By Hilary Meyer, EatingWell.com
One sure way to keep your weight in check is to ditch the takeout menu and cook at home instead. In your own kitchen you can control the menu and hence the calories. But it’s not a flawless plan.
When you cook at home–and especially if you’re comfortable doing so–you might tend to relax “the rules” a little. Maybe you add “a few pinches” of salt or “just a dash” of oil instead of measuring it out, or you enjoy munching on your ingredients as you’re prepping.
Here are a few cooking habits that may secretly be sabotaging your diet:
1. Using too much oil
It’s no secret that oil packs a lot of calories–an average of about 120 calories per tablespoon. Some recipes call for an exact amount, but many call for a “thin coating” of oil in the pan. But what exactly is a thin coating? Enough oil to just glaze the pan or half an inch?
It’s always a good idea to measure oil, even if a recipe suggests you just estimate how much you need. No measurement in your recipe? Start with a tablespoon and swirl it around. If it coats your pan, then it’s probably enough. Also note that if you’re using a nonstick pan, you can use less oil than if you were using a regular stainless-steel skillet.
2. Eyeballing ingredients
Sure, you might think you have a good idea of what a teaspoon of salt looks like or what a cup of pasta might be or a pound of meat might look like. But it’s always a good idea to measure–even if you’ve made the recipe before.
Overestimating calorie-rich ingredients like pasta, oil and meat can really increase the calorie count of your meal. Keep those measuring spoons and cups handy, and invest in a good kitchen scale to ensure accurate calorie counts.
3. Ignoring serving sizes
If you’re counting calories, chances are you picked your recipe based on the nutritional breakdown. That’s a great start, but be sure to note the serving size! Some recipes simply divide the total calories by the number of servings to provide calories per serving.
Other recipes may give you an exact measure per serving, such as a 1-1/2-cup serving of soup, for example. It’s best to break out those trusty measuring cups and spoons so you don’t over- (or under-) estimate portion size.
4. “Tasting” too much
It’s easy to munch on the nuts you chopped up for your salad or to taste your meal once or twice to adjust the seasoning, but doing this can tack on unnecessary calories. How do you combat this mindless munching?
Don’t cook on a completely empty stomach. Have a light snack before you begin cooking to tide you over until dinner. If you’re not completely famished, you’ll be less tempted to graze on other foods.
5. Following the recipe exactly
This may seem counterintuitive, but being a slave to a recipe can tack on needless calories. Give the recipe a once-over before you start so you can think about subtle ways to make it a bit healthier. If your recipe calls for heavy cream, could you use half-and-half instead? The recipe may call for 3 tablespoons of oil, but could you get away with just 1?
The more seasoned a cook you are, the more comfortable you’ll be at making these choices. If you’re not sure if a substitution will work with your recipe, make your adjustment small and take note of your results. Next time you make that dish, you may be able to cut back further.
6. Making too much food
If you’re cooking for two (or just for yourself), making a recipe that serves 12 is a tricky proposition. Unless you can freeze it for another night, try to make recipes scaled to the number of people you’ll be serving. That way you won’t be tempted to eat more than a serving.
If there are leftovers, great! Just make sure they’re kept away from the dining table so you won’t be tempted. Out of sight, out of mind!
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)