Food Network Star Ellie Krieger’s Dos and Don’ts of Cooking Healthfully

The key to eating healthfully—following a diet that fends off disease and maybe shrinks your waist—is to cook your own meals. But who has time to whip up a nutritious meal at the end of a long day? As it turns out, you do…so long as you practice a few simple tricks. Here are some shortcuts and nutritional advice from Food Network star Ellie Krieger, author (most recently) of Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less

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DON’T: Limit vegetables to side dishes

DO: Add vegetables and colorful fruits whenever can. “Every dish is an opportunity to eat more produce,” Krieger says. When you make a basic marinara sauce to eat with pasta, she suggests throwing a handful of spinach or arugula into the sauce when you’re almost done. “The sauce is healthier, more colorful and more flavorful,” says Krieger. The Food Network star likes to also cook veggies along with meat. After you’ve sautéed a chicken breast, pull it out of the pan, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or broth, add a little garlic and then a quick-cooking vegetable like snow peas, spinach or zucchini cut into ribbons. “I always think, What vegetable can I add here?” Krieger says.  

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

DON’T: Overcook fish

DO: Remember that fish—filled with protein and low in saturated fat—cooks quickly. Follow this rule of thumb for skinless fish fillets like sole: Bake 8 minutes for each inch of thickness in a 400-degree oven. “Before you take it out of the oven, always check to make sure the fish flakes,” Krieger says. “Then put salt and pepper on it, squirt with lemon juice.”  If you’re prone to overcooking fish, try salmon. “It’s kind of forgiving because it’s rich in fat and it’s still delicious even if you cook it for a little too long,” says Krieger, who likes to cook it in a grill pan after it’s been marinated for a half hour in  teriyaki sauce. 

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DON’T: Pour cooking oil directly from the bottle into a pan

DO: Measure the oil when you put it in the pan. “Even when you’re using a healthy oil, all fat has about 120 calories per tablespoon,” says Krieger. “If you just let the bottle glug, you may end up with a quarter of a cup of oil in the pan. If you’re just sauteeing an onion, you only need a tablespoon. Why put more calories in the pan that you don’t need?” 

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DON’T: Toss out excess fresh herbs

DO: Put the leftovers to use. “Fresh herbs can really transform a dish. They brings life to food in a way that’s exciting,” Krieger says.  “For a tender herb like basil or cilantro, add the extras to sandwiches, scrambled eggs or salad.” 

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DON’T: Cook with mushy tofu

DO: Press the water out of tofu if you’re going to cut it into chunks that you’ll bake or stir-fry. “Put it between two plates, then top that with a kettle or heavy can of something like tomatoes. Tilt the bottom plate so it drains into the sink. It’s amazing how much water comes out. Then take two paper towels and dry the tofu even more,” Krieger says. Pressing tofu makes it more meaty and less mushy, and better able to absorb whatever tastes you’re adding.    

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DON’T: Shy away from instant brown rice

DO: Buy parboiled brown rice with no extra ingredients (such as flavorings) added. “When I tried instant brown rice, I was so surprised that I liked it. Compared to regular brown rice, it’s much faster to cook—just 10 versus 45 or more minutes—and it has a fluffier and better texture,” Krieger says. Other quick-cooking healthy grains include quinoa, fine bulgar, whole-grain pasta and whole-wheat couscous.  

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DON’T: Get in a salad rut

DO: Forgo the lettuce and make salads that are surprising. Krieger is particularly partial to her celery, radish and mint salad: Add 1 bunch of celery (only the paler inner stalks) sliced on the bias along with the chopped celery leaves, 4 medium sliced radishes, 2 tablespoons Italian parsley and 2 tablespoons mint leaves. Dress the salad with 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt and pepper. Top with 1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese. 


DON’T: Cook the nutrients out of vegetables

DO: Steam them on a stovetop so they hold on to their nutritional value. If all your burners are full of pans, the second-best way to cook veggies is to steam them in the microwave, Krieger says. Wash the vegetable with water, put it in a microwave-safe dish with the water clinging to it, cover the top without touching the vegetable, then microwave for the same amount of time you would steam—for instance, four to five minutes for broccoli florets. 

Next: 6 New Tips for Healthy Eating

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Bed Bath and Beyond has a microwave steamer gadget that I use almost every day. Microwaving veggies in a regular covered bowl can either turn them tough if there's not enough water or mushy if there's too much. Steaming them in the microwave is the perfect solution.

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