Want to know why obesity is so rare among serious chefs? Think about it: These are the people on the front line of the food crusade. By all logic, they should be huge. But they’re not, and the reason is simple: They eat real food. While the rest of America is trying to lose weight with pantries full of rice cakes and Reduced Fat Oreos, these guys and gals are feasting on grilled sirloin and produce-studded pasta dishes.
So why not leave the cooking to them? Because unfortunately, what we see served up in the average American restaurant shares little in common with the wholesome meals trained chefs are building in their home kitchens. You walk into a chain steakhouse or Italian joint and you’re facing a meal that has been prepared by cooks, not chefs, and most of the actual processing took place in some inconspicuously low-slung building several states removed from the booth where you’re eating it. That might be good for the restaurant’s bottom line, but with excessive loads of fat and sodium picked up in transit, it bodes quite poorly for your love handles.
That’s why we developed “Cook This, Not That!,” to inspire your inner chef while saving you cash and giving the boot to surreptitious calorie bombs. Losing weight is far easier than you’ve been led to believe, and it starts in your own kitchen, by using the same ingredients real chefs have relied on since the dawn of the spatula. Your ultimate weight-loss plan begins here.
IHOP Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes with Cinnamon Apple Compote1060 calories
51.5 g fat (13 g saturated)
50 g sugars
Cook this instead: Oatmeal pancakes with cinnamon apples260 calories
6 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
19 g sugars
($0.63 per serving)
Banish the Bisquick! The ubiquitous dry mix is fine in a pinch, but if you could make healthier, more delicious pancakes by spending an extra 2 minutes at the mixing bowl, why wouldn’t you? Oats and wheat flour give these pancakes a fiber and protein boost, helping stabilize your blood sugar levels as your body absorbs the rush of carbs that comes with a stack of flapjacks.You’ll need:
1 ½ cups buttermilk¾ cup instant rolled oats¾ cup whole-wheat flour2 Tbsps milk1 Tbsp melted butter1 ½ tsps baking powder½ tsp baking sodaPinch of cinnamon, plus 1/8 tsp for the applesPinch of nutmeg1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped½ cup apple juice2 Tbsps brown sugarButter or cooking sprayConfectioner’s sugar
How to make it: In a large mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, oats, flour, milk, butter, baking powder, baking soda, pinch of cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to gently combine, then set aside to rest for a few minutes.
Combine the apple, apple juice, brown sugar, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the apple has softened and the liquid has thickened.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Heat a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Adding a bit of butter or cooking spray before each round, scoop ¼-cup portions of batter into the skillet and use a spatula to spread into thin, even circles. Cook until small bubbles form in the top of the batter, 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Keep pancakes warm in the oven while you finish cooking. Serve topped with the warm apples and a bit of confectioner’s sugar, if you like.Total savings: 800 calories and $7.36!Lunch
Cheesecake Factory Grilled Cheese1,050 calories
31 g saturated fat
1,714 mg sodium
Cook this instead: Grilled cheese with sauteed mushrooms340 calories
12 g fat (6 g saturated)
570 mg sodium
(Price: $2.39 per serving)
Grilled cheese is one of those foods that rarely lives up to its potential. It can easily be made to seem more indulgent than it is, but to get it there, you have to balance the cheese and butter with other big-flavor ingredients. That’s not at all what’s happening with this version from Cheesecake Factory. This thing is built on reckless amounts of cheese and butter — hence the day-and-a-half’s worth of saturated fat. For ours, we take a different approach.
½ Tbsp olive oil2 cups cremini mushrooms, slicedSalt and black pepper to taste8 slices rye bread2 cups shredded Swiss cheese1 cup Caramelized Onions (buy the book for our special recipe!)½ Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)2 Tbsps softened butter
How to make it: Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 6 minutes, until nicely caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.
Lay out four slices of the rye bread on a cutting board. Top with half the Swiss, then the onions and mushrooms. Add the thyme (if using) and the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining slices of rye. Spread the softened butter on both sides of the sandwiches.
Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sandwiches, working in batches if you must, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until fully toasted and golden brown.
(Makes 4 sandwiches)
Total savings: 710 calories and $6.34!Dinner
Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo 1,220 calories
75 g fat (47 g saturated)
1,350 mg sodium
Cook this instead: Red pepper Alfredo390 calories
12 g fat (7 g saturated)
730 mg sodium
(Price: $1.49 per serving)
Fettuccine Alfredo, in its purest form, is nothing more than pasta, butter, and Parmesan cheese. It’s far from a paradigm of sound nutrition, but considerably better than the pasta that appears on American menus the country over: a thick sludge of reduced heavy cream and a heap of noodles that, when combined, will chew up a full day of fat and the better part of your 24-hour caloric allowance. This version starts with a béchamel sauce, then blends that with roasted red peppers to make for a lighter, brighter, better Alfredo — for a quarter of the calories.
10 oz dried fettuccine1 ½ Tbsps butter1 ½ Tbsps flour1 cup milk½ cup half-and-half¾ cup chopped bottled roasted red peppers2 cloves garlic, halved½ cup grated ParmesanSalt and black pepper to taste
How to make it: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (usually about 30 seconds to a minute less than the package instructions recommend).
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute, until the two are fully incorporated. Slowly add the milk and half-and-half, whisking to help prevent lumps from forming. Add the red pepper and garlic. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth and uniform in color. Return to the pan and stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the pasta is done cooking.
Drain the pasta and add directly to the saucepan. Toss to coat evenly. Divide among 4 warm bowls or plates.
(Makes 4 servings)
Total savings: 830 calories and $10.01!Dessert
Baskin-Robbins Classic Banana Split1,010 calories
34 g fat (20 g saturated)
125 g sugars
Cook this instead: Sundae with grilled pineapple and rum sauce290 calories
11 g fat (7 g saturated)
35 g sugars
(Price: $1.10 per serving)
The banana may be the sundae fruit vessel of choice, but the standard split formula — one banana, three scoops ice cream — is a disastrous recipe for the discerning eater. Pineapple, on the other hand, holds one good scoop of ice cream perfectly, and its kick of sweetness and acidity — which is only intensified when it’s grilled — matches nicely with the creamy vanilla. Add a swirl of rum sauce and some toasted coconut and it’s like having a pina colada, minus the hangover.More from Men’s Health
- Get Cook This, Not That! 350 Calorie Meals
- 20 Salads Worse Than a Whopper
- The 20 Worst Foods in America
- 30 New Sandwich Swaps
4 (1/2”-thick) slices fresh pineapple, core removed1 Tbsp butter2 Tbsps brown sugar2 Tbsps dark rum1 tsp vanilla extract2 cups vanilla ice cream2 Tbsps shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
How to make it: Heat a grill, grill pan, or large saute pan over medium heat (using a small pat of butter in the saute pan). Cook the pineapple rings for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until caramelized all over.
Cook the butter, brown sugar, rum, and vanilla in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar fully melts and the sauce is a uniform dark brown. Keep warm.
Place one slice of pineapple on each of 4 small plates. Top with a scoop of ice cream, drizzle on the rum sauce, then finish with the toasted coconut.
(Makes 4 servings)
Total savings: 720 calories and $5.25!Total savings for entire day: 3,060 calories and $28.96!
Caloric equivalent: 18 Crunchy Taco Bell tacos!