While fresh veg and fruit will be a big part of your menus from now on, there are also lots of other foods that make cooking and eating skinny much tastier–and easier.
Some of the products, like brown rice pasta or almond milk, will please food purists… While other foods, like fat free whipped cream and cheddar cheese Quakes, will satisfy those of us who have a little junk food junkie any our souls!
Here’s a list of things I always have on hand..
FOR THE FRIDGE:
BLUE DIAMOND UNSWEETENED VANILLA ALMOND MILK: With just 40 calories, 50% of your vitamin E and 25% of your calcium in each one cup serving, Almond Milk is a great tasting way to “ease up on the animal.” Use it on cereal, oatmeal, over frozen blueberries when you crave ice cream, or in smoothies. It’s what I use every morning to make lattes and, if it’s not sweet or thick enough for your coffee, just add a splash of French Vanilla Coffee Mate. (Oh, stop cursing me food purists, it works!) I often have a glass of almond milk before bed if I’m craving something creamy and, with all that calcium, it’s a great way to settle an edgy stomach. You can also use the “Plain,” (non-vanilla flavored) almond milk for cooking anything that calls for milk that wouldn’t mind a hint of almond. Most things won’t.
SUGAR FREE COFFEE MATE LIQUID FRENCH VANILLA CREAMER: Yes, I know it’s mostly chemicals and true foodies and health nuts will think it’s a sin, but at 15 calories a tablespoon, it tastes like melted ice cream and adds richness to coffee, lattes or almond milk smoothies, and saves you calories if you use it within reason. I’m sure the food purists would rather you have a tablespoon of mystery ingredients now and then rather than die of heart disease.
MRS. BUTTERWORTH’S SUGAR FREE MAPLE SYRUP: After discovering this little treasure from the food blogs of diabetics, I use it on oatmeal, Skinny French Toast, in Skinny Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette and on Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash. It’s a fabulous fake that has only 20 calories for a quarter cup instead of 200!
EGG BEATERS: Real eggs have 75-90 calories each. The equal amount of eggbeaters has only 30 calories. Use it to make Skinny Omelets, or anytime a recipe calls for whole eggs.
LIQUID EGG WHITES: Egg whites are naturally low in calories and fat and high in protein. But you waste too much time and money if you’re using whole eggs and tossing the yolks in the sink. Instead, if you always have the liquid whites that come in a carton, you’ll use them more often.
SHIRATAKE TOFU NOODLES: If you have certain pre-existing conditions, like a soy allergy or a thyroid issue, you have to stay away from these. But if you’re good with soy, try them. Instead of regular noodles made of flour–which have 200 calories a cup–soy noodles have only 20 calories a cup! They come already soft in a package filled with funny smelling tofu water. Just drain in a colander in the sink, rinse them well, and toss with a little salt and chopped garlic. They’re especially good as an Asian Noodle Bowl or in noodle soups.
KELP NOODLES: Don’t laugh. These things are a great alternative to 200 calorie a cup Asian “cellophane” noodles and have only 8 calories a cup! Like the soy noodles, they’re also packed in a liquid that you’ll want to want to rinse off. And, since they’re made of kelp, they’re a little stiff at first. But, once if you drop them into a soup, they’ll soften and absorb the flavor of the broth. Whenever I make an Asian soup, I use both soy and kelp noodles for texture, bulk and nutrition.
NON-FAT OR LOW-FAT COTTAGE CHEESE: Each brand is different so you want to compare the labels to see how much of a calorie difference there is, but if the non-fat is 120 calories a cup and the low fat is 130, just go ahead and use the low fat, it will get creamier than the non fat version when you use it for cooking things like Omelets, Skinny Mac and Cheese or Chicken and Cauliflower Enchiladas. It’s also a great emergency snack (one cup only, please) with a little salsa and a few tortilla chips.
