I’ll come right out and say it; I love food. I love experimenting with flavors (perhaps a little too enthusiastically for my mother’s taste) and techniques. Eating is fun; every meal can be as familiar and comforting or new and unusual as I choose. And, living in New York City, I have an entire globe’s worth of culinary temptations to indulge in. Understandably, if I’m not sensible with my food choices, my health could take a few knocks. While my head understands the concept behind “eating to live, not living to eat”, my tongue craves creamy sauces, crispy, crackly textures and bold, thrilling flavors. Tastebuds, it seems, just want to have fun.
However, when you’re trying to stick to healthier foods, meals can feel more like a punishment instead of a pleasure. Sure, you can fight it, but do you want every meal to be a battle? You can rationalize about the benefits of what you’re eating, and use sheer willpower to avoid junky foods, but in the end, the more you enjoy what you eat, the more likely you’ll keep eating it. It’s in your own best interest then, to take a healthy meal that you might not be too excited about and make it as sexy and enticing as possible.
Below are a few suggestions to take your next meal more fun, fierce and downright tantalizing – without the bad-food guilt.
Play with Texture - If you’re a burger fan, imagine biting into your favorite burger; that first juice-dripping, smoky beefy bite. And what about fried chicken – that loud crunch as you bite through the breading? Cookies; I’m a soft-bake gal. There isn’t anything better than sinking my teeth into a soft pillow of sweet dough and half-melted chocolate chips. Different textures in food are one of the things that make meals interesting, exciting and satisfying. You’re not only feeding your belly, but your senses, so try bringing some of your favorite textures into your healthier meals.
For example, even though I wanted to add more fish to my diet, when I cooked it, I wound up with overly moist or steamed fish that just crumbled into sludge on my tongue. What a huge turn-off. It took a little Google-fu and practice to be able to pan-fry a decent filet (learning to do veggies was easier), but now it’s cake to have a nice pan-fried piece of fish that’s crunchy and crusty outside, but nice and flaky inside. And I need only a tiny amount of oil to cook it as well.
If you’re struggling with incorporating fruit, veggies or anything else into your diet, try new cooking techniques to add some crunch, or soften the food’s texture and see if that makes the meal more palatable.
Punch Up the Flavor - There’s nothing like a creamy sauce or a rich, buttery smear to make a meal feel decadent. However, those very sauces can pack a huge calorie wallop. But instead of glopping your sauce on top of the meal, try putting some in a side dish (I always use ceramic ramekins) and using it as a dip. I find this works better with strong, sharp-tasting sauces like soy sauce, teriyaki, or smoky BBQ. You can also melt some Velveeta cheese and have a mini-fondue. The stronger and more rich the flavor, the less per bite you’re likely to use. If you’re really up for experimenting, try mixing some herbs and spices into your favorite flavors – some fresh chives will give a mild onion bite, while cumin will make those smoky sauces smolder. Herbs and spices also pack some extra healthy punches, so your meal will be doing double duty – less salt, fat and calories without losing flavor.
Dress Up for the Occasion - Few things scream “fancy dining” like a nicely presented dish. And a few small, simple touches are all you need. Garnishes are a great way to start – fresh sprigs of parsley are not only decorative, but tasty and good for you. A little shredded carrot or red cabbage can add some color, crisp and crunchy texture as well as some extra nutrients to your plate. You can also copy the high-end restaurants and put less food on your plate. Using white dishes, like the restaurants do, have an added bonus of making your portions look bigger than they really are, giving you some added portion control. Finally, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can learn how to carve your fruits and veggies into decorative elements.
Like it or not, food is a huge and necessary part of living. Seeing food as the enemy then is, inevitably, pointless. If you want to eat better, the habit will more likely stick, if you make the process as enjoyable as possible.