In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and with children at home, these are stressful and trying times for families.
And yet many families have found cooking and baking to be useful activities to pass the time and put food on the table for loved ones.
For this blog, I engaged the advice of our daughter, Sarah, a registered dietitian nutritionist, who in her work life counsels patients on healthy eating and at home, models healthful meal preparation and baking skills for her spouse and 2 children.
Sarah’s focus is on the process of finding easy ways to prepare quick, good-tasting, healthy meals and snacks – while leaving the perfectionistic mindset behind.
I hope you find her tips helpful:
1 – Visit recipe websites and start collecting recipes
To make this process easier, you can bookmark favorite websites like the ones we reference in my book, Six Factors to Fit: Weight Loss that Works for You!: Cooking Light, EatingWell, Hungry Girl, MyRecipes, Skinnytaste or SparkRecipes. Some sites also have free recipe newsletters.
As you peruse different sites, look for easy recipes with fewer ingredients that contain wholesome, less processed foods. Recipes with nutrition facts give you an idea of calories per portion size to help you better plan your healthy meals.
Print recipes or save in a smart phone app or an electronic recipe file.
A few of Sarah’s family favorites are make your own burrito bowls with brown rice, ground turkey, beans, corn and shredded lettuce or 3-bean chili where kids choose their own toppings of shredded cheese, avocado, green onions or Greek yogurt.
2 – Use social media to learn about new cooking trends
Whether you follow a blog, an Instagram account or a Facebook group, you can be on a hunt for new cooking trends to help improve healthy meal planning. A few of Sarah’s new favorites are a spiralizer and an air fryer.
A spiralizer makes zucchini or other vegetable noodles into a great base for a protein topping of your family’s liking such as turkey meatballs.
An air fryer is a quick and easy way to roast fresh or frozen vegetables with seasonings and a minimal spritz of olive oil. Roasted broccoli, green beans, cauliflower or even chick peas make a tasty snack or side dish that even kids will love.
An air fryer allows you to quickly crisp chicken, fish or shrimp without actually frying.
You can also be creative in the kitchen when using a salad bowl and chopper to make restaurant-quality chopped salads, an Instant Pot pressure cooker or juicer for making vegetable or fruit smoothies.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, consider adding one of these items to your gift wish list.
3 – Keep portion control in mind, especially when it comes to baking
Having a treat now and then can be a part of a healthy diet if you plan for it.
Though cakes may be great for a special celebration, think smaller for everyday baking.
A few of Sarah’s go-to family favorites are energy bites (no-bake peanut or nut butter mixed with oats, flax or chia seeds and mini chocolate chips in a small, round treat), black bean brownies or oat banana Greek yogurt mini-muffins.
Mini-muffin tins and Ziplock baggies help with portion control.
Instead of keeping baked goods on the counter for days on end, freeze the rest to lessen temptations and decrease unplanned snacking.
4 –Nudge healthier eating with recipe tweaks
To boost you and your family’s intake of fiber or eat less sugar, you can experiment with making recipe substitutions.
Many sites offer examples such as using crushed bran cereal for bread crumbs, Greek plain yogurt instead of sour cream, applesauce or prune puree to replace oil or butter, less sugar or whole wheat instead of white flour.
Healthy cooking is a process. Be patient as you try new dishes and techniques and see what your family likes.
Stay safe and be well!
Robert Kushner, MD