This is a guest article by Demmy James: no hardcore science here, just good practical dieting advice.
People often say that there are only two guarantees in life: death and taxes. When it comes to dieting, most people immediately think of two more “guarantees”: boring and hard work. While it will definitely take a bit of effort to dial in a nutrition program that will propel you towards you goal, it doesn’t have to transform into a chore. Whether you’re using your diet as a tool to lose fat, build muscle, or do both at the same time, here are seven tips to add enjoyment (without adding calories) to your diet.
Lesson #1. Learn how to season meat
Avoiding calorie-dense sauces and condiments can be one of the easiest ways to reduce your energy intake, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to make your diet completely bland. Dry chicken and steamed broccoli in a Tupperware container don’t exactly constitute “fine dining.”
Even if you find calorie-free options like mustard or hot sauce, they can drown out the taste of meat that (when cooked properly) can be truly delicious. Learning the correct way to season meat is a great way to lower calories and cost while improving taste.
Once you find out what spices pair best with what meat, you’ll never be resigned to a bland meal again. From the more classic options like chicken or beef to the more exotic selections like lamb, there are a number of ways to spice up your diet, literally. Experiment with each to find your ideal pairing.
As an added bonus, using the correct spices for curries and barbecued meats can pack just as much of a flavorful punch while saving you tons of calories from pre-packaged sauces!
Lesson #2. Roast or grill your vegetables
Mom was right: “eat your vegetables” is some of the most sage dieting advice you will ever receive. But properly cooking vegetables can be a hassle, and let’s face it, most people aren’t eating veggies for their taste. Take Brussels Sprouts for example, one of the healthiest vegetables around – but also one of the least popular. Brussels Sprouts are usually boiled to oblivion and then served to unhappy children (and secretly unhappy adults).
But instead of boiling them, why not grill them? Place them on a grill for 5 minutes; then turn them over, add a bit of balsamic vinegar and cook for another 3-5 minutes. After you take them off the grill, place them in a sealed container for a couple minutes so the steam can cook them further.
Carrots usually suffer the same fate: they’re often boiled or steamed and end up exciting you as much as a seminar on accountancy software. But have you tried roasting them? Place them in an oven next to whatever meat you are cooking. That’s it. Don’t touch them; don’t even use any oil. Just leave them, the longer the better. Suddenly, the ugly duckling has transformed into the Belle of the Ball, and it took no effort.
Lesson #3. Buy a slow cooker
Whether you’re a lazy cook or an aspiring sous chef who’s strapped for time, then a slow cooker (or Crock-Pot) is your secret weapon! The extended cooking time makes for incredibly tender meat and brings out the flavor of many dishes. It also provides a great opportunity to fortify your diet, as you can add vegetables to most any slow cooker recipe.
Making casseroles is easy: just brown off your meat, throw in some stock, add in onions, leeks, carrots, and potatoes, and let it cook for as long as you can. 8 hours is a great target. Stir once every few hours if you want, but otherwise, let it be.
Lesson #4. Learn the art of stir-frying
Stir-fry cooking is one of the easiest ways to create a healthy meal known to man. All you need is a wok/large frying pan and a small amount of oil. After warming the oil, you can add any fine-cut meat and vegetables and end up with a fully cooked meal in 5-10 minutes.
As with any dish, seasoning and using the right ingredients are crucial to make a tasty stir fry. Here’s a delicious recipe that you can whip up in less than 10 minutes:
Ingredients: Soy Sauce, Grated Ginger, Spring Onions, Garlic Clove (chopped), Broccoli, Meat (beef, chicken, pork), Chinese five-spice mix and noodles.
Pour a moderate amount of oil into a wok or frying pan, add the garlic and ginger, and then fry quickly. Add the meat and cook for a couple minutes. You can then add the spring onions and the broccoli. Shake some spice mix onto the food and add some soy sauce. Place the noodles in last and stir until cooked.
Separate the meal into Tupperware containers and you’ve got yourself great tasting food for the next 2-3 days!
Lesson #5. Research your recipes
Using your diet to help reach your fitness goal is a lot like putting together new furniture. You have a lot of pieces all around you that create what you want, and you need a list of instructions to make sure you’re putting it all together the right way. Unfortunately, many people don’t spend the time to find that list of instructions that will turn what they have into what they want. That results in a lot of three-legged chairs (a.k.a. unstable diets).
Doing a little leg work will not only allow you to find lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods, but it’s also a great way to learn more about the style of cooking that you love. If you really enjoy Mexican food (or Chinese, Indian, Italian, etc.), then try recreating some of the culture’s lesser-known dishes. You might be surprised at how delicious these dishes are, and they’re usually healthier too.
Typing ‘Healthy Recipes’ into a Google search is like taking the scenic route: you’ll get thousands of recipes, but teasing out the good ones can be time consuming. It’s 2017, take full advantage of social media! ‘Liking’ a recipe page on Facebook or exploring certain styles of food on Pintrest or InstaGram will put tons of recipes in front of you without much effort. Just make sure that the social media channels that you end up following are providing you with healthy recipes instead of ‘cheat day’ recipes. ;)
Creating your own recipes can be fun, but following tried and tested ones can be a lot more effective. Some recipes even contain the calorie/macro content of the finished meal – which is amazing for anyone using a calorie counting app!
Lesson #6. Pair the right vegetables with the right meat
Adding random vegetables to dishes will likely end up tasting as good as adding random spices: not great. Plenty of websites can teach you what vegetable goes with what meat; you can take things a step further by learning about the types of vegetables that are traditionally used in the country whose recipe you are recreating.
Lesson #7. Plan your meals a week in advance
This last tip is one of the most important changes that you can make. “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is a cliche… because it’s true. The greatest recipe in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the right ingredients. While substituting or omitting important ingredients from the recipe can lead to some cool discoveries, the usual result is a boring or outright disgusting meal.
Create a meal plan for the week, write out a shopping list, and don’t neglect the smaller items. You can either cook your meals in advance or cook them separately throughout the week. If you experiment with one new recipe each week, you can eventually build up a database of awesome healthy meals that you enjoy.
Having the best meal plan on paper doesn’t mean a thing if the food is so boring that you don’t end up following it. While everyone knows how important a sound diet is in order to reach your fitness goals, many people still identify their diet as the biggest obstacle. The unfortunate reality is that no matter how much you love the gym or how hard you train, you can’t out-train a bad diet.
So basically being a good cook is a lot like being good in the gym. You need to follow the simpler instructions consistently enough to build a foundation until you are confident enough to experiment with more advanced flavors/techniques. Owning the right equipment can also help, and researching new ways to go about cooking a piece of meat or vegetable can completely change your opinion on them.
Plan everything out and be smart with your purchases, read recipe books and watch YouTube videos. Treat the kitchen like your gym and you’ll never be disappointed by a meal again.
Contributors: Demmy James
‘Demmy is a fitness buff who believes in paying it forward by always aiming to inspire others towards achieving their own health and fitness goals’