With the right ingredients and cooking methods, those good-for-you meals will look good and taste good, too! Today's healthy food incorporates way more than steamed veggies and poached chicken. Here's how to liven things up in your kitchen.

1. Brown It

Grilling, searing, sautéing and roasting at high heat are cooking methods that add crisp texture, caramelized flavor plus a more appetizing appearance to meat, poultry, seafood, meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh, and both starchy and non-starchy veggies. Use high temperatures for short periods of time to brown the outside of food at the beginning or end of normal cooking time and temperature.

2. Turn Up the Color

When you plan a healthy meal, choose a variety of colorful ingredients to complement proteins and grains that are generally tan, brown or white. Think red peppers, dark green broccoli, pale green avocado, orange sweet potatoes, yellow corn. The more colorful the meal, the more nutrients it is likely to contain, and the more delicious-looking it will be.

3. Boost Flavor the Japanese Way

Consider by some to be the fifth basic taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter), umami is a Japanese word used to describe an intense and pleasant taste that makes food especially flavorful. Umami is present in any food that contains glutamate.

Glutamate is an amino acid found in all foods that contain protein such as the salt MSG (monosodium glutamate), or substances known as ribonucleotides found in meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Often the umami effect occurs naturally when these foods are cooked or combined with other ingredients. Tomatoes, parmesan and emmental (Swiss) cheeses, green tea, seafood, cured ham, truffles and shitake and other exotic mushrooms and fermented foods, such as kimchi and miso, are examples of foods that contain umami substances. In grocery stores it is sold as a flavor-enhancer or seasoning salt. Check ingredients on the label. The FDA requires additives containing MSG to be labeled as such.

4. Change Up Herbs and Spices

Many of us are in the habit of always turning to the same herbs, spices and condiments for flavoring foods. Shake things up a little with new and interesting seasonings. For instance, spoon mango chutney on a turkey burger, add a little tamarind paste to a vinaigrette for salad greens, use fennel seeds to flavor tomato soup, or sprinkle a pinch of curry powder over steamed or sautéed spinach. And who says a stir-fry has to have Asian flavors? Ditch the soy sauce and use other seasonings with the same healthful cooking method and fresh ingredients: lemon juice and oregano for Greek-style cuisine, dill and caraway seeds for a taste of Eastern Europe, chili powder and ground cumin for south-of-the border flavor.

5. Build a Tower of Nutrients and Flavor

A balanced meal combines a variety of different foods that provide a wide range of nutrients. The best balance is when your plate contains some protein, some carbs, and some healthy fat. But those foods don't have to sit separately and side by side on your plate; instead, try stacking foods to blend and balance flavors. For instance, place grilled lean meat, chicken, salmon on top of a bed of rice, quinoa, or baby spinach or kale, so the grains or greens pick up juices from the meat or fish. Sprinkle with vegetables, such as sliced mushrooms or halved cherry tomatoes sautéed with garlic in a little olive oil.

 Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN, reviewed this article.


Umami Information Center: What is Umami.http://www.umamiinfo.com/2011/02/What-exactly-is-umami.php

The Food and Drug Administration. "Questions and Answers on Monosodium Glutamate." Web. Accessed 22 January 2014. http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm328728.htm