There are a number of cooking tips, ingredient substitutions and food strategies you can implement to make meals more nutritious and filling.
- Change up cooking methods.
Instead of pan-frying and deep-frying foods such as chicken, fish and vegetables, try baking, roasting, broiling, poaching or grilling. Read Cooking Basics for information on cooking methods. Instead of fried chicken, try roasting chicken in an oven with some spices and your favourite vegetables.
For more information on healthy cooking methods, refer to these articles from the Dietitians of Canada:
Cooking Foods with Dry Heat (grilling, baking, roasting, sautéing or stir-frying, and broiling / searing)
Cooking Foods with Wet Heat (braising, boiling, steaming, poaching and simmering):
- When baking, try some healthy ingredient substitutions.
Try substituting less healthy ingredients for healthier choices:
- Instead of using shortening, lard or butter in recipes, consider using canola oil, vegetable oil or olive oil to reduce saturated fat. Rule of thumb for baking is to replace one cup (250 mL) of solid fat with ¾ cup (200 mL) oil. If you are substituting healthy oils into stovetop cooking, replace 1cup (250mL) solid fat with 1 cup (250mL) oil.
- Reduce the sugar in any recipe by one quarter. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup (250 mL) use ¾ cup (200 mL) instead and increase dried spices like cinnamon, pumpkin spice or nutmeg to increase the flavour. If you are adding chocolate chips or dried or fresh fruit to baking, you may be able to decrease the sugar in the recipe even more and still have a delicious product. Sugar keeps baked goods moist, so cook time may be shorter with less sugar.
- Add black beans and lentils to brownies and muffins when baking to increase fibre content and add additional texture. Try this recipe for Black Bean Brownie Bites.
- Replace one cup of buttermilk with one cup of plain yogurt, slightly thinned with milk or water.
- If you have fruit or vegetables on hand that are about to go bad, try baking them into your favourite muffin or cake recipe to add nutrients, natural sweetness and to avoid food waste.
- Sprinkle flax seeds on muffins before baking for a crunchy nutrition boost.
- Substitute the salt in homemade meals.
- Add fresh or dried herbs and spices to dishes to cut back on the salt.
- Fresh garlic, onions, lemon or lime can add additional flavour to recipes instead of using salt.
For information on herbs and spices and how they can add flavour to your cooking, read our article Cooking with Herbs and Spices.
- Decrease unhealthy fats whenever possible in your cooking.
- Substitute mayonnaise and sour cream in dips and spreads for plain yogurt to reduce your saturated fat intake. Look for low-fat options of dairy products like cheese, yogurt and sour cream.
- Substitute canola or olive oils in your cooking instead of using lard, shortening or butter. For stovetop cooking, use a 1:1 substitution.
- Drain the fat off ground beef and other meats as they cook. Buy lean ground meats whenever possible and try substituting lean ground turkey or chicken into your recipes for a healthy option.
Tip: NEVER pour your grease down the drain as it will clog your kitchen pipes. Pour it into a bowl, let it cool and then discard it in the trash.
- Add plant-based proteins to meals.
Eating a protein rich diet does not mean only eating more meat. You can add a variety of plant-based proteins into your meal planning. This is both economical and a healthy way to adjust your diet.
- Excellent sources of plant-based protein are pulses (chickpeas, beans and lentils), soya products (tofu, tempeh and soy milk) and grains (quinoa and wild rice).
- Chili, burgers, meatloaf, casseroles and soups are easily altered to include plant-based proteins Replace some of the meat required in a recipe with a plant-based protein (pulses like beans, peas or lentils) to increase fibre and essential amino acids.
For more information on plant-based proteins and how you can add them to your diet, read Vegan and Vegetarian diets from the Dietitians of Canada.
- Try some breakfast quick starters.
Mornings can be rushed and a stressful time to consider healthy options. Plan ahead for a quick healthy breakfast.
- Try making Mini Mushroom Omelettes or Breakfast Egg Cups on the weekend and pop in the freezer to reheat in the microwave on a busy morning.
- If you are guilty of eating one of the many cold cereals that contain sugar, try filling your bowl with a mix of sugary cereal with healthier options that are higher in fibre and nutrition. Adding fresh, frozen or canned fruits, along with nuts or seeds will also increase the nutritional content of your cereal.
- Make hot oatmeal from scratch using steel cut oats, milk or plant-based beverage for extra creaminess, and top with fruit or spices for sweetness. Flavoured instant oatmeal packages tend to be high in sugar and are not recommended. When considering oats, a general rule is the larger the flake, the higher the nutrition as it has been through less processing.
Try some of these delicious oatmeal recipes:
- If you love yogurt in the morning, choose plain yogurt and add fresh, frozen or canned fruit. Pre-flavoured yogurt like vanilla and fruit flavours tend to be higher in sugar. Choose a Greek or Icelandic yogurt for increased protein if affordable.
- Pair complementary nutrients together to increase nutrition.
There are some nutrients that are better absorbed and used by the body if they are paired with other nutrients.
For example, when eating plant-based foods, consider pairing them with foods rich in vitamin C because the iron will be better absorbed by the body.
Here are some recipes that pair complementary nutrients together to maximize nutrition:
- Meal plan and prepare weekly
When life gets busy, it’s easier to reach for pre-packaged and oven/microwave ready meals. Doing some weekly meal planning and preparation lessens the stress for making healthy dinners and saves time.
Try to avoid prepared meals that come in a box or package. These processed foods are convenient and often inexpensive, but they can contain high amounts of saturated fat, sugar and salt. Read the labels to choose the healthiest options.