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So You Want to Start Cooking Healthy

Somewhere in time, healthy eating became synonymous with bland but that does not have to be the case.


You’re doing it; you’re making your New Year’s resolution to cook healthier. You are already dreading the low fat, low sodium, fat free, sugar free ingredients. Somewhere in time, healthy cooking became synonymous with bland and unexciting. But that really isn’t the case.

You don’t have to eat steamed broccoli with no butter or dry chicken with no seasoning. You can enjoy tasty, healthy food without the guilt of excessive calories, fat and sodium.

Begin by scouring reliable recipe sources. Look for those that use regular ingredients you probably already have, and are fairly easy and quick to make. I love recipes that give me the nutritional information. Many times it changes my mind on if I want to make it or not. If you see the words creamy, fried, or buttery, it doesn’t mean you have to skip the recipe; you just might want to evaluate it a little closer.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Haven’t tried quinoa yet? It’s a whole grain that is high in protein and easy to cook. Pick up a box at the store and try it. Try an unfamiliar vegetable or fruit, or whole grain. Open yourself up to the new possibilities. You might decide that you have a new favorite.

Learning to cook takes a bit of practice, so start simple and take it slow. Don’t try to prepare a feast. Start with a simple recipe that can be finished in less than 30 minutes and with minimal ingredients. If you like it enough to make it again, tweak it some to better fit your taste buds. Adding herbs and spices adds flavor without adding sodium.

I love roasted vegetables. Roasting brings out their flavor and helps retain a good amount of their water soluble vitamins and minerals. I like to coat mine with a thin amount of olive oil to help them retain the moisture and help the herbs and spices adhere to the vegetables. Try roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon and nutmeg and a dash of sugar. Or my personal favorite roasted vegetable, Rosemary Parmesan Roasted Potatoes. No salt needed on these. The rosemary adds just the right amount of flavor combined with the drizzled olive oil.

Making a grocery list is one of the best ways to make sure you cook healthy. It’s so easy to just grab takeout or call in an order of something if you don’t have the right ingredients on hand. Once you have chosen your recipe, write down your list of items to buy after you have checked your pantry and refrigerator. Try to shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible to avoid processed items.

While at the store, stock up on healthy essentials. When you find them on sale, buy whole grains, nuts, herbs and spices and soup stocks. Having a stocked pantry will save you time and money by pulling together flavorful, healthy dishes. 

When cooking, trust your taste buds, not the recipe. Most recipes will need some tweaking to your taste. Taste the dish as you prepare it and adjust according. Don’t wait until it is on the table to taste it and discover that it needs something. Tasting along the way will help you have a great tasting dish your family will rave about.

For more information, contact the University of Arkansas, Division of AG in the Miller County Courthouse, call 870-779-3609, or e-mail You can also get tips and recipes on facebook UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaHaleyHadley, and  twitter at @MillerCountyFCS

I hope these tips help you be a chef in your own kitchen. This recipe for Mini Meatloaves is cooked in muffin tins and uses salsa in place of ketchup.

Mini Meatloaves

1 pound lean or extra-lean ground beef

1 1/2 cups mild or medium salsa, divided in half

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, or 10 saltine crackers crushed

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash of black pepper

Non-stick cooking spray


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all ingredients, saving half of salsa for topping. Divide meat mixture into 5 equal portions. Shape into flattened loaves. Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. Place loaves in muffin tins. Spoon half of the remaining salsa on top of loaves. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon remaining salsa over top and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before removing from tins and serving. This recipe can be made in one loaf pan; simply increase cooking time to one hour.

Nutrition Information per Serving (Makes 5 servings). Calories: 250, Total Fat: 9 g, Saturated Fat: 3.5 g, Protein: 30 g, Carbohydrates: 11 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sodium: 140 mg


By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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