Heart Healthy Cooking
No matter how much time you have or don't have for cooking, you can make heart-healthy meals by following these suggestions.
Heart-healthy cooking focuses on the right kind of fat, and limiting saturated fats. It also includes limiting salt while upping fibre and making sure half your plate is filled with vegetables and fruit at every meal and snack.
What's on your plate?
Start by changing the proportions of your plate so that protein foods are no longer the main attractions. Instead, fill about half of the plate with a colourful variety of vegetables and fruit, a quarter of the plate with whole grains such as brown rice and 100% whole-grain bread. Fish, poultry, lean meat or legumes (chickpeas, lentils, tofu) should make up the remaining one-quarter of the plate. Choose plant-based protein foods more often.
Slash the saturated fat
Trim all visible fat from meat and take the skin off poultry to reduce saturated fat and calories. Instead of pan-frying or deep-frying, try baking, broiling, grilling or roasting (on a rack, so fat can drip away). Fish may be poached in water, sodium-reduced tomato juice or lower-fat milk. To sauté, use a non-stick pan or a small amount of heart-healthy olive or canola oil. Plant-based protein foods are naturally low in fat.
If you're sautéeing, steaming or boiling a vegetable, it's just as easy to cook two or more in the same pot or pan. If you're making brown rice, cook twice the amount you need so you'll have enough for another meal.
Substituting healthy ingredients for less healthy ones won't take any more time and may even save you money. Use plain, lower-fat yogurt instead of sour cream, lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese instead of the full-fat type, and evaporated skim milk instead of cream. Cook whole-wheat pasta instead of white. Replace some of the white flour in a recipe with 100% whole-wheat flour.
Shake the salt habit
Instead of salt, spice things up with fresh or dried herbs. Try dill with fish, paprika with chicken or ginger with beef. Lightly sautéed garlic, onions and sweet red peppers add flavour as well as assorted nutrients that promote good health.
Studies show that families who sit down to regular meals together tend to eat better. Like most Canadians, you're probably juggling work and family life, leaving little time to cook and eat together. Here are some ways to plan ahead to make your meals heart healthy.
Obstacle: I don't have time to cook
We all have days when we are too busy to make meals. Here are some tips to overcome time crunches.
Tip 1. Prepare foods ahead of time. While making one meal, slice extra onions, dice extra peppers, cook extra brown rice or whole-wheat noodles and marinate meat so that they're ready to use for the next night's meal.
Tip 2. Take short cuts. Use pre-cut vegetables, bagged salads, canned or frozen beans and lentils and pre-grated cheese.
Tip 3. Make double batches of your favourite recipes on weekends and freeze them. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, heat and serve for an instant supper during the busy week.
Tip 4. While roasting one meal in the oven, throw in some sweet potatoes, beets and squash in another roasting pan. When cooked, cool and store the roasted vegetables in the fridge for next night's meal.
Tip 5. Cook stews, soups and casseroles in a crock pot. The food will stay heated and be ready to eat when family members arrive home.
Quick and healthy meal ideas
- Mix a jar of pasta sauce (some come with six vegetables) with fresh, ready-made whole-wheat, vegetable-filled ravioli.
- Cooking time for ravioli: 5 minutes
- Stir-fry onions, celery, broccoli with fresh, store-bought BBQ chicken, diced. Serve on whole-wheat couscous.
- Cooking time for the stir-fry: 15 minutes.
- Cooking time for couscous: 5 minutes.
- Make eggplant lentil curry and serve it with a fresh salad of red-leaf lettuce and tomato.
- Prep and cooking time is 35 minutes.
Obstacle: We don't eat meals together
Children these days have hectic schedules from soccer practice and dance classes to ice skating and guitar lessons. Here are some ways to work around a busy schedule so that you can eat meals together more often.
Tip 1. Plan dinner around the day's schedule. On activity nights, cook a casserole in the crock pot (started in the morning), which will be ready when everyone gets home. Take healthy snacks such as single-serve plain yogurts, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, homemade mini oatmeal muffins, pre-cut vegetables and fruit to calm the munchies before dinner.
Tip 2. Set menu themes to encourage everyone to be home for the meal. Spaghetti and meatball Tuesdays, home-made pizza Fridays, Sunday pancake brunches are just some ideas.
Tip 3.Let each member of your family take turns choosing their favourite recipe for dinner. Get children involved in the cooking. If they make it, they're more likely to eat it!
Tip 4.Plan family picnics and outings so that you can all sit down and eat together. Take this opportunity to catch up on the day's events and news with the whole family.
Tip 5. Reassess your family's schedule. If you're out most nights of the week, maybe cutting back on one or two activities will allow you to spend more time eating and being together.
Ordering take-out food
Canadians, it seems, love to order take-out food. By making wise choices, you may not only treat yourself to some special dishes, but you also ensure that your restaurant meals fit into your overall heart-healthy eating plan.
When ordering take-out food, you're still in charge of what you eat even though you're not doing the cooking. More and more restaurants today are happy to accommodate individual preferences, so feel free to ask questions about how a dish is cooked or to make requests, such as asking for salad dressing on the side or having a baked potato instead of French fries. (You'll still want to avoid loading up your potato with sour cream, butter and bacon bits.) A steady diet of excess fat, calories and salt may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Many restaurant chains now post nutrition information on menus or on their websites consistent with the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods.
When you see the words baked, barbecued, broiled, char broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, steamed or stir-fried, it most likely means the food is cooked with little or no fat and therefore a healthy choice. Look for vegetarian choices on the menu.
Take a pass
When you see the words Alfredo sauce, au gratin, cheese sauce, battered, breaded, buttered, creamed, crispy, deep-fried, en croûte, fried, hollandaise, pan-fried, pastry, prime, rich, sauteed, scalloped, gravy, mayonnaise, thick sauce, it usually means that the food is higher in fat and calories.
Similarly, foods that are pickled, smoked, or are served with soy sauce mean that the food is higher in sodium. (Ask for sodium-reduced soy sauce.)
Portion sizes in restaurants are often large, so keep half of your meal for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
Keep dessert light and simple, such as fresh fruit. If you can't resist a rich dessert, indulge occasionally or share it with your family.
Check out our healthy meal planning toolkit.
Try these tips for getting more healthy produce into your diet.
More healthy eating basics.