Stroll through any bookstore or surf the Internet, and you can take your pick from thousands of healthy recipes. But for some cooks, words and pictures on a page or screen are not enough to inspire them to take the leap and try something new.
Enter food television, where reluctant cooks can be motivated by watching professionals share their cooking tips and ease with the kitchen.
"Cooking is very sensual, and the beauty of a cooking show allows viewers to see and almost feel the texture, shape, and quantity of the ingredients and finished product," says Ellie Krieger, host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite.
Says Liz Weiss, MS, RD, who co-hosted a pilot program called Recipe Rescue: "Seeing a food demonstration is a very powerful motivator because it reduces any anxiety that you can't do it."
Cooking on TV is not a new idea -- Julia Child was doing it decades ago. But the Food Network and its star chefs have made it more popular than ever. And some cooking shows, like Krieger's, are specifically aimed at showing the public just how easy -- and tasty -- healthy cuisine can be.
"There is a misconception that eating healthy and delicious food is mutually exclusive -- but they are not," Krieger says. She says she tries to show viewers that they can still enjoy their favorite foods as long as they prepare them in a healthful way and watch portion sizes.
Krieger also tries to dispel the notion that healthy cooking is complicated.
"I am a busy mom like everyone else, and so I focus on recipes that are easy, and have discovered some very simple tips, tricks, and options to encourage viewers to venture beyond their comfort zones and see just how easy it is to create delicious, healthy dishes," she says.
Recipe Rescue, a pilot on a PBS affiliate, actually put a family to work in the kitchen with dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Bissell, co-authors of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers. The goal: To make the family's favorite recipes more healthful.
"Our family realized their favorite foods were loaded with fat, calories and sodium," says Weiss, "and with a few simple steps, and without using convenience foods, we made their dishes much healthier."
Tricks of the Trade
So just what are some of those tricks that can make dishes both healthier and tastier?
"All it takes is a basic understanding of how to bring out the natural flavors in food," says Connie Gutterson, RD, PhD, author of The Sonoma Diet and a TV food demo veteran.
One of her own favorite flavor-developing techniques is toasting grains and nuts before adding to recipes.
She is also a big fan of experimenting with different kinds of whole grains, and of roasting and caramelizing vegetables for added flavor.
"There are so many things you can do in the kitchen that don't come out of a bottle," says Gutterson, also a chef and dietitian at the Culinary Institute of America.
As you become more comfortable with cooking techniques, you can use key ingredients to completely change a basic recipe. A pantry stocked with a variety of spices, herbs, vinegars, oils, mustards, whole grains, beans, nuts, and vegetables can turn a single recipe into multiple variations.
"Using a different spice rub or grain can completely change a recipe," says Gutterson.
Break Out of a Rut
Do the same meals repeat themselves week after week in your house? If so, you are not alone. One thing home cooks can learn from cooking shows is how to add variety to the menu -- essential for keeping meals interesting, healthy, and enjoyable.
"Most cooks stick to the tried-and-true family favorites they can cook without a recipe and rarely venture out of that comfort zone, except for holidays and special occasions," says Holly Clegg, a cookbook author and frequent television guest.
Clegg recommends breaking out of your mold by starting with a familiar dish, such as lasagna, then tweaking it. Try adding salsa to your grilled chicken. Or maybe use different greens, veggies, or dressing for your standard salad.
"Start with recipes you know will give you the confidence to be creative, and experiment with techniques to lower the fat, calories, sugar, and sodium," Clegg recommends.
Many people just use one or two recipes from each of their cookbooks. But Clegg tells her audiences not to make the same recipe twice.
"The quickest way to culinary boredom and ordering takeout is by preparing and eating the same food all the time," says Krieger.
For inspiration, treat yourself to an afternoon of food television -- or surf the Internet for online cooking demos.
Recipes for Inspiring Healthy Cooking
Here are some camera-ready recipes from the chefs who spoke with WebMD:
Basil Quinoa with Red Bell Pepper
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Members: Journal one serving as 1/2 cup starchy foods without fat.
With quinoa playing the starring role, nutrients abound in this full-flavored side dish. A great addition to any dinner, this dish goes especially well with a crisp salad. To make ahead, prepare as directed, except do not sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Cover and chill for up to 6 hours. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds before serving.
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons minced)
2 cups cooked quinoa*
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
- In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups water to boiling. In a small bowl, combine cold water and ice cubes to make an ice bath. Add the basil to the boiling water; stir once and drain immediately. Place basil in the ice bath to cool quickly. Gently squeeze out any excess water.
- Place basil in a food processor. Add Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Cover and process until nearly smooth.
- In a medium bowl, stir together cooked quinoa, bell pepper, and green onions. Add basil mixture; stir to coat. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
*Note: Look for quinoa at a health food store or in the grains section of a large supermarket. To make 2 cups cooked quinoa, in a fine strainer rinse .2/3 cup quinoa under cold running water; drain. In a small saucepan, combine 1 1/3 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Let stand to cool slightly. Drain off any remaining liquid.
Yield: 8 servings
Per serving: 123 cal., 7 g total fat, (1 g sat. fat), 1 mg cholesterol, 115 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein. Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 fat.
From the upcoming Sonoma Diet Cookbook (Meredith Books). Republished with permission from the publisher.
Weight Loss Clinic Members: Journal one serving as 1/4 cup starchy foods or legumes without fat + 1 serving lean meat without fat.
Chipotle salsa gives this excellent, easy chili a smoky flavor that's hard to beat.
2 pounds ground sirloin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (16-ounce) jar chipotle chunky salsa or salsa of your choice
1 (16-ounce) package frozen whole kernel corn
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans seasoned beef broth with onion
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained, optional
- In a large pot, brown the meat and garlic until done. Drain any excess liquid.
- Add the chili powder, cumin, salsa, corn, beef broth, and beans.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for 15 minutes.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Per serving: 212 calories, 26 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 2 g sat. fat, 2 g fiber, 60 mg cholesterol, 794 g sodium. % calories from fat: 24%. Exchanges: 3 lean meat, 1 starch.
From The New Holly Clegg Trim & Terrific Cookbook (Running Press, April 2006). Republished with permission from the publisher.
Pork Au Poivre
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Members: Journal one serving as 4 oz. lean and moderate fat meat with 1 teaspoon sauce.
1 1/4-pound pork tenderloin
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground or crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
Salt to taste
- Slice tenderloin lengthwise, being careful not to cut through to other side. Split meat into one large, flat piece.
- Spread mustard over both sides of the meat and rub in pepper, pressing gently so it adheres well. Cut meat crosswise into 4 even portions.
- In large skillet, heat oil over medium flame. Put tenderloin in the pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 155 degrees, turning once.
- Transfer meat to a plate and tent with foil to keep it warm. Add chicken broth and wine to pan and cook over medium-high heat, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until sauce is reduced to about 1/2 cup.
- Pour sauce over meat, season with salt, and serve.
Yield: Four 4-oz. servings
Per serving: 235 calories; 10 grams fat; 3 grams sat fat; 30 grams protein, and 2 grams carbohydrates.
Recipe republished with permission from Ellie Krieger, RD, host of Food Network's Healthy Appetite.