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Healthy cooking at home: creating your own spa food

You've put on some pounds. If only you could pamper yourself at a fancy spa, where you are served tasty and nutritious meals that also trim your waistline.

If a healthy retreat just isn't in the stars right now, how about bringing some spa cuisine right to your own kitchen?

By following a few basic principles, you can create healthy, low-calorie meals that not only look great but are full-flavored and satisfying too. Here are some simple tips to get you started.

Please your eyes and your taste buds

A meal should look as wonderful as it tastes.

  • Think of your plate as a piece of art, and choose foods with a variety of colors, textures and flavors.

    • Saute butternut squash with onions and zucchini in a little olive oil and chicken broth.
    • Steam carrots along with your cauliflower, and dot with fresh green herbs.
    • Pair pink salmon with bright green broccoli and brown rice with dried cranberries.
    • Pair simple baked chicken with sauteed yellow and red peppers and a small sweet potato.

  • Adding a simple sprig of fresh parsley, thyme or basil will add flavor and improve presentation.

Increase flavor without extra calories

  • Use small amounts of monounsaturated oils such as virgin olive, sesame and walnut. These oils are flavorful but far more healthful than many polyunsaturated animal fats.

  • Use fresh herbs whenever you can. Grinding them with a mortar and pestle will offer the freshest and fullest flavor.

  • Dried herbs such as sage, rosemary and marjoram are also wonderful. Remember that dried herbs are more pungent than fresh, so use sparingly.

  • A dash of vinegar, used at the last minute, is great on vegetables, especially greens.

  • Citrus, such as lemon or orange juice, can also be used in marinades and salad dressings, or drizzled on veggies.

  • For extra "kick," fresh hot peppers are a great no-cal addition. Just remove the membrane and seeds first, then finely chop. A small amount goes a long way.

  • Consider dried vegetables and fruits, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, chili peppers, cherries, cranberries and currants. They have a more intense flavor than fresh.

Practice healthy cooking techniques

  • Oven-roast, broil or grill your fruits and veggies. This brings out the natural sugars in the plant foods to create a sweeter, richer flavor.

  • Cook vegetables, poultry or seafood in a wok using vegetable or chicken stock, wine and/or a small amount of flavorful oil.

  • When roasting or broiling, place meat on a rack so the fat can drip off into the pan. Use fat-free liquids like wine, tomato juice or lemon juice for basting.

  • When making gravy, chill first. The fat will rise to the top and harden, making for easy removal.

  • Poach chicken or fish in simmering broth, wine or citrus juice.

  • Steam vegetables in a basket over simmering water or chicken broth. They'll retain more flavors and won't need any salt.

Keep portions under control

  • The most healthful, low-calorie dishes won't help you get slimmer and healthier if you eat huge, super-sized portions.

  • The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests the "one third/two thirds" principle when filling a plate. This is modest portions (one third or less) of animal meats on the plate and generous portions (two thirds or more) of a variety of plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

  • Not only does this maximize the nutrients that plant-based foods offer, it also promotes a full feeling with minimum calories.

You don't need to go to a spa or spend a lot of money to pamper yourself. You might even give yourself a manicure after dinner to make the experience complete! 

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 American Heart Association. Cooking.  American Institute for Cancer Research. Healthy meals begin at home.