Preparing your food at home is a major step in the recipe toward weight loss. But always going by the book or trying to figure things out for yourself can be frustrating. These genius insights can change your kitchen game and empower your slim-down efforts!
Thankfully, it's not difficult to make slimming, mouth-watering fare. Here are our best tips for better cooking, easier meal prep, less weight gain, and more fun than you knew you could have while in the kitchen. And for more, don't miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Season to taste
When you're cooking from a recipe, ignore specific measurements for salt and pepper. Your mouth is more accurate than a measuring spoon. Taste and adjust as early and often as possible. Oh, and while you're at it, get rid of that salt shaker! Instead, put kosher salt in a small bowl by the stove and season with your fingers, which gives you real control and accuracy. And to add even more flavor to your food, use these 5 Best Spices for Fat Loss.
Time your salt
When you salt is as important as how much you salt. Season chicken, pork, and turkey (three of the 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss) up to eight hours before cooking. The salt will penetrate the meat fully and yield juicier, more fully seasoned results.
That said, only season burgers seconds before throwing them onto the grill—otherwise, the salt will break down the protein strands and create tougher patties.
Fix your mistakes
Too much salt? Use a splash of vinegar to provide a counterbalancing punch of acid. Too much heat? Try a drizzle of honey to mellow out the spice.
Shop for food on Monday or Tuesday
More specifically, shop for food on Monday or Tuesday before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Research shows that these are the least-crowded times of the week at the market, making it possible to pick out first-rate products without the clamoring masses.
For more grocery store weight loss hacks, check out these 46 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever.
Pat meat and fish dry before cooking
Surface moisture creates steam when it hits a hot pan or grill, impeding caramelization. If your fish has skin, use a sharp knife to squeegee off the water trapped within it. Not sure what seafood is best for your belly? Check out our guide to The Best Fish for Weight Loss.
Don't overcrowd the pan
For deeply flavored foods, don't overcrowd the pan. Ingredient overload makes a pan's temperature plummet, and foods end up steaming rather than caramelizing. This adds cooking time and subtracts flavor. All ingredients should fit comfortably in one layer, so use a pan that's big enough for the job, and cook in batches if necessary.
Don't scorch the nonstick
Teflon can deteriorate over high heat, so save your nonstick pans for gentler tasks like cooking omelets and fish. Yes, nonstick pans serve the same purpose, but they can release potentially cancer-causing toxins into your food. While the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't suggest forgoing nonstick cookware altogether, they also don't yet know the long-term health effects of nonstick chemicals, so it's better to err on the side of caution and stick with cast iron. Pick up a variety of different pieces so you're prepared for any culinary adventure that lies ahead.
And for more tips, be sure to avoid these 13 Ways You're Ruining Your Non-Stick Pans.
Make it crispy
Nothing beats crispy chicken skin, but frying is a no-go when you're trying to lose weight. Instead, buy a whole chicken the day before you'll cook it, sprinkle on a teaspoon of kosher salt, and leave it uncovered in the fridge. The air and salt will draw out excess water. Just be sure to pat the chicken dry with paper towels before cooking. For a complete meal, pair your chicken with a vegetable and one of these 24 Best Carbs That Uncover Your Abs.
Use the broiler
Think of a broiler as an inverted grill—a source of concentrated, quick-cooking heat. Chicken, pork chops, and steaks take about 10 minutes to broil; just be sure to flip them midway through the cooking process.
And for optimal cooking, Here's Exactly What Temperature Every Cut of Meat Should Be Cooked To.
Amp up your TV dinner
Instantly improve your next TV dinner: After cooking, add fresh herbs, a squeeze of citrus, and a drizzle of olive oil to transform any frozen entrée. And to ensure your meal is a healthy pick, steer clear of The 100 Worst Frozen Foods in America.
Keep tomatoes out of the fridge
The same goes for peaches, potatoes, onions, bread, unpeeled garlic, and coffee. Cold temperatures compromise the flavor and texture of these staples.
Warm your plate
Warm food served on a cold plate is a rookie mistake. Heat your dishes in a 150-degrees-Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes before plating a meal. On the flip side, lightly chilled plates (use your freezer) boost the freshness of cold dishes like summer salads.
Adapt at will
Ingredients aren't set in stone. Mushrooms can stand in for eggplant if that's what you have. Don't want to spend $3 on a bunch of celery just to use a single rib? Omit it. Do you like pork chops more than chicken breast? Switch it. The point is, if you understand the basic techniques and know what tastes good together, the possibility for creation in the kitchen is infinite.
Shop with the seasons
Sure, sometimes you just need a tomato, but there are three great reasons to shop in season: It's cheaper, it tastes better, and it's better for you (and the planet).
