Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Organic Meat & Dairy

Last week, we looked at the subject of organic and conventional produce and I gave you some information to help you determine which you think is best for you and your family. In this week’s Cooking Tip, I want to talk about organic meat and dairy.

First, we need to understand what the word “organic” means in relation to meat and dairy. According to the USDA’s website:

  • The USDA organic label on dairy or meat products means that the animals … were raised in living conditions that accommodated their natural behaviors, without being administered hormones or antibiotics, and while grazing on pasture grown on healthy soil. Thereafter, the meat or dairy product is processed without any artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors before being packaged to avoid contact with any prohibited, nonorganic substances.” As part of this, the use of GMOs is prohibited.
  • The basic rule is to allow natural substances and prohibit synthetic. For livestock, however, vaccines play an important part in animal health, especially since antibiotic therapy is prohibited.
  • Yearly organic inspections are required including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping.
  • Producers must use 100% organic feed, but they may provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
Image by Penny from Pixabay

Are there any benefits of eating organic meat/dairy? Medical professionals at the Cleveland Clinic believe there are health benefits linked to choosing organic. However, they temper this by stating that “it’s not certain that eating organic foods will make a difference in one’s health.”

Possible benefits:

  • Reduced exposure to pesticides and insecticides.
  • Increased exposure to omega-3 fatty acids as livestock fed through grazing usually have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lower levels of cadmium in organic grains.
  • Increased levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial micronutrients.
  • Less exposure to bacteria in meat.
  • Less exposure to antibiotics and growth hormones.

According to Healthline, there are pros and cons to organic milk.

Image by Penny from Pixabay


  • Organic cow’s milk is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than conventional milk. However, once again, these differences may only be marginal and not offer more nutritional benefits than conventional milk. Also, some experts say this improved fatty acid content is due to farming practices that allow cows to graze and forage and not the organic farming itself.
  • Organic milk has lower levels of drug residues (including antibiotics & growth hormones) than regular milk, although the amounts in regular milk are still considered safe. As for antibiotics, researchers at the University of California, Davis explain that there are never any antibiotics in any type of milk. This is due to policies in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Veterinary Medicine Association that control drug use. For more detail, see this article.
  • Organic milk has a longer shelf life due to the pasteurization processes it undergoes.


  • Organic milk is lower in iodine and selenium, two nutrients that are important for thyroid health.
  • Organic milk is slightly higher in calories.
  • Organic milk has a higher saturated fat content.
  • Organic milk is more expensive.


  • Both have comparable levels of calcium, potassium, and sodium.

Although the discussion of the environmental impacts of organic versus conventional farming is outside the scope of this Tip, if you are interested, here is a very well-researched article on this subject by researchers at the University of California at Davis. Let me just say it is not as clear cut as organic proponents say it is. As with so many topics, the truth is more nuanced.

I hope this article and the one about produce will help you determine if and when you wish to pay the increased cost associated with organic foods. It is a very personal decision but one that should be made with the data required to make an informed decision.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Organic Produce – is it worth the cost?

I first wrote about Organic Foods a few years ago. I decided to update this Cooking Tip with some interesting data, but I am going to limit the discussion to produce. Organic meat and dairy will have to wait for a future Cooking Tip. I would suspect that most people buy organic as they think it is safer to eat. They might also think it is healthier. Since organic foods are more expensive than conventional, it would be good to know if either of these beliefs are true. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Let me start with something we all probably know. That is that there are very strong feelings on both sides of the “organic vs conventional” debate. The only one who can answer “is it worth it” for you and your family is you. One caveat is that more research probably needs to be done and the results of any future research could alter the current thought on organic foods.

There is a US-based environmental advocacy organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Since 1995, they have produced an annual list of what they call The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15. According to this group, the “Dirty Dozen” of produce has the greatest potential for containing pesticide residue. Therefore, the EWG recommends that consumers only purchase organic forms of these food items. Each year this list is produced and is highly publicized by our media. For the 2022 list, see this link. The “Clean 15” is a list of produce that they say had little to no traces of pesticides, and the EWG considers safe to consume in non-organic form.

On the other side of this discussion is a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Toxicology. This study concluded the following:

  • Exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities (celery, blueberries, kale, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, cherries, apples, grapes (imported), bell peppers) pose negligible risks to consumers.
  • Substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks.
  • The methodology used by the environmental advocacy group (EWG) to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.

In a 2019 report (attach report) by the Pesticide Data Program (part of the USDA), they state “nearly 99 percent of the samples tested had residues below the tolerances established by the EPA with 42.5 percent having no detectable residue.” Of course, for this to have meaning to you, you must put trust in these levels established by the government.

Another interesting point is that organic farming does not mean that there are no pesticides used, only that the pesticides themselves are certified organic. This usually means that they are “natural” rather than “synthetic” but there are some synthetic chemicals that are allowed in organic farming. And, many scientists have concluded that organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.

As of now, there is no evidence that organic produce is more nutritious than conventional produce. In fact, most of the studies done on the health benefits of produce have been done on the conventional varieties. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011 concluded “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” There are some studies that have shown higher levels of Vitamin C, some minerals & antioxidants in organic produce although the experts say the differences are too small to have an impact on overall nutrition.

What is the cost? A 2015 Consumer Reports study showed, that on average, organic foods are 47% more costly than non-organic. As this is an average, you will see a significant range of cost differences depending on the food and the store. Interestingly, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found it only costs farmers 5-7% more to use organic methods. In recent years, the price differences have become less as more traditional grocery stores start to offer their own organic versions.

This price difference is a concern for low-income shoppers. They have heard the same media reports about organic vs conventional produce but the expense does not allow them to purchase the organic versions. What is disappointing is that a 2016 study published in Nutrition Today found that rather than purchasing the conventional produce, they often chose to not purchase any produce at all, something that is not a positive for their diet and health.

Some industry professionals recommend concentrating more on “Buying Local” with the hopes that those fruit & vegetables are fresher and seasonal. Locally-grown produce does not mean it is necessarily organic although it may be depending on the farm. If you have the space & ability, there is no more local than growing your produce yourself. In that case, you will have no questions as to how or where it was grown.

