Many of us grew up on a diet of white bread, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, and white pasta, with a few fruits and veggies thrown in. We know better now, but we all have our favorite dishes, like lasagna or mashed potatoes. Foods that go against our nutrition goals, but we still crave the comforting feelings they provide.
But there is a solution. One that can still give you the soothing feeling of your favorite meal, without sending your nutrition off the rails. The small change of substituting zucchini for white flour products can make an amazing difference.
Zucchini is a versatile vegetable that can help us create healthier versions of the foods we love, and also beef up some traditionally healthy meals. It is packed full of nutrients we just don’t get from white pasta or white bread. One cup of zucchini provides about 35% of your daily vitamin C and about 300mg of potassium, with only 20 calories and 4 grams of carbs, two of which are indigestible fiber.
Use zucchini in place of the pasta. About three medium-sized zucchini cut into quarter-inch thick strips will add all the noodle consistency you need. Lightly blanch the zucchini in water before baking with sauce, meat, and cheese.
This tactic would also be useful for making stuffed shells. Lightly blanched zucchini is flexible and can be rolled and stuffed with cheese. We can bicker over whether or not all that cheese is healthy, but starting with small substitutions can really make a difference.
Latkes are traditionally made with white potatoes and eggs, but you can substitute zucchini for the potatoes. Shred the zucchini the same way as you would the potato, and then fry it in coconut oil. Make sure the shredded zucchini is drained first, though, or you will end up with a watery mess. Mixing carrots or sweet potatoes with the shredded zucchini can help to maintain the crispy consistency usually achieved with white potatoes.
There is a nifty little gadget on the market now called a vegetable spiralizer. It can turn nearly any vegetable into noodle form. I find that zucchini makes the best “zoodles,” but this tool can also be used to string cucumbers, onions, or sweet potatoes. Sweet potato fries, anyone? Zoodles can be used in place of spaghetti or other string pasta. They can also be used in “pasta” salads or (my personal favorite) as an Asian-style lo mein.
Stir-fry can sometimes feel a little light and unfulfilling, especially if you’re trying to cut carbs and are opting out of the rice. So, I beef up my stir-fry with marinated zucchini slices. Zucchini marinated all day in a little soy, garlic, and ginger is amazing and adds more body so that rice is not missed. Or better yet, combine the last tip and this one, and add some marinated zoodle lo-mein!
Zucchini takes on nearly any marinade very well. Garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil is a great way to treat zucchini prior to baking if you are looking for a potato fix. My husband and I can devour three whole zucchini in one meal when prepared this way.
Note: Bake zucchini low and slow for the best potato consistency. It can burn easily in a super hot oven. And, make sure all of the slices are cut evenly so they require the same cooking time.
To go with Italian dishes, marinate zucchini with basil, thyme, and olive oil. I find these spices go better with grilling rather than baking because this creates more of a crunchy texture.
"One cup of zucchini provides about 35% of your daily vitamin C and about 300mg of potassium, with only 20 calories and 4 grams of carbs, two of which are indigestible fiber."
Keeping the Taste In Place
Small changes can make a big difference in your daily nutrition habits. Substituting zucchini for white pasta or white potatoes can create a large calorie deficit and remove empty carbohydrates without sacrificing taste – or the comforting feeling that comes along with that cheesy lasagna.
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