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Video: Tips to slim down and save money

updated 1/5/2010 10:32:29 AM ET 2010-01-05T15:32:29

Forget dieting. Forget joining a gym. Forget ads for the Ab-inator device you saw on QVC. If you really, truly want to lose weight, there is no quicker way to shave pounds off your body — and dollars off your food bill — than to cook more at home. That’s what our newest book, “Cook This, Not That!”, will teach you how to do. Use the simple guide below for a taste of how you can turn the expensive, unhealthy foods at America’s restaurants into fat-blasting superfoods. The best part: The “Cook This, Not That!” versions of these dishes taste better, too!

1. Chicken Fingers
Average calories in restaurant chicken fingers: 1,100
Caloric equivalent: 22 Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Munchkins

Cook This! Instead:

Recipe: Chicken Fingers with Chipotle-Honey (on this page)
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2. Turkey Sandwich
Average calories in a restaurant turkey sandwich: 850
Caloric equivalent: 13 “fun-size” 3 Musketeers bars

Cook This! Instead:

Recipe: Turkey Sandwich with Guacamole and Bacon (on this page)

3. Lasagna
Average calories in restaurant lasagna: 750
Caloric equivalent: More than 8 fried eggs

Cook This! Instead:

Recipe: Hearty Lasagna (on this page)

4. Fish Tacos
Average calories in restaurant fish tacos: 1,250
Caloric equivalent: 2.5 McRib Sandwiches from McDonald's

Cook This! Instead:

Recipe: Grilled Fish Tacos (on this page)

The perfect kitchen
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these five simple staples. They’ll help you instantly improve your diet — and your health.

Low sodium soy sauce 
Calories aren't the issue with soy sauce; it's sodium. Choosing a lighter version can save you up to 500 milligrams (mg) sodium per serving.

We like: Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce (1 Tbsp)
10 calories
0 g fat
575 mg sodium

Dark chocolate
Eating chocolate in moderation isn’t a dietary death sentence, it’s actually surprisingly good for your health — as long as the chocolate contains at least 60 percent cocoa. That’s because chocolate is packed with antioxidants.

We like: Hershey’s Special Dark (1 bar)
180 calories
12 g fat (8 g saturated)
21 g sugars

Extra-virgin olive oil
When choosing vegetable oil, you want to select the one with the highest ratio of monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats. Here’s a shortcut: In this category, olive oil outperforms the other bottles on the shelf. That’s because nearly 75 percent of its fat content is monounsaturated. (Soybean oil has less than 25 percent monounsaturated fat.)

We like: Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1 Tbsp)
120 calories
14 g fat (2 g saturated)

Canola oil
When choosing vegetable oil, you want to select the one with a high ratio of monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats. Here’s a shortcut: In this category, olive oil outperforms the other bottles on the shelf (with about 75 percent monounsaturated fat content) — but canola oil is nearly as good, with monounsaturated fats accounting for 2/3 of the total fat. And an extra benefit of canola oil? It’s about a quarter the price of EVOO.

We like: Wesson 100% Natural Canola Oil (1 Tbsp)
120 calories
14 g fat (1 g saturated)
0 g sodium

Low-fat/organic dressing
Certain dressings are only a small step above mayonnaise (think: ranch). You wouldn't dress your salad with mayo, right? A great dressing will pack spice and tang without hitting a calorie danger zone.

We like: Annie's Naturals Organic Buttermilk (2 Tbsp)
60 calories
6 g fat (1 g saturated)
230 mg sodium

Organic quinoa
Swap quinoa for brown rice, and you're earning yourself almost double the protein and about eight times as much fiber. Quinoa also delivers more flavor and cooks almost twice as fast.

We like: Bob's Red Mill Organic Quinoa (1/2 cup)
170 calories
2.5 g fat
2 mg sodium

Natural peanut butter 
It may seem backward, but when it comes to peanut butter, choose the kind with the most fat. Natural varieties are made from nothing but peanuts and salt, but many commercial brands contain hydrogenated oils and corn syrup. Choose an all-natural product, and you’ll trade the bad stuff for more healthy fat.

