Burgers and Tacos and Cookies, Oh My!

By: Summer Brons

“It’s a good thing you run so much, otherwise you’d probably gain a lot of weight,” my friends often joke when they hear that I’ve just sat down with a cheeseburger or am baking a second batch of cookies for the week. While it’s true that certain foods are often associated with a less-than-healthy lifestyle, I pride myself on being able to effectively modify most “bad” meals to accommodate my sensible eating habits – even when all I can think about is a huge plate of nachos.

Since it’s the holidays and I find myself in a semi-giving spirit, I’m going to share a few of my tips. Gather round, friends…

The tormentor:

Cheeseburger.

The temptation of a big hunk of juicy beef, oozing cheese and a gourmet bun with all the right fixings can be awfully hard to ignore when the craving for a really good burger strikes.

My solution:

1)  Extra-lean ground beef. I never buy beef that is more than 10% fat. I prefer 7-8%, or even 4% when I can find it. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than your standard pound of ground chuck, but it’s still cost-effective versus a restaurant burger and you get to control your calories. I promise you that a 90/10 beef patty is still just as juicy and flavorful as the real deal. Season to your liking, cook as desired and thank me later.

2) Part-skim cheese. Although I do often buy cheeses made with 2% milk instead of the full-fat variety, cheese is one of my most favorite foods and quite often worth the splurge, as far as I’m concerned. But, you can easily shave a few extra fat grams from your burger by using a reduced-fat variety. Just, at the very least, do yourself the dignity of avoiding that processed, plastic-flavored, individually wrapped fake “cheese.”

3) Toppings. I’m not much of a condiment girl, never have been. Mayonnaise physically repulses me and I’ve never understood the desire to put salad dressings (such as ranch or thousand island) on a burger, so avoiding fatty add-ons is no problem over here. But if you’re a fan of such things, try instead choosing lower-cal, no-fat options like ketchup, mustard, or barbeque sauce. You can also add flavor and texture with veggies like onions, avocados, or tomatoes.

4) Nice buns, babe. There’s a plethora of low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat, whatever-low-you-want bread options on grocery store shelves these days, so snag a bun that suits your dietary goals and slap that extra-lean patty right between ’em. Try toasting or grilling the breadstuff if you feel like you might be bored with it otherwise.

The tormentor:

Tacos.

Who doesn’t love taco night? Enough said.

My solution:

1) Again with the beef. Same deal as with my cheeseburgers, I buy extra-lean beef. Particularly for taco purposes when I know the meat will be heavily seasoned, I’ll really try to seek out a package of 4% fat. For those who may be concerned about the meat tasting dry or tough; I’ve never shared any of my taco concoctions with anyone who noticed a single thing about the beef. Trust me, you WON’T know the difference. Or, as an alternative, have chicken! Diced or shredded and generously seasoned chicken can make for some awesome tacos.

2) Again with the cheese. Grab some shredded 2% or grate up your favorite block of the good stuff.

3) Try fresh salsa or hot sauce for added flavor.  Go easy on the guacamole and swap out full-fat sour cream for reduced or fat-free varieties.

4) Same as with hamburger buns, there are plenty of low-carb, low-fat tortilla shells available. If you can’t have taco night without a crunchy taco, just employ a sense of moderation and go for it. If you normally eat three tacos, replace two of your crunchy shells with soft ones instead and get all the satisfaction without the guilt.

The tormentor:

Nachos.

Cousin of the taco, delicious platter of cheesy heaven; whatever your favorite nickname for nachos is, just know that they don’t have to be a total gut-bomb.

My solution:

1) At the risk of sounding like a broken record, please see line items 1 and 2 of the previous solutions.

2) Use baked chips instead of typical oil-soaked variety. Get creative with your chip selection – just because you’re eating nachos doesn’t mean you have to use tortilla chips. Poke around the health foods section of your preferred grocer and see what you can find if nothing on the standard chip aisle appeals to you. Fun fact: I absolutely love using Sunchips for nachos.

The tormentor:

Cookies. Do I really need to elaborate?

My solution:

1) Ditch the butter or oil in favor of applesauce. Although they sound worlds apart, applesauce makes a wonderful replacement for high-fat ingredients. If your cookie recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of butter, just dump in a 1/2 cup of applesauce instead, it’s that simple. You can also use yogurt or a combination of the two. The resulting texture will be different from that of a butter cookie (more muffin-y, cake-like), but the flavor will be just as tasty.

2) Use packaged cookie mixes. These are much faster to prepare (and require less clean-up!) than measuring out individual ingredients for a batch of cookies. They generally only require the addition of an egg and some butter or oil (which you’re going to replace with applesauce, right?).  If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll toss some white chocolate, butterscotch, or semi-sweet chocolate chips into the mix.  Again, moderation is key.  Don’t dump an entire package of chips in your cookie mix, just sprinkle in a handful for a little extra treat without undoing all of your good intentions.

I could go on all night with examples, but you should have the hang of things by now! Just a few simple ingredient exchanges can make all the difference in turning a questionable food choice into a great idea.

When it comes to healthy cooking tips, what are some of your own favorites?

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