In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to honor my amazing mom, who has always encouraged and kept a healthy, whole food-minded lifestyle. I didn’t always understand or accept that nutrition was important for health, but she did. When I started making big changes in my life to look and feel better, it could not have been easier because of the way my mom already cooked and shopped for food in our house. I could come up with a very long list of reasons why my mom is an incredible person, but it seems particularly relevant to my blog that she has always been such a role model for me about healthy eating. And damn, can that woman cook! I honestly believe that she should have been a professional chef. Well now I’m just kvelling.
The point is that she is an incredibly talented amateur chef who also takes great care to provide a healthy diet for herself and her family. Probably the most important thing she does is that she cooks at all, and often; home cooked meals these days tend to be a lot healthier and lower calorie than restaurant, take-out, or ready-to-eat supermarket meals. She also buys organic a lot of the time and always checks the ingredient list of packaged foods to make sure the list is short and easy to pronounce and to avoid too much sugar, salt, any chemicals that present a health risk.
Unfortunately I’m still at school for finals, so I couldn’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but I called her to give her my love and consult with her about the smart and easy substitutions she makes when cooking to make dishes healthier. She remarked that all of these suggestions are second nature to her; she called them “no-brainers.” To me, too, it seems that these are obvious actions to take if you care about increasing healthfulness while retaining flavor, but it occurred to me that a lot of people probably don’t know these tricks, or we wouldn’t have such a chronic disease epidemic on our hands.
So here are my mom’s tips and substitutions for heart-healthy, weight-friendly cooking:
- Replace ground beef with ground turkey (ground turkey breast is even leaner, but sometimes the fat is necessary to retain the flavor)
- Replace whole milk with low or nonfat milk
- Similarly, replace full-fat cheese with low-fat or non-fat cheese, or better yet just reduce the cheese–you probably won’t even notice
- Replace cream with light cream or half and half, mayo with light mayo, and sour cream with light sour cream; sometimes you can even replace these things with nonfat plain yogurt
- Replace some of the whole eggs in a recipe with egg whites
- Use whole grain pasta and rice instead of their refined counterparts
- Use a non-stick pan and cooking spray so you don’t have to cook with oil or butter
- Replace some or all butter with olive oil
- Bake with apple sauce or yogurt to add moisture and you can use less butter
- When making cream cheese based spreads, use soy-based “cream cheese” (she likes the Tofutti brand)–it probably tastes just as good
- Cook with low sodium chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter or oil, especially things like rice
- Smoked sea salt can stand in for smoked meat to flavor a dish
- Fresh herbs and lemon can go a long way in seasoning a dish so you can cut down on salt
- Lemon also gives a lot of low-calorie flavor to a salad dressing
- Cut down the salt in a recipe by half to start and then taste it before you add more (Note: don’t mess with salt in baking unless you really know what you’re doing)
- Replace ketchup with tomato paste
- Instead of drinking straight juice or soda, add a splash of juice to sparkling water
- Replace butter with products like Earth Balance buttery spread, which is free of dairy fat and trans fat
The caveat is that substitutions like these occasionally won’t work, or you may not be able to replace all the butter or all the salt and still keep the flavor. That’s why my mom always takes and looks over her notes when she makes a recipe the first few times, so she can remember how much or what substitution worked.
I know that my and my family’s health is much better off because of my mom’s efforts and talents in the supermarket and more so in the kitchen. Thank you mom for supporting my journey to live more healthfully: thank you for buying me berries and avocadoes and hummus and egg whites and greek yogurt and thank you for driving me to the gym. And thank you for encouraging me to live more healthfully even when I didn’t want to listen. Happy Mother’s Day, I love you.