TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Healthy Cooking Tips from a Master Chef Anyone Can Do

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Molly Cranna for TIME

Simple is better

If you’ve ever looked at your plate of chicken, quinoa and steamed broccoli and thought, “This again…” you’re not alone. While there are tons of ways to amp up the flavor of healthy fare without overloading it with calories, it’s not something we’re simply born knowing how to do. Even the talented contestants on MasterChef have to start somewhere.

“My grandmother inspired me to cook,” says Lisa Ann Marchesi, a season-seven contestant from Gillette, New Jersey. “She lived downstairs from us for a number of years when I was growing up. And with her kitchen underneath my bedroom, I spent a lot of time with her.”

Though Marchesi works in the commercial insurance industry by day, her true passion is cooking. And it’s that passion that guided her to launch Bella D’Oliva USA, an importer of extra virgin olive oil, and, of course, to regularly cook up meals that she shares with her friends and family online. “My family follows my social media, which is where I’m always cooking and taking photographs. They told me I should try out for MasterChef,” she explains. To continue inspiring cooks across the globe—especially those with an affinity toward healthier fare—Marchesi shared with us some of her go-to cooking hacks that are perfect for beginners and busy people with little time for meal prep.

Read on to find out how to lose weight while enjoying delicious, MasterChef-inspired fare.

1. Add heat

To add flavor to her meals without excess calories, Marchesi regularly sprinkles red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (one of the 5 Best Spices for Fat Loss) onto her food. “It spices up your meals and the heat helps you lose weight!” she tells us. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili pepper its powerful kick, has been shown to reduce belly fat, suppress appetite and boost thermogenesis—the body’s ability to burn food as energy.

2. Realize that simple is often better

Sure, Marchesi is a master in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean that every time her sweet tooth kicks in, she rolls up her sleeves and makes a cake. “I love blueberries and you’ll always find a bar of dark chocolate in my fridge. So when I’m craving something sweet, I make myself a bowl of fresh blueberries and top it with some fresh chopped mint and finely shaved dark chocolate! It’s a sweet, cool, and delish combination!” Plus, it’s far healthier than downing a sleeve of cookies and it’s simple enough that even the most remedial cooks can pull it off.

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3. Add ACV to tea

“To boost my metabolism in the morning, I add apple cider vinegar (ACV) and a drop of honey to my green tea,” says Marchesi. Not only does it taste good, but it also may help with weight loss: the ACV produces proteins inside the body that burn fat, while the green tea is packed with compounds called catechins that blast adipose tissue by revving the metabolism, increasing the release of fat from fat cells (particularly in the belly), and then speeding up the liver’s fat burning capacity.

4. Reinvent classics

Dieters often rely on a steady stream of things like grilled chicken and oatmeal. So unless you mix up the seasonings and preparation methods to keep things interesting, it can become difficult to maintain your healthy eating habits. “To keep staples exciting, I’ll add a Cajun or blackened seasoning to my grilled chicken. I’ll pair it with brown rice and a black bean and corn salad,” Marchesi explains. She even keeps her AM meals interesting and light. “Oatmeal is something my whole family eats every day. We make our own variations by using fresh fruits and a drop of extra virgin olive oil.”

5. Watch how-to videos

A lot of people want to improve their diets, but not everyone is a rockstar in the kitchen. Marchesi assures us that’s ok. “If you want to fine-tune your cooking skills, my number-one suggestion would be to hit up YouTube and search for your favorite chefs and home cooks. It’s the best way to learn their cooking techniques. Make sure you’re watching it in the kitchen with the ingredients and following along!” To ensure the recipes you’re making are the healthy kind, we suggest checking out The Choi of Cooking, a playlist devoted to simple meals and how-tos that can help you trim your waistline.

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6. Amp up salads—and eat them often

She may be surrounded by food 24/7, but you’d never know it by looking at Marchesi’s trim figure. To maintain her lean body, she stays active and nibbles on small meals throughout the day. She also eats a bed of greens before every meal—which is a really smart move. Filling up on fiber- and water-filled foods like veggies can reduce overall calorie intake at mealtime by up to 12 percent, say researchers. To keep things interesting, incorporate new ingredients into your greens on the reg, such as fruit, nuts, and less common veggies like radicchio, edamame, and collards.

7. Make your own dressing

The fastest way to ruin an otherwise healthy bed of greens is to top it with a sugary, chemical-filled bottled dressing. To keep her diet clean and her taste buds satisfied, Marchesi heads to the kitchen. “I love to make my own salad dressing. I use pure extra virgin olive oil and mix that with a little lemon, lemon zest, chopped fresh basil, fresh pepper, and sea salt.” A super simple recipe that takes just a few minutes to make? Nothing’s better than that.

 

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

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