It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to getting in shape and dieting. The minute I hear the word “diet,” I immediately think of deprivation, boring food, and no wine. This year, that just won’t do for me. After taking a few press trips which involved food and wine then returning home to discover I either didn’t gain weight and sometimes even lost a pound or two, I realized there is something to eating fresh, farm to table food and having wine with a meal. This year I am making changes to my cooking game so healthy eating doesn’t feel like a punishment. It is important to me due to a recent health scare that stressed the importance of nutrition for me.
I received a Seasider gift set from Ciao Italian Food Artistry to try and it is mentioned in this article.
Note: I am not a dietitian. I am writing from my own experience.
This is a big change for me. I am focusing on healthy eating and wellness versus dieting. Instead of thinking I can’t eat that and feeling deprived, I am starting to think I can eat this because it is a good quality, healthy item. I am constantly reminding myself how good I feel when I eat better. I choose foods that I love so that I don’t feel deprived. This was key for me. Rather than following a rigid diet plan that often has meals I’m not really excited about, I plan my own meals. This allows me to look forward to a meal knowing it is food I like. For example, the decadent avocado is packed with nutrients such as vitamins C, E, K, and B6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. An avocado has healthy, beneficial fats which help you feel full and 6–7 grams of fiber for each half. It is a nutritional powerhouse that tastes so good. So dip into that guacamole without any guilt.
2. Premium Ingredients
I recently received a gift box from Ciao Italian Food Artistry. The Seasider was chocked full of premium ingredients which I used to make a Salsa Cruda pasta. In Italy, a sauce you don’t cook is known as a salsa cruda. I was skeptical about using tuna in a pasta dish but, oh my goodness, the difference when you use As do Mar premium tuna. To make this dish, I flaked the tuna in a bowl and added San Giuliano roasted artichokes, Agostino salted capers, Gentile Piennolo Vesuvio whole red tomatoes, and Le Ferre lemon extra virgin olive oil. When the Marella Pasta del Mare was done, I tossed it all together. I added a little pepper and grated Pecorino Romano. This was such a simple dish to put together but unbelievably delicious. The premium ingredients elevated this humble meal to something I would serve to guests. It was that good.
My lesson learned is that premium ingredients are worth the extra cost. My husband and I are empty nesters now and just cooking for two, so I use less which helps justify the cost. Shopping is half the fun. I love an upscale grocery store to browse for new ingredients. Look for a place that offers cooking demonstrations. You can try the dish and get the recipe if you like it. My new mantra is: “Is it taste worthy?” I am not going to waste calories on something that is just average.
Meal kits, while not premium ingredients, are a good way to try new ingredients and recipes. I will order occasionally when I get a deal. Just about everything you need comes with the kit. I have the opportunity to learn a new recipe and I love the suggestions on how to plate it for visual appeal. The meals are portion controlled and, when looking, I thought, “Oh that’s not much food,” but by eating slowly it is plenty. It helps to know what a proper serving size is. I have recipes from meal kits that are now in my permanent rotation because they were so good.
3. Farm To Table
In the Pacific Northwest, I have noticed more restaurants going to a more farm-to-table style of sourcing ingredients. Chefs look to local farmers and purveyors for fresh ingredients. When dining out, this is where you want to go for a healthier meal without feeling deprived. One trend I’ve noticed this year is what I term “gourmet vegetables on the menu as appetizers.” The most common are Brussel sprouts and roasted carrots. I’ve tried so many different versions of these dishes and loved every one. How cool is it that you can enjoy a healthy vegetable that you will like versus deep fried calamari?
The takeaway is that you can make these dishes at home. When at a restaurant, I photograph and jot down the ingredients. When home, I attempt to recreate the dish. I’ve found great recipes by using a search engine and listing all the ingredients plus the word recipe. Roasted carrots taste like such a treat. When roasted, they soften and the outside caramelizes. Jazzed up with seasonings and condiments, it is a worthy dish. Brussel sprouts taste so much better when sliced thin and roasted in the oven. I have had them prepared sweet and savory, and both are equally good. The sweet version had a buttery maple syrup sauce that was so good. To make it healthier, my home version just had a drizzle of the sauce.
4. Professional Equipment
To elevate your cooking game, you really need good, quality equipment. In my opinion, the most important is a well-designed cutting board and a well-made knife. Healthy eating involves lots of chopping so you want tools that can handle the job. You’ll also want stackable, see-through containers to use in the refrigerator for meal prepping. I like to plan my meals for the week, and it is nice to have all the ingredients ready to go. Look for Mediterranean diet cookbooks. Experts considered it one of the healthiest types of diets in the world and is what my nutritionist recommended for me.
I received a pizza oven for Christmas and can’t wait to experiment with it. In addition to pizza, you can cook steaks and other meats on cast iron skillets. I want to see what it can do with veggies. Can pizza be a healthy dish? Yes, if you practice portion control. Traditional Neapolitan pizza is a thin crust made with flour, yeast, water, salt, oil, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. It is a simple dish and can be part of a healthy diet. You can up the nutritional value by using whole wheat flour for the dough and topping it with nutrient dense vegetables and lean protein such as grilled chicken. Limit the amount of cheese.
I find I do better with my eating during the day when I have breakfast. Eggs are a filling protein but can be kind of boring. I eat a frittata most mornings. I chock it full of a combination of leftover and freshly cut vegetables. Just about anything tastes good in a frittata and is a great way to avoid food waste. I love leftover roasted sweet potatoes, asparagus, or zucchini combined with fresh onions, peppers, and chopped spinach or super greens. I add a bit of meat and usually some bacon bits or sausage. Sauté all the fillings in a nonstick oven safe skillet, then pour beaten eggs with a little milk over the top. Cook on the stove top for 2 minutes, then broil until the eggs are set. I put the rack in the middle of the oven, so the frittata doesn’t burn.
I love a glass of wine with dinner, and it is good to know that it has positive effects. An article in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers came to the conclusion that “compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.” The interesting thing about this study is the subjects were women aged 39-89, our demographic. I’ve read other studies that show the positive effects of red wine on blood sugar. In my experience, I have found that to be true when I do a blood test 2 hours after drinking a glass of red wine.
In terms of upping your cooking game, having a glass of wine with a meal encourages you to slow down and savor your food. Set the table each night and enjoy a meal you’ve cooked that you know is good for you.
If your New Year Resolutions include weight loss, consider refocusing on wellness. Make healthy food part of your routine with meals you will love eating by upping your cooking game.
For more stories like this one, check out our inspire category: