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20 Ways to Shop Smarter, Cook Faster, and Eat Healthier

Save money, time, and calories with this collection of healthy eating tricks and healthy recipes that will have you in and out of the kitchen -- and eating better -- in a snap.

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Dinner 911

Sometimes supper doesn't turn out as planned. Rescue it with these tricks from Top Chef finalist Antonia Lofaso and the Food Network's Ingrid Hoffmann.

  • Scorched brown rice. Transfer to a container with a whole peeled onion. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. The onion will absorb the burned flavor and odor.
  • Too-salty soup. Add one-half to three-fourths cup of liquid to thin it out. Use milk for pureed or cream-based soups like tomato, and unsalted broth or water for clear ones like chicken noodle.
  • Overdressed salad. Toss in some raw baby carrots or broccoli -- they soak up a lot more dressing than greens do.

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It's About Thyme

Prevent your herbs from drooping after a day or two in the fridge: "Put a dry paper towel in the bag with them," suggests Dale Van Sky, executive chef at Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah. "The towel absorbs excess moisture, so the herbs stay fresh for about a week." Use them to increase the flavor and the health benefits of any dish, including steamed carrots and sauteed shrimp.

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Give Rice a Boost

Skip the water and cook rice in juice instead, suggests celebrity chef Todd English. Try carrot, apple, beet, or pomegranate (or combos of them) to add vibrant color plus vitamin A and antioxidants.

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Spread the Health

Naturally More peanut butter contains flaxseed and flaxseed oil, giving you a dose of heart-healthy omega-3s as well as extra fiber and protein. And the taste? Peanut-buttery goodness!


Cost: $3.99 for a one-pound jar, at supermarkets and natural-food stores.

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A New Take on Grains

Quinoa is packed with magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and fiber. Enjoy it in this dish from FITNESS advisory board member Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD.

  • Add 1/4 cup dry quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon curry powder to 1/2 cup boiling water.
  • Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Mix with 1/2 cup shredded carrots, 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, 3 chopped scallions, and 1 cup chickpeas.
  • Serve, and enjoy!

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Build a Better Burger

Use lean ground turkey instead of lean ground beef and you'll save 120 calories and 12.5 grams of fat. For flavor and juiciness, toss in portobello mushrooms, says Marisa Moore, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. Add two chopped mushrooms to each pound of meat, and top with a dollop of yogurt-cucumber dressing. (Mix plain yogurt, chopped onion, and chopped cucumber in a food processor, then add a little dill.)

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Heart-Healthy Soup

When a recipe calls for broth, try Kitchen Basics Unsalted Cooking Stock (available in beef and chicken varieties). Each cup has 150 to 180 milligrams of sodium -- one-fifth that of some other major brands.


Pictured: Chicken Noodle Soup

Get the recipe!

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Slick Trick

Pour olive oil straight from the bottle and it's easy to wind up with 200 or more calories in the pan. To avoid this fat trap, Dean Rucker, executive chef at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California, fills a spray bottle with oil and spritzes the pan once or twice before sauteing meats or vegetables. "I use one-half tablespoon of oil at the most, about 60 calories," he says.

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Smart Swap

Make a healthier chili by skipping the meat and using brown lentils instead, suggests Terry Conlan, executive chef at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas. "They're similar in texture to ground beef," he says. The switcheroo will double the fiber and save you about five grams of saturated fat per bowl.

Click here for more healthy vegetarian recipes and meal ideas!

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Eat Out, Stay Slim

Got dinner reservations? Chew on this: Women who pick their meals in advance make far healthier choices than those who decide on a dish when they sit down to eat, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania. "Look at the menu online and consider your options," says study author Andrew B. Geier, PhD. "You're more likely to order the seared salmon than the fettuccine Alfredo if you select it before you get to the restaurant, when you're not hungry or swept up in the moment."

Get more tips and tricks for dining out on a diet with our restaurant menu guide

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Sweet Surprise

Sweeteners contain antioxidants, but the amount in different types varies significantly, according to a study from Virginia Tech. If you switch to one with a higher level of the protective substances, it could be the equivalent of eating an extra serving of berries daily.


Low in antioxidants

Refined sugar

Corn syrup

Agave nectar


More antioxidants

Maple syrup

Brown sugar

Honey


High in antioxidants

Dark molasses

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Cool Idea

Freeze leftover tomato or pesto sauce in an ice tray. When you need a quick meal, pop out a few cubes, heat, and toss with whole-grain pasta.

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Turn Up the Flavor

Winter tomatoes are typically pale, tasteless imitations of the summer varieties. But now they don't have to be. Try this ingenious trick from Food Network chef Cat Cora to banish blandness and boost the tomatoey essence you crave: Slice tomatoes, toss with a little olive oil, place in a baking dish, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes. Finish by drizzling the tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette or sprinkling with Parmesan cheese and topping with a dash of salt and pepper. Delish!

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More Taste, Less Fat

Give your chicken or fish a low-cal flavor blast with this spicy rub from Ellie Krieger, RD, author of The Food You Crave: Blend 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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Time-Saving Kitchen Essentials

Everyone needs a multitasking kitchen tool -- or three.

  • Progressive Measuring Pasta Colander: Holes along the rim allow you to gauge the portion of uncooked noodles so you don't overdo it ($7.99, leslies-kitchen.com).
  • Kuhn Rikon Vase Whisk: Measure dressing ingredients, blend, and pour on your salad -- and have only one dish to clean ($20, factorydirect2you.com).
  • Breville HealthSmart Steamer: Put rice in the bowl and veggies on one of two trays, set the timer, and dinner's done ($79.95, crateandbarrel.com).

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Clean & Save Money

Toss any food that's past its prime right before you grocery-shop. "When you see what went bad, you'll be less likely to overbuy," says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Feed Your Family Right!

Shop like a pro with our Fit Girl's Grocery Guide

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Yes, You Can Have Cake

Enjoy a slice of your favorite sweet, but skip the frosting, which can easily tack on an extra 140 calories, five grams of fat, and two grams of trans fats, which have been shown to increase belly flab. Instead, make a decorative topping with powdered sugar or cocoa powder using cake stencils from Wilton ($7.99, wilton.com) or Country Kitchen SweetArt ($11 for 10, countrykitchensa.com). It's simple: Just sift, then remove the stencil.

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Quicker Cooking

When you're rushing to get dinner ready, every second counts. Chef Ingrid Hoffmann tells you how to slash five minutes off your prep time.

  • Snip it. Use a pair of scissors to cut turkey bacon, mince herbs, or trim the ends off fresh green beans.
  • Shred it. If you have leftover chicken or pork tenderloin, pull it apart while it's still hot; it'll flake more easily than when it's cold or at room temperature. Store it in the refrigerator for soup or sandwiches later in the week.
  • Leave it. Don't poke holes in your potatoes (sweet or regular spuds) before nuking them and they'll cook three to four minutes faster. (And no, they won't explode all over your microwave!)

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Guilt-Free Dessert

Better Bakes, the first organic (and healthy!) break 'n' bake cookies, contain no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial flavors or colors. And as they're just 70 calories apiece, you can have two ($3.99, Whole Foods Markets).

Satisfy your sweet tooth with our collection of healthy, low-calorie dessert recipes

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A Leaner Lunch

Sometimes a girl's just gotta have red meat. Next time the hankering hits, stop at the deli counter for some roast beef. "It's almost as low-fat as turkey, and you're not going to put more than two or three slices -- or less than 150 calories' worth -- on your sandwich," says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a professor of nutrition at Boston University.


Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2009.

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