Skip Navigation

Healthy Cooking & Shopping Tips

September 2009

Karen Ensle, Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Eating healthy food doesn’t mean giving up your favorite foods and switching only to salads. Healthy cooking can be easy…. and fun! In many cases, existing recipes can be modified to provide a healthier alternative. Try these “small steps” to eat healthier each day:

Keep Fats to a Minimum

Minimize ‘hidden fats’ by choosing lean meats and reduced-fat dairy products. Many processed foods have hidden fats. The best fats are those that come from unrefined, natural fats in the form of oils found in nuts, seeds, fish, soy, olives, and avocados. If you add fats when cooking, keep the amounts as small as possible.

Choose Wisely at the Supermarket

  • Choose low fat versions of foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, salad dressings, and sauces.
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat. If you are unsure, look for a “heart healthy” or other “health” label.
  • Choose to buy and prepare smaller food portions for your family.

Eat Healthy Food

  • Steam, bake, grill, braise, boil, or microwave foods.
  • Modify or eliminate recipes that include butter, deep frying, or cooking in animal fat.
  • Avoid using oils and butter as lubricants. Use non-stick cookware instead.
  • Add salt to food after it is cooked.
  • Remove chicken skin, which is high in fat, before you consume it.
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and legumes.
  • Eat more fish, which includes essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Practice Low-Fat Cooking

  • Use cooking sprays or apply oil with a pastry brush to use less.
  • Cook in liquids such as stock, wine, lemon juice, fruit juice, vinegar, or water.
  • When a recipe requires cream as a thickener, use low fat yogurt, low fat soymilk, evaporated skim milk, or cornstarch.
  • When browning vegetables, put them in a hot pan and then spray with oil. This reduces the amount of oil that vegetables (such as mushrooms) can absorb during cooking.
  • When serving meat and fish, use pesto, salsas, chutneys, and vinegars in place of sour creams, butter, and creamy sauces.

Retain Nutrients

  • Water soluble vitamins are delicate and easily destroyed during preparation and cooking.
  • Scrub vegetables, rather than peeling them, as many nutrients are found close to the skin.
  • Microwave or steam vegetables instead of boiling them.
  • Use a small amount of water to cook vegetables and do not overcook them.
  • Include more stir-fry recipes in your diet. Stir-fried vegetables are cooked in a very small amount of oil quickly to retain their crunch and nutrients.

Get Information and Answers

  • Ask a Family and Community Health Sciences Educator or registered dietitian. Contact Rutgers Cooperative Extension at or the American Dietetic Association at
  • Review Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ monthly health messages to keep yourself updated on ways to make small changes that will impact your overall health.