How many times have you broken out the almond butter to snack on a spoonful (or…err…two) while you searched your fridge trying to find something for dinner? Yet you always seem to shut the door feeling uninspired and still so hungry? Us too.
So it’s time to bust out of those boring, empty fridge blues! To bring back your mealtime mojo — and help you eat healthy in the process — we tapped dietitians and experts at some of the top meal box and food delivery companies. Here, their secrets to getting a yummy, good-for-you meal on the table, STAT.
9 Healthy Cooking Hacks from Top Kitchen Pros
1. Make your grits whole-grain.
There’s nothing wrong with having whole-grain powerhouse quinoa as your go-to side. But consider playing around with something new like brown rice grits, advises Mary Alice Shreve, RD, LD, in-house dietitian at PeachDish, a next-day meal delivery company. “These Southern ‘grits’ are simply brown rice grains that have been broken apart into little pieces,” she explains. You get the same nutrients as brown rice, including fiber and energizing B vitamins, but they cook up into a creamy texture. Shreve likes to add toasted almonds or roast veggies to the mix. Buy pre-made brown rice grits or make your own at home by popping brown rice in blender.
2. Swap sweet for spicy.
Skip the sugar-laden ketchups and barbecue sauces. If you need a finishing touch on a bland piece of chicken breast, fish or veggie bowl, load it up with spices. Salsa, chili pepper sauce, sliced pepperoncinis or jalepenos are all good, low-calorie options, says Jan Hauser, certified nutritionist and trainer at Personal Trainer Food, a food plan aimed at those with weight loss goals. Peppers not only skyrocket the flavor of a dish, but they also contain compounds like capsaicin, which research shows can lower your appetite and stoke your metabolism. The spicier, the better, so add as much as you can tolerate.
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3. Turn yourself on to turmeric.
Two other ingredients you should add to your dishes: turmeric and garlic, says Melissa Burchill, registered dietitian at Zone Manhattan. Not only will they take your recipe’s flavor up a notch, they’ll also enhance your health. “[Tumeric] contains curcumin, a very effective and powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant,” Burchill says. In fact, research suggests it may help keep your brain sharp and protect against Alzheimer’s. Burchill likes to add it to soups, stews, salads and even smoothies. (We’re loving these 10 turmeric recipes.) Garlic also amps up your immune system.
4. Stock up for anytime-snacks.
Don’t shun the freezer aisle! Kaley Todd, MS, RD, a nutritionist for Sun Basket, an organic ingredient and recipe supplier, always keeps frozen fruit on hand. She’ll have anything from cherries and berries to peaches and mangos in her freezer for when she needs a snack, STAT. “I never skip breakfast so it’s nice to know that I can throw together a banana, frozen strawberries and almond milk for a smoothie at any time,” she says. (Need inspiration? Check out these 13 green smoothie recipes.) Also, zap frozen fruit in the microwave and it creates a syrupy topping for yogurt or whole-wheat pancakes.
5. Swap table salt for kosher salt.
For anyone who’s woken up bloated from a salt bomb of a meal the night before, read this: Swap the regular crystals for kosher salt. “A huge part of becoming a better cook is learning to taste and season your food before it gets to the table,” explains Scott Gorsky, chef and culinary manager at Home Chef, a weekly meal delivery service. He favors kosher salt because its large crystals make it easier to pinch and sprinkle on food compared to regular table salt, making you less likely to overdo it, he says. Plus, 1 ¼ teaspoons of Kosher salt is equivalent to one teaspoon of table salt — meaning teaspoon for teaspoon, it saves on your total sodium.
6. Create your own take-out.
When you order takeout, how disappointed are you when it takes nearly an hour to arrive? That’s why having a go-to dinner on hand is priceless. And whipping one up yourself is guaranteed to contain less sugar, salt and fat than takeout. Gorsky stir fries chicken and whatever veggies are in his fridge that he needs to use. He also adds a sauce made of hoisin, seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce and sambal. Keep a big box of brown rice in your pantry to serve when you’re in a pinch and voila, dinner done faster than you can launch Google!
7. Eat the whole egg.
Do you still give the stink eye to egg yolks because you fear the fat or cholesterol? It’s time to get that out of your head — and more yolks on your plate. “More and more research is disproving the correlation between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels,” says Carter Comstock, co-founder and chief product officer of Freshly, which delivers pre-made meals to your door (you just heat ‘em up). What’s more, the yolks pack protein (six grams in each) and contain key nutrients like eyesight-preserving lutein and brain-boosting choline. So keep your eggs yellow.
8. Hydrate with…food.
There are so many reasons to bone up on produce — vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, need we go on? But another is hydration, says Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle at the plant-based, organic meal delivery company, Sakara. In fact, it can actually “count” for 20 percent of your daily H20 quota, no water bottle needed. “When you eat fresh produce, the water molecules hydrate you at a cellular level, giving you that healthy, sexy glow,” they say. Excellent water-rich picks include cucumber, melon, radishes and leafy greens.
9. Make every meal count.
Don’t just let that casserole or chicken breast linger in your fridge for too long. Plan out your week of food and make a point to use up any leftovers within 48 hours, advises Comstock. Schedule one night a week for a fridge clean-out. Take your leftover meats and mix them with veggies and top with whatever you have laying around, like avocado, hot sauce or even pasta.