12 Ways to Upgrade Mom’s Kitchen Skills and Help Her Eat Better

by | May 1, 2013

Photo by x-ray delta one

Moms are wonderful. But as Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded once again that my parents’ generation didn’t do the greatest job of equipping us to feed ourselves healthy foods.

Of course this isn’t exactly their fault. The food industry tried their best to ensure that we all became dependent on frozen foods and ready-made meals. Fortunately we now know enough to reverse a lot of these trends, but developing new habits can be more difficult as we get older.

The good news is that it isn’t too late for Mom. This year let one of your Mother’s Day gifts be to help make her life easier and improve her nutrition by sharing some of these kitchen upgrades. And if you’re really serious about this stuff, a copy of Foodist makes a wonderful Mother’s Day gift as well (wink, wink).

12 Ways to Upgrade Mom’s Kitchen Skills

1. Sautée instead of steam

Probably the most common way vegetables are ruined in the kitchen is the steam basket. Almost everything tastes better and is healthier when cooked in a little olive oil. Don’t forget to sprinkle your veggies with a little sea salt and toss some minced garlic in toward the end. It’s not much more work and it tastes way better, so you’ll happily eat those veggies.

2. Spring greens instead of ice burg or romaine lettuces

While I have nothing against either of the latter two greens from a flavor perspective (particularly when they are organically grown and fresh picked), the industrial varieties you typically find at the grocery store are rather uninspiring. For an easy upgrade, recommend that your parents grab the box of mixed spring greens instead. These have become easier to find, and if nothing else you’ll be getting a wider range of nutrients from a mixed greens bag rather than a single lettuce varietal.

3. Olive oil instead of margarine

At some point we all became convinced that butter was bad and we should use margarine instead, and many people still do. We eventually learned that margarine was made from highly processed hydrogenated oils that drastically increase the risk of heart disease, and that butter was actually better. However, I avoid common industrial butters because of the hormones and antibiotics used in the livestock (I actually get breakouts if I eat industrial dairy). Grass-fed butter is a nice alternative, but can be expensive and difficult to find. Olive oil is a great option and my go-to choice for most cooking.

4. Tongs instead of a spatula

This discovery revolutionized my experience in the kitchen. Get your mom a pair of 12-inch silicone tipped tongs and you’ll stop having to watch as carrots and zucchini slices fly out of the pan. Cooking vegetables has never been easier.

5. Quinoa instead of rice

I like rice, but it’s easy to forget there are other grains out there. Quinoa is very nutrient dense, and cooks up much faster than traditional rice. Just boil for 15-20 minutes and strain. Easy peasy.

6. Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

I think chocolate makes an excellent gift for anyone, especially Mom. Make this year’s gift even more luxurious by springing for the fancy dark chocolate varieties instead of the more common milk chocolates. Dark chocolate has far more of the healthy polyphenols and other antioxidants that improve health, and also has less sugar. If you get the good stuff it shouldn’t be bitter at all, it should be divine.

7. Look at ingredients instead of fat grams

For the longest time dietary fat was the boogeyman and many people still check labels religiously to see how much fat a food contains. This is pointless. Fat itself is not innately bad for you. To determine the healthfulness of a packaged food you and your mom are better off looking at the list of ingredients. The more the ingredients sound like real foods instead of chemicals, and the fewer of them that are added sugars, the better. Here’s more on how to decipher food labels.

8. Plain yogurt instead of frooty yogurt

Fruit yogurt sounds healthy, but it usually isn’t. Check the ingredients. If the yogurt contains more than milk, live bacterial cultures and fruit, something is amiss. You’re probably better off buying plain yogurt and adding fruit yourself.

9. Homemade salad dressing instead of bottled

Salad dressing is one of the easiest things to make. Just mix olive oil and some vinegar with a little salt and pepper. Feel free to get fancy by adding chives or stirring in a little Dijon mustard or miso paste, but those aren’t necessary. Check the ingredients, pre-made salad dressings tend to be some of the most egregious offenders.

10. Kale chips instead of potato chips

People love their chips. If mom just can’t give up the crunch of her afternoon snack, see if she’ll replace her potato or tortilla chips with kale chips. She may need to experiment with different brands (I’m a fan of Alive & Radiant Foods), but in my experience kale chips are some of the best tasting items in the “health foods” aisle.

11. Sparkling water instead of soda

If water seems too boring to have with a meal or as a mid-afternoon refresher, try getting in the habit of having some sparkling water and adding a lemon wedge or a splash of real fruit juice. You can save money by purchasing a SodaStream and making it yourself. Mom might like one too.

12. Almond butter instead of peanut butter

I LOVE me some peanut butter. The problem is that most of the supermarket varieties are highly processed and filled with hydrogenated oils. Try almond butter instead, as it is usually more natural. If you can find natural peanut butter (hint: the ingredients should be just peanuts and salt), that is a healthier option as well.

What are your simplest healthstyle upgrades?

