from the fact that it does require the addition of some oil – but can be done with a minimum amount. Be sure to use only healthy oils such as good quality olive oil, grape seed and canola – and use just enough to coat all the ingredients.
Poaching and Steaming
When it comes to cooking fish, poaching is undeniably one of the best methods. Steaming is a nice alternative. Both are done without the use of cooking oils.
Poaching – place the fish in a pan that has been lightly sprayed with PAM and quickly brown (very lightly) on each side. Add enough liquid to barely cover the fish (water, white wine, or non-fat broth are good choices). Then, cover and bring liquid to a light simmer and cook until the fish is barely cooked through. DO NOT OVER COOK.
This is a gentle method that preserves the original flavor and also keeps it tender and moist. The end result is juicy and incredibly delicious.
Different liquids like wine, broth or even vegetable soups can be used; each will impart its own unique flavor to the fish.
Poaching is particularly a good choice for fish with firm or thick flesh, like halibut or salmon (this is definitely my favorite way to cook salmon.) It also works well with tilapia.
Steaming – this method offers a different taste treat. It produces a mild-flavored fish dish that can be served with a strong-flavored sauce such as Ginger-Soy Sauce.
It is vitally important to stock your kitchen with healthy foods. When your kitchen is filled with pre-packaged mixes and meals, unhealthy snacks and an unlimited supply of foods filled with empty calories, you are basically sabotaging any attempts you may make at healthier eating.
In order to develop and sustain better eating habits, you must have a kitchen stocked with good quality, healthy food. So, the first step may be to take inventory of your food supply and eliminate all the foods that contribute to poor eating habits. OUCH!
That could be a scary process for some – depending on the amount of unhealthy food that has collected on your pantry shelves and in your refrigerator. BUT . . . you have to start somewhere. So, removing all the foods that take you down the path of poor eating habits is the first step.
When you are hungry and look through the cabinets for something to eat, if are like me, you eat whatever is available. Keeping cookies in the pantry or ice cream in the freezer is simply too tempting, I can almost guarantee that you will eat them – eventually. If you want to stop eating unhealthy foods, you simply must not keep them around. If they are not readily available in your kitchen, you no longer have to make the choice of eating them, or not.
Once your pantry and refrigerator are clean, the next step is to pay attention to how you shop. The act of resisting temptation starts when you are in the grocery store. Avoiding the temptation to buy foods that you know you don’t want to eat (or should not eat) is the first step toward changing your eating habits.
Before we discuss how to stock a healthier kitchen, let’s deal with some of the false beliefs, which may be preventing you from eating better.
“I can’t throw away all that food. I will use what I have first and then replace it with better choices.”
This is a ridiculous statement! As long as you tell yourself such hogwash, you will NOT change your eating habits for the better. There are alternative choices to eating or throwing away the unwanted (bad) food in your kitchen.
You can donate canned goods, boxes of pasta, and other packaged goods to the local food bank. There is no reason to throw away usable foods when someone else can use them. Check the dates and make sure the packaging is sealed. The only things you should throw away are items like a half eaten carton of ice cream or open packages of cookies – simply drop them in the garbage, forget them, and don’t buy any more.
“Eating healthy is too expensive”
If you plan well and shop wisely, you will actually save money. Become a smart shopper, use a list, and buy only what you know you will use so that you do not end up throwing away spoiled food. Frozen fruits and vegetables are viable options to use in place of fresh produce on occasion (but do not do this all the time).
When whole grain bread is on sale, buy several loaves and freeze them immediately until needed. When thawed, you will never know the difference.
Start buying lean meats, chicken, and pork from a good butcher shop that sells quality, fresh meat (preferably grain-fed beef). Buy in quantities when on sale, divide it into appropriate serving portions for your family and freeze immediately until needed.
Word of caution – always date foods you put in your freezer, rotate them, and use them within three months.
Learn to “Cook Ahead” and freeze meals so that you know the foods you are serving are made with healthy ingredients and are better for your family’s health. (Check out my book, Cook Ahead – Freezer to Table for more information on freezing foods and meals.)
“My kids won’t eat healthy foods”
If you have been serving high-fat foods filled with empty calories, the change will take some effort. Long-term eating habits can be difficult to change, but not impossible.
It will take some focused effort (and persistence) on your part, but you can do it if you believe it is important enough. The natural sweetness of nuts, fruits, and some vegetables as discussed in a previous post can lower the desire for high calorie sugary snacks. You can also begin to lower the calorie content by making their favorite meals with low fat milk and other substitutions – the change in taste will probably go unnoticed.
If you have never introduced healthy foods to them, they have never had the chance to develop a taste for them. It is never too late to help them (and you) discover the natural flavors of really good food.
Your family will snack on whatever is available – especially after school or a hard day at work. What’s in your kitchen?
It is a well-known fact that almost everyone should add more veggies to their meals. In fact, the recommended amount is four to six servings (½ cup each) of vegetables every day. Many people continuously fall short of that amount.
Veggies are low in fat (and calories) and filled with nutrients – especially vitamins and minerals. They also contain antioxidants that help protect the human body from oxidant stress, disease and cancer by boosting immunity. All of which helps the human body stay fit and disease free.
If vegetables have never been your family’s favorite foods, eating enough of them can be a problem. One solution is to learn how to incorporate vegetables in attractive and delicious ways into your meals.
