Spring is right around the corner with the vernal equinox less than 3 weeks away. After a long cold icy winter of eating stews and heavy casseroles, you may feel like lightening things up a bit and doing some spring cleaning of your diet. As the days get longer and the weather gets better (fingers crossed!) we naturally gravitate to lighter meals.
If you are craving this lightness, the easiest way to get there is to modify the recipes you might currently be using by reducing the amount of sugar, refined carbs, salt and fat while making healthy substitutions and increasing some other ingredients.
5 Tips to Lighten Up Your Meals
1. Manage the fat — Healthy fats are good for you so make sure you have made the shift to extra virgin olive, avocado and coconut oils. This means avoiding highly refined oils like safflower, soybean, sunflower, corn and vegetable oil.
You can also cut the fat in half for most of the recipes you are using. Most directions recommend sautéing vegetables and searing meat in 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil which is unnecessary. Try cutting the fat in half.
For baked goods try replacing half of the fat with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana or prune puree.
2. Shave the sugar — Most of your recipes containing sugar can be reduced by one-third to one-half. If you add spices like cinnamon, clove, allspice and nutmeg or flavorings like vanilla, almond extract or high-quality essential oils such as doTerra oils you will never miss the sugar.
If you have a persistent sweet tooth, try stevia or monk fruit as a safe alternative to sugar. Be wary of the powered stevia which often contain sugar alcohols which can be a challenge to your gut health. I like the stevia in the liquid form which you can find in the health food store.
3. Scale down the salt — You can easily reduce salt in your recipes by half or more. To keep you dishes rich and savory learn how to artfully use herbs and spices. Some of my favorites include dried cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, red pepper, curry, ginger, dill, and basil.
But fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley are great, too. You might even try growing these herbs yourself. Freshly cut herbs pack powerful flavor and they are very dense in important nutrients.
As you start to get used to cooking with herbs you may want to create your own herb and spice mixes. In the meanwhile, check out Penzeys.com for some amazing blends. Mural of Flavor, Ozark Seasoning and Northwoods are among our favorites.
4. Make Healthy Substitutions — Use whole wheat or bean pastas instead of white pasta. Beans are super nutritious. You can also use pureed beans with a little broth to make soups creamier.
High calorie sour cream or oil in your recipe can be easily swapped with Greek yogurt instead. Lots of protein and less calories make this a good choice. An easy change is olive oil instead of butter or a mix of these fats rather than 100% butter.
5. Cut Back on Some Ingredients — Eliminate ingredients that you add out of habit or for appearance like buttered bread crumbs or added cheese on top. Or you can try a 1/2 cup of cheese instead of the 1½ cups called for in the ingredients.
Sauces are another source of saturated fat that we don’t need. Try a new salad dressing made from a healthy fat as a sauce on your main course or veggies.
Reduce the meat in your recipes and “beef” up the veggies.
6. Create big flavor without lots of calories — Use bold cheese like extra sharp cheddar Parmagiano-Reggiano or Roquefort cheese because you can use less and still get great flavor. Onions and garlic enhance the flavor of just about everything you pair them with. And I love the flavor of grated peel of lemon and lime.
Increase the umami in your recipes. Umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid which occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fish, broth, mushrooms, miso, tamari, tomatoes, and anchovies. Don’t get scared by anchovies—just a pinch can add tremendous flavor.
7. Use some easy shortcuts — Anything that you can do ahead of time is helpful such as overnight oats, egg muffins, salads in a mason jar and chia seed pudding. These recipes are easy to access by simply asking Chef Google. And some of these recipes can be found on my website too.
Creating healthy, delicious food doesn’t require an overhaul. Just try some of these ideas to see how they work for you.