As I said in the beginning, only you can decide if you want to go organic and to what extent. Just know there are arguments on both sides but the science, to this point, does not seem to support a strong preference for organic. Most importantly, eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables. The nutrients that are found in those items are so necessary in your diet and resulting health.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Clean Eating – Good or Bad?

A phrase we have all probably heard over the past few years is Clean Eating. Is it just a catch phrase, a trendy talking point or is there more to it than that? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Since the term “clean eating” is not a regulated term, there is no one definition for it. Food manufacturers can put that label on their food products but, without an agreed-upon definition, it is pretty meaningless. Also, it can mean different things to different people.

At its most basic, clean eating is healthy eating. If you had to compare it to something that the consumer is more likely to understand, it is very similar to the Mediterranean way of eating.

It generally means a type of eating that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and healthy fats. It also means limiting refined grains, preservatives, unhealthy fats and excessive added sugar and salt. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of Cooking Tips on just this subject of cooking and eating healthy. Rather than repeat all of that in this Tip, see these prior Tips for more information.

Some Clean Eating advocates will emphasize other requirements such as:

  • Only eating organic produce. For some of the pros/cons of buying organic, see next week’s Cooking Tip.
  • Gluten Free
  • Dairy Free
  • Some will also include the environment in the list of items to consider.

Although trying to eat healthier and trying to incorporate Mediterranean eating principles is a good thing, there are cautions to be made if this “Clean Eating” is taken to an extreme. Some clean eating recommendations can be so restrictive that the intake of essential nutrients suffers.

There is even an eating disorder termed Orthorexia Nervosa (ON) that has been defined as “an obsession with proper or healthful eating”. It has not been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as an actual disorder but is being recognized more and more.

Currently, there is no universally shared definition of ON. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, some warning signs and symptoms are:

  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed “healthy” or “pure”
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when “safe” or “healthy” foods aren’t available
  • Obsessive following of food and healthy lifestyle blogs on social media
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

This can lead to distress, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsiveness. According to Rachel Hartley Nutrition,

“Clean eating creates guilt and shame around food by creating hierarchies – clean, good foods vs. dirty, unhealthy bad foods. This binary approach is nutritionally inaccurate. While certainly there are foods that contain more nutrients than others, what makes a food a “healthier” choice is much more nuanced than vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Convenience, social and cultural connection, as well as other situational and individual factors all play roles that are just as important. Even if nutrition was as simple as good vs. bad foods, labeling food in such a way doesn’t actually help you eat those foods in a healthy way. Labelling food as good and bad fuels disordered eating behaviors, especially the restrict-binge cycle. In other words, thinking of a food as bad doesn’t necessarily mean you would be eating less of it, just that you would be eating it more chaotically.”

Clean eating is also very isolating as it makes it very difficult to socialize with friends/family if any sort of meal is involved. This, in itself, can be damaging to a person’s overall health.

As with so many things in life, Clean Eating is not all good nor all bad. If it helps you to get on the path to healthy eating, that is a good thing. If taken to the extreme, it can be dangerous. Let’s all make this year one of enjoying food in a healthy manner, which can greatly enhance our lives.

Image by S K from Pixabay
Cooking Tips · Techniques

Fats in a Healthy Diet

In this final installment of my series of Cooking Tips on healthy cooking/eating, I want to discuss fats and oils and the place they play in healthy cooking.

Ever since the 1970s, fat has been proclaimed as the worst offender in our diets. However, we are finally beginning to realize that not all fats are bad and that sugar plays at least as big, if not larger, role in unhealthy diets. As I mentioned in a prior Tip, the fats that you want to limit and/or avoid are saturated fats and, especially trans fats. (I must mention that the recommendation to avoid all saturated fats is not totally without disagreement. For a scholarly review of this subject, see this article published in a 2018 issue of Nutrients.) Even with sugar, it is not all sugar you need to limit but what is called “added sugar” – the sugar that is not natural in the food.

You may have heard the terms “good fats” and “bad fats”. Bad fats are usually thought of as saturated (see above article reference) and trans fats. As I mentioned in a prior tip, trans fats are normally found in packaged and processed foods. Sources of saturated fats are:

  • Dairy products – butter, whole milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Meat products – lard, bacon, red meat, poultry skin

Good fats are:

  • Monounsaturated fats – found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, olives & nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fats
    • Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds & flaxseeds.
    • Omega-6 fatty acids – found in vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, oil and soybean) as well as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

In the literature, there is some caution about omega-6 fatty acids based on the fact that the body can convert the most common omega-6 fatty acid, linolenic acid, into another fatty acid, arachidonic acid. The latter is a building block for molecules that can promote inflammation, blood clotting and blood vessel constriction. However, the body can also convert arachidonic acid into other molecules that calm inflammation and fight blood clots.

Most Americans eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, about 10 X more. Some will look at the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids and advise us to cut back on omega-6 fats to improve this ratio. However, the problem is felt not so much to be an excess of omega-6 fats but a deficiency of omega-3 fats. So, you want to improve the intake of omega-3 fats but not decrease your intake of omega-6 fats. Here is a chart from Nutrition Action that breaks down oils in terms of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated content.

Apart from health, there are other considerations for choosing which oil you should choose for cooking. There is really no one all-purpose oil for culinary purposes. It depends on how you are going to use the oil and something called the “smoke point”. This is the temperature at which the oil starts smoking and breaking down. Therefore, some oils are better suited to higher temperature cooking. See this chart from Serious Eats on smoke points. Here are some recommendations for oils to have in your kitchen.

  1. A high-heat neutral-tasting oil – this is the type of oil you should reach for when you are doing high-heat cooking or in dishes where you do not want to taste the flavor of the oil. Examples include canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, grapeseed & peanut oil.

  2. Olive oil – there is a difference between light or refined olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil. The latter has a lower smoke point and is generally more expensive. Most of us recommend saving this extra-virgin olive oil for making salad dressings or for dishes such as dips where you want the flavor to come through. For other uses, use a less expensive and more refined olive oil. (Stay tuned for a Tip specifically on extra-virgin olive oils.)

  3. Specialty oils – if you cook Asian food, sesame oil is indispensable. Also, a nut oil such as walnut oil lends a wonderful flavor to nutty vinaigrettes. These are considered seasoning oils rather than cooking oils.

