The Easy Way to Eating Well: A Guide for Busy Cooks

You probably know you should cook healthy meals, but it can be tough to decipher recipes: Some very nutritious-sounding dishes actually contain a load of calories, fat, and sodium that you and your family just don't need. So how can you be sure that what you're cooking is not only delicious but good for you as well? It's simpler than you think.

Think Visually

"I take it back to basics and go by the plate method," says Alison Massey, a registered dietitian at the Endocrinology Center at Mercy Medical Center in Towson, MD. "Half of the plate should be focused on fruits and vegetables. The other half of the plate should have whole grains and some type of protein." Massey's method mirrors the United States Department of Agriculture's recently unveiled MyPlate icon, created as a user-friendly visual guide to healthful eating. It replaces the outdated Food Guide Pyramid.

Simple Swaps for Healthier Recipes

But how do you put the plate method into practice? Let's say you're planning to make your usual Tuesday night meatloaf, and serve it with iceberg lettuce salad, corn on the cob, and ice cream for dessert. There are several ways to bulk up the nutritiousness of this meal. You could:

  • Use lean ground chicken or turkey in place of beef, or choose ground beef with a lower percentage of fat.
  • Add a whole grain into the meatloaf mix. Cooked quinoa, for instance, is a protein powerhouse.
  • Skip the salt shaker in favor of a handful of herbs and spices (garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper will add nice flavor).

But what about the rest of the meal? "I would focus on adding some type of non-starchy veggies," Massey says. "[You want] lots of that on the plate." Corn isn't your best choice here, nor is iceberg lettuce, which, though it isn't starchy, provides little in the way of nutrition. So what does Massey favor? "Roasted vegetables—cauliflower or carrots." Plenty of other vegetables work well roasted, so don't limit yourself. Eggplant, onion, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and peppers are all great additions to your meal.

As far as dessert, it's definitely not off-limits—if you choose well. Again, Massey looks to produce. "A low-fat parfait or pudding or a fruit crisp [are all good choices]," she explains. Since Massey works with many diabetic patients, she tries to limit the sugar in their meals, while acknowledging, "Food-plate guidelines can be tweaked."

You don't have to rely on exotic ingredients or complicated calculations to provide a healthy meal. Instead, use common sense, and emphasize

  • fruits and veggies
  • lean proteins
  • whole grains
  • reasonable portion sizes

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, reviewed this article.



Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Replace Sodium and Empty Calories With Wholesome Foods to 'Get Your Plate in Shape' During National Nutrition Month." Web. 1 February 2012. Page accessed 5 July 2013.