NON FAT OR LOW FAT PLAIN YOGURT: Great to thicken a soup or to tart up a baked potato. And, if you drain it in a fine mesh colander (or use a coffee filter in a regular colander), it’s thick enough to use for tzatsiki and dips.
NON FAT SOUR CREAM: With only 25 calories per 2 Tablespoons, use any way you’d use regular sour cream which has twice the calories and much more fat.
COOL WHIP FREE: For people with a sweet tooth, fat free whipped cream is a huge help. Try with Baked Fruit or on Sugar Free Popsicles or No Sugar Added Fudgesicles. Use to make a Berry Skinny Trifle for a summer garden party or simply put it on sugar free hot chocolate in the winter.
REDUCED FAT FETA CHEESE: Buy the pre-crumbled kind so you can easily take just a pinch to add flavor and richness to things like Watermelon and Cucumber Salad, Brown Rice Pasta Primavera, Grilled or Roasted Vegetables, Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomato Almost Orzo or Skinny Crostini. But, again, it’s a cheese, so use it by the spoonful not by the handful!
KRAFT GRATED 2% SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE: You want the sharp or extra sharp variety because you want the strongest cheesy taste for the fewest cheesy calories. By buying it already grated, you can pinch just a teaspoon to add to a Skinny Taco or Skinny and Quick Black Bean Tostadas. Again, it is cheese, so use it by the spoonful, not the handful!
PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE (or Parmesan): Like Parmesan, Romano is a hard and salty cheese that’s used on salads, pasta, or vegetables. But Romano is made from sheep’s milk which makes it slightly more distinctive. Keep a brick of it in a tightly sealed container the fridge and just use your Microplane Zester to grate off a bit when you need to add it to dishes like Oven Roasted Asparagus.
“VEGGIE SLICES” VEGETARIAN CHEESE: My kids love a little cheese on their sandwiches or wraps. But by using Veggie Slices, which are made of soy, they’re getting only 40 calories instead 100 and actually eating a vegetable! The great thing about this brand is that these slices really melt.
“LITE” TOFU BRICKS: I don’t often use tofu as a side dish, or even in stir fry dishes, but to fake out ricotta in dishes like Super Skinny Eggplant Lasagna, mix it with non-fat cottage cheese and egg whites and it cooks up just like the real thing.
BETTER THAN CREAM CHEESE: This is a soft spread cream cheese made of soy instead of animal fat, but there are still calories. Read the nutritional info on the package and adjust your smear accordingly!
OSCAR MAYER 98% FAT FREE WIENERS: I have kids, which means I must have hot dogs. For years, I bought chicken or turkey hot dogs because I thought those were a healthy alternative. But even those dogs have 140 calories each! (When you factor in the bun, which can average 110-150 calories depending on the brand, you’re at almost 300 calories with nothing else on the plate!) But the Oscar Mayer 98% Fat Free Hot Dogs have only 40 calories! Especially if you’re trying to help an overweight child slim down without putting them on “a diet,” this is a great substitute for a full fat wiener and they’ll never know the difference.
BUDDIG DELI CUTS: In order to ease up on the animal without feeling deprived, these super thin slices of smoked ham or turkey are a great addition to your refrigerator meat drawer. A 60 calorie serving is actually 6 slices…but we never use all 6. When I make a Skinny Omelet or Veg and Egg Bagel Thin, or Skinny Eggs Benedict-ish, I just need one 10 calorie slice to give the sensation of cured meat. And when my kids want a ham and cheese sandwich for school, I just use 3 slices, a slice of Veggie Slices Cheese, load it up with lettuce, tomato and (depending on the child) pickles and feel good about the fact that I’m giving them a filling sandwich with the sensation of the meat and cheese sandwiches they used to eat, but with much less fat and more healthy veg and fiber. I even use one slice of the smoked ham to add flavor to dried beans like black eyed peas or to soups and gumbos. Again, because each slice is just 10 calories, you are in complete control of how much flavor and fat you add to any dish.
