With the blink of an eye, January is over – can you believe it? By now many of the big talks of New Years resolutions are starting to fade, and the gym is slightly less packed. It’s easy to let those goals and good intentions slip, but I’m still over here trying to keep up and stay optimistic in the healthy goals I set for myself. I’ve been exercising more consistently and feeling good in that arena, but have also been trying to cook a ton of healthy meals for our family too. You always hear people talking about clean eating – but it can feel a little daunting. I’m sharing some of my go-to methods to really pack a tasty flavor punch without adding a ton of extra calories to dishes.
If you’ve ever checked out my blog, I use citrus in a TON of the meals I make. Adding lemon, lime or orange to any dish adds tang and a ton of freshness. I always add lemon juice to my chicken soup, and have a pretty killer recipe for citrus pork carnitas (in the crock pot!)
Tip: Use the zest of a lemon or lime for even more of a punch! The oils that are in the rind are strong, and really amp up the flavor of chicken, rice or veggies. But be careful, the pith of the fruits can be very bitter – so try and avoid the white part of the rind.
Red Pepper Flakes
I’m a lover of these little red bits of goodness. They bring just the right amount of heat, and the best part is that you can use a little or a lot depending on your taste. Studies show that cultures that eat the spiciest foods have much lower incidence of heart attack and stroke. Spicy foods are also linked to weight loss and lower blood pressure! Read more here.
Tip: Try adding a little lemon + red pepper flakes to a dish – the flavor combination is delicious and addictive. I shared this recipe for Spicy Shrimp Pasta a long time ago, but my husband and I often eat this on one of our “at home date nights” – when we don’t have a babysitter but want to treat ourselves to something a little out of the ordinary.
The possibilities are literally endless when it comes to fresh herbs. The best news of all is that you can very easily grow them yourself, saving YOU money! We always have an herb garden on our patio, and I’ve read about kitchen gardens that you can keep year-round with some sunlight and a little care. Some of my favorites are cilantro, parsley, dill and basil. Herbs add a ton of flavor with essentially zero calories!
Tip: If you really want to get some mileage out of your fresh herbs – consider chopping and freezing them with olive oil in ice cube trays, that way – you always have them on hand when you need them!
Every grocery store carries the basics: chicken, beef, vegetable and seafood stocks. You can purchase different size containers based on your needs OR if you’re feeling super ambitious, you can make your own. I’ve personally never made stock from scratch, but it’s on my short list for this year to try. The way I view stock is this: if I’m going to use water in a recipe, why not add some stock to add a depth of flavor? For example, whenever I make a rice side dish, instead of cooking the rice in plain water, I add a little bit of stock, so the rice soaks up that great flavor. Stocks can enhance everything – from soups and sauces to potatoes and quinoa or rice dishes.
Tip: Even easier? Bouillon cubes. I keep them on hand and pop them into everything. They DO have a lot of sodium, so if you’re watching that, you might want to be cautious.
Confession: I just might be a garlic addict. I add it to just about everything, and I apologize in advance if I always have garlic breath. But seriously, this stuff adds so much flavor to dishes that are easy to make. I add it to guacamole, spaghetti sauce, soups and marinades. I love it best fresh, but always keep an economy size jar in the fridge for ease.
Tip: If you go the fresh route, you’re going to want to pick up some rubber gloves. The smell of garlic seems to seep into your pores instantly, and can take days of scrubbing to disappear. I pick these up at the grocery store, and they’re perfect for chopping garlic, raw meats or spicy peppers like jalapeños.
Intensely flavored ingredients
I keep capers, olives, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes in my refrigerator at all times. They’re great because they pack a punch of flavor but you don’t need a ton of them. Just a few go a long way! All are good in salads, sauces and pair easily with many proteins.
I think I could go on forever, but these are my favorites. The bottom line is, there are so many easy ways to add flavor without adding a ton of calories or fat. Obviously, butter, cheese and salt are delicious, and I’m just like everyone else and enjoy all of them… but there are ways to achieve something just as tasty. What did I miss? I’m always looking for fresh ideas on healthier cooking.
Have a healthy week!
The month of January was all about finding a healthy balance. Check out my other posts!