Food TV: Inspiring Healthy Cooking

Cooking demonstrations help home cooks feel at ease in the kitchen.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Stroll through any bookstore or surf the Internet, and you can take your pick from thousands of healthy recipes. But for some cooks, words and pictures on a page or screen are not enough to inspire them to take the leap and try something new.

Enter food television, where reluctant cooks can be motivated by watching professionals share their cooking tips and ease with the kitchen.

"Cooking is very sensual, and the beauty of a cooking show allows viewers to see and almost feel the texture, shape, and quantity of the ingredients and finished product," says Ellie Krieger, host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite.

Says Liz Weiss, MS, RD, who co-hosted a pilot program called Recipe Rescue: "Seeing a food demonstration is a very powerful motivator because it reduces any anxiety that you can't do it."

Cooking on TV is not a new idea -- Julia Child was doing it decades ago. But the Food Network and its star chefs have made it more popular than ever. And some cooking shows, like Krieger's, are specifically aimed at showing the public just how easy -- and tasty -- healthy cuisine can be.

"There is a misconception that eating healthy and delicious food is mutually exclusive -- but they are not," Krieger says. She says she tries to show viewers that they can still enjoy their favorite foods as long as they prepare them in a healthful way and watch portion sizes.

Krieger also tries to dispel the notion that healthy cooking is complicated.

"I am a busy mom like everyone else, and so I focus on recipes that are easy, and have discovered some very simple tips, tricks, and options to encourage viewers to venture beyond their comfort zones and see just how easy it is to create delicious, healthy dishes," she says.

Recipe Rescue, a pilot on a PBS affiliate, actually put a family to work in the kitchen with dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Bissell, co-authors of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers. The goal: To make the family's favorite recipes more healthful.

"Our family realized their favorite foods were loaded with fat, calories and sodium," says Weiss, "and with a few simple steps, and without using convenience foods, we made their dishes much healthier."

Tricks of the Trade

So just what are some of those tricks that can make dishes both healthier and tastier?

"All it takes is a basic understanding of how to bring out the natural flavors in food," says Connie Gutterson, RD, PhD, author of The Sonoma Diet and a TV food demo veteran.

One of her own favorite flavor-developing techniques is toasting grains and nuts before adding to recipes.

She is also a big fan of experimenting with different kinds of whole grains, and of roasting and caramelizing vegetables for added flavor.

"There are so many things you can do in the kitchen that don't come out of a bottle," says Gutterson, also a chef and dietitian at the Culinary Institute of America.

As you become more comfortable with cooking techniques, you can use key ingredients to completely change a basic recipe. A pantry stocked with a variety of spices, herbs, vinegars, oils, mustards, whole grains, beans, nuts, and vegetables can turn a single recipe into multiple variations.

"Using a different spice rub or grain can completely change a recipe," says Gutterson.

Break Out of a Rut

Do the same meals repeat themselves week after week in your house? If so, you are not alone. One thing home cooks can learn from cooking shows is how to add variety to the menu -- essential for keeping meals interesting, healthy, and enjoyable.

"Most cooks stick to the tried-and-true family favorites they can cook without a recipe and rarely venture out of that comfort zone, except for holidays and special occasions," says Holly Clegg, a cookbook author and frequent television guest.

Clegg recommends breaking out of your mold by starting with a familiar dish, such as lasagna, then tweaking it. Try adding salsa to your grilled chicken. Or maybe use different greens, veggies, or dressing for your standard salad.

"Start with recipes you know will give you the confidence to be creative, and experiment with techniques to lower the fat, calories, sugar, and sodium," Clegg recommends.

Many people just use one or two recipes from each of their cookbooks. But Clegg tells her audiences not to make the same recipe twice.

"The quickest way to culinary boredom and ordering takeout is by preparing and eating the same food all the time," says Krieger.