Home cooking: Don’t diet, find a healthy way to eat for the rest of your life | SummitDaily.com

Home cooking: Don’t diet, find a healthy way to eat for the rest of your life

Suzanne Anderson
Home Cooking
Substiute vegetables for meat to make comfort foods, like shepherd's pie, a healthier option.
Courtesy Suzanne Anderson

While visiting Mom last Christmas, I attended a friend’s wedding where lots of pictures were taken. I was dismayed that my pictures revealed I’d moved out of pleasantly plump territory and was heading toward a serious weight problem. Because both my parents had heart attacks in their 60s and 70s, and weight has always been a challenge in my family, I knew I needed to make lasting changes to my diet.

Oprah and I have tried every diet. And like Oprah, my weight generally comes back over the next year. I’ve tried extreme 10-day green juice fasts. That helped me to lose 10 pounds in one week but left me feeling weak and dizzy. I’ve had good luck with low carb diets, until I went back to enjoying my passion for bread. Calorie- or ingredient-restricted diets didn’t work for me because I love to cook.

So, when I returned to Breckenridge, I wanted to find a lasting solution. No more yo-yo dieting. To be honest, I didn’t care if I never fit into the jeans I wore 30 years ago, why should I? I’m no longer that girl.

I wanted to focus on my health, not my weight. Yes, I needed to lose at least 30 pounds, but not to meet some beauty standard, but because I knew that I would feel better and I would be helping my body. I come from a line of long-lived women. And I wanted a healthy body that could enjoy snowshoeing with the Ya Ya Snowshoeing Sisterhood of St. John’s.

Since I love to cook, that was the place to begin. I began experimenting with more vegetable-focused meals and fewer meat-centered meals. When a dish called for meat, I looked for ways to either substitute only vegetables or add an equal amount of vegetables to decrease the amount of meat. I shopped the perimeter of the supermarket and focused on eliminating processed foods in favor of whole foods. I still enjoy desserts, but I make them myself.

As a result of making small, consistent changes to my daily meals, I’ve lost 15 pounds. And I’ve discovered a passion for cooking with vegetables. I check out vegetarian cookbooks from my beloved South Branch Library and when I discover one I love, I buy it from Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco.

I still need to lose 20 pounds to reach my personal goal. And although I was a sprinter and a competitive swimmer many years ago, when it comes to diet, I am a turtle. Slow and steady wins the race.

Here are two familiar comfort food recipes that are tweaked to make them healthier without losing their familiar taste and satisfaction.

Shepherd’s Pie

In this recipe, mushrooms are equal to the amount of beef used. If you want a vegetarian meal, skip the beef altogether and just use mushrooms. I would also add three large diced carrots.


1 lb of grass-fed beef or bison

1 lb of cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 6oz can of tomato paste

2 large pale yellow yams, peeled and cut into large chunks

½ cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt (read the ingredients and buy brands made with ingredients you recognize, cultured milk or cream)

4 tablespoons of butter (Yes, real butter! Everything in moderation)

Salt and pepper to taste


Fill a large stock pot with water, add salt and the chunks of yams, bring to a boil and cook until the yams are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and return the yams to the pot, add butter, sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. Mash the yams, or if you want smoother mashed yams, use a standing or hand mixer.

While the yams are boiling (which will take about 20 minutes) cook the ground beef in a large frying pan. When the beef is cooked through, transfer it to a plate and drain all but a tablespoon of fat. Add the mushrooms and onions (and carrots, if used) to the pan and sauté until tender but not overcooked, about 10 minutes. Add the beef back into the frying pan, add the tomato paste and allow the tomato paste to infuse the beef, mushrooms, onions and carrots. Transfer the mixture into a baking dish.

Spread the mashed yams over the beef/mushroom mixture, sprinkle with a shredded cheese of your choice. The dish can be made ahead to this step. When you’re ready to serve, pop it into the oven to heat through.

Meatballs in Red Wine Sauce

Lean ground turkey gets a bad rap for being dry and tasteless. But if you buy a mixture that includes dark meat you’ll end up with a meatball that is moist and delicious. I’ve added gently sautéed greens and onions to add depth of flavor and texture to an otherwise bland meat.



1 lb of ground turkey with dark meat (Although I haven’t tried it yet, I’ve seen recipes that substitute 1-2 cans of drained, mashed, white beans for the turkey. Sounds interesting!)

1/2 bunch of parsley, finely minced

1 yellow onion, finely minced

1–2 garlic cloves, minced

1 egg

½ cup bread crumbs

1/3 cup milk


2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 – ½ cup red wine

1/3 cup heavy cream or Greek yogurt

1 ½ cup chicken stock


Gently sauté the onions, parsley and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, being careful not to burn.

Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, milk and cooled sautéed vegetable mixture in a large bowl and gently mix together. Form meatballs, about 2 tablespoons each, I used a medium-sized spoon and my hands.

Heat a combination of 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large frying pan, gently add each turkey meatball and allow to brown on one side before turning.

Brown meatballs on all sides and cook through. Remove meatballs from frying pan. Add red wine to frying pan to deglaze. Then add the butter, melt, add the flour and allow the flour to cook in the butter, stirring frequently, until the butter is cooked, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add chicken stock and cream, whisking briskly. Return to the heat, continue to whisk, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more wine if desired.

Return the meatballs to the sauce and allow the meatballs to reheat in the sauce for 10-15 minutes. Serve the meatballs over rice or egg noodles or enjoy alone with a side of steamed vegetables.

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