I’ve attempted many well-meaning but misguided short cuts in the kitchen (popping homemade broth in the freezer to cool it down quickly, skipping the rinsing of salt pork), but some of my kitchen tinkering has paid off when it comes to nutrition.
I’ve zeroed in on many tweaks that are easy and will only change your recipe for the better. The best part is that giving a nutritious nudge to dishes is as easy as an ingredient swap, a new technique or a sprinkle of nuts. Here are a few of my favorite tactics.
Sodium (an essential mineral that regulates fluid balance and contributes to blood pressure) is important, but too much (more than one teaspoon of table salt a day), is not a good thing. I like to keep sodium in check by using low-sodium or no-salt-added packaged broths, tomato products and beans.
This twist on chili opens in a new tab makes great use of low-sodium broth (plus it employs seasonings that add flavor without more of the mineral).
Try unsalted diced tomatoes in this hearty Minestrone soup opens in a new tab; that change drops almost 250mg sodium per serving of soup!
Rinsing canned beans under running water and draining thoroughly can reduce sodium by up to 40%, according to research. This technique is especially ideal for soups and salads.
Wholesome grains are everywhere now, and they can be easily employed in many of your favorite recipes. Swapping whole grain bread for a white loaf is easy, so try the same idea with pasta and rice. The whole grain versions supply dietary fiber (which keeps us full) and plant-based nutrients (called phytochemicals and phytophenols).
Pasta is the easiest whole-grain to introduce to skeptics (like my husband). Add homemade pesto to whole wheat pasta for a simple gateway whole-grain dish.
Substitute whole grains for white rice and semolina pasta in salads, soups, hot cereals, or for sides. Try this Spicy Vegetable and Potato Curry opens in a new tab with brown rice and whole-wheat naan.
Toast whole grains for a few minutes in a hot skillet before starting a recipe to develop nutty, roasty, yummy flavor. It’s a quick step you can do while you’re bringing water to boil for this quick, hearty bulgur salad opens in a new tab.
Think outside the garnish box to crown your dish with a nutritional hero. Here are a couple nutrition powerhouses to consider reaching for at the table:
Wheat germ is the nutrient powerhouse of a whole grain, which contains a concentration of zinc, magnesium, vitamin E and several other nutrients. Add a little of the toasted version for a boost to your bowl of oatmeal.
One tablespoon of unblanched almonds has about one gram fiber. That tablespoon also adds crunch and sweet nuttiness to your salad or morning cereal.
A can of beans adds texture, flavor, and a hefty amount of fiber. I like to add a can of chickpeas or cannellini beans to this versatile Artichoke and Broccoli Pasta Salad recipe opens in a new tab for another two grams of fiber per serving.
A little ground flaxseed can top muffins or a smoothie for the flax trifecta of fiber, lignans (similar to antioxidants) and healthy plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.
Making little tweaks can be a big deal. Start with small changes — like better-for-you garnishes or adding canned beans to some of your tried-and-true salads — and you’ll be amazed by how easy it is to eat more healthfully. Although my family has never asked for that doomed salty soup again, they now request almonds on salads, brown rice with beans and wheat germ on their cereal. And it’s those little things add up to a day of healthy eating.
Share your successful substitutions here — I’m always looking for new ideas.