It’s easier than you might think to whip up meals that are healthy, delicious, and quick! Below are my top five cooking tips for making healthier meals!
1. Make Your Own Salad Dressing and Sauces
Most conventional salad dressings and sauces are filled with unhealthy vegetable oils, processed sugar and artificial additives. These ingredients provide no nutritional value, add unnecessary calories into your diet and, when cooked with regularly and unsparingly, may hold you back from reaching your health and fitness goals. They can easily turn your meal from healthy to unhealthy in seconds.
Why not make your own nutrient-dense salad dressing and sauces that provide you with amazing health, weight-loss and muscle-building benefits?
Here are some quick and simple ways to whip up your own:
With countless options of flavored hummus available—roasted red pepper, chipotle, caramelized onion, olive tapenade, basil pesto, Mexican black bean and so many more—it’s a flavorful replacement for any salad dressing or sauce! Add a dash of water to 2 to 3 tablespoons of hummus and stir until a salad dressing–like consistency is reached.
Tahini is another great option that provides a boost of protein and a nourishing source of dietary fat. Just how peanut butter is made from ground peanuts, tahini is made from ground sesame seeds, with a much smoother and creamier texture. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons over your prepared dish and throw in some fresh herbs, such as dill, basil, cilantro or parsley, and you have delicious, healthy meal.
The simplest way to replace salad dressing and sauces is with infused olive oil. You can find different flavors like garlic, sun-dried tomato, Italian herb, white truffle, chipotle and basil at your local olive oil store, Amazon and Thrive Market. Remember: One serving size of olive oil is one tablespoon!
All of these healthy salad dressing and sauce alternatives are perfect for drizzling over your salad, pasta, roasted vegetables or chicken.
2. Cook With Different Spices and Herbs
It’s possible to eat chicken, broccoli and rice every single night without getting bored! You don’t need fancy sauces, added salt and loads of butter or cheese to make your meals taste great. Whether you are in the mood for Mexican, Indian, Asian or Italian, you can satisfy your craving with herbs and spices to cook a delicious, healthy meal. There are countless combinations of dried and fresh options that will easily transform your dish into something new and exciting every night, while keeping it clean and healthy!
Here are some simple ways you can take advantage of herbs and spices to cook a healthier meal:
Make a healthy salad with fresh herbs. Fresh basil, parsley, dill and cilantro are readily available at most local supermarkets. Add as much as you want to your salad with a healthy fat such as avocado, organic extra-virgin olive oil or tahini.
Stir-fry or roast your vegetables and protein with these different blends of dried spices and herbs:
Mexican: 2 tbsp. paprika, 2 tbsp. no-salt-added chili powder, 1½ tsp. onion powder, 1½ tsp. garlic powder, 1½ tsp. ground cumin, 1½ tsp. ground black pepper, ½ tsp. cinnamon (optional)
Italian: 1 tbsp. oregano, 1 tbsp. thyme, 2 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. rosemary, 1 tsp. sage
Indian: 2 tbsp. curry, 2 tbsp. cumin, 2 tsp. turmeric, 2 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground ginger, ½ tsp. cardamom, ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Moroccan: 2 tsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground allspice, ½ tsp. cayenne, ½ tsp. ground cloves
Asian: 2 tbsp. onion powder, 2 tbsp. garlic powder, 1 tbsp. ginger powder, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
BBQ: 2 tbsp. smoked paprika, 2 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. ground mustard, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. ground sage, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. allspice, ½ tsp. nutmeg
Chili: 2 tbsp. chili powder, 1 tbsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. garlic powder, ½ tsp. onion powder, ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine the spice blends in a small, airtight contain and shake well. Sprinkle desired amount over your stir-fry or roast and save the rest for later use. These spice blends are perfect for stir-frying ground turkey, chicken or tempeh, vegetables, chickpeas, black beans, rice or quinoa. Or use them to roast chicken, salmon, vegetables or sweet potatoes.
