So many of us have the best intentions to eat more healthfully… but we rarely get past the planning stage, partly because we may not have created the right conditions for healthful eating or weight loss success. At the end of a long day, it can be hard to make healthier recipes if your kitchen isn’t prepared for it. For me, the best place to start is with the right ingredients and tools. I think of it as a shopping list for diabetes-friendlier cooking.
Stock your pantry
Canned tomatoes: I love them for their versatility. They punch up pasta, soups, casseroles, and are terrific with fish, chicken, and refried and black beans. If your family isn’t completely ready for the low-sodium variety, mix one can of low-sodium tomatoes with a can of regular tomatoes.
Pasta sauce: Compare brands for sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
Canned beans and fat-free refried beans: These may help you eat several meatless meals each week. Rinsing canned beans in a colander washes away about 40% of the sodium.
Canned tuna or salmon: Make a simple salad with reduced-fat mayonnaise, or try my favorite – toss with lightly steamed broccoli, herbs, and a touch of olive oil and wine vinegar.
Whole-wheat pasta, brown and wild rice, barley, and quinoa: I’ll sauté any vegetable in my refrigerator and toss with one of these whole grains along with beans, chicken, or shrimp for an easy, scrumptious meal. Have instant or quick-cooking varieties on hand for a speedy side dish.
Onions: Cooked or raw, they add flavor to just about everything. When you have time, cook several on low heat in a bit of olive oil for about an hour to caramelize them. Refrigerate what you don’t eat. Over the next few days, serve them on sandwiches, with chicken, or in soup.
Potatoes: I promise you, there is no reason to fear the potato! In fact, a medium spud has a hefty dose of fiber, potassium, and magnesium and only 168 calories and thirty-seven grams of carbohydrate. As long as you count the calories and carbohydrates in your meal plan, potatoes fit as well as any other starchy food.
Reduced-sodium broth: Cooking with broth is a great way to cut back on salt and fat. Simmer rice and barley in broth instead of salted water with butter. You can also use it to deglaze a sauté pan – using a liquid to dissolve the flavorful brown bits that have stuck to the pan during cooking – which may decrease the amount of oil you need.
Canned fruit: With this in the pantry, it’s easy to add fruit to your meal at any time of the year; just be sure to read the label and pick no-sugar-added varieties.
Nuts: Add them to salads and pilafs or enjoy them as a snack. Limit your portion to about one ounce, because while nuts are rich in the “good for you” fats, they are high in calories.
Nut butters: These favorites can be more than just a favorite sandwich filling. Peanut and almond butters can add an Asian flare to recipes or make a delicious snack when spread on tart apple slices. Look for natural varieties that don’t have any added sugar or fillers.
Canola and olive oils: Canola is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, and both oils contain the healthy monounsaturated fats.
Vinegar: Add pizzazz to everything from chicken to leafy greens to black beans with different flavors of vinegar like balsamic, sherry, and cider. I admit to being a bit of a balsamic nut and drizzle it on salads, fish, beef, onions, and even grilled figs and peaches.
Choose the right kitchen tools
Sure, you’ve got pots and pans, but that’s just the beginning. Here are a few of the tools that help me marry delicious with nutritious:
Oil sprayer: Pour your favorite oil into this pressurized bottle so you can mist your pan or your vegetables with oil before cooking or roasting. It’s a great way to reduce fat and calories.
Infusion pitcher: This is my new favorite find. Flavor your water with your favorite herbs, fruits, and vegetables. A couple of my go-to combinations are cucumber-mint-strawberry and lime-rosemary.
Rice cooker: I don’t worry about overcooking rice, barley, or quinoa when using my rice cooker because the cooker automatically flips to the warming setting when grains are done. I make enough to have leftovers that I can mix with fresh herbs, sautéed vegetables, shrimp, or feta cheese.
Zester/Grater: These handy devices can really help add flavor to your dishes. I use them to grate garlic, citrus zest, hard cheeses like Parmesan, and, of course, dark chocolate (chocolate shavings over berries turns mere fruit into dessert!).
A stick or immersion blender: Any type of blender will make smoothies, soups, dressings, and whipped vegetables, but I favor my stick blender for its ease of use. I puree butternut squash, carrots and other vegetables right in the pot. It’s especially suited for making a thick, velvety soup without any cream.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience