Cooking Healthful Meals

Restaurateurs and chefs are becoming more and more attentive to people's health and diet concerns. Many of them are reexamining their menus, modifying their cooking practices, and adding new, healthful items to their menus. Some have developed new menus that are specially planned to follow as closely as possible the eight recommendations listed above.

An increased health consciousness has affected the way we think about food and the way we cook. Professional cooks are making their foods more healthful in several ways:

1. Using less fat in cooking.

Cooking methods that require no added fat, such as simmering, poaching, baking, steaming, and grilling, can be considered the most healthful.

For sautéing, nonstick pans are becoming more widely used because little or no fat is needed.With regular pans, one can be careful to use as little fat as possible.

Grilling is popular because it can be done without first coating the food with fat. If this is done, however, one must be careful not to let the food dry out.

Using less fat in cooking also means using ingredients with less fat. Excess external fat can be trimmed from meats and poultry. Low-fat sauces, such as salsas and vegetable purées, can often be used instead of high-fat sauces. Recipes can often be modified so that quantities of high-fat ingredients, such as butter, cheese, and bacon, are reduced.

2. Using unsaturated fats.

When you do use fats, try to substitute monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil,for saturated fats when appropriate.

3. Emphasizing flavor.

Taste is the most important factor in preparing nutritious food.The most vitamin-packed dish does no one any good if it is uneaten because it doesn't taste good. Preparing flavorful foods requires knowledge of the principles of cooking.You can't rely simply on nutritional information.

Rely more on the natural flavors of foods and less on salt and other additives that should be decreased in the diet.

4. Using the freshest, highest-quality foods possible.

In order to prepare delicious foods with little or no added salt and with less reliance on high-fat, high-sodium sauces and condiments, it is important to use high-quality natural ingredients at their peak of flavor. Healthful cooking means letting the true flavors of foods dominate.

To enhance natural flavors without added salt, cooks are using more fresh herbs, hot seasonings such as chilies, ginger, and pepper, and flavorful ingredients like garlic, browned onions, and flavored vinegars.

5. Storing foods properly.

Foods in storage lose nutrients as they age.The loss of nutrients can be slowed, however, by proper storage.This applies particularly to proper refrigeration. For each category of perishable food discussed in this book,pay close attention to how the foods should be stored.

6. Modifying portion sizes.

It is not necessary to feature huge slabs of meat to serve satisfying meals. Smaller portions of well-trimmed meat,poultry, or fish,nicely balanced on the plate with an assortment of attractive fresh vegetables and complex carbohydrates, are likely to be more healthful.

Sauces often get the blame for adding calories to a meal, but if a sauce is fla-vorful,you don't need much. Make a better sauce and serve less of it. Also,if a sauce isn't too thick,it won't cling as heavily to the food, and a little will go farther.

7. Giving customers a healthful choice.

Offer a menu with a variety of foods so customers can choose a well-balanced meal suited to their needs and desires. It's not necessary to cook only "diet food," but a menu that offers French fries as the only available starch is not well balanced.

Place more emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Offer a menu with choices from all the groups in the USDA food pyramid or the Canadian rainbow, with a variety of choices from the bottom half of the pyramid or the outer rings of the rainbow.

Be flexible in the kitchen. A good chef should be willing to modify menu items to meet dietary requirements and to satisfy special requests from his or her customers.

8. Training the dining room staff.

Some restaurants offer special "spa menus" in addition to their regular menus, or they highlight "healthy" items with a special symbol. Unfortunately, this approach may suggest to some people that the highlighted menu items are boring "health food,"while the other menu items are unhealthful because they aren't flagged. Consequently, many chefs prefer to train their dining room personnel to answer customers' questions about the menu and to offer suggestions when asked.

9. Using nutritional information.

Study the nutritional content of foods in order to plan healthful menus. Many publications are available that list the nutritional content of common food items. Some restaurants have even hired registered dietitians to analyze their menus and give advice on how to make their food more healthful.

Hiring a dietitian is, of course, not practical for every operation. On the other hand,a basic awareness of nutrition helps every professional minimize the fat, cholesterol, and sodium in and maximize the nutritional content and balance of the foods they serve.

■ TERMS FOR REVIEW

calorie empty calorie nutrient density carbohydrate ketone body ketosis fiber soluble fiber insoluble fiber saturated fat polyunsaturated fat monounsaturated fat essential fatty acid omega-3 fatty acid trans fat lipoprotein LDL HDL lipid cholesterol complete protein complementary protein vitamin major mineral trace mineral

■ QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. Describe the difference between foods with empty calories and foods with high nutrient density. Give examples of foods in each category.

2. Why are unrefined carbohydrates more healthful than refined starches and sugars?

3. Why is it necessary to have some fat in the diet?

4. Which vitamins are water soluble? Which are fat soluble? Which of the two groups is more important to include in the diet every day? Why?

5. According to the recommendations of government health agencies, which food groups should we consume more of than we now do, on average? Which foods should we consume less of?

6. Discuss and compare the healthful or unhealthful qualities of saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsatu-rated fats. Give examples of each type.

7. What are some ways that you, as a cook, can reduce the fat and sodium content of your menu offerings?

8. How can you ensure a nutritionally balanced menu without actually calculating the nutrient content of every item?

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