SOY CHORIZO: I’m not crazy about “fake meats” of any kind. They may be technically vegetarian, but they have so many mysterious ingredients that I don’t often use them. But this product–like Veggie Burgers or Veggie Taco Meat–I do use for convenience and taste. It still has calories and fat so you want to use it sparingly…but, if you use just 1 Tablespoon and sprinkle it on a veggie omelet with a few black beans, it’s Skinny Huevos Rancheros.
VEGGIE TACO MEAT: When you don’t have time to make up a fresh batch of Skinny Taco Meat-ish and don’t have any in your frozen inventory, packaged veggie taco meat can be another life-saver on a busy night. But it is expensive (about 5 dollars a pound), and does have almost 200 calories for two-thirds of a cup–which is what you need to stuff 2 taco shells. So, here’s the trick for taco night: while you pre-heat your oven to crisp up your taco shells, quickly use your food processor to finely dice a small eggplant, an onion, and a red bell pepper and toss the veg into a non-stick frying pan sprayed with oil and cook on medium high until they’re soft. (You’ll need to add a couple of tablespoons of water as you saute them so they don’t burn. You’ll also want to add salt and pepper. ) Then, stir in the package of Veggie Taco Meat and heat through. If it’s not spicy enough, add some cayenne, cumin and chili powder or just sprinkle in some Taco Bell Taco Seasoning Mix until it tastes like you want it to taste. By simply adding in an equal amount of minced veg to the “meat,” you’ve stretched your food dollar and cut the calories in half.
MISO PASTE: This salty and fermented Asian soybean paste adds nutrition as well as flavor to fish, meats, soups and salad dressings. Try mixing a spoonful with a little soy sauce, Mirin or Sake and a little Hoisen Sauce and brush it on black cod before broiling… or add a teaspoon to an Asian soup or stir fry. There are dozens of brands and varieties available, ranging in color from light yellow to deep red, with light colors being more mellow and a little less salty. Though you can always find Miso at Japanese markets or any Whole Foods, it’s also widely available now at big supermarket chains like Kroger or Safeway stores. It keeps for months in the refrigerator.
HOISIN SAUCE: This is a very sweet Asian paste that you use sparingly. Just a teaspoon brushed on grilled or broiled salmon or chicken, or a tablespoon mixed with soy sauce in a stir-fry, adds quick and yummy sweetness to skinny Asian dishes.
CORN TORTILLA: Corn tortillas have about 50 calories each, which is less than half the calories of flour tortillas which are made with shortening or lard. You can use corn tortillas for soft fish or veggie tacos, or roast them in the oven to make a great simulation of a 500 calorie fried tostada shell for a taco salad. But, as with breads, every time you have one you MUST put a vegetable on it to add fiber and bulk so that you will stay fuller, longer.
SMART & DELICIOUS SOFT WRAPS BY LA TORTILLA FACTORY: These things are another little miracle for us. They are huge, like 10 inches wide, and have the same texture as a real flour tortilla but with only 100 calories instead of 300! I use them for my grilled salmon burritos or for soft shrimp tacos and my kids love to make them into turkey and veggie rolls for school lunches. But be careful when buying, there are other brands that look similar but have more than twice the calories!
OLIVES (any variety, but never canned): I have a thing against canned olives. They’re picked green and cured in lye and shot up with oxygen to force them to turn black…a process that changes the character of their nutrition, taste and texture. Jarred–or the delicious vacuum packed olives from Turkey or Greece that you find at ethnic stores–are much more flavorful and have a much better texture. Yes, they’re usually packed in oil, but since you’re adding so little oil to your salads and cooked dishes now, it’s really okay to use these nutritious bursts of oily olive-y flavor…you’ll get so much more satisfaction.
