15 Tricks Chefs Use to Make Healthy Food Taste Delicious

Struggling to prepare healthy meals that not only are kind to your waistline, but also taste good on your fork? You’re not alone. Many home cooks have a tough time figuring out how to make healthy food taste delicious. And many wrongly assume only unhealthy food tastes good, while healthy food is doomed to taste less flavorful, smell less appetizing, and look a little sadder on the plate. Fortunately, they’re completely wrong. And professional chefs have discovered (and shared) numerous tricks that make healthy food taste incredibly delicious.

Check out some of chefs’ most useful tips for making any healthy meal into one you’ll savor.

1. Season your butter to use less of it

Chefs in a restaurant kitchen
Herbs and spices enhance plain butter. | iStock.com/bgton

If you’re cooking healthy meals, you already know you need to use butter only in moderation. A chef-approved way to do that? Season your butter. According to Greatist, “Adding extra seasoning to butter adds a flavor that you wouldn’t get with plain butter — so you can use less overall.” Thyme, garlic, and lemon zest all make great additions, especially if you’re cooking meat. To season butter, just heat it in a saucepan until it foams. Then, remove it from the heat, and add your herbs, spices, or flavorings of choice. Let it sit briefly. Then, strain and refrigerate it.

2. Roast vegetables

chef preparing vegetables
Roasting makes all the difference for some vegetables. | iStock.com/Minerva Studio

Many people hate the taste of super-healthy veggies, such as beets. But you can still learn to love them — and benefit from their nutritious makeup — by learning the right way to prepare them. Women’s Health learned chefs mellow or balance out the less pleasant flavors of beets by roasting them. Just cut off the leaves and stem. Then, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and bake them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for at least half an hour. Then, peel and serve with mustard. Roasting works great with other veggies, too. Most just need to be tossed with a bit of oil.

3. Replace sour cream, mayo, or butter with labneh

friends eating
Labneh is a strained yogurt cheese. | iStock.com

Greatist also reports you can replace high-fat ingredients — such as sour cream, mayonnaise, and butter — with labneh. This strained yogurt cheese is both thicker and creamier than Greek yogurt. (Yogurt can also substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise.) You can even use labneh in place of butter when you’re baking. According to Greatist, the swap “adds flavor, moisture, and brings a lightness to enhance any dish.”

4. Add salt, instead of sugar, to your coffee or tea

drinking coffee
Salt tends to neutralize bitterness and bring out flavors. | iStock.com

For a healthier caffeine kick each morning, you probably try to minimize the amount of sugar you mix into your coffee or tea. But Greatist learned some chefs recommend foregoing the sugar altogether — and trying a dash of sea salt instead. The salt intensifies the taste of your favorite tea or coffee. And it might bring out subtle flavors you hadn’t even noticed in past cups. Plus, it neutralizes any bitterness, without the extra calories like sugar does.

5. Try a blended salt to add flavor to your meals

Couple making salad together in the Kitchen
Salt blends make a dish more interesting. | iStock.com

Another great use of salt when you’re preparing a healthy meal? Good Housekeeping learned many chefs use blended salts to add complexity to flavors and help them complement one another. The principle applies whether you’re cooking something that’s high in calories and fat or a light meal with lean meat and healthy sides. So how do you try it? “Salt blends are made by adding a ground spice or herb, such as coriander or rosemary, to a base salt.” You can even “wake up” stale spices by toasting them in a dry pan prior to using them.

6. But don’t overdo the salt

A woman's hands covered in flour kneading dough in a bowl in preparation for baking.
Too much salt doesn’t do your meal — or your body — any favors. | iStock.com/Kerkez

A little bit of salt won’t hurt you. But don’t fall into the trap of adding way too much salt to make up for a meal’s low fat content. Cooking Light advises cutting back on salt, particularly if you overuse it. (And read the labels on store-bought items, such as sour cream. Low-fat versions might have more salt than the regular version.) Try new herbs and spices to make up for the reduced salt. And realize you don’t always have to use the dried or powdered versions. Many chefs prefer fresh herbs and freshly ground spices.

7. Use cauliflower instead of cream

chef in restaurant kitchen
Steam and puree the cauliflower as a substitution. | iStock.com/michaeljung

Another eyebrow-raising substitution a professional chef recommended to Greatist? You can steam and puree cauliflower, and use the result in place of cream. In dishes, such as risotto or creamed spinach, swapping the high-fat cream for cauliflower makes the dish lighter and healthier. But this unlikely swap also adds extra fiber, vitamins, and nutrients to your meal.

