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Saturday, September 09, 2006

10 Tips for Making Healthier Meals

From Jennifer R. Scott

Who says family meals aren't any fun when you're trying to get healthier? Dinner-time doesn't have to prove a dieting-dilemma. Keep these healthier-meal-making tips in mind. You'll find your weight loss efforts don't have to fall by the wayside when you pull up a chair to the dinner table.

1. Times are Lean
These days, meat is much leaner than it has been due to trimming efforts on the part of meatpackers that better weight loss. Beef labeled as "loin", "round" and "extra lean" are your best choices. According to The Wisconsin Beef Council, cuts like top round, tenderloin or sirloin qualify as lean, healthy selections.

Roasting, baking, grilling, braising and broiling are healthy meat-cooking methods. Use non-stick pans and choose cooking sprays over oil or butter during preparation. Another way to reduce fat is to strain cooked ground beef and rinse it with hot water. (Drain it well before you continue the recipe.) Be sure to keep portion sizes in check.

2. Be Choosy About Chicken
Sure, chicken is a great American dinner mainstay, but many of us turn a potentially diet-friendly staple into something considerably less than healthful. Say no to fried patties, chicken fingers, nuggets and franks. Switch to broiling, roasting, baking or steaming. Use a non-stick pan with cooking spray, broth or wine.

Keep in mind that dark meat contains about twice as much fat as white meat. Also, chicken skin is fattening. You can remove the skin yourself before cooking, choose skinless varieties, or take off the skin before you eat it. Basically, however you choose to avoid it ... just make sure you do.

3. Trim Up that Turkey
If you're preparing a turkey, why not cook the stuffing separately? You will reduce its fat content by preventing the turkey fat from soaking into the dressing. Try to use less butter or margarine when preparing the stuffing. Don't forget to skim the fat off of the gravy with a gravy separator or by refrigerating it. Leave the drumsticks for the kids; as with chicken, choose light meat over dark and you'll save quite a few calories.

4. It's Getting Steamy in Here ...
Serve steamed vegetables instead of heavy casseroles or cheese-based dishes. Steaming or microwaving veggies means you don't have to add any fat during preparation; choose lemon juice, herbs, or vinegar over margarine. Use herbs and spices or imitation butter sprinkles as seasoning instead of butter, oil or cheese.

If steamed vegetables don't suit your taste buds, reduce the amount of oil you use if you sauté them. Broth or flavored vinegar makes a great substitute for oil.

5. Go for Grains
Whenever you have the chance, choose whole grains as your bread choice. For example, you could choose whole grain breading for stuffing preparation; whole grain dinner rolls; whole wheat bread for sandwiches; and wild rice instead of white.

All types of white bread are high in refined sugar and pack in more calories than grains. These refined sugars are some of the "bad carbs" we hear so much about these days. If you still crave white bread occasionally, choose a "lite" or diet version, which will save you a few calories.

6. Virtually "Veggie"
Pretend you've gone vegetarian for a while. If you're still hungry after the main course, choose vegetables as seconds, rather than meat- or bread-based dishes. Try to choose healthier options like steamed or boiled veggies instead of casseroles or those topped off with butter or cheese.

By selecting healthier fare when you go for another helping instead of the entrée, you'll take in fewer extra calories and fat while adding more fiber. A second round of small portions of a variety of dishes will be much more satisfying than a little more of the main dish.

An even better alternative to second helpings is to get up and get your mind off eating. Taking a walk or playing with the family pet are great diversions. By moving on, you may find you're not still hungry after all, and forgo seconds entirely.

7. Powder Your ... Dessert?
Got milk? Trade it in for the powdered variety when baking and you'll save yourself a lot of fats and calories. A visitor wrote in to suggest that using evaporated skim milk in her favorite recipes instead of cream or milk has been one of the changes that led her to an 80 pound weight loss! Add equal parts water to replace milk or use it straight from the can as a substitute in recipes calling for heavy cream.

8. Fruit as a Finisher
Instead of pie or cake for dessert, offer fruit-based fare like fondue, fruit cocktail, yogurt parfait, or, simply a fresh piece fruit. Not only will this reduce the fat and calorie content of your meal's finale, most folks find fruit more refreshing than sweets. After all, by dessert we're usually eating out of sheer habit anyway, not from hunger, so why "waist" the calories? You'll be surprised at how easy it really is to satisfy your sweet tooth.

9. Another Divine Dessert
When making sundaes for the kids, choose sugar free ice cream or reduced- or non-fat frozen yogurt. Non-fat, reduced-calorie whipped topping is almost identical in flavor and texture to its higher-calorie counterpart. Try topping sundaes with all-fruit spread rather than chocolate or caramel syrup. If portions tend to get out of control, serve less ice cream in smaller dishes.

10. Make Smart Substitutions
Try some fat-fighting baking substitutions: Use 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to replace 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate in desserts; crushed graham crackers are a healthier alternative to pie crusts; replace 1 egg with 2 egg whites or ¼ cup of egg substitute; replace half of the oil in dessert recipes with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce; use reduced- or non-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream on pies.

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