Create delicious meals that pack a nutritious punch with these healthy cooking methods and simple ingredient swaps…

Preparing healthy meals from scratch will go a long way to helping you reach your weight-loss goals, especially if you use the right cooking techniques. For instance, you should aim to limit your calories from fat to no more than 30-35 per cent of your total daily calorie intake – that’s between 600 and 700 calories (based on a woman’s 2,000 daily calorie allowance).

Related: The Eatwell Plate: how to eat a balanced diet

However, each tablespoon of oil you use for frying adds more than 100 calories to your dish. By roasting or grilling instead, you not only eliminate added fat, but fat in the food also drips away. This is just one food-prep trick that retains flavour while increasing your meals’ healthy credentials. Read on for more healthy cooking techniques and solutions…

woman tasting meal cooking vegetables in the kitchen

7 healthy cooking methods

Try out these healthy food cooking methods to give your meals a nutrition boost…


One of the healthiest cooking techniques is steaming food in a perforated basket above simmering liquid. You can also use an electric steamer or microwave. If you season the water, your food will take on the flavour as it cooks. Ideal for all vegetables, fish fillets and poultry.


A traditional Asian method, stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they’re rapidly stirred in a wok or large non-stick frying pan. You only need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method; the trick is to keep the ingredients moving and the temperature high.


Exposing food to direct heat under the grill is a fast way to cook. To keep it healthy, cook your meat or oily fish on a wire rack so any fat can drip underneath. For smaller items, such as chopped vegetables, use foil or a long-handled grill basket to prevent pieces from slipping through the rack. Lightly brush vegetables with oil to prevent burning. When grilling fish, switch on your oven-top fan to reduce the fishy smell.


To poach foods, gently simmer the ingredients in enough water (use broth or juice for added flavour) to cover until they’re cooked through and tender. This is ideal for eggs, fish and poultry. For stove-top poaching, choose a pan that best fits the size and shape of the
food so that you need a minimal amount of liquid. It will need a secure lid.


Using a heavy-bottom pan, first seal in the flavour of your meat by quickly frying it in a little oil on a high heat on the stove. Then, cover the meat in a small amount of water or broth and cover the pan before cooking slowly in the oven. In some recipes, the remaining cooking liquid is used to make a flavoursome, nutrient-rich sauce. The best pots for braising are cast iron ones.


Besides breads and desserts, you can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, vegetables and fruits. Place your food in a pan or dish so it’s surrounded by the hot, dry air of your oven. Try baking chicken or fish in tinfoil to avoid the fillets drying out, or bake jacket potatoes or wedges in their skins with just a sprinkling of sea salt. Set your oven to between 150°C and 180°C.


Like baking, but at higher temperatures (200°C+) and with quicker cooking times, roasting is a great way to cook meat and vegetables. You can roast foods on a baking sheet without any fat or in roasting pan. For poultry, oily fish and meat, place a rack inside the roasting pan so that the fat in the food can drip away during cooking. Baste the food regularly to stop it drying out.


Get your pan very hot and use a small amount of fat to quickly cook strips of beef or chicken and vegetables. Use a good-quality non-stick pan, and you can use less fat. Don’t overcrowd the pan and avoid adding water as this will reduce the heat of the pan.

Related: How many calories should I eat per day?

woman cooking with healthy oil in kitchen

Healthy cooking ingredients: swap this for that

A healthy diet shouldn’t lack flavour. By substituting ingredients that are high in fat, sugar and salt, with some delicious alternatives, you can cut calories without compromising taste and still be able to enjoy your

Swap olive oil for sunflower oil

Monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil and avocado oil, have a low smoke point, so they become unstable when heated to high temperatures. Save for drizzling on salads. For cooking, use a small amount of polyunsaturated oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed.

Related: The truth about cooking oils

Swap sugar for stevia

Stevia is a plant-derived natural sweetener containing minimal calories. It doesn’t have the same insulin-spiking effect as regular sugar, and can be used in the same way when cooking. When baking, even a mashed banana can be used as a sugar alternative.

Swap cheddar cheese for Gruyère cheese

Cheese is great for flavouring dishes but it’s high in salt and saturated fat. For dishes such as risotto or cauliflower cheese, opt for strong-tasting varieties such as Gruyère or Parmesan instead of Cheddar. Lower fat ricotta adds creaminess without the fat.

Swap salt for lemon juice

A squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking mimics the taste of salt without the blood-pressure raising side-effects. A splash
of vinegar or olive oil can also trick your tastebuds. Always taste your food before adding salt during the cooking process.

Swap butter for avocado

Make healthier sandwiches by spreading your bread with mashed avocado or natural yoghurt. Processed margarines or spreads can contain hydrogenated fats so choose a small amount of unsalted, grass-fed butter instead. Avocado can also replace mayonnaise.

Swap breadcrumbs for oats

Oats are full of fibre and are a great replacement for breadcrumbs on fish or chicken. Simply coat in a little egg then roll in fine oats until completely covered. Place on greaseproof paper and bake until cooked through and crispy on the outside.

Swap pasta for vegetables

Get handy with your julienne knife or peeler to make vegetable alternatives to spaghetti. You’ll reduce the calorie portion of your evening meal and find it easier to reach your five-a-day.

Swap couscous for quinoa

Couscous is nutritionally similar to pasta as it is made from the same cracked durum wheat. Bulgar wheat, barley and quinoa are healthier grains to use as they contain more vitamins, minerals and protein.

Related: Calories on menus: helpful or harmful?

bowls of different healthy cooking spices including turmeric ginger cinnamon star anise

Best health-boosting spices to add to dishes

Inject flavour into your dishes with these health-promoting ingredients…


This bright red spice comes from sweet and hot dried peppers and contains three times the vitamin C of oranges, and capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory used to treat joint pain.

Use it: Sprinkle over popcorn or potato wedges.


Ginger is recognised for its ability to relax blood vessels and stimulate blood flow. It can also be used as remedy for nausea, digestive discomfort and morning sickness.

Use it: Add boiling water to 1 tsp ground ginger to make tea.


Its active ingredient, curcumin, is proven to help reduce inflammation, cleanse the blood, heal wounds, increase circulation and also has anti-cancer properties.

Use it: Sprinkle 1 tsp turmeric into stir-fries and curries.


Used in Chinese medicine to treat heart problems, PMS and for its mood-enhancing benefits, antioxidant-rich saffron can also protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

Use it: Add to paella or seafood stew for colour and flavour.


This spice helps balance blood sugar levels and reduce food cravings. Studies link it with improved insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol.

Use it: Add to smoothies or almonds before toasting.

Related content:

  1. Fitness food delivery services: 5 of the best reviewed
  2. How to avoid Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs)
  3. Pre-workout nutrition for women: what to eat & when