Instead of meat and potatoes with a side of veggies, try meals the other way around: Make veggies and grains more prominent and animal protein less so.
Earlier in our country's history, when many Americans engaged in farm work or other demanding physical labor, they sat down to meals with plates filled with heaping portions of meat and potatoes. A cooked vegetable, maybe greens or corn, was also served.
Today, this entrenched eating pattern is making us fat and may be increasing our risk of cancer. To live more healthfully, we need to increase our intake of vegetables and grains and reduce our consumption of animal fats. With a little imagination, we can eat better-tasting food even as we eat more healthfully.
Here are three ideas from the American Institute for Cancer Research for shifting to healthier portions. These ideas and wonderful recipes can be found in the organization's new cookbook, "The New American Plate Cookbook" (University of California Press, 2005).
- Get creative with your vegetable dishes and consume them first. Use exotic-spice blends, such as Asian curries, to enhance flavors.
- Prepare two contrasting vegetable dishes for every meal. For example, steamed green broccoli and white cauliflower provide visual contrast and nutritional benefits. Or try steamed green kale and white beans drizzled with a bit of olive oil.
- Replace the meat-and-potatoes meal plan with one-pot meals where meat is an incidental ingredient. Here's one idea: Sauté brown rice in a bit of olive oil with spices and onions. Then add water or broth and cook in a large pot. About 10 minutes before the grains are done, add chopped vegetables of your choice. If you wish to include protein, add a cup or so of chopped cooked chicken or, for color contrast, two to three small pieces of salmon.
After a short time, this new way of cooking can be the norm for you, your family, and your guests. They will never miss the heavier meat-and-potato fare. They will, however, appreciate your thoughtfulness in preparing nutritious, delicious — but not fattening— meals.
Before long, you'll be sharing your new recipes with family and friends, encouraging them to adopt healthier cooking habits as well. Here's to good eating and to even better health!
Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.