You're Cooking Healthfully in the New Year

10 easy kitchen resolutions to make this year.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

It's hard to believe, but we are once again celebrating a New Year! (Is it just me, or didn't we just throw confetti around and scream "Happy New Year" a few months ago?)

'Tis the season of clean slates and good intentions. So to get us started off in a healthy direction, I've hatched 10 cooking resolutions we can all try in the new year. I want you to print out this list and literally check off which ones you are willing to try, OK? You might not want to do all 10, but I'm hoping you'll take at least some of them to heart.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year!

1. Use olive oil and canola oil for cooking and baking. Of the two oils with the highest levels of healthier monounsaturated fat, only one has omega-3 fatty acids and a high smoke point (so it works well at high-temperature oven-frying as well as pan-frying) and that's canola oil. The other, olive oil, works well in recipes where the olive flavor is desirable, and when you aren't cooking at high temperatures.

2. Instead of deep-frying foods, switch to oven- or pan-frying. Use a small amount of canola oil to coat the surface of the food, then brown it in a 400-degree oven or a nonstick frying pan over high or medium-high heat. Doing this instead of deep-frying will save you from a shocking amount of extra calories and fat grams! For example, if you oven-fry chicken flautas instead of deep frying them, you'll save around 500 calories and 55 grams of fat per three flautas. If you oven-fry your breaded zucchini instead of deep-frying, you save 250 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving.

3. When baking, substitute whole-wheat flour for half the white flour listed in the recipe. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons more liquid (such as low-fat milk, fat-free sour cream, or fruit juice) because the batter tends to be a little drier. But it usually works out great in everything from cinnamon rolls to muffins.

Substituting a cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour will boost your vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals as well as bump the fiber up to 14 grams. It bumps up the vitamin B-6 from 3% of the Daily Value to 26%, folic acid from 18% DV to 29%, magnesium from 10% to 59%, potassium from 7% to 24%, and zinc from 7% to 29%. White flour also has more calories and carbohydrate -- and less protein -- per cup than whole-wheat flour.

4. Substitute Splenda for half of the sugar in bakery recipes. This is an easy way to trim sugar calories, and usually gives good results. Cutting out just 1/2 cup of sugar will shave 387 calories. If you or family members are sensitive to alternative sweeteners, try replacing one-third or one-fourth of the sugar with Splenda.

5. Discover fat-free half-and-half. I love this product because I can use it in soups, sauces, casseroles, and bakery recipes. It can be used as a replacement in most any recipe calling for liquid whipping cream or half-and-half. If you're leery, try blending it with regular half-and-half (for example, use 1/2 cup of each to equal 1 cup total).

6. Buy higher omega-3 eggs if you can find them. They do cost a bit more than regular eggs, but unless you're a big egg-eater, this will probably amount to an extra $3 or so per month (my family goes through a dozen eggs every two weeks). Several brands are available around the country. The brand I buy, EggLand's Best, has the following per large egg:

  • 4 grams fat (regular eggs have 5 grams)
  • 1 grams saturated fat (regular eggs have 1.5 grams)
  • 180 mg cholesterol (regular eggs have 213 mg)
  • 25% Daily Value of vitamin E (regular eggs have about 6% Daily Value)
  • 100 mg plant omega-3 fatty acids

7. Use a no- or low-trans-fat margarine with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon for cooking. Compare this to regular butter and stick margarine, with around 12 grams of fat per tablespoon. I've got to admit I haven't been a big margarine-lover in the past, but a couple of great-tasting products on the market have won me over (although I still use butter in recipes where it's required for flavor). The water content is a little higher in these margarines, but they still work well in most recipes -- even cookie and cake recipes. The two brands I tend to use, because they taste best and have better fatty-acid profiles, are:

  • Take Control
  • Land O' Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread

8. Reach for Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blends. Whether you're stir-frying some veggies, whipping up an omelet, or spicing a stew or casserole, Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blends add flavor without sodium. There are many blends to choose from, but my personal favorite is the Garlic & Herb. One-fourth teaspoon contains 0 calories and 0 mg sodium.

9. Select leaner meats for your recipes. Just by choosing leaner cuts of beef and pork, you can cut the fat in half and trim back on saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories too. The leaner cuts will work just as well in most recipes, whether you're making stir-fry, casserole, stew, chili, enchiladas, or whatever. If you're grilling or broiling a lean steak, tenderize it by marinating it (using a low-fat marinade) for a few hours in the refrigerator. Use ground sirloin, or ground beef that's 93% fat-free, for a much leaner option in your ground beef recipes. For poultry, try skinless thighs and breasts to shave half the fat.

10. Add drained, canned beans to your stew and casserole dishes when possible. Beans are loaded with fiber, protein, and powerful phytochemicals. You can add them to Mexican dishes, salads, casseroles, and stews. It's easy when you use canned beans -- just drain and rinse! Each half cup of beans (such as kidney beans) boosts fiber by 8 grams!

Originally published Dec. 29, 2004
Medically updated December 2006.


SOURCES: ESHA "Food Processor II" Nutritional Analysis program. Fry Light, Fry Right!, by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, Black Dog & Leventhal publishing, December 2004. EggLand's Best product label.

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