Oil does not last indefinitely and must be stored properly. Since heat and light can damage oil, store it in a cool, dark place. In that case, most oils can last up to a year. There are specific oils, though, that require refrigeration. Check the label but examples are grapeseed and nut oils. Some culinary experts recommend storing all your oils in the refrigerator. If you do that, some may thicken and you will need to let them sit out on your counter a few minutes to come to room temperature.

With this Tip, I bring my series on healthy cooking/eating to a close. I hope you found it helpful and it will be an impetus to improve your diet. Allow me to end with some advice with which I started this series. Get in your kitchen and cook more from scratch. Try to get away from processed and packaged foods. Just that one change will be a giant step in the right direction!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Cooking Healthy Proteins

In the last Cooking Tip, I talked about choosing healthy proteins. In this Tip, I want to discuss how to cook those proteins so they are delicious as well as healthy.

As I mentioned in the last Tip, other than healthy fatty seafood, most of the best choices are lower in fat. That means they can easily dry out and be unappealing to eat. To prevent this, you need to take care when cooking them.

The best way to ensure your meat is not overcooked is to cook by internal temperature, not by time or appearance. I love the Thermapen by Thermoworks but there are other good thermometers out there that are less expensive. I wrote an earlier Tip on thermometers with more information.

When you are cooking that protein, you want to monitor the internal temperature intermittently and remove it from the heat before the internal temperature gets too high. For all meats, there will be what is called “carry-over cooking”. Once you take it off the heat, the internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees – less with smaller pieces of meat, more with larger ones. So, you should pull it off a few degrees before hitting the desired temperature.

Below are some target numbers for different proteins. For a printable chart, click here.

  • Ground meat
    • Beef, pork, veal, lamb – 160°
    • Turkey, chicken – 165°
  • Fresh beef, pork, veal & lamb – 145° with a 3 minute rest
    • Note this does not account for varying temperatures between rare and well-done.
  • Poultry – 165°
    • Some feel that legs/thighs are more tender when cooked to 170-180° as it better breaks down the connective tissue.
    • Since chicken breasts are often over-cooked and unpalatable, see this article about cooking your chicken to a slightly lower temperature but holding it for a particular amount of time.
  • Salmon
    • Wild – 120°
    • Farmed – 125°

Another way to improve flavor among beef & pork is to salt at the appropriate time, which is either a minimum of 45 minutes before cooking or immediately before cooking. If you salt in between those times, you are assured of a drier end product. For more information, see this Tip.

Now for some great ideas with actual recipes. First, I highly recommend you become skilled at making pan sauces. They can add wonderful flavor without much added sugar or fat. See this Tip for how to do this. Adding a quick and flavorful sauce to your beef, pork or poultry can easily enliven your dinner table.

Proteins do not need to be the main star of your dinner table. Why not add them to a great dinner salad? One of our favorites is this Summer Salad with Cumin-Crusted Salmon. Not only will you be eating some great fiber but also healthy seafood. The seasoning rub on this salmon is also just a great one to use whenever, not just with this salad.

How about fish tacos? Try this recipe for Fish Tacos with Black Bean Salad from AllRecipes or Salmon Tacos with Collard Slaw from America’s Test Kitchen.

Let’s move to Poultry. Have you ever noticed how large chicken breasts are nowadays? Most chicken breasts that are for sale in the store are at least 8 ounces and, at times, can weigh 10-12 ounces. If you are paying attention to portion control, you should limit your intake of meat to about 3-4 ounces per serving. So, when you see a recipe that calls for 4 breasts and it says that the recipe will serve four people, that is based on much smaller breasts. Weigh your chicken pieces before cooking and then only use the amount that will give you that 3-4 ounces per person.

Another thing to notice about chicken breasts is that they always have one end thicker than the other side. If you cook them whole, the thinner side will be overdone before the thicker end is cooked through. You can solve this problem in a number of ways. You can pound the breasts to an even thickness before cooking. You can slice the chicken into two so that one piece is thicker and the other thinner. Then, cook them, monitoring the temperature and taking the thinner one out when it is done and continuing to cook the thicker one. Finally, something that I like to do is to cut the chicken either into similarly sized strips or cubes and cooking them. This is a quick and easy technique that works great unless you wish to serve an entire breast.

The important thing is not to overcook your chicken. That is best done by monitoring the internal temperature. An interesting method I ran across a few years ago is this method on It is very easy and turns out great results. I like to use this method and then slice the chicken for sandwiches rather than buying the much less healthy deli meat.

Here are some other recipes that I like. First up is one from Ellie Krieger –– Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach. There is great flavor plus wonderful nutrients from the spinach and tomatoes. Serve with whole wheat couscous for another burst of nutrition. Here is a “go to” recipe for when you need a quick but tasty dinner – Caramelized Onion Chicken from Cooking Light. Note that it does contain jam, which is high in sugar. However, it only uses a small amount. For a company-worthy but healthy dinner, try this one from Epicurious – Sauteed Chicken with Shallot-Herb Vinaigrette. I will caution you, though, that the marinating time listed is too long. See this Tip for more information.

I love pork but do try to limit my intake of it. Cutting a pork tenderloin into medallions, cooking them stovetop and then making a flavorful pan sauce is something so easy to do. Pork also pairs so well with fruit. Here are a few ideas.

I am not a fan of beef and so, it is easy for me to have it only rarely. If you are going to indulge in a steak, review last week’s Tip on which cuts are best and the above info on making a pan sauce. That will allow the steak to be shown off but enhanced in a healthy way.

For an interesting take on burgers, try these Cherry Burgers. For a spicier bite, here is an interesting Southwest Burger from Cooking Light. Finally, a delicious winter dish is this Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash, also from Cooking Light.

I hope this gives you some help in putting fulfilling but still healthy meals on your table!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Proteins on a healthy diet

We are moving forward in this series on cooking/eating healthy. After discussing some general tips, grains, breads and veggies, in this Tip I want to look into the subject of proteins. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 5% of U.S. adults consider themselves to be vegetarian. Therefore, I will mostly be discussing meat/seafood. I will not be discussing cooking methods in this Tip but will leave that for the next one.

There are a couple of general recommendations that almost all experts will give. First is to avoid processed meats such as lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage and jerky. Second is to eat smaller portions of fish and meats. Given that, let’s move on to the sources of animal protein.

