It's obvious I love to cook, given my day job, but I also happen to be a Registered Dietitian, which means even though I bake all the things, occasionally use butter with reckless abandon, and look for excuses to make a fancy steak dinner, I also am constantly thinking about how I can make whatever I happen to be cooking just a bit more wholesome. It's actually a whole lot easier than you might think and it can be done without sacrificing all the indulgent things. Here are seven simple tricks to keep in mind when you're in the kitchen.
1. Add more vegetables.
This is an easy one. Bump up the volume of vegetables in your favorite dish and you've just instantly made it healthier. This works especially well with pasta, that sheet-pan chicken dinner you love so much, and a quick weeknight stir-fry.
2. Swap in strong-flavored cheese.
Cheese is a glorious thing and something I love fiercely. Here's a simple way to enjoy it without overdoing it: Opt for a strong-flavored cheese rather than a mild one and you can use less of it without losing flavor. Smoked cheeses, sharp cheddar, and aged Parmesan are all great choices.
3. Embrace whole grains.
If you're not already using brown rice instead of white rice, now's the time to switch. The whole-grain version boosts a whole number of nutritional benefits that white rice doesn't have. Try experimenting with other whole grains when cooking, such as farro and bulgur, and swapping in some whole-wheat flour for all-purpose when baking.
4. Reach for good-for-you cooking fats.
When cooking, reach for a cooking oil that has some healthy fats tucked inside it. My go-to is always extra-virgin olive oil, which is low in saturated fat and high in heart-heathy fats. Canola and avocado oil are good choices too.
Related: Our Favorite Grocery Store Olive Oil
5. Switch what is at the center of your plate.
Many of us are trained to think that meat should be at the center of our plates. Switch that mentality and you'll find yourself instantly eating healthier. Reduce the size of that piece of steak and fill your plate with things like vegetables, beans, and whole grains instead.
6. Opt for bold flavors instead of more salt.
If what you're cooking lacks flavor, it's easy to break out the salt shaker. Instead, put it aside and grab some herbs and spices that can jazz up the situation. Spices like cumin and smoked paprika, and herbs like rosemary and thyme add serious flavor without adding more sodium. A big squeeze of lemon also does the trick.
7. Eat mindfully.
This one may sound like a cop out, but hear me out: If you really sit and enjoy whatever it is you cooked, you'll eat healthier. You'll listen to your body's cues and know when you're actually satisfied rather than mindlessly inhaling a large portion while you're scrolling through Instagram. Plus, you put the effort in to cook it, so you deserve to really enjoy every bite.