1. Experiment with New, Exotic Spices and Fresh Herbs
Rather than repeatedly relying on the same familiar seasonings, expand your flavor horizon by purchasing a few new, less-common spices and herbs and giving them a try. Curry powder adds a lot of depth and flavor to roasted veggies, soups and stews. Herbs de Provence can be used in marinades, rubbed on meats and fish, added to soups and grilled or sauteed veggies, and used to flavor sauces. Star anise can be combined with cinnamon, grated ginger and chopped scallions to poach chicken. Toasted Nigella seeds (often used in Indian or South Asian dishes) work well with lentils or in stir fries and curries.
2. Try Tofu
Rather than meeting your protein needs through the usual fish, poultry, beef and pork options, choose tofu instead. Tofu itself doesn't taste like much of anything, but it takes on the flavor of whatever ingredients you cook it with. Extra-firm and firm tofu work well in stir-fry dishes, casseroles and soups and in place of most meats and eggs. Soft and silken tofu can be used as a substitute for many dairy products.
3. Get Saucy!
Venture outside of your comfort zone by taking a crack at a new sauce recipe, or rely on a more convenient route and purchase a new, unique bottled sauce to use on whole-wheat pasta, grilled chicken or fish, or to simmer your favorite seasonal veggies in.
4. Make Your Own Salad Dressings and Marinades
You can jazz up your usual salads, veggie dishes and marinated meats by making your own dressings from scratch. In a mason jar or seal-top container, mix together two parts olive or canola oil and one part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice or mustard) along with your favorite herbs and spices and a little salt. Shake to combine and prepare to dazzle your taste buds.
5. Favor Flavored Vinegars
And go beyond using vinegar exclusively for salad dressings. Serve a variety of herb-infused balsamic vinegars and other flavored vinegars with your favorite cheeses, fruits and fish recipes (reduce the vinegar until it thickens to make a sauce for fish).
6. Start Zesting
Adding the zest of lemons, limes, oranges and other citrus fruits to your grilled meats and fish, salad dressings, marinades, desserts, baked goods, smoothies and yogurt will really wake up their flavors and give those foods the extra zing you're looking for. You'll want to purchase a microplane for zesting (bonus: it also works well for grating hard cheeses like parmesan, and for grating roots like ginger).
7. Pickle Pair
Pair pickled vegetables with your favorite dishes to up the ante on flavor without adding a ton of calories. Pickle your own vegetables--especially if you have a garden--or buy them already pickled for a quick, easy addition to salads, sandwiches and wraps.
8. Embrace Umami
Caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms are delicious, nutrient-packed and versatile, and they impart an" umami" taste more typical of meats and cheeses but for far fewer calories.
9. Try Kebabs
Food just seems like more fun when it's on a stick, right? To add a fun, flavorful, calorie-free twist on the usual kebabs, use a thick rosemary twig as the skewer. It'll add a tremendous amount of taste but no calories.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.