I am sure that most of you have heard that you should limit, or even eliminate, your intake of red meat. This includes beef, pork and lamb. Why is that? That recommendation is based on the fact that red meats have more saturated fat than other protein sources. I will note that there are some people out there that do not agree with this recommendation and feel that red meat is not as bad as everyone says. However, most experts feel that consuming red meat is often linked with cardiovascular disease.

When you do consume red meats, the recommendation is to eat leaner cuts. See the following chart for the USDA’a definition of lean versus extra-lean. These numbers are based on a 3½ ounce serving and will help you when looking at the nutritional labels in the store.

Fat10 gm5gm
Saturated fat4.5 gm2 gm
Cholesterol95 mg95 mg

For beef, another recommendation is to choose “Choice” or “Select” cuts as they will have less fat than “Prime” cuts. For example, if you look at one of the most popular (although one of the fattiest) cuts of beef – Ribeye Steak – the fact content is 50% higher for Prime than Choice. For ground beef, choose a package that is labeled at least “90% lean” and, if you can find it, 93% or 95% lean.

A look at the nutritional label of different cuts can be enlightening. A package of Choice Sirloin steak shows 10 gm total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, putting it into the “Lean” category. The same serving size of a Choice Ribeye contains 17 grams of total fat and 8 grams of saturated fat.

The reason the fattiest cuts are more popular is that fat contributes to flavor and moistness. When choosing the leaner cuts, you need to take care when cooking so they do not dry out. I will discuss this more in my next Tip.

For pork, the leanest choices are pork loin and pork tenderloin.

The leanest cuts of lamb are loin, leg and shanks.


When most of us think of healthy meat, we think of poultry. The most common poultry we eat is chicken although turkey is another excellent choice. Much of the fat found in poultry is in the skin. The same serving size of skin-on poultry can have three times or more as much fat as skinless. Because the skin can protect the meat from moisture loss, many chefs will leave the skin on when cooking but remove it before eating.

Breasts will be the leanest type of poultry. Without the skin, chicken breasts have under 2 grams fat per 3 ounce serving and less than ½ gram of saturated fat. Chicken thighs can have twice as much fat as breast but would still qualify as lean. Many feel they have more flavor and are moister. Similar cuts of turkey will have even less fat than chicken although at these low levels, the difference is minimal. The lower fat content does, though, tend to make turkey drier.


Seafood is something that most of us probably do not eat as often as we should. Although seafood can be relatively high in fat, it contains some very heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, seafood is considered the best (but not the only) source of this type of fat. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. There is another type of fatty acid known as omega-6 that is often discussed in tandem with omega-3. I will wait on the discussion of this fatty acid for an upcoming Tip on Fats.

Although the above mentioned fatty fish may be healthy, they are higher in total fat than other types of seafood. If you are in the market looking at the seafood, the flesh color will give you an indication of fat content. The leaner choices are those that are lighter in color whereas the darker ones are going to contain more fat, albeit healthy fats. Below is a chart showing you the fat content in a 3 ounce serving. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids in seafood also varies with the fattier kinds containing more omega-3s. Examples include salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. If you want more detail on this, see this article from Seafood Health Facts.

Fat ContentTypes of Seafood
High Fat (10 grams or more)Herring, Mackerel, Sardines, Salmon (Atlantic, Coho, Sockeye and Chinook)
Medium Fat (5 to 10 grams)Bluefish, Catfish, Rainbow Trout, Swordfish
Low Fat (2 to 5 grams)Tilapia, Halibut, Mussels, Ocean Perch, Oysters, Pacific Rockfish, Salmon (Chum, Pink)
Very Low Fat (less than 2 grams)Crab, Clams, Cod, Flounder/Sole, Haddock, Hake, Lobster, Mahi-mahi, Pollock, Scallops, Shrimp, Tuna

Plant sources of protein are great in that they do not contain saturated fats. Examples are beans, peas, lentils and nuts. They also provide dietary fiber and other nutrients.

Unless you are a committed vegetarian or vegan, it is good to know that both plant-based and animal protein have benefits and drawbacks. Animal foods are denser in essential amino acids and are more easily digestible.

Plant-based protein is often low in calories and high in fiber. It is, though, a little less digestible. Plant proteins rarely contain all the essential amino acids. This is not to say that you can’t get all the nutrients you need from plant foods; only that it takes effort and planning.

We all need protein although getting sufficient protein is not really a problem for most Americans. Learning how to pick and choose the best proteins is essential to a healthy diet. I hope this Tip combined with the next one on Cooking Methods will help you make better choices.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Veggies can be exciting!

We are now on to Tip #4 in this series of Cooking Tips on cooking/eating healthy. In this Tip, I want to talk about a very important part of everyone’s diets – Vegetables. We all should be eating more veggies but it would help if we could make them a bit more exciting without sacrificing nutrition.

All veggies are high in important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are also high in fiber while being low in sugar, fat and sodium. There are some differences, though, in vegetables. Veggies can be divided into starch and non-starchy. Starch breaks down into glucose in our bodies and these veggies are higher in calories than non-starchy and lower in fiber.

It is recommended that we eat all types of veggies but we should consume more of the non-starchy, especially if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic.

Non-starchy vegetables contain only a small amount of starch. Here are some of the most common. One caveat – beets and carrots straddle the line between starch and non-starchy. So, if you are trying to decrease your intake of starchy veggies, you should limit these two items.

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Fennel
  • Greens (Collard, Kale, Mustard)
  • Green Bean
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Pea Pods And Sugar Snap Peas
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Salad greens
  • Summer Squash (Yellow, Zucchini)
  • Tomato
  • Water Chestnuts

Starchy veggies contain more starch but they also have abundant nutrients. Some examples are:

  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Lentils
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter Squash (acorn, butternut)

The best form to eat vegetables are either fresh and frozen. Frozen is a great option as they are picked at the height of ripeness and then quickly frozen. Be careful, though, that the frozen package you pick up does not contain a sauce or seasonings. These often contain added sugars and sodium. Watch out for canned vegetables as they also often contain sodium and sugar. As I have said in my prior Tips in this series, you should become adept at reading the nutritional facts labels. Make sure the only ingredient on the label is the vegetable.