Since many people avoid vegetables completely, trying to eat two to three cups of vegetables each day may seem impossible. But . . . it does not have to be!
Ideas to Make It Easier
Below are some ideas that you can use to successfully incorporate more vegetables into your diet. They will also increase the daily nutrients that you and your family need
Adding diced or chopped veggies to casseroles add color, flavor, and texture to the dish without being obvious. You can start with one or two vegetables in small amounts and gradually increase them over time. For example, adding chopped broccoli, diced onions and tomatoes to a chicken and rice casserole offers a delicious blend of flavors and is usually eaten with great gusto.
Salads are the perfect accompaniment to meals such as pizza, lasagna, hot dogs, hamburgers and a variety of oth
er dishes. Make it a fun adventure by allowing each person to create his/her own salad. Serve a big bowl of fresh crisp greens and bowls of extras that can be added: tomatoes, avocados, diced onions, grated cheese, feta cheese, diced bell pepper, sliced bananas, sliced beets, chopped eggs, bacon pieces, etc. Offer a variety of dressings including some “light” dressing for fewer calories. You may want to encourage them to experiment with dressing combinations such as Ranch and Balsamic Vinaigrette.
This is a great way to serve vegetables and will be enjoyed by almost everyone. Use mostly vegetables that are cut (diced) in small pieces. Some good basics are: onions, garlic and diced chicken, shrimp or lean beef. Serve the stir fry alone or over steamed brown Basmati rice. Add soy sauce or teriyaki for a more authentic Asian flavor.
Spaghetti or lasagna sauce is a perfect place to add vegetables. Either make your own (preferred) or buy a good brand (Newman’s Own™) of plain sauce (with herbs or cheese). Then, add a mix of finely diced onions, zucchini, tomatoes and even finely sliced or diced carrots. It gives your sauce extra flavor and also increases the vegetable servings.
Fresh raw vegetables provide excellent nutritional value. For snacks, serve strips of carrot, jicama, zucchini, celery, and bell pepper, plus broccoli and cauliflower florets and chunks of tomatoes with a ranch dip, guacamole, or hummus. Carrots and celery are often a welcome treat when spread with peanut or almond butter
If you enjoy outdoor grilling, learn to make kebabs, made by alternating chunks of lean meat with vegetables on grilling skewers. They can be cooked on a grill or broiled in your oven. Serve with a dipping sauce and steamed rice for a healthy light meal – perfect for spring and summer evenings.
You can hide a world of good food (vegetables) in a pot of soup. The traditional favorite, chicken soup, can be made using your favorite recipe and adding diced veggies to increase the nutrient value.
Minestrone is another excellent vegetable disguise that you should make occasionally. Or, make cream of broccoli or squash soup – a creamy puréed soup that is so good, the vegetable factor is a non-issue.
NOTE: Regardless of the soup recipe you choose for this purpose, the notorious “bad guys from the world of vegetables” are not recognized as such. There is no one particular flavor that dominates the soup – all the flavors meld into one.
Rolling up your vegetables in wraps is a great way to disguise them. Use flavored or plain whole wheat flour tortillas that allow you to serve your family’s favorite protein such as turkey, ham or beef together with peppers, lettuce, asparagus, tomato, avocado, spinach, onions, etc. These can also be grilled with a little butter on a hot pancake grill or heavy frying pan. The potential combinations are endless.
You can also create simple veggie wraps loaded with fresh veggies, finished with olive oil, salad dressing, or mustard. Try flattening, stuffing and rolling chicken breasts, boneless fish fillets or even fillets of beef with veggies and cheese for a surprise dinner. Insert spinach, tomato and/or roasted red peppers and onions combined with a small amount of feta, blue cheese, or mozzarella to enhance flavor.
There is a good chance that there are various vegetable preferences (and dislikes) among the members of your family – but everyone can benefit from the nutrients in any or all of them. It can be very effective to serve a vegetable buffet where you prepare three to five vegetables separately – incorporating seasonings such as garlic, rosemary, and thyme along with olive oil or a small amount of salt and pepper to spice them up.
It is a good idea to prepare them in different ways – experiment with steaming, grilling, sautéing, and/or roasting – each method offers its own particular flair to the taste.
For example . . . Grilled asparagus topped with melted butter seasoned with minced fresh garlic; green beans with sliced almonds tossed in Italian dressing; roasted squash pieces marinated in salad dressing and topped with Parmesan cheese; or sweet potato fries are all great ways to make veggies tasty and interesting.
Allow family members to spoon up their personal choices. The buffet makes vegetables more fun and gives each person control over what he/she chooses to eat. These two things together make healthy eating so much more fun and delicious.
Find Your Favorites
These are only a few of the many ways to successfully add vegetables to your meals. Experiment with new and unique seasonal finds, plus try different forms of cooking them, and use a wide variety of seasonings and disguises.
Getting your family to eat more vegetables – without a struggle – can be your personal cooking challenge. Using the suggestions listed in this article is so much better than trying to coerce family members to “eat their vegetables.”
It is likely that your family will try the new “forms” of vegetables far more frequently and willingly than they have in the past.
We would love to hear how you do when you try some of our suggestions.
*Stevia comes from a plant that contains natural sweeteners that are used in foods and has a negligible effect on blood glucose.