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Cook Healthy — Without Buying a Thing

There's no need to shop for special tools or costly appliances to make healthier meals — your kitchen is likely already stocked with the necessary tools to whip up lower-fat, lower-calorie dishes. Keep in mind these seven no-gimmick guidelines. In addition to eating healthfully, check out gear and gadgets that help you shed those extra pounds.

Use your blender to make creamy vegetable soups without a drop of cream. Cook four cups of any vegetable along with a small potato, an onion, salt, pepper, and two cups of water until very tender. Then puree until smooth with a cup of low-fat milk and return to stove to bring back up to temperature. Heavenly!

Steam veggies in your microwave — don't buy a special steamer. Broccoli, green beans, and carrots actually come out better — tender and never brown or withered. Even sturdy and nutrient-dense greens like collards, chard, and broccoli rabe (which are generally boiled, drained, and sautéed) can be cooked in one step in the microwave. Combine about a pound of cut-up leaves and stems with a tablespoon of oil, and chopped onion or garlic. Cook for about five minutes or until softened and tender, stirring once or twice during cooking. Season with salt, hot pepper flakes, and vinegar or lemon juice.

Cook meat and fish in the microwave, too. Boneless chicken breasts and fish fillets will steam evenly and taste great with no oil, and won't shred or flake. Rule of thumb: Add a tablespoon or so of water and a dash of salt, cover, then zap for five minutes for every pound. For a flavor boost, substitute lemon juice or white wine for the water and/or sprinkle with dried or fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, tarragon, or a spice blend.

Heat up a heavy cast-iron skillet instead of investing in an indoor grill or special stovetop grill pan. Turn the burner to medium-high for 3 to 5 minutes, and then add lean sirloin or sliced veggies. They'll come out just as browned as if they were cooked outdoors. While a ridged pan will yield appealing grill marks, in Good Housekeeping Research Institute tests, it didn't reduce the amount of fat that winds up on your plate any more than a flat-bottomed one.

Don't purchase a rice cooker to make brown rice. To be sure it comes out right every time, choose a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Next, measure (don't eyeball) the amount of water specified on the package. Rig up a tight-fitting cover by topping the pan with a piece of aluminum foil, wrapping it tightly around the rim, then placing the pan lid on top of the foil.

Make lower-fat grilled cheese sandwiches in a nonstick skillet — no panini grill necessary. Start with whole wheat bread, reduced-fat cheese, and juicy tomato slices. Very lightly grease the pan with olive oil — a teaspoon should be enough — and preheat on a medium setting for about 3 minutes. Place sandwich in the skillet with a dinner plate on top to lightly press it down. Cook sandwich one side until golden brown, then flip over to brown the second side.

Think smashed (not mashed) potatoes. To whip up everyone's favorite side dish, you don't need a mixer, blender, food mill, ricer, or even potato masher. After boiling potatoes with their skins on (bonus: you've eliminated the potato peeler), smash and stir with a regular fork. If you chose red-skinned spuds, you get a colorful garnish with no extra work. Yukon Golds produce a buttery flavor without adding butter. If you do need a touch of seasoning beyond salt and pepper, drizzle in a good peppery olive oil.

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