Healthy foods shouldn’t be bland and boring. Try these tips to make healthy foods taste great!
When someone complains to me that healthy foods don’t taste good, it’s often because they simply don’t know how to prepare them. I think healthy foods taste great, but that’s only because I’ve learned—admittedly, over many years—how to cook and season them to enhance their naturally delicious flavors. You can make vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains and fruits taste great. Here’s how.
What’s Not to Like About Healthy Foods?
If you’re not used to eating healthy fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains, you may feel that you simply don’t like them. If your diet consists of a lot of processed foods that are overloaded with salt, fat and sugar, it could be that your taste buds are simply accustomed to these tastes. These, by the way, are often needed to pump up the flavor of these highly processed foods that would otherwise be pretty bland.
You may be so unaccustomed to the natural flavors in foods (and so used to the salty, fatty, sweet flavors in your daily diet) that the only way you can choke down the healthy foods is to douse them with more salt, fat and sugar.
It could also be that you haven’t learned how to select and prepare healthy foods in order to get the most flavor. Perhaps like many people you equate “healthy” eating with “plain,” so your meals consist of plain broiled chicken or plain steamed vegetables without seasoning. I don’t know if this is some form of dietary self-sabotage—or a form of punishment! But I can certainly see how a plain, bland diet could turn people off. On the other hand, I truly believe that healthy foods properly prepared are incredibly flavorful and delicious.
There are two keys to making healthy foods taste good. The first is to start with the best possible ingredients. When foods are as fresh as can be, they’re at their peak of quality, which means they’re also at their peak of flavor.
The second key to making healthy foods taste good is to learn how to cook and season them. It helps if you’re willing to be a little fearless in the kitchen. If you’re not much of a cook, you might not trust your instincts and worry that you’ll make a mistake. But that’s part of the fun. It’s also how you learn to enhance flavors, not simply cover them up.
How To Make Healthy Foods Taste Delicious
How to Make Vegetables Taste Great
- Buy in season as much as possible, or purchase frozen vegetables.
- Season with garlic, onion, citrus, vinegar, herbs, soy sauce.
- Sprinkle with nuts, seeds, or a little shaved parmesan cheese.
- Sauté in broth, wine or a little flavorful oil, lie olive, sesame or walnut.
- Roast to mellow and concentrate the flavor. Toss veggies with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 425 degree (Gas Mark 7) for about 20 minutes until tender and beginning to caramelize.
- Mix several veggies together. Mixtures are more enticing to the eye and the palate.
- Blanch then stir-fry. Blanching is especially good for strong-tasting veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, and it helps to both season the veggies and take away some of the very strong flavors. Blanch cut veggies in boiling, salted water for 60 seconds. Drain, then stir-fry in a little oil with garlic and a drizzle of soy sauce.
- Massage strong-tasting greens like kale or cabbage before eating them raw. Finely slice the greens, then massage under a spray of warm water for a minute or two. This softens the texture slightly and removes some of the ‘raw’ taste. Rinse with cold water to refresh, then dry thoroughly and dress with a little vinaigrette.
- Sweeten your veggies to contrast with the strong taste. Slice a fresh apple, pear or orange into your green salad, or a few golden raisins to a broccoli stir-fry.
How to Make Fish, Poultry or Tofu Taste Great
- Marinating your proteins before cooking boosts flavor, and also helps keep these foods moist and tender. Acidic foods help to tenderize, so include some citrus juice, vinegar, or yogurt in your marinade.
- Rubs are mixtures of seasonings—usually salt, pepper, herbs and spices—that are liberally rubbed into the surface of your protein (dry rub), or mixed into a paste with a little prepared mustard, oil, mashed garlic or yogurt (wet rub). There are endless variations on rub mixtures. If you don’t trust your instincts to make your own, you might start with a commercial seasoning mix. After applying the rub, place food in the refrigerator and let the rub penetrate for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours before cooking.
- Fish and poultry tend to be dry, but poaching them in a flavorful liquid gives you a moist and flavorful result. You can use vegetable, mushroom, fish or chicken stock. For more flavor you can add sliced lemon, onion, garlic, fresh herbs and peppercorns to the liquid.
- Top with something as simple as a squeeze of lemon juice and a shower of parsley, a drizzle of olive oil or a few dashes of soy sauce. Or, top with salsa (tomato or fruit), tomato sauce, sautéed mushrooms or onions, or sliced avocado.
How to Make Whole Grains Taste Great
- Sauté first in a little oil over medium heat. Most whole grains have a naturally nutty flavor. When you sauté them until they just start to toast a little bit, it brings out this delicious taste.
- Season with spices. You can add spices while you sauté your grains. Many of the flavorful and aromatic compounds in spices are fat-soluble, so this technique helps to release more flavor from the spices. There’s no limit to what spices you can use. Some of my favorites include ground cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, ginger or dried orange peel.
- Add vegetables and herbs. Cooking vegetables along with your grains helps you boost your vegetable intake, and it adds lots of flavor and color to your dish. As you sauté your grains, you can add onion, garlic, chopped broccoli, grated carrot, diced pepper, chopped tomato, or some herbs like parsley, thyme, oregano or basil.
Cover with a flavorful liquid. Instead of water, cook your grains or beans with chicken, vegetable or mushroom stock, or diluted tomato juice.
How to Make Fruits Taste Great
- Buy in season as much as possible, or purchase frozen fruits.
- Sprinkle with sweet spices (like cinnamon, clove or nutmeg), citrus juice or a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
- Blend fruits into your shakes to add delicious flavor and texture.
- Mix different fruits into a fruit salad. The flavors play off one another, and the beautiful colors add appeal.
- Dip cut fruits into a mixture of plain nonfat yogurt sweetened with a little bit of pure maple syrup.
By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
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