TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Ways to Sneak Vegetables Into Breakfast Foods

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It's a lot easier than you think

Eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables—this is the advice we hear constantly. But how? There are only so many meals and snacks in a day.

First off, let’s go over how much of the green (and red, yellow, white…) stuff you’re supposed to be eating. The USDA recommends at least 2 ½ cups per day for women ages 19 to 50, and 2 cups if you’re 51 or older. (That’s if you aren’t active. Since you probably are, you can have more; though the USDA doesn’t specify how much.) It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal a cup. Or think of it this way (from the USDA’s chart): ½ cup equals 1 medium carrot or 6 baby carrots, a large rib of celery, a small bell pepper, or half of an acorn squash.

Now for many of us, breakfast is a missed opportunity to get some green—fruit seems to get all the love in that a.m. meal. But there are some simple (and delicious!) ways to incorporate all-important vegetables into breakfast. Read on for some of my favorites.

HEALTH.COM: The 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast

Eggs

There’s a reason (many, actually) why eggs are classic breakfast fare. They’re quick, versatile, satisfying, and they may help with weight loss, too. They’re also a perfect way to sneak some veggies into your morning meal. Mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers, onions, even kale—so many vegetables go beautifully in scrambled eggs. Use up those leftovers from last night’s dinner, or grab a handful of mushrooms or spinach in the morning and toss them in the skillet for a few minutes before adding beaten eggs. (If you’re chopping an onion at night, set aside a tablespoon or two for your morning eggs. Cover tightly and refrigerate.)

If mornings are too tight to cook up a scramble, try making a batch of vegetable-filled mini frittatas in a muffin tin over the weekend. Then you just warm them up on busy weekday mornings. (Or not—I’ve eaten them cold, and they’re still delicious).

HEALTH.COM: 5 Ways to Prep Healthy Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Smoothies

No doubt you’ve heard about green smoothies, and perhaps you’ve tried one already. If not, here’s what I like to do: Just toss a handful of frozen organic spinach or kale into whatever I’m making. One of my favorites is a frozen banana, a handful of frozen berries, a handful of frozen kale, hemp seeds (or your favorite protein powder instead, if you like), maca powder (optional; I like it as a nutrient source and energy booster. Try Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Maca Powder, $17.09 for 16 oz., amazon.com), and water.

Sometimes I add a spoonful or two of cacao powder for a chocolate fix (and a couple of dates for sweetness), or a spoonful of almond butter. But you can pretty much toss a handful of greens into any smoothie you like; it won’t affect the taste, and you get all the benefits of those great greens without having to break out the salad bowl. (Warning: The greens can make smoothies look pretty weird. But that seems like a small price to pay.)

Remember, too, that greens aren’t the only vegetables that go well in smoothies. One of my all-time favorite vegetables is pumpkin (I loved it before it was so trendy, just saying). Pumpkin is super-healthy, and so sweet and luscious, it feels indulgent, though it’s loaded with vitamin A and other nutrients. Imagine pumpkin pie in smoothie form—delicious. I also love it thicker, as a use-a-spoon smoothie bowl. Keep in mind that vitamin A is fat soluble, so you need a little fat to absorb it. Be sure there’s some nut butter, full fat milk or yogurt, or some other source of fat to get the most from all that beautiful orange pumpkin.

HEALTH.COM: 26 Easy Smoothie Recipes

Pancakes

Yes, you can add veggies to this classic breakfast food, too. The easiest way is to swap the same amount of pumpkin (or mashed butternut squash) in your favorite recipe that calls for mashed banana. So if your recipe calls for 1 cup of mashed bananas, simply use 1 cup of pumpkin. If your family doesn’t want to abandon banana, swap in half. Even if you don’t get a whole serving of vegetables into your meal, every bit helps.

Savory vegetable pancakes are also a tasty departure for breakfast. A few I’ve made recently include zucchini-scallion pancakes and carrot pancakes with salted yogurt. You can make them for dinner and save extras for breakfast—or cook a batch specially for mornings.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Ways to Cut 500 Calories a Day

On their own

Finally, a simple way to add vegetables to breakfast is to just…eat some. Have a salad for breakfast (it’s not weird! People in Israel do it all the time). The Kitchn has 5 great tips for how to do it well. Once you try it and see how much energy it gives you, you might get hooked. Another way I eat vegetables for breakfast is to nibble while doing other things. (Not ideal, I know, since we should all be sitting down and mindfully eating our meals—but weekday mornings are just too busy, at least in my house.)