SUN-DRIED TOMATOES: You can buy them in bags or in jars packed in oil or, as I often do, buy the dried ones in bulk in the produce section and pack them in your own mix of olive oil, dried herbs and vinegar in a pretty jar…they’re much cheaper that way. Keep the jar in the fridge and use them to add richness to salads, Almost Orzo or Skinny Crostini. If you let the jar sit on the counter for a few minutes, the oil will liquify and you can mix a tablespoon of the super flavorful oil with some lemon juice or vinegar to make a quick and delicious salad dressing or use to drizzle grilled vegetables or fish.
BETTER THAN BOUILLON SOUP BASES: Since soups are also a great way to conquer hunger, you’re going to need more broth than ever before. And, since you’ll be cooking with less oil, you’ll also be using broth to add moisture and taste to stir fry dishes and sautes. These jars of broth paste are much more convenient and cheaper than canned or boxed broth…not to mention much less heavy when carrying them from your car to your kitchen. The 8 oz. jar that makes 38 cups of broth sells for about $5 in most grocery stores, and Costco now sells the organic low-sodium chicken variety in large jars that brings the price per ounce down considerably.
SMART BALANCE LIGHT BUTTER SPREAD: Real butter has 120 calories a Tablespoon. But what’s even worse for your heart health is that it has 18 percent of the total fat and 36% of the saturated fat recommended for a 2000 calorie a day diet. Smart Balance Light (not regular) has only 50 calories a Tablespoon and has just 8% of the total fat and 8% of saturated fat. Use it to saute squash, smear on grilled corn or a toasted Bagel Thin.
LEMON GRASS PASTE: Lemon grass adds a wonderful and distinctive flavor to Asian soups and Indian curries. But finding fresh lemon grass isn’t always easy. Now, Lemon Grass Paste, which comes in a tube, is available in the produce sections of most local supermarkets. It keeps in the refrigerator for a month. Use it, you’ll love it.
FOR THE FREEZER:
FROZEN SHRIMP: I’d always rather eat fresh shrimp… but to make a skinny stir fried entrée of fresh vegetables and Tofu Noodles or Magic Rice in just minutes, having frozen shrimp on hand in the freezer–either cooked and shelled or raw–makes whipping up a quick and healthy dinner much easier.
VEGGIE BURGERS: I know that making my own veggie burgers out of real veggies and no preservatives is probably better for me. But, on nights when we’re on the run and I have 10 minutes to make dinner (or just crave a burger at lunch!) these guys are a life-saver. Deciding which brand you prefer will take a little sampling, but start with Morning Star Farms and Boca Burger Flame Grilled varieties because they’re available everywhere. Cook sliced onions with them in a non-stick pan until the onions are golden and you’re golden, too!
FROZEN BANANAS : Next time your bananas start to go black, peel them and put them in baggies in the freezer. Use them to make a smoothie with almond milk and fruit that tastes and feels like you made it with ice cream. But, be careful..bananas do have about 100 calories each, so use in moderation.
FROZEN BLUEBERRIES: Use them to top Skinny French Toast, oatmeal or the kids’ cereal. Or, grab a handful from the freezer, put them in a cup with almond milk, and wait 10 minutes….add a dollop of fat free whipped cream it’s ice-creamy blueberry dessert.
FROZEN EDAMAME, SHELLED AND IN SHELL: Edamame is a soybean so, like all beans, they have almost 300 calories a cup. But by using the ones in the shell (you don’t actually eat the shell, just the beans inside) you slow down your consumption and satisfy your need to munch. I put them in baggies for the kids to take to school for snack or lunch. If you bag them up still frozen, they’ll be thawed but nice and cold come lunchtime. I also keep the shelled variety on hand to add to dishes like Green Curry Fried Magic Rice or to add to a salad when I need a protein boost.
OTHER FROZEN VEGETABLES: Buy all the ones you like best, of course. I always have green peas, corn, okra and pearl onions. There are also already chopped onions and peppers available that come in handy when tossing together a quick soup.
SUGAR FREE POPSICLES: 15 calories. Enough said.
