Written by: Sharon Zeiler, BSc, MBA, RD
Senior Manager, Nutrition Initiatives and Strategies
Canadian Diabetes Association
Preparing food that both tastes good and is good for you is not a magic trick. A few simple meal planning and preparation tips will help you to produce healthy, delicious food that your family will love.
1. Take a few minutes each week to plan your menus.
This will allow you the time to schedule a quick and easy meal on Wednesday when Jimmy plays hockey and a late dinner on Thursday because of a parent-teacher interview. As well, you will be able to try a new recipe or ensure that a favourite is served more often.
2. Cruise the grocery store with a list.
A grocery list will ensure that you bring home everything you need to prepare the tasty and nutritious meals you planned—and help you to not load up on unneeded items, whether its chips or an extra bottle of ketchup. This simple tip will usually save you money by helping you to avoid impulse buys and ensure that you have everything your family needs on hand.
3. Choose seasonal produce and pick the brightest colours that you can.
Buying fruits and vegetables in season lets you enjoy peak flavour at modest cost. Buy asparagus in the spring, peaches in the late summer, and apples in the fall. When the price of fresh produce is high, frozen fruit and vegetables are usually an economical choice. Canned fruit and vegetables are another alternative, but be aware of the sugary syrups and higher salt content. Fruits and vegetables provide lots of vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy at a very modest calorie cost. In general, the darker the colour, the higher the nutrients (think bright red peppers, or dark green broccoli).
4. Equip your kitchen for low fat food preparation.
This needn’t be expensive and you can gather the pieces one at a time. A steamer for vegetables helps retain their flavour and nutrients without added fat; a pan with a rack allows the fat to drip away from meat to help you achieve low fat, flavourful cooking. Sharp knives allow you to remove the fat easily and slice meat thinly; non-stick cookware lets you to brown or saute without added fats or oils.
5. Use cooking methods that do not add extra fat to the dish.
Steamed vegetables are especially flavourful when herbs are added to the steaming liquid. Broiled or grilled meats are lower in fat and develop a rich golden colour that adds visual and taste appeal. Baking, especially in a pan with a rack is another low fat cooking method. The microwave allows you to prepare food quickly without added fat. Barbecuing is another lower calorie cooking method.
6. Reduce or eliminate high fat ingredients from your favourite recipes.
Using a non-stick pan means that you can sauté without added fat. Adding tofu, bulgur, or brown rice to casseroles means that you can cut down on the amount of meat that you are using. Using smaller amounts of stronger cheeses decreases the amount of milder cheese needed without sacrificing the flavour. Chilling a soup or stew will allow the fat to rise to the top and congeal for easy removal.
7. Learn to use spices and herbs to kick up the flavour.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are classic herbs that you will savour. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg will add a new taste to traditional dishes. Many cookbooks offer advice on using spices and herbs and many recipes on the internet will introduce new tastes.
8. Go vegetarian for a night.
Canada is a multi-cultural country and many cultures feature a wide variety of meatless dishes. Try tofu in a stirfry, or vegetarian chili; try Indian style dahl (lentils) or marinated bean salads; use lentils and kidney beans in your favourite soups. Your creativity will help you to see lots of possibilities.
9. To keep control of your portions, think of the “space on your plate.”
A well balanced plate will consist of ¼ protein (eg chicken or fish), ¼ starch (eg. rice, pasta, couscous) and ½ vegetables. Add milk to drink and fresh fruit for dessert and you are well nourished at a moderate calorie expense.
10. Double check your serving size.
Most of us are victims of the supersize phenomenon. Research shows that people who are presented with larger containers of food eat more than those consuming snacks from smaller containers. Make this work for you. Eat your dinner on the smaller luncheon plate—your serving will look larger. As well, if you want to “splurge” on some treat, as we all do at some time, think in terms of a single size container: not a whole chocolate bar, but the mini size, not a 200g bag of potato chips, but a 43 g size. This will give you the indulgence of a treat that you want, but allow you to stop while the calorie count is still low.
To find out if you are at risk for Diabetes, check out the assessment