Unless you are eating canned or frozen veggies, you need to clean them. The USDA recommends washing your produce under cold running tap water to remove any dirt & reduce bacteria. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples or potatoes, the surface can be scrubbed with a brush. Do not use detergent or soap as these are not approved for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce. Note that the recommendation is just for plain water. You don’t need any special type of produce spray. If you really want to do more than just plain water, make a mixture of 1 part distilled white vinegar to 3 parts water. This is really not necessary, though.

There is a bit of debate over washing pre-washed, bagged greens. Although some recommend washing these items, many others say you are more likely to introduce contamination from your kitchen by doing so. Also, any pathogens left on pre-washed greens are probably so tightly adhered that washing them again in your kitchen is probably not going to do anything. The latter is the opinion of the USDA.

What about peeling your veggies? It is generally accepted that the peels are full of beneficial nutrients that you will lose if you peel them. So, if you are able to just scrub your veggies and eat/cook them without peeling, you are better off. There are some peels, though that are just too fibrous to eat or they are too difficult to clean properly. In that case, wash them first and then peel them. By washing them first, you are not transferring debris/pathogens from the outside to the inside. Most pesticide residue can be removed by washing. However, if you are concerned about this, peeling will give you an extra measure of comfort.

Now that we know which veggies we should eat often, which ones we might limit somewhat, and how to clean them, how do we make them tasty? There are those people, like my husband, who just love veggies in the purest form. If you are not one of those, let’s look at some ways you can increase your interest.

Having a salad every day is one of the healthiest habits you can form, whether it is before dinner each night (as we do) or as the main part of the meal. It is a great way to get a variety of veggies in one dish. Start with a mixture of greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, microgreens or more. Add in fresh veg such as celery, carrots, cucumber, bell peppers and green onions. One drawback for me in making sure we eat salads every day is all the prep – slicing and dicing all those ingredients. Something I do to make this easier is to prep ahead for a few days. If I am making a salad for Monday night, I also set out small bowls for the next three nights. I then cut up enough veg for each of those nights and put them in the small bowls. Now, for the next three nights, I just have to put my greens in a salad bowl and dump in the contents of those bowls of precut veg. Voila – instant salad!

Sometimes we will eat our veggies raw but other times, we want them cooked. Cooking veggies can alter them in the following ways.

  • Texture – caused by the fiber in the veggies
    • Fiber is made firmer by:
      • Adding acids such as citrus juice, vinegar or tomato products.
      • Sugars – this is more often used when cooking fruit
    • Fiber is softened by:
      • Heat – the longer you cook veggies the softer they become.
      • Alkalis – this is why you do not want to add baking soda to your veggies as it will make them mushy.
  • Flavor – flavor can be lost in the cooking liquid and with prolonged cooking times
    • Cook your veggies in as short of time as possible to limit flavor loss.
    • Some veggies where a bit of flavor loss is preferable is with strongly flavored veggies such as onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and rutabagas.
  • Color – there are white, red, green & yellow/orange veggies
    • White
      • Potatoes, onions, cauliflower
      • Other veggies may not be white on the outside but are on the inside. Examples are cucumbers, zucchini and celery.
      • Acid helps to keep the whiteness. So, if you are cooking your veggies in water, add a small amount of lemon juice.
      • Cooking for shorter amounts of time helps preserve the color.
    • Red
      • Red cabbage, beets
      • Acids turn them brighter red.
      • Alkalis turn them blue or blue-green.
      • Over-cooking leads to loss of the red color.
    • Green
      • Acids lead to loss of the green color.
      • Overcooking turns bright green veggies to an unappealing olive green.
    • Yellow/Orange
      • Carrots, corn, winter squash, sweet potatoes, some bell peppers
      • Yellow & orange pigments are very stable. Acids and/or alkalis do not cause much of a color change.
      • Overcooking can dull the color.
  • Nutrients — nutrients are often lost by overcooking or cooking in a lot of water.

The main ways of preparing veggies (other than eating them raw) are boiling, microwaving, steaming, sauteing, grilling or roasting. Here is a colorful guide from showing you which veggies do best with which methods of cooking. The same website has a great section on how to prep veggies if you are not familiar with how to get them ready for eating.


This is not the best method as it is so easy to overcook the veggies and much of the flavor and nutrients can be lost in the water.


This method leaves your veggies crisp and there is less loss of flavor. It works great for porous vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower.


This is one area where your microwave is a useful tool, especially (but not exclusively) for frozen vegetables. A few minutes in the microwave and your veggies are ready for the table.


Sauteing is a great way of cooking veggies as it allows you to get some color on them. You can use a nonstick pan or you will need to add a bit of oil if using a regular pan. Heat your pan, add a small amount of oil and heat until hot. Before adding the veggies, add some aromatics such as shallots, garlic, or ginger. These will add great guilt-free flavor to the veggies. After sautéing the aromatics, add the veggies and cook until done. If the pan gets too dry during the cooking process, you may add a splash of water/broth. Add a bit of salt to taste as you are cooking and, if desired, finish with some acid such as lemon juice. Optional toppings include a grating of parmesan or pecorino cheese, nuts or seeds.

You can even do a combination of the above two if you are cooking raw veggies. Start them in the microwave with a touch of water to soften them – no more than about 3 minutes. Then, toss them in a hot pan (beware of splattering) as above and finish by sautéing.

You can even do a combination of the above two if you are cooking raw veggies. Start them in the microwave with a touch of water to soften them – no more than about 3 minutes. Then, toss them in a hot pan (beware of splattering) as above and finish by sautéing


Roasting veggies requires you to preheat the oven and takes longer (~30-45 minutes) than other methods. However, as moisture is driven off in the oven, it does concentrate flavors and leaves you with crispy edges.

Something that is helpful to get crispy results is to put your sheet pan in the oven as you preheat it. That way, your veggies start to cook and sizzle as soon as you put them on that hot pan. Oven temperature recommendations vary but are usually pretty hot — 400° to 500°. I will prep my veggies, put them in a bowl, season them with salt and fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme) and toss them in a small amount of olive oil. You can even add a bit of balsamic vinegar. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, add the veggies and roast until tender and crisp.