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26 Responses to “12 Ways to Upgrade Mom’s Kitchen Skills and Help Her Eat Better”

  1. Nataly says:

    Hello, Darya! I always thought that steaming was healthiest way to prepare veggies and was very surprised to read in this article that sauteing is actually better? Can you explain why?

    • Darya Rose says:

      The most important reason is that some vitamins are fat soluble and are not absorbed as well without fat present. Fat also slows digestion, helping you feel fuller for longer. I also think sauteeing tastes better, which can help you eat more vegetables overall.

  2. Charlotte says:

    What oil do you use when you are cooking at relatively high temperatures? Olive oil doesn’t have a very high smoke point, so I am concerned about using it other than drizzled on salads.

  3. Ian Dixon says:

    I have to disagree with you on the first point because much of the benefits of cooked vegetables are lost before they even get near the stove.
    First problem is storage because that can cause loss of nutrients. Then there is an insistence that vegetables have to be peeled when a large percentage of the nutrients are in that part of the vegetable.
    Then consider boiling vegetables which is a very effective way to strip out the goodness.
    Steaming is a good way to cook especially if the steamer can use the vapours from another dish so that the goodness can drip back into that. Stir frying in a good oil is another approach.
    With Sautee, it can be all too easy to use too much oil and end up with an excessively oily finish. Usually better than boiling though but steaming is also good when done properly.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Fair enough 🙂 I still think it tastes bad.

      • Cindy says:

        Hey, you need to try some steamed Chinese cuisine. Very common in Cantonese cooking where you can steam both the protein and vegetable together (like chicken, mushroom, soy sauce and ginger, or steamed dumplings stuffed with any variety of fish, meat and veg, for example). You get flavour, healthy fats and vegetables. That might change your mind on steamed foods ;)!

      • Darya Rose says:

        I love you! I will absolutely try some steamed Cantonese cuisine. Sounds awesome!

      • Dee says:

        Yay! Great idea

  4. pru says:

    trying not to feel insulted but as a mom and grandma who routinely does all of the above I’m hoping I’m the exception to your rule.

  5. Sel says:

    re: amount of oil to use – for sauteeing in a non-stick frypan? No more than half a teaspoon.

    And my recommendation is to throw the minced garlic in first, sizzle it in the oil for a few seconds to get the flavour in, then toss in the vegies, the seasonings, and (for drier vegies) sprinkle a tablespoon of water to get a little steam happening.


  6. Pam says:

    I do steam some veggies. Then when they’re done I empty the water, quickly put the hot cooked veggies back in the hot pan and toss with extra virgin olive oil. I get that nice olive oil flavor and moisture on the veggies without damaging the extra virgin oil with heat. Then I sprinkle with garlic salt, per Darya’s tip from a few days ago. Yummy!

    • Rebecca says:

      I do the same thing, only with butter. We have a small dairy store here that pastures their cows (most of the time), so thankfully the butter is about the same price as conventional grocery-store butter. The color & taste difference between conventional butter & pastured butter is amazing.

  7. Luca Samson says:

    Really enjoyed that post,

    I’ve been doing some of those things for many years such as always using extra virgin olive oil instead of butter but many of those tips didn;t even occur to me.

    Thanks for sharing these tips and I will be sure to use them in the future!

  8. Dee says:

    Because of Dr. Oz – Unlike when we were growing up, my mom NOW tries to be in the right direction for food choices …..but from my observations she focusses on healthy oils and grains but she’s still adverse to large quantities of vegs….

  9. Merry says:

    These are great tips, small changes that require next to no effort. Apart from the kale chips (I’m not really a big fan of potato chips, either) and the almond butter (though I do stay away from loaded peanut butter), I’m proud to say I’ve been treading this path for many years now.

  10. Jilla Roth says:

    When I was a trainer in SF I was told that carbonated beverages leech calcium from your bones and are lost in your urine. Is this not the case with soda water as well?

  11. Jilla Roth says:

    PS, I already pre-ordered your book. I’m so excited for you! I’ll comment on Amazon as soon as I read it.

  12. Tommy Lane says:

    I bought a Sodastream not too long ago because I like drinking plain old seltzer water. It is a very convenient way to have some on hand without having to carry bottles of it from the store. Sometimes I add the natural flavors like lime, lemon and raspberry to it. Delicious.Thanks for the tips, Darya.

  13. I never really thought about the many different things that I’m doing that could be ruining my health. At least not these things that I would probably have considered to be ‘no big deal.’ These are things that most people probably don’t even think about. I know I probably wouldn’t have even thought of something like almond butter instead of peanut butter or olive oil instead of margarine but it makes sense because of the health factors.

  14. Tessa says:

    You could also make your own peanut butter! Just put peanuts (roasted, if you like) a bit of oil and a pinch of salt in your food processor, process for a couple of minutes: natural peanut butter! You can add a bit of honey or brown sugar if you like some sweetness. I think you can save it for a week or so (haven’t tried it myself).

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