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Eating out has become more and more popular over the past few decades and as a result cooking at home has declined. Unfortunately, frequent eating out has been associated with weight gain and poor diet quality – both linked to heart disease – so there is plenty of benefit in staying in and whipping up something at home.1

There are a variety of cooking methods that can help keep our food as nutrition intensive (nutrient dense) as possible, and luckily, you don’t have to become a Master Chef or invest in expensive cookware to do this. Healthy cooking also doesn't mean sacrificing flavour. There are many simple cooking techniques for healthy food with lots of flavour.

The following techniques will help lock in those wonderful nutrients that whole foods contain and have you cooking with confidence.

Unpeeled fruit and vegetables

Why is it considered healthy?

Fruit and vegetable peels are full of great nutrients, with most skins containing larger amounts of vitamins, minerals and fibre compared to the same peeled fruit or vegetable. Some peels are hard to clean or are inedible, so these can be disregarded, eg, avocados, melons, pineapples, bananas and celery. There’s generally less food preparation involved by leaving the skins on, but be sure to give the skins a nice wash beforehand.

What foods are best to use?

Most fruits and vegetables have edible skin, eg, apples, kiwifruits, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons (you can grate their peels over salads or veggies), white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cucumbers.

Eat fruits soon after cutting them up

Why is it considered healthy?

Fruits are naturally prepacked and are therefore easy to store in their whole form. Once they are cut and exposed to air, fruit slowly starts to lose some of its nutrients. Where possible, eat fruit whole or enjoy it soon after you cut it up. This will also prevent your fruit going brown and becoming less appealing to eat.

Blanching

How do I blanch?

Blanching is a quick and easy technique. Simply plunge foods into boiling water for 1–2 minutes and then place into iced water to rapidly stop the cooking process. Blanched vegetables should have a nice crunch and the colour should intensify.

Why is it considered healthy?

Blanching seals in the colour, flavour and nutrients of vegetables by stopping further enzyme action that would usually break down the vegetable if it continued to cook. It’s also a very quick method of cooking that will get dinner on the table sooner.

What foods are best to use?

Green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas, asparagus, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower and capsicums can all be easily blanched.

Steaming instead of boiling

How do I steam?

Using a steaming basket or colander, cook vegetables over boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. You can also steam in the microwave by placing the vegetables in a flat, microwave safe dish, add a dash of water and cover dish with cling wrap. The longer you cook vegetables, the more nutrients are lost so try to limit to 3 to 5 minutes cooking time. If using vegetables, they should be tender and crisp, and not mushy.

Why is it considered healthy?

Steaming uses a small amount of liquid and heat therefore nutrients aren’t lost in the cooking water. There is also no need to add extra fat like butter or oil which would increase the food’s calorie content.

What foods are best to use?

Try steaming broccoli, spinach and other leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, green beans, small potatoes or fish.

Slow cooking

How do I slow cook?

Using a slow cooker, simmer foods at a low temperature for 6–10 hours, or a higher setting for 3–5 hours.

Why is it considered healthy?

Slow cooking intensifies the flavours of foods and retains more vitamins than high-heat cooking methods like frying. It often uses a liquid base like tinned tomatoes or stock with chopped vegetables, which reduces the need for additional sugar, salt or fat. If you have a slow cooker with a timer, you can set it up so dinner is ready as soon as you walk through the door – leaving less chance for extra pre-dinner snacking or drinking.

What foods are best to use?

Lamb shoulder or leg, whole chicken and various beef cuts are delicious slow cooked. Use hardy vegetables like carrots, potatoes, capsicum, celery and tomatoes.

Stir frying

How do I fry stir fry?

Heat a wok or frying pan over high heat, add oil and cook meat and/or vegetables in batches for 2–3 minutes. Be sure to cook more hardy vegetables first and add the more delicate ones later.

Why is it considered healthy?

Stir frying typically uses limited oil, thereby keeping the calorie count lower. Vegetables are also cooked for a short amount of time, which helps retain a lot of their nutrients. Take care to use oils and sauces sparingly, eg, ½ tablespoon of soy sauce and ½ tablespoon or less of cooking oil per person.

What foods are best to use?

Lean meats such as chicken or beef, tofu, prawns, calamari and any vegetable cut into smaller pieces such as carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, capsicum and onion all work well in stir fries.

Recipe idea

Stir-fried chicken and vegetables

Baking and roasting

How do I bake?

Baking uses dry heat in an oven. Different to roasting, baking generally cooks foods without using oils or fats. Baking and roasting times vary greatly and are usually cooked in an oven temperature of 200 degrees Celsius.

Why is it considered healthy?

Baking cooks foods without using oils or fats, which is a healthier cooking method to roasting. However, roasting can be a healthy cooking method by limiting the addition of fats and oils to a small amount.

What foods are best to use?

Bake or roast capsicum, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato, white potato, pumpkin, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus and onion.

Recipe ideas

Left-over roast meat wrap or Easy brunch

Compare the pair

How different cooking methods affect the overall fat content (and therefore calorie content) of food can be illustrated using a simple potato.2

Per 100g of potato:

  • Baked jacket potato = 0.3g fat
  • Peeled and roasted potato = 5g fat
  • Oven-baked wedges = 6g fat
  • Thick chips from a fish and chip shop = 9g fat
  • Thin/shoestring fries = 15g fat
  • Potato chips/crisps = 30g fat

References

  1. Raber et al. An evidence-based conceptual framework of healthy cooking. Preventative Medicine Reports. 2016; (4):23-28.
  2. King, B. The healthy cooking techniques everyone should know. Australian Healthy Food Guide. 2011. [cited 19 November 2019] Available from: www.healthyfoodguide.com.au/articles/2011/october/healthy-cooking-techniques-everyone-should-know

About the author

The Healthy Eating Hub

This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.

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