I am not a fan of most grilled foods and so, we do not own an outdoors grill. However, I do like to grill or char veggies stovetop. For that, I use either a grill pan or a cast iron pan. After preheating the pan, I add the veggies and cook them until they are brown and just a bit charred. I normally toss them first in a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper. When cooking them on the pan, space them apart so they will char. If you place them too close together, they will steam, which is not the result you want with this method. I especially like this method for zucchini and Brussels sprouts.

None of these methods require you to add anything to the cooked veggies before eating. However, you can consider a small grating of a flavorful cheese such as parmesan, pecorino or asiago or a sprinkling of nuts such as slivered almonds. Just to be sure to watch how much you add. Some like to add a pat of butter (although this is a saturated fat) or a drizzle of olive oil. You can get butter-flavored olive oil or herb-infused oil for more flavor.

I hope this Tip will encourage to eat veggies every day whether it be in a salad, as a side dish or even both. They can be extremely tasty and are certainly a necessary part of a healthy diet.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Bread — Delicious but can it be healthy?

Do you love bread as much as I do? I made some wonderful “Honey Butter Yeast Rolls” for Christmas dinner. Yes, they were fun to make. Yes, they were delicious. However, healthy they were not. Are you able to eat a healthy diet and still consume bread? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip, the 3rd in my series on Healthy Cooking & Eating.

Let me start with the disclaimer that I am not a dietician or a nutritionist. Also, I will acknowledge that there are those who feel we should never eat bread of any kind. Starting from the viewpoint that never consuming bread is not realistic for most of us, let’s try to see if some bread is better to eat than other kinds. I am also limiting this discussion to wheat bread, not gluten-free alternatives.

In my 1st Cooking Tip in this series, I mentioned a definition of healthy foods from the American Fitness Professionals Association. “Healthy foods … are those that are close to how we would find them in nature, have undergone few industrial processes, and contain few to no additives.” How does that apply to wheat bread?

When you find grains of wheat in nature, they are composed of an outer bran layer, an inner core called the endosperm, and the germ.

  • The bran is a fibrous outer layer that has abundant B vitamins, insoluble fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals as well as a small amount of protein. This layer also contains most of the minerals in grain, such as iron, copper, zinc and magnesium.
  • The endosperm makes up about 85% of the kernel. It is about 50-75% starch and protein although it also contains some iron, B vitamins and soluble fiber. This is the part that becomes white flour.
  • The germ is high in fatty acids, a small amount of protein, trace minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E and phytochemicals.

To make white flour, the bran and the germ are removed leaving only the white endosperm. Because that process removes so many of the natural nutrients, the flour is then “enriched” by adding back in some of these nutrients. Minimum standards of how much should be added is set by the FDA. The whole grain also contains something called “phytochemicals”, the most important being antioxidants. According to Science Direct, “phytochemicals are defined as bioactive nutrient plant chemicals in fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods that may provide desirable health benefits beyond basic nutrition to reduce the risk of major chronic diseases.” It is thought that over 75% of these are removed from the wheat kernel when making white flour. The healthy fatty acids in the germ are also removed to improve shelf life.

There are those that feel enriched white bread is not a bad choice because so many of the nutrients are put back into the flour. There are others that feel that the nutrients that are added in are not as healthful as they are not “natural” to the wheat. Most of those added nutrients are vitamins and minerals (although not all of them are replaced) and not the phytochemicals. One item that is definitely less in white flour is fiber but, once again, some feel the difference in fiber content between white flour and whole wheat flour is not significant. You will have to determine what is important for your family and yourself.

There is what is known as “ancient wheat”. This is a type of wheat that has been grown since the ancient times. One variety is called “Einkorn” and is felt by many to be far superior to our modern wheat. I have personally known people who cannot eat our processed flours who have no problem with einkorn. This even includes those with celiac disease. It is not a trial you should undertake, though, without your doctor’s advice. Still considered “ancient” but slightly different than einkorn are “Durum” and “Emmer” wheat.

How do you use all of this information? Whether you bake your own bread or buy bakery bread, you need to learn to read food labels. Even among the same type of flour or bread, the ingredients will vary according to brand. Let’s start with flours.

If you like white flour but want it enriched, it will be easy for you. Most of the standard supermarket brands will be enriched. If you would prefer to stay away from enriched flours, you need to look at the labels carefully to make sure they don’t list those items. For example, Gold Medal All-Purpose flour’s label shows this: “Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Enzymes, Folic Acid”. That is obviously enriched.

On the other hand, King Arthur All-Purpose flour has this ingredient list: “Unbleached Hard Red Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour”. No enrichment there. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand that has chosen not to enrich their white flour. A third one you can sometimes find in the stores is from Arrowhead Mills.

If you would rather get your nutrients in a whole form, opt for whole wheat flour. There should be at least a few options available where you shop. Baking with whole wheat flour, though, is not as simple as swapping it one-for-one for white flour. You should find recipes meant for whole wheat flours and do some experimenting.

Some people say they do not like the taste of whole wheat products as they are heavier and nuttier. There is a product called White Whole Wheat although not all companies make this. This type of flour is made from a different type of wheat but is still whole-grain. Baked goods using this will be lighter in texture and flavor. Not all brands make this product but King Arthur Flour does. I also saw a listing for a Kroger white whole wheat.

There are some wonderful whole wheat/grain bread recipes if you have the time to bake your own. Here are two that I have tried and liked.

If you do not want to make your own bread but just want to buy something acceptable, turn to the labels once again. Do not pay attention to the name of the bread as it can be confusing. The name might say whole wheat, multi-grain, all-natural, etc. This doesn’t really tell you much. What you want to see on the ingredient list is “whole grain” or “whole wheat”. Preferably, choose a bread where it says “100% whole-grain” or “100% whole-wheat”. At a minimum, you want the first ingredient to be whole wheat even if there are other ingredients following that. Even among different 100% whole grain products, look at the fiber content and buy the one that is highest. Try to avoid ones with added sugars. Looking at a number of 100% whole wheat breads in my local market showed the sugar content to vary from 1 gm to 4 gm per serving.

Just as you should check the labels on the store-bought bread, you should also check the nutritional facts for your home-made bread. Other than the preservatives (which I prefer to avoid) that are in the store-bought versions, the other nutritional facts may not be that different. For example, let’s look at this comparison. As you look at these, please note that one serving is one slice although the size of that slice might differ.