NO SUGAR ADDED FUDGSICLES: 40 calories. And, if you dip them in a cup of fat free whipped cream, it feels like a real dessert.
SARA LEE, WEIGHT WATCHERS, OR ANY LOCAL BRAND “LIGHT” BREAD: A key to losing weight and keeping it off, is to only eat bread when it’s really worth it. But sometimes, especially if you have kids and need to make lunches, you need to keep a little bread in the house. But, regular sliced sandwich bread has about 80 calories a slice! Instead, from now on, use the “light” bread products that have about 45 calories a slice. Keep it in the freezer so you only use it when you need to and, as with all bread (or tortillas), you never want to have it without topping with a fruit or vegetable or you’ll get hungry again too quickly. On sandwiches, that means adding lettuce, tomatoes, pickles or grilled vegetables. On toast in the morning, try putting sliced peaches on top instead of jam. The goal is to never eat a bread carb without adding a fiber dense veg or fruit carb to it. Trust me, it makes a big difference.
THOMAS’ BAGEL THINS: Also kept in the freezer so you only eat them when you plan to, at only 110 calories each, you get the sensation of a bagel but with half the calories. But, again, make sure you have some fiber with it. And, if you’re having it for breakfast, add protein, like scrambled Eggbeaters, as well. And, for a really filling breakfast, use them to make an Egg and Veg Bagel Sandwich.
FOR THE PANTRY
WASA BREAD (Light Rye and Multigrain): At just 30-40 calories each, you’ll use these guys to make Skinny Crostini topped with sliced tomatoes, olives, basil and feta in the summer or, in the winter, topped with Oven Roasted Caponata. Just try and have no more than 2 at a time. Loaded up with veg, you really won’t need more to feel full.
REAL POPCORN KERNELS: Never buy micro-waved popcorn again. Even the light varieties have a ton of calories and a ridiculous list of chemicals. Instead, buy a 19-dollar air-popper and make your own popcorn in seconds. I give mine a light spray of olive oil from a Misto sprayer and shower it with dried herbs and a little salt. My kids, however, prefer the butter taste of movie popcorn so I give theirs a really light spray of butter flavored Pam. (I know, I’m not crazy about using Pam, either–but if it’s just a light spray, and it’s in place of real butter, I think it’s okay.) I keep a giant Tupperware of it in the pantry, as well as a giant glass jar on the counter. The kids love it in their school lunches or by the pool. I love it whenever I feel like nibbling. (And, don’t tell, but I even sneak a little bag of it into the movies so that I won’t be tempted to eat the 1200 calorie theater popcorn!) Mixed with a few dried cranberries, a few pretzels and a couple of nuts and M&Ms, it’s Skinny Trail Mix!
QUAKER OATS BRAND QUAKES: Mini rice cakes that come in flavors like Cheddar, Ranch, and Sour Cream and Onion, these so break the rules of “pure” eating. But I have a serious junk food junkie in my soul, and these little guys help me cope. But here’s the skinny on these, you can’t eat them out of the bag or you’ll end up eating way too many calories and way too much salt. So, if munching them alone, count out 18 pieces (140 calories) and eat just those. You can also dilute the calories by adding them to Air Popped Popcorn or Skinny Trail Mix.
PRETZELS: You’d think that, since they’re not fried, pretzels would be a much healthier alternative to potato chips. Sadly, it’s not true. They’re made with white flour and have the calories and blood sugar consequences that go with all white flour foods. Still, it’s okay to mix a few with popcorn if you like. Just don’t eat them by the handful.
DRIED CRANBERRIES: Not only good for Skinny Trail Mix, these are great if you want to add a little sweetness to salads. But, remember, dried fruit has as many calories as most candies…and you don’t get the fiber benefit you get from eating a real piece of fruit. Use them sparingly!
