'Eat This' authors offer advice for nutritious home cooking
Every time I hear that David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding are publishing another book in their "Eat This, Not That!" series, I steel myself: Having written about several already, I'm resolved not to fall prey to their charms again.
And yet here I sit.
The fellows, editor in chief and food and nutrition editor, respectively, of Men's Health magazine, have put together another compelling volume that shows how we can all bypass the hyper-caloric, fat- , sugar- and salt-laden offerings from fast-food joints and quick-serve restaurants to make our diets more healthful and nutritious.
In past iterations, they've followed a formula, comparing a better-for-you offering (eat this) with something quite horrible (not that). In their new book, "Cook This, Not That!" (Rodale, 2009), they advise taking what for some is a drastic measure: learning to cook.
The premise is that by simply mastering a few basic but tasty recipes and substituting them for takeout or other meals prepared by others, we can seize control of what we eat, how many calories we consume and how much we spend. The authors make an excellent case for eating in: In the time it takes for a pizza or some Chinese food to be delivered or for the family to pile into the car and drive to a restaurant, any of us can cook a delicious, satisfying and nutritious meal in our kitchen.
The book features more than 200 recipes, each illustrated with a full-page color photo and contrasted with a restaurant favorite. None takes more than 20 or 30 minutes to cook. The Spinach Salad With Warm Bacon Dressing, with 220 calories, 11 grams of fat (three of them saturated) and 560 milligrams of sodium per serving, is offered as a substitute for the Grilled Shrimp 'N Spinach Salad from Applebee's, which delivers 1,040 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 milligrams of sodium (more than the government's dietary guidelines budgets for a full day).
Some features of "Cook This, Not That!" are aimed at the reluctant or novice cook: There's a chapter with a guide to outfitting a kitchen for just $331, for instance. But because Goulding was a professional chef before he joined Men's Health, he's made these recipes worthwhile for more-seasoned cooks, too. One example: a more healthful version of chicken fried rice than the kind you'd get at P.F. Chang's, which at the time the book was written contained an ungodly 4,548 milligrams of sodium. (The restaurant chain apparently has since reduced the dish's sodium content.) The homemade version has 720 milligrams.
One thing I love about the "Cook This" approach is its emphasis on fresh, whole ingredients and its embrace of delicious items (such as the bacon in that spinach salad) that many diet and nutrition guides would consider off-limits.
"We're all about honest, simple food," the authors write. "And we're not afraid to use the real ingredients delicious food demands." They eschew light mayonnaise, Splenda, fat-free half-and-half and "sneaky tricks like folding pureed broccoli into your brownies, using Fiber One cereal as breading, or replacing butter with applesauce in the chocolate cookies."
See why I like these books so much?
Like the others in the series, this book is packed with handy tips (top your pancakes with easy-to-make fruit compote instead of maple syrup) and graphic guides to selecting the best foods, from meats and dairy products to pantry staples. And it isn't afraid to play favorites: Breyers All Natural ice cream is singled out as the "go-to brand for all your ice cream needs" because milk, rather than cream, is the first ingredient; it thus has fewer calories and fat than other brands.
"The first six books were telling people how to make smart choices when in a compromising position," Goulding told me over the phone. "They were about mitigating damage" when your only dining option is the food court.
The new book, he said, is "not about cutting out foods you really love, but about learning to produce them in an environment in which you're in control." That control lets you take charge of how much butter, salt and sugar you consume, said Goulding.
So, do the authors practice what they preach? Zinczenko said via e-mail, "I cook occasionally, but not as much as Matt." Goulding said that, even with his busy schedule, he tries to cook dinner five nights a week.
But even those who feel they can't manage that frequency can improve their diets by just cooking more often. "You'd have to try very hard," he said, "not to do better than what restaurants do for you day in and day out."