If you don’t have all these spices, go simple by using only one or two to create a healthy meal. Rosemary, basil, oregano, dill, cumin, paprika, garlic powder and cinnamon are all great spices to use solo. Cumin and cinnamon are a great pair for shredded chicken and carrots, and garlic and smoked paprika taste great together on roasted salmon and sweet potatoes. Get creative and keep trying new combinations!
3. Include the “Fab Four” in Every Meal
Combining protein, fat, fiber and greens is a surefire way to know you are cooking a healthy meal. When eaten together, the so-called “Fab Four” naturally balance your hunger-related hormones. And not just for an hour: “You’ll be satisfied, full and easily able to last four to six hours without crashing, craving or thinking about food,” nutritionist Kelly LeVeque writes on The Chalkboard magazine’s blog.
Pick one from each of the following four categories and combine for a healthy meal!
Protein: lentils, beans, organic pasture-raised chicken, organic turkey, grass-fed meats, organic, pasture-raised eggs, organic non-GMO tofu and tempeh, wild Alaskan caught salmon, sustainably farmed organic, low-mercury seafood
Fat: avocados, full-fat coconut milk, coconut oil, organic extra-virgin olive oil, nut butters (zero added sugar and processed oils), almonds, Macadamia nuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, Brazil nuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds
Fiber: lentils, split peas, black beans, lima beans, berries, nuts, brown rice, barley, quinoa, flax seeds, chia seeds, squash, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, apples
Greens: romaine, arugula, mixed greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, watercress, collard greens, asparagus
There are many more options than what is listed here! Be sure to explore your options and continue to include new foods into your diet.
4. Clean Up Your Stir-Fry
Stir-fry is the perfect go-to dinner when you are short on time. You throw in some vegetables, a clean source of protein, drizzle with olive oil and you’ve got a healthy meal, right?
While olive oil is a nutritious addition to your daily diet, cooking with it may not be. Olive oil has a very low smoke point; when cooked at high temperatures it loses much of its nutritional value and forms compounds that can be detrimental to your health. It’s also important to keep in mind that one serving size of olive oil is only one tablespoon, and when drizzling it into your stir-fry, you may unknowingly be adding two to three times the recommended serving size. This is a simple mistake that may be leading you to rack up your daily calorie and fat intake.
Try stir-frying with vegetable or chicken broth instead. Begin by adding ¼ to ½ cup to your frying pan and add more if it evaporates before your vegetables and protein are fully cooked. Measure out one tablespoon of olive oil to mix into your stir-fry after you remove it from the stovetop. If you want to stir-fry or cook with oil, your best choices are coconut oil or avocado oil. And don’t forget to keep serving sizes in mind!
5. Make Cooking Easy!
Cooking healthy, satisfying meals doesn’t have to require a lot of time, ingredients or energy. Using a few simple preparation tricks and having the right foods on hand, you can whip up a healthy dish in seconds. Stocking your kitchen with the following four foods is a fail-proof way to ensure your plate is always filled with clean foods:
Always have ready-to-eat protein in your fridge. Use a crock-pot to prepare shredded chicken, stir-fry a pound of ground turkey or hard-boil a dozen eggs to store in your fridge for your weekday lunches or dinners. When you have a clean source of protein readily available, you can easily get creative throughout the week with the herbs, spices, sauces and vegetables you pair with it. Hard-boiled eggs, or even eggs cooked over easy, can be thrown into a salad or bowl of brown rice for a perfectly balanced meal.
Prepare shredded chicken by placing 4 chicken breasts in a crock-pot with one cup of chicken broth. Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. Shred chicken using two forks and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Prepare 1 to 2 pounds of ground turkey by using a large frying pan and constantly stir until turkey is fully cooked. No oil needed. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for later use.
To make hard-boiled eggs, bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, then add a dozen eggs and cook for 7 to 8 minutes. Drain, transfer back to egg carton and store in the fridge for later use.
Take advantage of frozen foods. Always have your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables like chopped spinach, broccoli, cauliflower rice and green peas, all found in the frozen vegetable section at your grocery store. Studies have shown that frozen vegetables are just as nutrient-dense as fresh ones, as they are frozen immediately, preserving many of the vitamins and minerals. You can also find frozen brown rice and quinoa, shaving off a great deal of cooking time when preparing a healthy meal. All of these frozen foods can be reheated on the stove within minutes.
