Reducing calories doesn't always require giving up your family's favorite foods or making drastic alternations in your daily lifestyle. Instead, make small changes in how you cook foods to cut calories without sacrificing food quality and flavor. As a result, you may feel healthier, lose weight, look and feel better, increase your energy and feel confident that you are serving your family healthy meals.
Steaming foods, especially vegetables, retains nutrients and preserves the natural color and flavor without contributing unnecessary calories. Flavor the simmering water with herbs such as rosemary, parsley or thyme, or add a small amount of chicken broth. Instead of slathering cooked vegetables with butter, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil, or add interest with minced garlic, onion or ranch-flavored dry mix. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a small amount of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar sprinkled on the vegetables during or after cooking enhances the flavor. Make these healthy veggies more appealing to your kids by drizzling some creamy salad dressing on top. Steam vegetables lightly to retain crispness, as overcooking results in soggy, flavorless vegetables.
Keep Meat Lean
Purchase lean cuts of beef such as round steak, flank steak, chuck shoulder roast or top sirloin, and pork such as tenderloin or pork loin, advise experts at Fort Valley State University College of Agriculture. To reduce calories in burgers and casseroles, use ground beef with a fat content of no more than 10 percent. Trim visible fat from meats and poultry. Remove the skin from chicken, or purchase skinless chicken. Add flavor to your lean meat with marinades or dry rubs. For a simple chicken rub, mix together salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder and a bit of brown sugar. Or simply use a ranch-flavored dry mix for a kid-friendly chicken dish.
Skim the Fat
Make chicken or beef stock ahead of time, then chill the stock for a few hours, suggests Wellness Services at University of Wisconsin. Once the stock has chilled, use a metal spoon to skim the congealed fat from the top. The same technique works just as well for stew, gravy, sauces and meat-based soup. Reduce the fat content of stocks and soups by adding less meat and more flavorful vegetables such as onions, turnips or carrots.
Replace half-and-half or whole milk with lower fat alternatives such as skim milk or milk with 1 percent fat content, advises Pat Brinkman, extension educator at Ohio State University. Evaporated skim milk is a lower-calorie option that works well in cooking and is often a viable substitute for cream. Swap full-fat cream cheese with lower-fat cream cheese, and replace cheddar cheese with skim-milk mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese.
Bake, Broil, Roast or Grill
Put the frying pan aside to reduce calories. When cooking meat, opt for lower-fat cooking methods such as broiling, roasting or grilling. Very little oil is required, thus reducing the overall calorie content. As an added benefit, the meat is juicy and flavorful with an appetizing golden-brown color, notes Wellness Education Services at the University of Buffalo. If you fry or saute meat, use as little oil as necessary, then drain the oil before serving. Try sauteing meat in a small amount of broth in lieu of oil.
Equip Your Kitchen
Equip your kitchen with cookware that enables you to cook food without the need for excessive fat. Keep a nonstick skillet or frying pan on hand for times that you need to saute or fry. Keep your knives sharp for trimming fat from meat and poultry. You can invest in an electric vegetable steamer, but an inexpensive steamer that fits inside a saucepan works well. For roasting meat, use a roasting pan with a rack so the meat doesn't sit in the dripping fat.
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.