8. Add vinegar

chef reading order in kitchen
Vinegar brightens many dishes. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

Think your dish needs something extra, but don’t want to reach for the salt or butter? Try vinegar. Greatist learned vinegar offers “a light and refreshing way to make an average dish taste way better in less than a minute.” And it’s not just white vinegar you should have in your pantry. Red wine vinegar, for instance, will brighten the flavor of braised meat. And balsamic vinegar can balance the flavor in a soup that tastes too salty.

9. Cook with venison instead of beef

Chef in restaurant kitchen cooking
Chef in restaurant kitchen cooking | iStock.com/logoff

If you’re up for switching out the kind of meat you prepare, Greatist recommends trying venison instead of beef. “It has the same amount of protein as beef and about ⅕ of the fat — even less than skinless chicken breast but with much more flavor.” Don’t know how to buy or prepare venison? Look for a premium cut, such as loin, rack, or tenderloin. Then, use a very hot pan or grill to cook it to medium-rare. That way, you’ll get the best flavor and moisture.

10. Eat what’s in season

Chef in restaurant kitchen cooking
Cook with in-season produce, even if it’s not what you normally like eating. | iStock.com/kzenon

When you find vegetables or fruits you like — particularly if you’ll admit to being a picky eater — it’s tempting to stick with what you know. But if you seek out the same produce year-round, you aren’t going to get the best flavor. Even when fruits and veggies are flown in to your local grocery store from all over the world, the ones that are actually in season are going to taste better — and fresher — than the ones that aren’t. Starting with better-tasting ingredients is a surefire way to end up with a more flavorful meal. So you owe it to yourself to try new things in the produce section.

11. Wait until the end of cooking to add fat

wooden table at restaurant
You can get more out of less fat if you add it at the end. | iStock.com/Weedezign

Cooking healthy meals doesn’t mean swearing off fats entirely. But if you want to use less fat, Greatist recommends adding most of the fat at the end of cooking. “A tablespoon of butter or oil added at the end of cooking will add more flavor than 4 or 5 tablespoons added at the start of the cooking process. When you add fat at the end, it rests on the surface of the food instead of melding or combining with your ingredients.”

12. Go with bold flavors

A dish with concentrated flavor needs less fat. | iStock.com

Another great way to reduce the amount of fat you need to use to cook a dish? Go with bold flavors, so your food gets its taste from something other than fat. Health learned many chefs not only start with bold combinations of spices and herbs, but they cook things specifically to amp up those flavors. Cooking techniques, such as reducing and simmering, for instance, both concentrate flavors. That way, the taste becomes a lot stronger, and you won’t need to add fat in order to get a distinct flavor.

13. Make your own salad dressing

young man cutting vegetables in kitchen
You can control nutritional content with a DIY salad dressing. | iStock.com

Anyone on a healthy diet ends up eating salad at least occasionally. Ranch dressing or other high-fat toppings might be out of the question. But you can still make even a simple salad taste great with your own homemade salad dressing. Good Housekeeping learned chefs use three parts oil to two parts acid to make salad dressing. You can try olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil. And acids can be lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. Or make an infused oil to use as a dressing by heating oil to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and then adding spices or herbs.

14. Try cooking with wine

Making risotto
Wine brings out other ingredients’ flavor. | iStock.com

All Recipes reports another chef-sanctioned way to intensify the flavor even in a healthy dish is to cook it with wine. (That’s a much lower-fat option than butter or oil.) All Recipes explains, “The alcohol in wine doesn’t add flavor to dishes so much as it makes other ingredients taste better. The alcohol helps release flavor molecules in foods and assists in dissolving fats, allowing ingredients to reveal their own unique flavors in ways that other liquids (like water or broth) or fats (like butter and olive oil) cannot.”

15. Share it on Instagram

preparing a meal
Don’t scoff. Sharing a social connection enhances the dining experience. | iStock.com

If all fails, it helps to keep this easy trick in your (apron) pocket. According to Cooking Light, researchers have found sharing photos of your food on social media, such as Instagram, enhances the experience of eating that food. So taking a photo of the food you’re going to eat might make it taste better.

Also, it might work best with healthy foods you’ve seen other people preparing and eating on Instagram. As the publication explains, “When participants in the study were made aware that other individuals were photographing and enjoying the same healthy foods they were about to photograph and enjoy (think: trending hashtags), the pleasurable experience of eating the healthy food was higher than those who did not receive the information.”