Easy Dinner Recipes You Can Cook in Minutes
Ingredients: 2 cups mixed greens, 4 oz. chicken, turkey or tofu, ½ cup chopped cucumbers, ¼ cup fresh parsley, ¼ cup banana peppers, ½ cup mashed avocado, ¼ tsp. garlic powder, lemon pepper and salt to taste
Directions: Throw all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Thoroughly chop and combine.
Red Pepper Hummus Salad
Ingredients: 2 cups arugula, 4 oz. chicken, turkey or tofu, 1 bell pepper, 3 tbsp. red pepper hummus
Directions: Combine hummus with a dash of water. Stir and add water until a sauce-like consistency is formed. Chop your choice of protein and bell pepper. Mix all ingredients in until thoroughly combined.
Shredded Chicken Recipes:
Ingredients: 4 oz. shredded chicken, ½ cup chickpeas, 1 cup steamed kale, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning to taste
Directions: Bring water to a boil and toss in a few handfuls of kale. Allow kale to cook for 1 to 2 minutes, transfer to a strainer and drain. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until evenly mixed.
Ingredients: 4 oz. roasted chicken, ½ cup lentils, 1 cup packaged cauliflower rice, ⅓ cup full-fat coconut milk, Indian seasoning to taste
Directions: Add cauliflower to a frying pan and stir-fry until it begins to brown. Chop chicken into cubes. Add remaining ingredients to the frying pan and continue to stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Ground Turkey Recipes:
Ingredients: 4 oz. ground turkey, 1 cup shredded cabbage, ½ cup organic, low-sodium black beans, ½ cup chopped onions, ½ cup chopped bell peppers, ¼ cup mashed avocado, ¼ cup broth, ¼ cup salsa
Directions: Toss ground turkey, black beans, broth, chopped onions and bell peppers into a frying pan. Stir-fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions and peppers are cooked. Remove from heat and stir in cabbage. Transfer to a dinner bowl and top with mashed avocado and salsa.
Roasted Vegetable Bowl
Ingredients: 4 oz. ground turkey, 2 cups roasted vegetables, 2 to 3 tbsp. hummus, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds (flavor of choice)
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Chop your favorite vegetables into small pieces, place on a non-stick or sprayed sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes. Mix a dash of water with hummus and stir to create a sauce-like consistency. Reheat ground turkey in the microwave or stovetop. Once vegetables are roasted, transfer to a dinner plate, top with ground turkey, drizzle with hummus sauce and sprinkle hemp seeds over top.
Egg White Salad
Ingredients: 4 egg whites, 1 cup mixed greens, 1 cup arugula, ¼ cup chopped onions, 3 tbsp. flavored hummus, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds
Directions: Use hard-boiled eggs or cook egg whites in microwave (separate from yolk, place in a mug and cook for 1 to 2 minutes). Make salad dressing by stirring a dash of water into hummus. Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Egg and Buckwheat Pasta
Ingredients: 2 eggs cooked over easy, 1 serving buckwheat noodles, 2 cups spinach, 1 cup chopped broccoli, 1 tsp. garlic powder, salt to taste
Directions: Bring water to a boil in a pot. While waiting for water to boil, cook eggs over easy. Once water is boiling, add chopped broccoli and buckwheat noodles. Cook for 5 minutes or until noodles are soft (buckwheat noodles cook very quickly!). Before removing pot from the stove, toss in spinach. Remove from stove and drain. Return to pot and stir in garlic powder and salt to taste. Transfer to a bowl and top with eggs.
Chelsea Morrow is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. After a six-year career as a professional figure skater, she now works at Burn Boot Camp HQ on the Marketing team and is passionate about educating all of Burn Nation about fitness, nutrition, and a positive mindset. Chelsea is also the author and mastermind behind The Blueprint, Burn Boot Camp’s weekly newsletter. She loves doing yoga, meditating, rock climbing, her dog Yogi, and eating Mexican food.