Food that's good for you has no flavor -- at least according to the widely accepted “common knowledge” I’ve encountered throughout my many years in healthcare food service.
Oftentimes the food is designed to meet the variant health needs of the people served with little concern for taste.
The overriding concerns are usually cost and ability to prepare the food and hold it for extended periods of time before it is served.
It need not be that way, though, and recent trends are moving in a positive direction.
Lately, it has become more important and much more attention is being paid to serving food that combines health with flavor, not just in institutions or restaurants but also at home. For many that might mean dousing an entree with sauces of all kinds and colors to give the food itself a little more "umph."
This however is not the only way to infuse foods with flavor to keep them both delicious and nutritious.
Bring on the Flavor
Starting with healthy ingredients such as lean protein, fresh vegetables and grains that are packed with nutrition and low in fat, cholesterol and sodium is the key. When you have nutrient rich and healthful ingredients, you have laid the foundation for a great meal.
Once the basic ingredients are covered it is time to bring on the flavor. This can be done with different cooking techniques and seasonings and maybe even a few sauces!
Seasoning with fresh spices and herbs
Many cooks, institutional and home, gravitate toward salt as a flavoring. It is what they know and think should be done. More and more of us are steering clear of added salt and are instead exploring our spice racks for ingredients to tingle our taste buds.
Adding new flavors that complement the food we choose but also enhancing its innate flavor will give us the taste we seek as well as keeping the nutritional goodness the star of the plate.
Infusing foods with flavor
Many foods respond well to marinating for several hours or overnight with a variety of ingredients such as oils, vinegars, spices and flavor extracts as well as acidic foods.
Many people also marinate with pre-made sauces, but be careful as many are high in sodium. Homemade versions can be adjusted to be flavorful without being unhealthy. Infusing foods with flavors extracted from herbs, citrus, spices and other flavorful foods will transfer the strong flavors well and is being used by more and more cooks. Vinegars and oils are being infused with so many new flavors such as herb sprigs and peppercorns that the list is mighty long on those that you can make yourself or buy.
I was amazed at the selection and range of tastes available when I recently visited my local market especially designed for oils and vinegars. The smell and tastes were enchanting. While I was there all I could do (besides taste everything!) was envision ways to cook new meals for my family using new oils and the vinegars–oh my! Check your local stores to see if you have such as place that can tickle your fancy and taste buds too.
Cooking in the flavor
There are cooking techniques that can leave our meals, especially the protein options, dry and tasteless. When we overcook the protein it can get tough and dried out, to the point of disaster.
When we use lean protein sources, some of the natural juices we are counting on to keep the protein flavorful and moist are lacking. We need to reenergize the protein by adding heat at the right temperature and time in addition to seasoning and moisture. Searing and grilling the protein allows us to fully cook it without drying it out since it is done in a short amount of time. As in stir frying, the food is cooked quickly using fresh ingredients and seasonings to spice it up.
Adding some of the specially flavored oils and vinegars as well as a variety of different rubs and other seasonings can add a real punch of flavor to protein foods cooked quickly. The browning off of the protein adds an extra flavor to the end product as well that baking alone can not match.
Slow cooking to lock in the moisture
Lately more of us are crock potting our meals. Not just because it saves time and we can cook while we work but also because many crock pot recipes are rich in flavor, moisture and ingredients that give us a home cooked happiness. These combinations provide not only nutrition but also provide us comfort and remind us of days gone by.
Putting ingredients including leftovers into the crock pot and creating a new meal not only keeps the flavor coming but is budget friendly too. Crock pot cooking traditionally uses broth and sauces but if we remember to pick low sodium and fresher ingredients to add to the crock pot, we will achieve our nutrition goals.
Adding a sauce
We have to do it sometime but shouldn’t need to do it every day when there are so many other flavor options. It could be a homemade gravy, a traditional sauce such as béchamel or one of the many types of chutneys that garnish our lean protein or fresh vegetables. In the south, chow chow and homemade relishes are served frequently.
Be mindful of the sodium and fat that accompanies many sauces and relishes when you plan your meals. All foods can fit if you are aware of how they contribute calories, fat and sodium over the course of the day.
Getting creative with our traditional recipes, finding new foods to prepare, exploring our spice racks, and learning about new products to bring us flavor will help us keep nutrition on the plate without losing the flavor that is the spice of life.