September 5, 2010

Can You Make 10 of Your Favorite Dishes Healthier? You Bet!

We all have favorite foods that we love. They may be dishes our Moms or Grandmas made or a dish that has become a new tradition in your own family.Whatever it is, we all worry about whether it's a healthy choice for our families. About seven years ago my husband and I decided to start eating better in an effort to improve our health and keep it that way. Cutting out a lot of desserts and sweets is part of a healthy diet, but we discovered there are a lot of ways to improve the nutritional quality of many of the dishes we love and enjoy. Here's ten things we've been doing that have really cut the fat and sugar content of our diet.

1. We love anything with cheese! Nachos, enchiladas, pizza, tacos! We cut the amount of shredded cheese we use to half and went one better. We buy shredded cheddar cheese in both fat-free and regular varieties (usually sharp) and mix it....2/3 fat-free and 1/3 regular. You probably know that fat-free cheese is truly not as tasty as regular, but by mixing it you still get that yummy flavor while cutting out a lot of fat! (Remember to use fat free sour cream on those enchiladas!)

2. Cookies! We love cookies! I've found some ways to reduce the calories and fat by using substitutions. My favorite recipe, Peanut Butter Kisses, is a great example. The recipe uses only peanut butter, eggs, and sugar (and Hersey kisses, of course!). I've been making them with reduced-fat peanut butter, Splenda (instead of sugar) and Egg Beaters. There is no difference in the taste and we are saving mega amounts of calories!

3. Everyone loves cakes for a party and we are no exception. When I was a kid my Dad's favorite was Chocolate Applesauce cake and the rest of us loved it, too. We never stopped to think that by substituting applesauce for oil we were eating healthier, but we were. I use applesauce for oil whenever I bake cakes or cupcakes and it's been yummy every time. You can also do this with brownies! It's a great way to sneak a little fruit into the family diet :)

4. Speaking of sneaking things in, let's get some cauliflower into them! Most kids (ok, most adults, too) like cauliflower only if it's covered in cheese sauce or butter. What's a Mom (or Grandma) to do? Sneak it into those mashed potatoes! That's right, boil up the cauliflower right along with the potatoes, mash it in, and no one is the wiser. It works!

5. Let's go back to those mashed potatoes for a minute. Love the rich, creamy taste of mashed potatoes made with real cream? Me, too! Here's what I do. Use fat free milk with a little fat free half-n-half (about a tablespoon to a cup of the milk). It doesn't sound like much, but you'll be surprised at the difference and you're not adding any fat!

6. Let's make a pizza for dinner! Pepperoni is my favorite and the grand kids love it, too. Use turkey pepperoni! Honestly, there is no difference in the taste. It's so good you can eat a few slices by itself and you'll never know that it's turkey. You can dice it up for adding a little spice to other dishes, too...omelets, potato salad, a sandwich, use your imagination. It's a staple at our house!

7. My grandma taught me to make a salad dressing that is super simple (3 ingredients) and everyone loves it. It's great on green salads, slaws, fruit, vegetable trays and Waldorf salads. It's a mixture of mayonnaise, sugar, and vinegar. That's it. I'm sure you can guess what I do to slim it down....fat free mayonnaise, Splenda, and vinegar. Again, no difference in the taste! The vinegar is tangy enough to keep the fat free mayonnaise from making the dressing too bland.

8.Hurray for fried chicken! It was always (and still is) one of my favorite meals. But let's make it healthier! First...take off that skin! Yes, I know it's the best part...but eating healthier does require some self sacrifice. I do love chicken thighs and still eat them, but I think we all know that the breast meat is leaner. So make your choice, but let's get cooking. Dip those skinned pieces into either scrambled egg white or egg substitute and roll them in some crushed cereal to add not only great taste, but fiber! I love to use Wheaties for this, but Cornflakes, Special K, Grapenuts, and others all work for this. Less fat, more fiber...it's all good!

9. Chicken salad is a treat for lunch. We like it either by itself or in a sandwich. But it can be full of fat, so let's make it better for our health. Use either fat free mayonnaise or try the new mayonnaise with olive oil that just recently hit the market. It's good. I like the taste better than the fat free variety and olive oil is one of the oils that's good for you! Instead of adding in the usual celery and onion, let's get some fiber and vitamins with fruit! I like to add chopped Fuji apples (or red delicious) and quartered grapes. Walnuts, pecans, or almonds will add a little protein, too. By the way, don't use those roasted chickens from the supermarket. Did you know they actually inject fat into them to make them taste great? A friend who works at a-national-chain-supermarket-who-shall-not-be-named told me. Next time you make chicken for dinner, cook some extra for leftovers and fruity chicken salad!

10. Love fresh lemonade but not all the sugar it takes to make it sweet and delicious? Here's my secret (shhh, don't tell my guests). I use Crystal Light...no fat, no sugar, no calories. I make it special and extra yummy by adding slices of fresh lemon. I like to make a big pitcher with ice and the lemon slices and put it in the refrigerator an hour or so before serving. The longer it sits in the refrigerator the more lemony it tastes. It's still sweet, but with that just squeezed flavor. I can't tell you how many times our guests have remarked about the fresh lemonade! I feel good letting our grandson drink as much "lemonade" as he wants!

There are so many creative ways to build a healthier diet for yourself and your family. Most of what I do is substituting one thing for another, using fat free or reduced fat products, and adding in healthy ingredients when I can. Try making some changes without telling the family and see of they notice.Take these ideas and build on them. I'd love to hear what your imagination comes up with!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and WeightWatchers SmartOnes blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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