Cooking a meal from scratch every day is one step in the right direction to healthy, happy families. However, the choice between whether you deep fry in lots of oil, or grill with a dry rub can affect the level of goodness you get. Did you know the combination of high heat and fat/oil can generate toxic substances which are harmful to our health or that water diminishes Vitamins B and C and fat reduces Vitamin A, D, E and K? These are my top healthy cooking methods. There are eight of them - challenge yourself to try a different one each day this week.
Water soluble vegetables and fish benefit from cooking in moisture and heat. Steaming helps to preserve nutrients, colour and the flavour of ingredients. Electrical steamers are available on the market and because of the many layered compartments above the base, can be useful for steaming a complete meal. However a metal steamer or bamboo basket over a pan of boiling water is more than effective. Because steaming is a slightly slower method of cooking, vegetables should be diced, sliced or shredded and fish filleted, to speed up the cooking process.
Recipe - Shredded Steamed Cabbage
Cooking vegetables in boiling water is standard. It is a very handy cooking method too - pop on the pot and walk away for 20 minutes. However, please note that when vegetables are completely immersed and left to boil for a prolonged time, the nutrients get 'washed' away, in particular Vitamin B and C. My top tip for boiling, is to use the water afterwards elsewhere in the dish. The best way to boil vegetables is to cook them in 3-4 cms of slightly salted water for a short time, with the lid on. Shake gently now and then to stir the vegetables. Green beans, broccoli and carrots benefit when cooked using this method particularly when the water is used for gravy or sauce. Rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa etc. are also cooked in boiling water, but the water is absorbed so all nutrients are kept intact.
Recipe - Mushroom and Black Bean
Delicate foods such as pears, rhubarb, eggs, fish and poultry retain their fragility and shape during poaching. Because there is no fat added and therefore no calories or intense heat involved in the cooking process, poaching is a healthy method of cooking. Usually an acid e.g. vinegar or wine and a flavour e.g. bay leaf, stock cube, cardamom pods etc. are added to enhance the flavour of the food and to keep the food intact. The poaching liquid can often be used to make a sauce, soup or glaze.
Recipe - Poached Chicken
Grilling vegetables and fruits is quite safe and brings out their natural flavours, as the intense heat begins the breaking down of the carbohydrate, making the food sweeter. Herbs and spices with a light coating of olive or rapeseed oil helps to season and will protect meat and vegetables from drying out. Trim off fat from meat before grilling as it is the fat and intense heat that can produce toxic compounds. Cook meat at a lower temperature for a longer time rather than the intense heat we associate with grilling. If barbecuing, consider pre-cooking meat in the microwave first and finish on the barbecue to reduce contact with extreme temperature.
Recipe -Grilled Goats Cheese
Foods cooked in an oven using dry heat retain their nutrients as long as they are not overcooked or smothered in oil or butter (a little oil is okay). Vegetables and meat should be tender and succulent after cooking. To achieve this, meat and vegetables should be seasoned with herbs. You can then cover the food with foil or placed it in a roasting bag. Don't forget to remove the foil or bag close to the end to ensure some colour. Whole fish, potatoes, chicken and chicken fillets, pork chops, sausages can all be cooked this way. Likewise, fruit such as apples, pears, pineapples etc. work well when baked.
Recipe - Sweet Potato Wedges
Microwave cooking is excellent for vegetables as the absence of extreme heat, water and fat helps to retain most of the nutrients. Microwave energy penetrates the food, cooking from the inside out, which is a quicker method of cooking in comparison to boiling, steaming etc. and this preserves the nutrients, making microwave cooking a healthier option than boiling.
Recipe - Refer to your own microwave instructions for the best way to cook vegetables etc as microwave brands differ in power.
Braising or Stewing
Braising and stewing are both healthy methods of cooking, as all meat and vegetables are submerged in liquid. The nutrients are contained since the food is served with the liquid/sauce and cooked without excessive heat which can destroy enzymes, vitamins B and folate.
While cooking with oil and using excessive heat can cause deterioration in the quality foods being cooked, as well as the production of toxic substances, stir frying is still a healthy way of cooking. Firstly stir frying is a fantastic way to get over and above the healthy amount of daily vegetables. Secondly, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are retained in the food. Thirdly no water is used to destroy Vitamin B and C. And if that's not enough, as stir frying is one of the fastest methods of cooking, it can prevent free radicals and production of toxic substances. Phew. Big up for stir frying. Use an oil that is stable at high heat e.g. rapeseed (canola) oil, almond oil, coconut oil or good quality seed or vegetable oil.
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About Sian's Plan
Sian's Plan is an online meal planner that helps busy people eat well. The service is named after its Founder Sian Breslin, a professional home economist who's taught thousands of families to cook. On the platform, Sian has created hundreds of recipes to help families prepare healthy, affordable and fuss-free meals in under 35 minutes. More information can be found at www.siansplan.com.