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7 Healthy Cooking Secrets from Pro Chefs

Healthy cooking searches trend every January as people vow to eat better in the coming year.  It can seem daunting to overhaul your whole diet, but with a few simple shifts in the kitchen, you can improve the nutrition profile of just about any meal. Here are some simple, healthy cooking tips professional chefs incorporate into our cooking on a regular basis:

1. Eat seasonally.

If you let the calendar be your guide when shopping, the food you buy will taste better, and you’ll be incorporating a sustainable practice into your lifestyle.  As a bonus, it will help you create a varied meal plan. Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad in the summer will morph into Butternut Squash Posole in the winter months, and you’ll actually look forward to your favorite seasonal dishes.

2. Stock up on spices and herbs.

Chefs rely heavily on spices and fresh herbs to add a flavor boost and cultural focus to their cooking.  As a rule of thumb, add dried spices like cumin, coriander, or cayenne toward the beginning of the cooking process so they can toast in the pan and release their flavor.  Fresh herbs like chopped parsley, cilantro, and mint add brightness when sprinkled in just before serving. Bookending a recipe with this technique rounds out the profile. Think chili powder-dusted chicken thighs shredded and sprinkled with fresh cilantro for a Southwestern rice bowl.

3. Embrace acid.

Too often we reach for the salt shaker when dinner lacks seasoning. But usually all a dish needs is a little bit of acid to pull it all together.  Whether it’s a squeeze of lemon, lime or splash of vinegar, experiment with adding this flavor booster before you sprinkle in any salt.

4. Plan a prep session.

Bagged salads and vegetable medleys exist for a reason; convenience.  You can recreate the grab-and-go experience at home with fresher, seasonal vegetables if you set aside a little time in the kitchen to prep and bag your vegetable haul yourself.  Then, when you’re tired after a long day, you’ll be halfway to this Szechuan Tofu & Green Bean Stir Fry before you even walk in the door.

5. Portion like a pro.

Flip the script on traditional American meal ratios and treat proteins like chicken, pork, and beef as the condiment to highlight the vegetables in your recipe.  Think roasted chicken shredded into a Vietnamese Cabbage Salad or turkey sausage simmered in a hearty Leek and Spinach Soup. You’ll get the satisfying flavor you’re looking while maintaining a balanced diet.

6. Experiment with technique.

Sautéing, with its fancy pan flipping and flashes of fire, may get all the attention in the kitchen, but for most chefs, the oven is the real hero.  With just a drizzle of olive oil and some dried spices and herbs, you can transform a simple sheet pan of vegetables and chicken thighs into a restaurant-worthy meal. The high heat of roasting releases the moisture from foods and intensifies the flavor.  So grab those brussels sprouts you prepped and make this Lemon-Thyme Sheet Pan Chicken recipe for dinner.

7. Go with whole grains.

Whole grains can have a beneficial role in a healthy diet.  Making simple swaps like brown rice for white, or spelt, barley or farro for couscous or risotto, lentil or whole wheat noodles in place of plain pasta, make dishes more satiating, all while providing a boost of vitamins, fiber and long-lasting energy refined grains lack. Need some inspiration? Try this comforting Wild Mushroom and Barley Risotto recipe.

Healthy cooking shouldn’t feel unattainable and stressful. Adding these tips and techniques into your weekly game plan will create a clear and easy path to nutritious meals that you look forward to eating past January.

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