We like: Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter, Creamy (2 Tbsp)
200 calories
16 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
90 mg sodium

Recipe: Chicken Fingers with Chipotle-Honey

Eat restaurant chicken fingers with one of their special sauces and you could be downing nearly a full day's worth of calories. Make the switch to this homemade, oven-fried version once a week instead, and you could shed 25 pounds (and cut out 210,080 mg of sodium) in a year.

250 calories/1.5 g fat (0 g saturated)/ 350 mg sodium

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp chipotle pepper puree
  • 1 Tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the egg whites in a shallow bowl. Place the crumbs on a plate and season those, too. Dip the chicken tenders into the egg, then toss them in the crumbs, being sure to coat fully.

Place the breaded chicken pieces on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the crumbs have browned and the chicken is firm.

Combine the mustard, chipotle, and honey in a large bowl. Toss the cooked chicken tenders in the mixture so they are all evenly coated with the spicy-sweet sauce.

Serving Size

Makes 4 servings / Cost per serving: $2

Recipe: Turkey Sandwich with Guacamole and Bacon

Swapping in the guac for mayo not only shaves 70 to 100 calories from your sandwich, but also replaces low-quality fats with healthy monounsaturated ones.

430 calories/ 13 g fat (4 g saturated)/ 1,070 mg sodium

  • 1 baguette
  • 12 oz sliced turkey
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • Pickled jalapeños
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup guacamole

Preheat the broiler. Carefully slice the baguette in half horizontally and place on a large baking sheet. Layer the turkey and cheese on the bottom half of the bread.

Place the sheet in the oven 6" below the broiler. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese has just melted and both halves of the bread are hot, but not too brown and crunchy.

Remove from the oven, and then layer the tomato, onion, jalapeños, and bacon on top of the turkey. Spread the top half of the baguette with the guacamole. Slice the baguette into 4 individual sandwiches and serve.

Serving Size

Makes 4 servings / Cost per serving: $3.54

Recipe: Hearty Lasagna

Using low-fat ricotta sauce and lean chicken sausage makes this "hearty" — not heart-attack inducing. In the wrong hands, lasagna turns into a soupy, oily, hypercaloric mess. But not our version.

430 calories/ 13 g fat (4.5 g saturated)/ 810 mg sodium

  • 1 container (15 oz) part-skim ricotta
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 links precooked chicken sausage, diced (we love Al Fresco Sundried Tomato and Basil)
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups Muir Glen Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
  • 8 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Mix the ricotta, basil, sausage, milk, garlic, pepper flakes, and salt.
Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an 8" × 8" baking dish. Lay 2 noodles over the sauce; cover with one-fourth of the ricotta mixture and another 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce. Repeat with noodles, cheese mixture, and sauce twice more. Top with a last layer of pasta, the remaining ricotta mixture and sauce, and Parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes, until the top is golden. (Note: This recipe is good for a big crowd and very easy to double up on.)

Serving Size

Makes 4 servings / Cost per serving: $3.50

Recipe: Grilled Fish Tacos

For our version of fish tacos, we wanted to ditch the frying oil and mayo but maintain the flavor, so we subbed a spicy blackening seasoning and a nutrient-rich mango-avocado salsa, which cuts the heat and pairs perfectly with the fish. This salsa would make gardening gloves taste good.

380 calories/ 11 g fat (2 g saturated)/ 240 mg sodium

  • 1 mango, peeled, pitted, and cubed
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for garnish
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Canola oil
  • 2 large mahimahi fillets (1 1/2 lb total)
  • 1 Tbsp blackening spice
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups red cabbage, finely shredded

Mix the mango, avocado, onion, and the juice of 1 lime in a bowl. Season with cilantro, salt, and pepper.

Heat a grill or stovetop grill pan until hot. Drizzle a light coating of oil over the fish and rub on the blackening spice. Cook the fish, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula and cook for another 4 minutes. Remove.

Warm the tortillas on the grill for 1 to 2 minutes, or wrap in damp paper towels and microwave for 1 minute until warm and pliable.

Break the fish into chunks and divide among the warm tortillas. Top with the cabbage and mango salsa. Serve with the lime wedges.

Serving Size

Makes 4 servings / Cost per serving: $2.97


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