We all have that favorite dish that our mom or grandmother made when we were growing up. Perhaps you have several dishes that come to right now. You can actually taste and smell them as your memory takes you back. As you reflect on the ingredients, you are also aware now that those dishes were “heavy,” made with a lot of fat and sugar. You probably felt very full because you ate too much. You also might have wanted to take a nap afterwards.
If you are trying to eat healthy and exercise, these dishes are probably not on your weekly menu. You probably just enjoy them on special occasions. Perhaps you have discovered that you have allergies and are trying to avoid certain foods such as dairy products or gluten. Learning “clean” and “non-allergenic” ways to cook and your food tasting good can be a challenging. You weren’t taught how to cook differently, and now there is a learning curve.
I have good news.It is not as difficult as you may think.
Food can taste even better than before, reduce the waistline, and decrease your time in the kitchen. Are you thinking: “How can this be done?” Healthy food doesn’t taste good and surely it’s not easy.
First, let’s talk about some guidelines to go by in converting recipes.
1. Reduce the amount of fat in the recipe such as milk, butter, sour cream, and cream cheese. Unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk can be substituted for milk. Low-fat sour cream, non-fat plain Greek yogurt and low-fat cream cheese can also be used to reduce the fat content.
2. Decrease or eliminate the amount of sugar by substituting stevia, agave, truvia and other natural alternatives.
3. Minimize starch in dishes like potatoes, rice, and grains. Using vegetables to replace starches is always a good choice. If bread is suggested in a recipe like a breakfast casserole, leave the bread out and add more vegetables. Instead of using pasta in spaghetti you can replace it with spaghetti squash or thinly sliced zucchini.
4. Consider food allergies such as dairy and gluten and make substitutions accordingly. Using unsweetened almond and coconut milk is a good alternative. Instead of using regular white or whole wheat flour substitute with gluten free all-purpose flour, almond flour, or coconut flour.
At the right is an example of taking lasagna and making it healthier. It is easy to make with plenty left over.
» 2 large zucchini
» 1 tablespoon salt
» 1 pound ground beef or turkey (preferably less than 1 percent fat)
» 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
» 1 small green bell pepper, diced
» 1 onion, diced
» 1 cup tomato paste
» 1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
» 1/4 cup red wine
» 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
» 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
» Hot water as needed
» 1 egg
» 1 (15 ounce) container low-fat ricotta cheese or low-fat cottage cheese
» 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
» 1 (16 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
» 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
» 8 ounces shredded low part skim mozzarella cheese
» 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a deep 9×13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; set aside to drain in a colander.
3. To prepare the meat sauce, cook and stir meat and black pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Add in green pepper and onion; cook and stir until meat is no longer pink. Stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano, adding a small amount of hot water if sauce is too thick. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Meanwhile, stir egg, ricotta or cottage cheese, and parsley together in a bowl until well combined.
5. To assemble lasagna, spread 1/2 of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan. Then layer 1/2 the zucchini slices, 1/2 the ricotta mixture, all of the spinach, followed by all of the mushrooms, then 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Spread Parmesan cheese evenly over the top; cover with foil.
6. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil; raise oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Remember recipes are a suggestion on how to make a dish. It is up to you as to how the dish is made. If you don’t like certain ingredients just replace them accordingly. You can develop new favorite healthy dishes that you can enjoy on a regular basis.
Melinda Duffie of Jackson is a fitness columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal.