Cooking Basics: Staple Recipes for Healthful Meals

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For this week’s posting, I thought about what might be helpful for encouraging you get started cooking. After all, as I stated earlier, my goal isn’t to teach you how to cook or just to give you a bunch of nice recipes to try (although there’s nothing wrong with that). My aim is to help you eat more healthfully by, in part, getting you to be more self-sufficient and comfortable in your own kitchen. Getting take-out can be fun — for a while — and eating in fine restaurants is nice, but it wears thin over time. Not to mention that it gets expensive. Plus, it’s pretty challenging to maintain diabetes and weight control when you constantly eat away from home.

Below are a few “recipe” ideas (I say this loosely) that you might think about using to create your own healthful meals. You can always adapt them to better suit your own tastes.

Oven-Fried Chicken
One of the most commonly eaten proteins in the US, chicken can sometimes be mundane; it can also be dry and overcooked. Coating chicken with a healthful “breading” creates some variety and keeps the moisture in without adding a lot of fat, carbohydrate, or sodium.

4 boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup wheat flakes cereal, crushed
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Mix flour, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and black pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Whisk egg and water in a small bowl. Mix crushed cereal and parsley in another small bowl. Add a chicken breast to the plastic bag; seal bag and shake until the chicken is coated. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake off any extra flour; dip into the egg mixture next, and then dip into the crumb mixture, making sure it’s coated. Place the chicken breast into a shallow baking pan sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. Bake the chicken breasts for about 20 minutes until they are no longer pink in the center.

Serving suggestion: Add some steamed broccoli or roasted asparagus and a baked sweet potato. Got leftovers? Cut up pieces of chicken breast and serve on a bed of Romaine lettuce for a tasty Chicken Cesar salad. Top with a dressing of your choice.

Pasta Sauce
Now I realize that many people with diabetes avoid pasta due to its carbohydrate content. But pasta sauce doesn’t have to be just for pasta. You can substitute cooked spaghetti squash, which is very low in carbohydrate and calories, or use the sauce on chicken or on sautéed vegetables (ratatouille, anyone?). If you do eat pasta, try a whole-grain pasta (yes, they are improved from the ones you may remember). The goal is to eat at least three servings of whole-grain foods every day, so here’s your chance. This pasta sauce, by the way, is easy and much lower in sodium than its jarred counterparts.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed or ground tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Heat the oil in a medium-size pot and add the garlic and onion, stirring often, for about 2 minutes until soft. Add the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes and the herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes until slightly thickened. Serve over pasta or the food of your choice.

Serving suggestion: Thin the sauce with enough water or low-sodium chicken broth to make a tasty soup. Throw in some cannellini beans and cooked ditalini (or other small pasta) to make Pasta Fagioli!

Scrambled Eggs
Nothing in the cupboard or fridge to eat? Don’t overlook scrambled eggs. They’re not just for breakfast. Eggs are highly nutritious, packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and choline, a key nutrient needed for brain health. Here’s all you need:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk (or water)

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Whisk eggs, milk (or water), and pepper (and a small dash of salt, if you desire) in a small bowl for a couple of minutes. This helps make the eggs light and fluffy. Add 2 teaspoons of butter to the skillet and allow it to melt. Then, pour in the eggs. Allow the eggs to set slightly, then, using a spatula, gently scrape the eggs from the side of the skillet, folding them into the middle of the pan. Continue this until they are cooked, which will only take a couple of minutes. Don’t overcook!

Serving suggestion: Add eggs to a whole wheat tortilla and sprinkle on chopped red and green pepper and part-skim mozzarella cheese. Top with a dash of salsa or hot sauce.

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