Healthy Advice From the World’s Top Chefs, Cooks and Authors

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Advice From the World’s Top , Cooks and Authors

What would you say are the most perfect healthy food and your simplest healthy meal?
Chef Cary Neff, author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2005)

Miso Soup with tofu, wakame and julienne vegetables. Its high temperature forces the diner to slow down, to enjoy, to take notice of the nutritious sea vegetables and the interesting contrasting textures of the sea vegetables, tofu and vegetable julienne. It’s super simple to make and a wonderful example of healthfulness and mindful eating. The simplest healthy meal is chicken soup. Just make a quick and easy stock from bone-in, skinless chicken breasts, fresh or frozen vegetables, vegetable stock or filtered water, fresh herbs and brown rice.

What’s your favorite healthy food?

Heidi Swanson, a San Francisco-based cookbook author, photographer and creator of 101 Cookbooks (

I love beans. They come in a beautiful range of colors, textures and sizes. I’ve cooked my way through the whole Rancho Gordo collection over the past couple years ( It’s a great place to go for bean inspiration.

How do you create your healthy recipes?

Norene Gilletz, chef and author of Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Whitecap Books, 2007) (

I start with recipes that are family favorites, then use simple techniques to modify them and make them healthier.

When baking, I use fruit purees, such as applesauce or pureed prunes, to replace part of the fat. I replace part or all of the flour with whole-wheat flour, finely ground rolled oats or ground almonds. Sometimes I add wheat germ or flaxseed. I use canola oil or soft tub margarine in my baked goods rather than butter. I try to incorporate fruit into many of my desserts. And I love chocolate, but I keep portions small, saving the chocolates for a special treat. (You know that chocolate comes from the cocoa bean — and everyone knows that beans are good for you!)

In , I use small amounts of olive oil, nonstick cookware and nonstick spray. I add lots of vegetables and some lean protein to my pasta, rice (brown or basmati) or whole-grain dishes to add fiber, flavor and volume. I also like to use fresh herbs whenever possible. And I make lots of hearty fiber-filled soups with lentils or beans and barley, plus lots of veggies. Fiber makes you feel full, and soup is a terrific way to help control hunger.

What is your favorite healthy ingredient?

Chef Billy Strynkowski, executive chef for Cooking Light magazine

Sauces are a great way to liven up even the blandest of meals. I always keep a supply of flavored mustards, flavored vinegars, fresh herbs and fresh citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits -­ for the zest, pulp and juice). Add those to any base, and you’ve made a restaurant-worthy glaze.

What’s the simplest healthy meal you know how to prepare?

Chef Dean Rucker, executive chef of the Golden Door spa and author of Golden Door Cooks at Home (Random House, 2009)

Vegetable fried rice. I do it at home all the time for a quick meal. All you need are garlic, ginger, scallions, mushrooms, shredded cabbage, one or two egg whites, a few cups of leftover steamed rice, low-sodium soy sauce and a hot sauté pan with a few teaspoons of grape seed or peanut oil. In 10 minutes or less, you’re eating. You can also add whatever vegetables or lean meat you may have on hand.

What are some time-saving strategies for getting healthy fresh foods on the table quickly?

Robin Miller ( is host of Food Network’s Quick Fix Meals, and author of the best-selling cookbook Quick Fix Meals (Taunton, 2007)

As a mom of a very busy family, I know how challenging it is to fit a family dinner into a jam-packed, busy schedule. I want to serve something that is well-balanced and nutritious, but I also want to make something that can be ready in no time. The following time-saving tips have really helped me get food on the table super fast and avoid the 6 o’clock dinnertime scramble.

Quick Fix Stash
You can assemble a home-cooked meal in just minutes if you plan ahead and have your own “quick fix stash” of stored food. I like stocking up on items like bottled sauces, frozen chopped vegetables and fruits and precooked, recipe-ready protein, all of which will help to dramatically cut down on prep time.

Bank a Batch
Keeping extra meals in your freezer or refrigerator “bank” to withdraw as necessary is a simple solution for even the busiest of days. When I make a dish, I cook double the required servings and stash the rest in my freezer or fridge for another day. That way, when I’m starved for time and my boys are just starved, I can pull out a dinner from my stash, pop it in the microwave and have a delicious dish on the table in minutes.

Prep Your Produce
I always prepare for a busy week by chopping and prepping my produce on the weekends. I chop onions, carrots, bell peppers and celery for salads, soups and stews, and I cut up pears, apples, oranges and grapes for a healthy fruit side salad to serve with dinner. Chopping and prepping produce up to four days in advance and throwing it in the fridge is a simple step that’s a serious time-saver.

Are there tricks to cooking healthfully?

Pam Anderson, chef and author of The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)

Use evaporated and 2 percent evaporated milk in place of heavy cream. Instead of butter, whisk a little cornstarch dissolved in water into pan sauces to give them body. Substitute one egg and 1/4 cup of liquid egg whites for two whole eggs in omelets and crustless quiches. Drizzle or sprinkle sweeteners over foods rather than stirring them in. (They taste sweeter that way, so you can get away with using less.)

What are the top three healthy food concepts you’ve learned in the last 20 years?

Mollie Katzen, chef and one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. She’s best known for the groundbreaking classics Moosewood Cookbook, and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (

1) “Low-fat” is a misguided concept. Some fat is very good for you, and you should go out of your way to eat it. (Nuts, especially walnuts; olive oil; avocados; seeds from pumpkins and sunflowers.) Don’t count total fat or grams of fat. Lumping all fat together is meaningless.

2) Instead of beating yourself up trying to be all healthy all the time, cut yourself some slack with “The 80-20 Rule,” meaning that if you can eat good, healthy food 80 percent of the time, you can let yourself have whatever you want the other 20 percent of the time, and all will be well. Here’s the bigger message: We don’t have to draw a line in the sand with no-fun, “healthy” eating on one side and fun, delicious eating, which we assume is “bad for us,” on the other. That line can go away altogether. Healthy eating can be delicious, and vice versa. No “on” or “off” switch needed.

3) Drink plenty of water and cold (or hot) herbal tea. Don’t get your calories from your beverages. They can really add up, and all you’ll have gotten from the experience is a zero-nutrition weight gain. Often we think we’re hungry when what we really are is thirsty. So if you feel a drop in energy between meals, drink before you eat. Your energy will likely come back because you really just needed hydration. Drinking will make you healthier all around and help you to eat less.

What’s the most important factor in getting your kids to eat healthfully?

Liz Edmunds ( is author of The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner, (Palmer/Pletsch, 2008)

Eating at home at least five nights a week is a big part of eating healthfully. A variety of home-cooked foods on a consistent basis is much more healthful than all the other alternatives. When kids are presented with a variety of foods every night from a young age, they learn to eat a variety of foods rather than resorting to unhealthful choices because “that’s all there is.”

What are some great general tips for cooking healthy and quickly?

Brenda J. Ponichtera, RD, author of Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas and Quick & Healthy Volume II (


  • Buy partially prepared foods such as cleaned lettuce, stir-fry vegetables, dried onion, chopped garlic.
  • Use a salad spinner when cleaning whole heads of lettuce.
  • Use local vegetables and fruits in season — they often taste better than those shipped in and preparation is easy. Just serve raw or microwave.
  • Have ingredients on hand in a well-stocked pantry and freezer.
  • Plan ahead — do menus and prepare a grocery list.
  • Collect healthy recipes that are quick and that your family will enjoy.
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