RecipeKing Arthur 100% Whole Wheat BreadKroger 100% Whole Wheat BreadPrivate Selection 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Serving Size1 slice/55 grams1 slice/34 gm1 slice/45 grams
Total Fat4 grams1 gram1.5 grams
Saturated Fat2 grams0 grams0 grams
Trans Fat0 grams0 grams0 grams
Cholesterol10 mg0 mg0 mg
Sodium230 mg200 mg270 mg
Total Carbs23 grams18 grams24 grams
Dietary Fiber4 grams2 grams4 grams
Total Sugars4 grams2 grams4 grams
Protein5 grams3 grams6 grams

I think most of us would agree that bread is delicious and very satisfying. It is not something, though, that should be eaten with abandon on a healthy diet. I hope with this information, you will be able to make the best choices for you.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Whole Grains can be very tasty!

In this Part 2 of my Cooking Tips series on healthy cooking, I want to talk about one very important thing you can do and that is to eat more Whole Grains. I will not be talking about flours and bread in this Tip. That will be in a future Tip. For this one, I will concentrate on grains we may serve as a side dish. All recipes I note are ones that I have tested and find very tasty. Try these recipes as a way to get more whole grains into your diet in a delicious way but also as a starting point to experiment.

What are whole grains? Grains are the edible seeds of plants and for it to be “whole”, it must contain all of the main three parts of the seed.

  • Bran – fiber-rich outer layer with B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The latter are naturally found in food and are felt to be important in disease prevention.
  • Germ – the core of the seed that is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
  • Endosperm – the interior layer composed of carbohydrates, protein and small amounts of B vitamins and minerals.

When you are shopping, you need to pay attention to the nutritional facts label. It is not always straightforward. A 2013 study by Public Health Nutrition looked at products considered Whole Grain and evaluated them to see what would be most useful for the consumer as far as labeling. What they found was that just looking for the term “whole grain” can be misleading. You should see “whole grain” on the label and try to pick products where it is at the top of the ingredient list. However, also look for products with more fiber but less sugar, sodium and trans-fat.

There are many wonderful whole grains out there. Although you can get all of them online, I am going to limit my discussion to those you are most likely to find in your local supermarket. Some of these are gluten free and others are not. I will note that in the description.

Before discussing the individual grains, I want to talk about cooking them. I tend to cook whole grains with the “pasta method.” Cover the grains with liquid, bring to a boil, cover, reduce to simmer and cook until done. Here is a chart from the Whole Grains Council that will give you more specifics. If you are one of us that lives at high altitude, review this Tip on Cooking at High Altitude. You will need more water and more time to cook most of these whole grains.

To liven up the final dish, here are a few ideas.

  • Cook using low/no sodium broth. Can also cook in fruit juice but those are high in sugar. Vegetable juice is another alternative.
  • Toasting the grains before you cook them heightens the flavor. Those that take toasting well are amaranth, millet, oats, quinoa & wheat berries.
  • Add nuts, seeds, citrus zest and/or dried unsweetened fruit.

Now to the actual grains.

  • Amaranth
    • Gluten Free
    • These are the tiny seeds of the amaranth plant. The seeds are not a true grain.
    • When cooked, they resemble brown caviar and remain crunchy.
    • It has a strong, grassy flavor.
    • Cook it up like grits or make a porridge.
  • Barley
    • Can be whole (hulled) or pearled. The hull is very tough and must be removed.
    • Only the hulled is considered “whole”. However, it is harder to find and takes longer to cook.
    • Can be served as a side dish or added to soups/stews.
  • Bulgur
    • Wheat kernels that are boiled, dried, husked and cracked. Also known as cracked wheat.
    • Because bulgur is precooked, it is quick to prepare. You are essentially just rehydrating it.
    • Often added to soups, stuffed veggies and salads. Tabbouleh is one very characteristic bulgur-containing dish.
  • Corn
    • Gluten Free
    • Whole kernels are ground into cornmeal, which is then often used in baking.
    • Popcorn is a different strain of corn but is still a whole grain.
    • Polenta, toss fresh corn in salads, soups and quiches.
  • Couscous
    • This is not really a grain but a pasta made from semolina flour, and therefore, is not a whole grain. There are whole grain varieties that are made of whole wheat durum flour. They are much harder to find in stores but are readily available online.
  • Farro
    • This is a high-fiber, high-protein wheat that can be found in three forms.
      • Pearled – the bran & outer husk is removed but still retains some fiber. It has the shortest cook time and is the most common in our stores.
      • Semi-pearled – part of the bran is removed. It is sort of a middle ground in terms of nutrition and cooking time.
      • Whole – the whole grain remains intact. It has the longest cook time.
    • It has a chewy texture and a nutty flavor.
  • Millet
    • Gluten Free
    • A small, round ivory grain with a mild flavor.
    • Has a mild flavor and mixes well with other foods.
    • Use like rice.
  • Oats
    • Gluten Free but some companies process their oats on the same machinery as other gluten-containing grains. So, be sure they are certified gluten free.
    • Contains a special variety of fiber that’s felt to be helpful in lowering cholesterol.
    • Both old-fashioned & steel-cut are whole grains.
    • Steel cut is chewier and nuttier.
  • Quinoa
    • Gluten Free
    • A small, light-colored round pseudo-grain. It is not a true grain but is in the same family as spinach and chard.
    • It is naturally coated with a bitter and soapy layer, called saponin, that is to deter animals. It should be removed by rinsing in water before cooking. Some brands will be pre-washed when you buy it.
    • It is quick cooking.
    • Comes in white or red varieties.
    • It has a mild flavor, is chewy and slightly nutty.
    • Good in pilafs, salads, casseroles, soups.
  • Rice
    • Gluten Free
    • Limit your intake of white rice but, instead, choose brown, red, black or wild.
    • Brown rice can be long-, medium- or short-grain. Two of the most popular rices, basmati & jasmine, also come in brown versions.
    • Pigmented rices – black, purple, red, mahogany. The color is caused by the anthocyanin pigments in the outer bran. This makes them very high in antioxidants.
    • Wild rice is not true rice. It is an aquatic grass.
  • Wheat berries
    • The whole kernels of hard red spring wheat before it is ground into flour.
    • Because they are whole and firm, they take a while to cook. It is often recommended that you soak them overnight to shorten the cooking time.
    • Cook them in simmering liquid for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or cook them in a slow cooker.
    • It is chewy & nutty.
    • Add to soup, chili, salads, side dishes.

