Try Some Heart-healthy Cooking Tips During February, American Heart Month

Photo courtesy of (DSC_0056_MorgueFile.jpg by imelenchon)

“Mom, do you think in the future we’ll have food disks?” my son asked as he helped set the table for dinner. He was in elementary school at the time.

“What’s a food disk?” I asked, intrigued by his suggestion.

“Oh, it would be something that would fill you up fast. Wouldn’t that be useful? You could have things such as noodle disks and chocolate disks. The disks would be healthy, too,” he quickly added.

“That sounds quick, but not very tasty. Do you think eating dinner is a waste of time?” I teased.

“No, not really,” he said a little sheepishly.

“Eating is a source of enjoyment, too. It’s not all about nutrition,” I noted.

He nodded in agreement and continued setting the table.

Maybe the characters on his fast-paced video games live on quick and easy food disks, I thought to myself. Then the characters don’t have to stop playing to set the table.

I’m sure many people have thought about all the time that goes into food preparation and cleanup. In a short time, your family is hungry again and back in your clean kitchen.

Preparing healthful meals and eating with others is worth your time on many levels. People who eat “family meals” eat a more healthful diet that’s lower in fat and saturated fat and higher in fruits and vegetables. That’s good news for your heart.

During February, American Heart Month, take steps to respect your hardworking heart. Some research has shown that heart disease can begin in childhood. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women.

As a first step to a healthier heart, consider your food preparation methods and recipes. Is it time to set some goals to eat less saturated fat and trans fat and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables? Which of these heart-healthy cooking tips do you use?

  • Steam, boil, bake or microwave vegetables rather than fry. Or stir-fry vegetables in a small amount of vegetable oil.
  • Season vegetables with herbs and spices instead of fatty sauces, butter or margarine.
  • Try flavored vinegars or lemon juice on salads or use smaller servings of oil-based or low-fat salad dressings.
  • Use vegetable oil in place of solid shortening, margarine and butter whenever possible. Try using less oil than shortening in baked products.
  • Try whole-grain flours to enhance flavors of baked goods.
  • Replace whole milk with low-fat or skim milk in puddings, soups and baked products.
  • Substitute plain, low-fat yogurt or blender-whipped low-fat cottage cheese for sour cream or mayonnaise.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim fat from meat before and/or after cooking. Remove skin from poultry before or after cooking.
  • Roast, bake, broil or simmer meat, poultry or fish rather than fry.
  • Cook meat or poultry on a rack so the fat will drain. Use a nonstick pan for cooking so added fat is unnecessary.
  • Chill meat or poultry broth until the fat becomes solid. Spoon off the fat before using the broth.
  • To lower fat and cholesterol, try substituting egg whites in recipes calling for whole eggs. Use two egg whites in place of each whole egg in muffins, cookies and puddings.

As I was pondering the concept of my son’s ideas about “healthy food disks” for dinner, pancakes came to mind. Here’s an easy recipe featuring apples from the “Kids a Cookin” program at Kansas State University. Apples are a good source of heart-healthy soluble fiber. You’ve heard about an apple a day, right?

Apple Pancakes

1 Granny Smith apple
1 1/4 c. any type pancake mix
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg
2 tsp. canola oil
1 c. low-fat milk

Lightly coat a griddle or skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Peel, core and thinly slice apple into rings. In a large mixing bowl, combine ingredients for pancake batter. Stir until ingredients are evenly moist. (Small lumps are OK! Overmixing makes pancakes tough.) For each pancake, place an apple ring on the griddle and pour about 1/4 cup batter over an apple ring, starting in the center and covering the apple. Cook until bubbles appear. Turn and cook other side until lightly brown.

Makes six servings (two pancakes each). Each serving has 160 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat, 24 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of fiber.