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Cooking methods for diabetic and heart healthy eating

Do you pride yourself on being a well rounded amateur chef? Or, do you hate to cook and rarely do anything more than fry a burger and heat up a can of vegetables? Wherever you are on the spectrum, there is always more to learn about cooking methods!

You don’t have to have anything more than a good skillet, a saucepan and a cookie sheet for most of the core meals we suggest, but when possible, you might want to explore additional convenience items, such as an Instant Pot, a steamer and a slow cooker. For expert cooks, we’d love to introduce you to Sous Vide! See our Products we love page for our favorite small appliances.

Pressure cooking (Instant Pot)

  • Whether it’s your Mother’s old-fashioned pressure cooker or the newer, automatic versions with today’s safety features and automatic timer and warmer settings, pressure cooking holds an important place. For Kale, green beans (if you like country style) and beans, it’s a must-have. It will tenderize the Kale and green beans, making them much easier to enjoy, and for both these and beans, it will do in a few minutes what would otherwise take many hours of simmering.
  • The newer automatic pressure cookers, such as Instant Pot®, are gentler than the older pressure cookers, in the sense that the pressure is lower. If 5 minutes is long enough for your favorite green bean recipe in a traditional pressure cooker, you might need 8-10 minutes in an Instant Pot. However, the automated features allow you to set it and forget it, at least for awhile. Once the time you have set it for is up, the automated pressure cookers will allow pressure to dissipate naturally and will hold the food warm until you return. So long as your food is not prone to becoming overcooked easily, this makes it easy to multitask while using it.
  • An Instant Pot® (or similar automated pressure cooker) makes easy work of homemade broth, which forms a delicious base for many other healthy meals.

Roasting

  • While it is not a new cooking method at all, roasting has gained new followers with the popularity of cookie sheet dinners. The keys to success at roasting are time and temperature. Too little of either and the food will not be fully cooked. This might not be a big deal if you’re roasting vegetables, but if you’re roasting meat, it is critical.
  • Sheet pan dinners combine several cuts of protein and an assortment of vegetables to form a one-dish meal. The convenience of being able to pop it in the oven after a long day, keeping the stove top clean and using few dishes (especially if you cover your cookie sheet with foil!) is a huge attraction. The main problem is that the meat and vegetables might need different optimal times and temperatures. If using softer vegetables that will roast quickly (like asparagus and broccoli), consider putting the meat and hardier vegetables (like potatoes, carrots and onions) in earlier. The other issue is that roasting the meat dry and uncovered might not be the optimal cooking strategy for some meats. Tougher cuts of meat can benefit from braising or slow cooking, and chicken breast can easily become dry if overcooked by even a few minutes. A cookie sheet dinner can be a wonderful convenience, but consider the characteristics of each ingredient carefully when planning.
  • For more detail on specific meats and vegetables, visit our Foods page.

Sautéing

  • This gentle cooking method uses oil of some sort to cook food in a skillet. Is that just a fancy way of saying “frying?” Not exactly. With frying, you typically have a larger piece of food, like a hamburger, and it usually can sit for awhile before being flipped to cook on the other side. With a sauté, the food is cut up into smaller pieces and given closer attention. You will typically be moving it around periodically so that it cooks evenly, and less fat is required since the food is not sitting unattended. Frying also relies more frequently on the use of breading or batter.
  • Sautéing is indispensable to a number of cooking strategies, like finishing steamed vegetables with a great flavor, preparing ingredients to make turkey burgers juicier, prepping some of your vegetables for soup, and making mushroom duxelles and other toppers and fillers for various dishes. 

Searing

  • Searing relies on a higher temperature and an oil with a high smoke point. Searing is easiest using a grill (indoor or outdoor), but an iron skillet can get hot enough to sear. We love using an indoor grill. Searing creates a caramelized brown crust on the surface of your meat or fish, referred to by chefs as “Maillard reaction.” When searing, it is important to use the proper tools, temperature and oil to allow the crusty surface to be created without overcooking the meat. You will also need to use an oil with a high smoke point. We love using an indoor grill, especially when the weather does not permit outdoor grilling. See Products we love for more information!

Slow cooking

  • This cooking method, a favorite of busy Moms everywhere, relies on a low temperature and long cooking time to gradually simmer the foods to the point of being ready to eat. Depending on the ingredients and temperature used, a one-pot dinner might be able to cook as little as 4 or as much as 8-10 hours, making it a convenient option for busy days. Slow cookers vary in their features. The most important needs are simply for a low and high setting and an insert or pot that is removable for easy cleaning. Slow cooking will tenderize the most economical cuts of meat, and will leave poultry tender (but falling apart). It can also be helpful for soups, stews and chili. It’s a helpful tool for keeping food ready when family members must eat at differing times.

Sous vide

  • If you are an experienced cook looking for new ideas, consider trying sous vide. While it is not necessary for your Diabetic Heart Lifestyle needs, it is an option we have been enjoying. Until very recently, it was available only to restaurants with special equipment, but tools for home cooks have been developed that make it easy to use
  • Sous vide essentially involves putting food in a sealed plastic or freezer bag and immersing it in water that has been heated to a precise temperature. The food cooks to that temperature (you select the temperature and the cooking time) and can be held at that temperature for an extended period of time. The sous vide tool keeps the water temperature constant and the water moving, allowing the food to cook evenly and hold its temperature. For meats that overcook easily, or for family members with varying preferences for the doneness of their meat, sous vide can allow advance preparation to exactly each person’s preference. At meal time, a quick sear can heat the meat and add flavor. See Products we love for the sous vide device we use. 

Steaming

  • A steamer is an essential tool for healthy cooking. Steaming preserves more of the nutrients in your vegetables by not cooking them immersed in water. It can be used very lightly to just take the raw edge off of vegetables, or longer for hard vegetables or a softer texture. Steamers can range from a basket that slips into a saucepan to a separate countertop device, with the steam coming from either below or above the food. The advantage of countertop steamer devices is that they can hold longer items, like whole asparagus  spears, and they come equipped with a timer, to help make sure you don’t overcook your food.
  • We have two countertop steamers that we use almost every day. You can check them out on the Products we love page.

Stir frying

  • A stir fry is one of our recommended core meals for several reasons. Because it typically involves sautéing your food quickly over fairly high heat, it preserves the nutrients in your vegetables, and cooking time can be carefully controlled to avoid overcooking delicate meats like chicken breast and shrimp. Most importantly, a stir fry is an all-purpose strategy that can use the meats you are allowed (and love), and almost any combination of vegetables. Even if you arrive home late from work without having made meal plans, a bit of protein and some fresh vegetables in the refrigerator can soon create a quick and healthy stir fry meal. Traditionally, stir fry has used Asian sauces and spices, some of which are very high in sodium, but many delicious combinations are possible with the use of some no-salt seasonings. See our Recipes page for ideas.