Adding flavor without greatly increasing the amount of fat in your favorite dishes will help keep you from getting bored. By varying the flavor of your favorite healthy meals, you'll be less likely to give in to cravings. Consider some of these easy ways to add flavor without adding too much extra fat.
From the Fridge...
- I admire anyone who can eat salads sans dressing to avoid the extra calories and added fat, but I just can't enjoy a "naked" salad. So fat-free buttermilk is a must for me to make my own reduced-fat salad dressings (I've yet to find a grocery store brand I enjoy.) My buttermilk salad dressing recipe has two grams of fat per tablespoon compared to eight grams in an average store-bought variety.
- Salads made with iceberg lettuce get bland after you've had a few; not only is iceberg low on flavor, it's lower in nutrients than darker leafy greens. Add greens such as spinach to iceberg lettuce salad to pump up the flavor and nutrition. Make sure your crisper is stocked with a variety of fresh salad vegetables, such as cucumbers and carrots, to make any salad more tasty and nutritious.
Tip: You can also cook greens as a healthy side dish to any meal when you're tired of side salads.
- Trade real bacon for the fake stuff. Imitation bacon bits are actually made from flavored vegetable protein, not bacon. They have a very smokey flavor, so if you love bacon -- and miss it because it's not on your diet -- imitation bacon bits are a great way to get the flavor you crave. Sprinkle a small amount on top of salads or eggs, or substitute it for real bacon in recipes.
- Ditch the high-fat tartar sauce. Fresh or bottled lemon juice will add extra zing to grilled or broiled fish. It's also a tasty salad topper and an ingredient in reduced-fat marinade recipes.
- Say bye-bye to butter. Butter Buds, a fat-free granulated butter flavoring, is one of my favorite diet products; it really does taste like the real thing and has many uses -- from topping baked potatoes to popcorn to veggies. And according to the About.com Low Fat Cooking Guide, you can even reconstitute them to make melted butter for baking recipes or sauces.
In the Pantry...
- Swap high-fat dressings, sauces, and bread spreads for olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is perfect for salad dressings and other dishes where more flavor is needed. It has the purest and fruitiest taste among types of olive oils. Olive oil has heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated fat), but remember it has 14 grams of total fat per tablespoon, so watch your servings.
- Keep canned chicken broth readily available in your pantry. It contains trace amount of fat and just 10 calories per cup. It's perfect as a substitute for butter when you stir fry. You can also use it to make tasty, reduced-fat mashed potatoes. The About.com Guide to Busy Cooks has a great recipe for improving the flavor of canned chicken broth.
Tip: Choose low-sodium varieties of chicken broth, then add only a small amount of salt to taste.
- Flavored vinegars add zip to sauces, dressings , soups and other recipes. Just a drop or two of flavored vinegar makes a big difference without adding fat. My favorite is apple cider vinegar, but there are others to choose from. The About.com Guide to Gardening can tell you how to make your own flavored vinegar.
- It's a little bold for my taste, but by friend raves about adding minced hot peppers or hot pepper sauce to her family's chicken dishes. And here's a plus -- eating spicy foods may slightly raise your metabolism.
- A handful of sun-dried tomatoes can really perk up your favorite Italian dish.
- Adding nuts to everything from salads to cereal to baked goods is a great way to add flavor and nutrition. Eating them may even benefit heart health. My favorite use is to add almonds to almost any flavor of low-fat yogurt. To make nuts more flavorful, so you can get more flavor from a smaller serving, toast them briefly before adding to your food.
Tip: Almonds are the one of the most nutritionally dense nuts.
With Your Spice Rack...
- Try adding new herbs and spices instead of other enhancers like cheese or butter sauce. Keep in mind that dried herbs are actually more flavorful than fresh, so use less. Experiment with basil, dill, tarragon, curry, and others until you find your favorites.
- I actually carry Mrs. Dash in my bag because I often pack a frozen meal for lunch. I can't take the spice rack with me, but those meals often need to be "doctored up." One little bottle does the trick -- I've yet to find a pre-packaged or frozen diet meal that isn't greatly improved by a dash or two. There are many different flavors to choose from.
At the Stove...
- Invest in several non-stick cooking pans, such as a skillet and saucepan. You can use these to prepare your food without having to add extra fat.
- Try cooking fish using papilottes (a fancy word for little paper packages), parchment paper, or foil. These help seal in flavor. Instead of basting with butter, use a little olive oil or canola oil and brush lightly.