He was sure of himself. He was adamant about it. He knew what he wanted and there was no questioning his cooking authority.
"My brother-in-law knew he only liked broccoli and rice if there was a stick of butter in it," said Amber O'Neal, owner of Cafe Physique, a nutrition and fitness training center in Atlanta. "He knew that was the only way it was good."
But, being well-versed in the ways of nutrition, O'Neal knew a whole stick of butter wasn't needed, even if the recipe said it was. So, she omitted it.
"And he said it was the best broccoli and rice he ever had," O'Neal said. "I never told him it didn't have butter."
This, she said, goes to show that the majority of healthy eating is all psychological. When crafting meals at home, there are plenty of simple tricks to reduce the fat and calorie count of recipes without altering the taste.
Especially this time of year, O'Neal see clients striving to live healthier and eat better. Small adjustments to common recipes can make a big difference on the waistline, without drastically changing lifestyles.
"My motto is more for less. Get the most impact out of the littler changes," she said. "The big, life-altering changes are not anything you'll stick with in the long run. But the small changes can become habit forming and gradually lead to a healthier lifestyle."
Don't cut out the cake, she said, just make the cake healthier. How? We're glad you asked. Here are O'Neal's top tips for remaking your favorite recipes:
Use two egg whites for every one egg. With egg-based recipes, like a quiche, or for dipping and coating, like with French toast, use egg substitutes or egg whites.
Instead of coating a pan with oil or butter, use a calorie-free spray or a spray oil.
Change cooking methods. Steam, bake or grill foods instead of frying. "That's an obvious one, but it never hurts to remind people," O'Neal said.
Always opt for lean cuts of red meat. For poultry, pick white meat and always remove the skin.
Use low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream, and low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk. "With low-fat products, they are usually better, but always read the label. Sometimes low-fat versions have more sugar, which means more calories, or more sodium," O'Neal said.
When baking, cut the amount of oil or butter called for in half. "It doesn't change the outcome," she said. Also for baking, switch out sugar for Splenda baking products, which are available in both granulated sugar and brown sugar varieties. Applesauce can be used in place of butter or oil to cut fat and calories in many recipes.
Saute foods with chicken or vegetable stock instead of oil or butter.
Spice up dishes with extra dashes of low- or no-sodium seasonings instead of adding sauces. This works to add flavor without adding calories or fat.
Cheese isn't a diet no-no. But instead of using large amounts of mild cheese, use small amounts of stronger cheese. Low-fat cheese is also preferable to full-fat versions. "A lot of people think they don't like low-fat cheese, but that usually means they haven't tried it recently," O'Neal said. "Low-fat cheeses have come a long way."
Sometimes, the recipe isn't what needs to be changed; it's the portions and the presentation on the plate. Instead of a plate filled with meats and carbs, add more vegetables.
"A lot of people, when you look at their plate, it's three-fourths carbs and meat, one-fourth vegetables, if you're lucky," O'Neal said. "Instead, fill half the plate with fresh vegetables, then do one-fourth meat, one-fourth carbs. It's not that you can't have the steak and potato. Just balance it out and get the right portions. You don't have to change what you eat, just change how you are eating it."