DRIED BEANS (like Great Northerns, Black, Kidney and Black-Eyed Peas): Packed with nutrition, including protein, beans are an invaluable ingredient that add substance and texture to many skinny dishes. But they’re also fairly calorie dense with 220-300 calories a cup. So, to make your bean dishes skinny, add in an equal amount of fresh vegetables like onions, celery, bell peppers, petite green beans (haricot verts) or tomatoes near the end of the cooking time to cut calories in half. You can also enjoy them, while mitigating the calories by adding 1/2 cup of them (cold) to green salads.
ORGANIC BROWN RICE and WILD RICE BLENDS: When it comes to better nutrition, taste and weight loss, brown is the new white! (White rice is just brown rice that has been processed to remove the outer husk and most of its nutrients.) And brown rice and wild rice blends are not only great nutrition, because they’re so rich in fiber, you’ll feel fuller longer… which means you’ll lose weight faster! Be aware, though, they have about the same calories as the white stuff…about 200 a cup… so use them to make Magic Rice to cut those calories in half.
WHOLE WHEAT OR BROWN RICE PASTA: Whole-wheat pasta is better than white pasta and–if you’re looking to get over the gluten–brown rice pasta is better still. But even though they are far more nutritious and have much more magical fiber than white pasta, they still have the same number of calories so you want to load them up with vegetables. Try Brown Rice Pasta Primavera or a whole wheat spaghetti with a Quick Turkey Sausage and Veggie Sauce for the sensation of traditional pasta dishes without as many calories, much more fiber and much less fat.
BREAKFAST CEREALS: I am not a big lover of processed cereals. Their nutritional value is usually highly overstated by manufacturers and, because they’re usually loaded with sugar, their calories are underestimated by most consumers. However, I have kids and kids love cereal so here’s the skinny on them: You MUST read the label and measure the amount that goes into your bowl. If you don’t, you’ll end up eating twice the amount you think you’re eating! And be careful when you read the label, often the calorie count you see is not for a full cup but only 1/2 or 3/4 of a cup. (The nutrition label on granola, for example, may say 226 calories…but that’s only for a half of a cup!) Also, always add fresh (not dried) fruit to your cereal–like blueberries, strawberries or peaches–because the fiber will help you stay full longer. And, instead of cow’s milk, use almond milk instead. It adds extra nutrition for as few as 40 calories a cup. You can also sprinkle a little dry cereal on fruit salad that’s topped with a few tablespoons of fat free yogurt for breakfast, or use finger-friendly cereals (like Cheerios or Cinnamon Life) as snacks for the kids. If you add a 1/4 cup and a few dried berries to a baggie of popcorn, they’ll have a treat that has more fiber, less sugar and fewer calories than a cookie.
STEEL CUT OATMEAL : Not all oatmeal is created the same. In fact, there’s a big nutritional difference between steel cut oats and oat groats, old fashioned rolled oats and instant oatmeal. But, even though steel cut oatmeal has lots of health benefits, it still has calories, about 150 a cup. So, to make your breakfast calories stretch further and add sweetness to the oats, top your bowl with warm blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, plums or pears. By the way, if you’re on the go and think you can pick up oatmeal at McDonald’s and still stay on track, forget it. The oatmeal in that oatmeal is really more of an afterthought.
VARIETY OF VINEGARS: As you begin to cook with more fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re going to love having a variety of vinegars in your pantry. Whether sprinkling shredded cabbage with rice vinegar for a quick Asian slaw, roasting onions with balsamic or mushrooms with sherry vinegar or using fig vinegar to make a Cucumber, Watermelon and Feta Salad, or mixing any vinegar with a grainy Dijon to make a dressing for fresh greens, vinegars deliver a punch of flavor without knocking out your calorie count. Keep your eyes open for interesting products from local makers that are showing up at farmers markets around the country. In L.A. and in Maine, I’ve found locally made vinegars infused with Persimmon, Blood Orange and Pomegranate. If buying in a standard grocery, look for the Alessi brand which seems to have the widest variety. I use their White Balsamic regularly when a recipe for a dressing calls for sugar .
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