Talk to butchers, produce suppliers, and fishmongers before buying. They can steer you to the best ingredients.
And for more tips, don't miss these 30 Secrets Supermarket Employees Will Never Tell You.
Freshen up limp veggies
Drop your aging produce into ice water before cooking. Plants wilt due to water loss; ice water penetrates their cells to restore crispness.
Get more pucker for the price
Zap lemons, limes, or oranges for 15 seconds in the microwave before squeezing them. The fruit will yield twice as much juice.
Go to farmer's markets early or late
Early arrivals get the first pick of all the prettiest produce; latecomers can score last-second deals from vendors looking to unload their goods.
Flip your meat more than once
Research shows that near-constant flipping of steak, chicken, chops, and burgers not only allows your food to cook faster, but also more evenly. Aim for one flip per minute.
Give it a rest
If you slice into meat right after it finishes cooking, precious juices will escape. Wait five minutes before biting into burgers or grilled chicken, seven minutes before cutting into steaks, and 15 minutes before carving a large roast.
Still not convinced? Here's Why You Should Let Meat Rest.
Cook tomatoes when you can
Cooking and roasting tomatoes will increase their levels of lycopene, powerful compounds that fight free radicals and help to decrease cancer and heart disease risks. A study from Ohio State University showed that people who ate tomato sauce that cooked for 40 minutes had 55% more lycopene in their blood than those who had uncooked tomato sauce.
Swap your baking staples
Although baking powder and baking soda are not the same thing and not interchangeable, you can substitute a small amount of baking powder for baking soda and wind up preserving more of chocolate's antioxidants that are usually lost in the baking process. Just don't go crazy, or else you'll wind up with a flat, weird chocolate cake.
Toast your bread
Toasting your bread can lower its glycemic index a bit, according to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Even better: Your body absorbs less glucose from bread that has been frozen before toasting. Bottom line: First freeze, then toast! Who knew?
Poach your eggs
Up to 50% more nutrients are absorbed from a runny yolk than from a hard-boiled or over-hard egg. No idea how to poach eggs? All you do is crack open an egg into a pot of simmering water. Try these 71+ Egg Recipes for Weight Loss, too!
Add oil to rice
No, this is not an excuse to get all fried-rice-crazy on us. But if you drop a teaspoon of coconut oil into your boiling pot of water before cooking your non-fortified rice, researchers from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka say that the rice will have 10 times the resistant starch (a good thing; it slows down rapid digestion) and stay this way even as a leftover.
And if you need more cooking tips, This Is the Easiest Way to Cook Rice.
Freeze your blueberries
Another way to manipulate your healthy food to be even healthier: Freeze your blueberries! Their antioxidant properties are heavily concentrated in the skins. And the ice crystals that form on the skin during the freezing process help make the antioxidants more available to your body, according to a South Dakota State University study.
Eat your pasta cold
Similar to how oil can make rice better for you, pasta that has been chilled overnight (it's okay to reheat it!) will also keep you fuller for longer than if you had just cooked the noodles and served them right away. Keeping your pasta cold is one of the 40 Ultimate Pasta Tips to Stay Skinny!
Know when to cool your avocados
The easiest kitchen hack ever? Keep your avocados out on the counter to let them ripen faster, and put them in the fridge when they're ripe so they'll last longer. A surefire sign that an avo is well on its way to being ripe is when you can easily pop the "button" off the top of it.
Don't slice your strawberries
Instead of being efficient and slicing your strawberries all at once to easily enjoy later, you'll want to keep them whole until you're just minutes away from eating them. Vitamin C is sensitive to light and oxygen and loses some of its antioxidant powers once it's been exposed. The same is true for oranges, which have a little less Vitamin C than a cup of strawberries.
Make frozen cubes
Instead of watching that bunch of parsley spoil, chop it up and mix with a tiny bit of oil and then freeze as ice cubes that you can throw into a soup later. Or freeze sauces for quick, individual meals. Or use an ice cube tray to freeze kale for smoothies. Get creative!
We don't, however, recommend freezing onions. They soak up bacteria like crazy, and you really shouldn't ever use leftover cut onions.
For more chilly ideas, don't miss these 13 Genius Ice Cube Tray Hacks.
Salvage burnt cookies
You went through all this trouble to make healthy cookies, so don't let burnt bottoms ruin your day. Simply grab your zester and grate the black part off. Nice!
Smash that garlic
For the quickest clove peeling process ever: Place the clove onto a cutting board and then smash it using the side of a chef's knife and your fist. It's fun to do and saves you time!
Crack eggs on the countertop
When you crack eggs on the side of the bowl, you risk eggshells getting in your food. Instead, crack them right on the counter.
And for more, check out these 108 most popular sodas ranked by how toxic they are.