DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I am trying to break my takeout habit and cook more at home. What are the best healthy cookbooks you’ve found? I need to get some ideas and inspiration.—Jenny
DEAR JENNY: I LOVE cookbooks and food magazines. Maybe it’s the vicarious thrill I get from page after page of beautiful photos of food, glorious food … Not only does flipping through healthy cookbooks give you a calorie-free fix, it’s great for inspiration and getting you in the planning mode. Planning meals is one of the biggest challenges I encountered when I started watching what I ate—thinking ahead, making sure I had healthy choices on hand (to head off binges), and finding dishes that would satisfy me just as much as my heavy, comfort-food favorites. To answer your question about healthy cookbooks, I’m going to list the ones I use most. So, let’s get to it!
Cooking Light: I actually had the privilege of working at Cooking Light for several years, editing health, fitness and nutrition stories (and sneaking into taste testing whenever I got the chance). Cooking Light has some of the highest standards in the business when it comes to recipe development, testing and photography. I have several old volumes of Cooking Light Annual Recipes (compilations of all the recipes in the magazine in a given year), as well as newer books like The All-New Complete Cooking Light Cookbook. I also regularly search their website for recipes on the fly.
The Food You Crave, Comfort Food Fix and So Easy, by Ellie Krieger. Can you tell that I love Ellie? This registered dietitian and Food Network star has a great, down-to-earth food style. She avoids being preachy, and believes (like me) that there’s no such thing as “bad” foods—you can enjoy all the foods you love if you practice balance and moderation (and get up from the couch more than once in a while). I particularly love this Corn and Cheddar Spoon Bread from Comfort Food Fix, and flip through one of her three books when I’m looking for some mealtime motivation.
Weight Watchers One-Pot Cookbook. Talk about making healthy food beautiful and appetizing—this tome featuring more than 300 recipes and 100 images makes you wonder why you would ever stray from your eating plan. Organized by the “pot” required for particular dishes, with chapters on skillet-based suppers, Dutch-oven dishes, wok meals, the book is loaded with great ideas for both weeknights and special occasions. Get a taste of what I’m talking about with these four sample recipes.
Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals by Pam Anderson. I stumbled upon this book by the cookbook author and former editor of Cooks Illustrated (NOT to be confused with ex-Baywatch babe, Pamela Anderson), and I love it! Pam features several base recipes for dishes like flatbreads, galettes and stir fries, and then helps you figure out how to adapt them to incorporate different flavor profiles and ingredients. This not only provides the flexibility you need to figure out how to whip up a dinner with what you have on hand, but teaches you how to pair flavors so that you can improvise on your own. Don’t shy away from this book if you’re a meat-eater—I guarantee you’ll mark a million recipes you’re dying to try after paging through this book.
Mediterranean Light and The Best of Recipes for Health by Martha Rose Shulman. Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Light is one of the first healthy cookbooks I bought—I think it’s been with me through 5 interstate moves now. First published back in 1989 (I’m dating myself, I know) when the rest of the world was just discovering the healthfulness and deliciousness of the Mediterranean diet, it’s full of recipes not just from Italy and Provence, but from Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, and even Egypt. Fast forward to last year and the publication of The Best of Recipes for Health, a compilation of MRS’s columns for the New York Times. The recipes in this collection are inventive, often showcasing new-wave healthful ingredients like black rice and quinoa.
Frankly, I could go on and on. But these healthy cookbooks are my go-tos for any occasion. Hope this is helpful—and let me know if you discover any other favorites in your search. I’m always looking to add to my library!