That is quite a bit of information but just scratches the surface on whole grains. I hope you are intrigued and challenged to try some of these whole grains. I know my favorites are bulgur and farro. What about you? Do you have a favorite?

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Healthy Resolutions

We all know that January is a popular time for trying to improve one’s health. People join gyms, they start fitness routines and they promise themselves they will start to eat healthier. These are great goals and I want to discuss the latter goal – eating healthier. One of you asked me how to make healthy food tasty as she has some health conditions that require her to watch what she eats. As I researched her concerns, I realized that what her diet advises is also a very healthy way for us all to eat. I will be writing a few Cooking Tips that will help you to cook/eat healthy but in a way that does not sacrifice flavor and satisfaction. In this first Tip, I want to discuss some general principles. In subsequent ones, I will dig deeper into some of these points. I do want to caution you, though, that you should always check with your health care provider about his/her recommendations. They may wish you to alter some of what I am going to say

If you have been reading these Tips for very long, you know that my purpose is not to provide you with recipes. Rather, I want to encourage you to seek out quality ingredients and learn good cooking techniques. With that, you can cook whatever you want to cook. It is the same with cooking healthy. You do not need any special ingredients or equipment. You probably have everything you need; you just need to cook with some guidelines in mind. I will, though, be giving you some recipe ideas in the upcoming Tips.

Cook from scratch

The number one thing you can do to cook healthier is to eliminate as many prepared or processed foods as you can. If you cook mostly from scratch, you will automatically be cooking healthier.

Limit processed foods

There are so many convenience (aka processed) foods on the shelf and in most of our pantries and refrigerators. That convenience comes at a cost. I like The American Fitness Professionals Association’s definition of healthy foods – “Healthy foods … are those that are close to how we would find them in nature, have undergone few industrial processes, and contain few to no additives.”

What does that mean? It means not using boxed mixes for dishes. No Hamburger Helper. Rather, make your own pot of pasta and fresh sauce with healthy ingredients from your pantry and refrigerator. Add herbs and spices that you like. Just a sprinkling of a good quality, flavorful cheese on top before serving. By doing this, you are decreasing the sodium of the meal along with many additives and preservatives, which are in those boxed items. If you choose to make a whole grain pasta, you are upping the fiber content. Not only is this healthful but will also make you feel fuller longer.

Another example is purchased salad dressings. A worthy goal is to eat more greens and veggies. A simple way to do this is to have a salad before each dinner. If you drown those greens in a high sugar and processed store-bought salad dressing, you are not doing yourself any favors. If, instead, you make your own vinaigrette, you are using minimal ingredients and those that you do use are minimally processed. You do not need to sacrifice flavor to do so. A simple vinaigrette is easy to make and can be very tasty. See this prior Cooking Tip for how to do this.

Cook a wide variety of foods

It is so easy to get into a rut of making and eating the same things all the time. Not only is this monotonous but you are missing out on so much. Don’t eat just white rice. Branch out and experience brown, red, black and wild rice.

There are also so many other grains out there that will be better for you than white rice and do not take much more effort to cook. Try quinoa, farro, barley, couscous or bulgur. Cook them in a low-sodium broth rather than just water. Add interest with herbs/spices, nuts and unsweetened dried fruit.

Go for whole foods

As much as you can, cook with whole foods such as fruits, veggies and whole grains. Try to include these at most of your meals. Remember that frozen fruits and veggies are just as good if not better than the fresh variety as long as they are not packaged in a sauce or had sugar, salt or other ingredients added to them.

Fruits can be incorporated into your cooked dishes. Many meats are complemented nicely with a light sauce that includes fruit. Pork and apples is a classic but you can also use fresh figs, peaches, grapes, pears, etc.

As mentioned before, incorporating a salad into your lunchtime or evening meal is a great idea. For more variety, try roasting, grilling or sauteing veggies as a side dish.

Have fun with herbs and spices

Experiment with adding herbs and spices to your dishes. They will add a pop of color and flavor to your grains, meats etc.

Use smaller amounts of some foods

Rather than opting for a low-fat variety of something or trying to eliminate the ingredient entirely, just use smaller amounts of the full-fat variety. For example, choosing an extra sharp cheddar cheese will allow you to use less and still have amazing flavor. Many low fat cheeses are not a good idea. They do not taste as good and often have a binder added to improve texture. Another example is cutting down on the amount of oil called for when cooking. Don’t just dump in whatever the recipe calls for. Start with less and then, if you need more, you can add a bit more.

Fats and sugar

Which of these is worse for you? That continues to be somewhat of a debate but there are a few things we know. As for fats, limit your use of saturated fats. These are fats that are solid at room temperature such as butter and lard. Saturated fats are also found in animal products such as most meats & dairy products and also in tropical fats. When cooking, opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils such as olive, canola, safflower or sunflower. Swap out your beef and pork for seafood.

A type of fat you should try to completely eliminate is trans fats. Although there is a very small amount that can be found naturally in nature, most come from a certain type of food processing. Therefore, once again, you will automatically decrease your intake of it when you cook from scratch. Also, food labels are required to list the amount of trans fats. Note that foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving are labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats.

With sugar, the most important thing is to limit your use of added sugar. Pay attention to food labels for sugar content. Recently, the FDA updated the requirements for food labels and they must now show not only sugar content but “added sugars”. This should help you make smarter choices.

Consider some meatless meals

You do not have to be a vegetarian but you can make a concerted effort to have at least some meals without meat. A fun and tasty way to do this is with Grain Bowls (aka Buddha Bowls). Although these bowls can contain meat, many do not. Here is a prior Cooking Tip with more information on this dish.

Keep your pantry and freezer stocked

If you have what you need to cook healthier already in your pantry and/or freezer, it will be much easier to follow through.

Finally, have the attitude that almost nothing is forbidden but many things should be eaten in moderation. One example is butter. I love to finish a pan sauce with just a small pat of butter. This adds a richness both in terms of flavor and texture. If you only use a small amount, you can do this without feeling guilty.

If you have made a resolution to cook and eat healthier this year, I wish you the best of luck. You can do it and it is not that difficult to do so. I hope these few tips will help you get on the right track.