Inside the EatingWell Test Kitchen—picture four home kitchens in one room—you’ll find us trying to solve problems. What problems? Creating recipes that meet high standards of taste and health, but are easy and quick enough for a weeknight. So how do we do it? We turn to our arsenal of healthy cooking tricks and techniques we’ve learned over the past 10 years, some from the chefs and cookbook authors we work with, others developed through lots of trial and error, right here in our kitchen.
Some of our tastiest results include: comfort foods like mac & cheese and fried chicken that are light enough to eat every day, baked goods with more fiber but fewer calories and less fat, and even healthier ice creams. Our other challenge: we want to make sure that when you make our recipes you get the same great results. So we test our recipes repeatedly, using different equipment and several cooks. Here are 10 of our best healthy cooking secrets. Use them in your own kitchen to create healthy recipe makeovers of your own.
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. We ditch heavy cream and make velvety sauces with low-fat milk that’s thickened with flour. To make your own cream substitute: 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! For creamy salads, such as potato salads, opt for low-fat mayonnaise and/or reduced-fat sour cream; a blend of the two tastes great. One tablespoon of regular mayo has 90 calories and 10 grams fat vs. 15 calories and 1 gram fat in low-fat mayo.
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2. Try cooking with less oil
Extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil are our go-to, heart-healthy oils for many recipes. But they still pack about 120 calories per tablespoon, so we use them judiciously. Try adding less oil to 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.
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3. Get crispy “fried” food without the grease
Skip deep-frying and try our 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. Two pieces of our 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 USDA recommends limiting sodium consumption to less than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon salt) per day. But keeping within that guideline can be tricky even if you make most of your meals at home. 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. Often there is a lower-sodium option available, so check the nutrition panel to compare among brands.
5. Use whole grains in baked goods
Replacing half the all-purpose flour in baked goods with whole-wheat flour adds fiber (12 more grams per cup) and boosts essential B vitamins, 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. Swap good fats for bad fats
We love the taste of butter and know it can’t always be replaced completely, especially in baked goods, but to keep saturated fat in check, we use canola or olive oil instead of butter as much as possible. Tablespoon for tablespoon, butter has seven times more saturated fat than oil. Experiment with your favorite recipe by replacing at least half of the butter with oil.
7. 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.
8. Slim down homemade ice cream
For rich, smooth ice cream that’s lower in calories and fat than regular ice cream, we use low-fat milk thickened with gelatin. It mimics the texture of full-fat ice cream, but cuts about 90 calories and 10 grams saturated fat (50 percent of our daily limit) per 1/2-cup serving.
9. Add grains or vegetables to meaty dishes
To keep ground-meat dishes like meatloaf or burgers satisfying without tipping the calorie scale, we add whole grains (like bulgur or brown rice) or diced vegetables (like mushrooms or peppers) to the meat to bulk up portion size. It’s also a great way to get more grains and vegetables into your diet—foods we typically don’t get enough of. Try adding 3/4 to 1 cup cooked grains or diced vegetables for each pound of meat.
10. 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.
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What’s your best secret for cooking healthier? Tell us what you think below.