So I peel one carrot for my daughter’s lunch, and another one for me to munch on while I’m packing the rest of her lunch. Or if I’m cutting up half a yellow bell pepper or slicing some cucumber for her, I eat some as I go. We’ve all nibbled at our kids’ leftover mac and cheese (right? Tell me it’s not just me…), so we might as well do the same with the vegetables we feed them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Genius Ways to Use Almonds

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They're great whole, but these easy recipes make almonds more fun to eat

In a previous post I listed almonds as one of six foods I eat every day. I adore them, and aside from being delicious and filling, research on the health and weight-loss benefits of these gems just keeps piling up. A new Penn State study concluded that swapping a carb-y snack for an ounce and a half of almonds (about 33 whole nuts) helped lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as reduce both belly and leg fat (impressive!).

While it’s super easy to eat them “as is” (think: adding them to yogurt or sprinkling them on a salad), there are plenty of other ways to incorporate almonds into meals and snacks. Here are five of my favorite simple, healthy combinations.

In smoothies

If you have a powerful blender you can use whole almonds, but almond butter easily whips into any smoothie. In addition to adding nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and bonus protein, the good-for-you fat in almonds boosts the absorption of antioxidants from the produce in your drink. I have dozens of favorite blends, but one of my go-tos lately is a cherry-chocolate-almond combo made with: a cup of frozen cherries, handful of fresh spinach, half a cup each of almond milk and water, tablespoon of almond butter, scoop of pea protein powder, tablespoon of organic non-alkalized cocoa, half teaspoon of vanilla extract, and dash of cinnamon. Heavenly.

HEALTH.COM: Best and Worst Nuts for Your Health

As a crust for lean protein

Rather than breading proteins before cooking, you can use almonds as a crust. For a super simple version, just toss crushed almonds or almond flour (sometimes called almond meal) with herbs of your choice, brush your protein with Dijon mustard or dip into a lightly beaten egg, press with the almond mixture, and bake (400° F for 8-10 minutes is about right for white fish). Serve over a bed of steamed greens with a small portion of whole food starch, like roasted fingerling potatoes. Delish!

HEALTH.COM: 17 High-Protein Snacks You Can Eat On the Go

As a crumble topping

After warming either fresh of frozen fruit on the stove top, I cover it with a crumble made from two tablespoons of almond butter mixed with a quarter cup of raw or toasted rolled oats, seasoned with either pumpkin or apple pie spice. (It’s a little messy, but the easiest way to make it uniform is to get right in there with your fingers rather than trying to use utensils.) It’s ridiculously good on any of your favorite fruits, such as a freshly sliced apple or pear sautéed in a little water and lemon juice, warmed frozen berries or cherries, or a slightly mashed mini banana.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Oatmeal Dessert Recipes That Satisfy

In a sauce

I had a blast creating more than 100 new recipes for my upcoming book Slim Down Now, and one of my favorites includes a sauce I make from almond butter, thinned with organic low-sodium vegetable broth, and seasoned with fresh grated ginger, garlic, turmeric, and crushed red pepper. It’s awesome paired with a generous portion of steamed or sautéed veggies, a lean protein (like shrimp or black-eyed peas), and a small portion of a healthy starch such as gluten-free buckwheat soba noodles or brown rice. Seems decadent, but this healthy dish will leave you simultaneously feeling light, energized, and satisfied.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Ways to Cook With Peanut Butter

Added to savory dishes

I add chopped, sliced, or slivered almonds to hot dishes including stir frys, grains like wild rice and quinoa, cooked veggies (who doesn’t love green bean almondine), and even soups like squash, lentil, or tomato. Finely chopped almonds also add flavor and texture to chilled vegetable, grain, bean, or fruit dishes, like vinegar-based slaw, and cold ginger broccoli, three bean, or seasonal fruit salads. Like a great pair of jeans, almonds go with just about everything!

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Celiac Disease Among UK Kids Has Tripled

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Over the last 20 years, celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, has tripled among children in the United Kingdom, a new study shows.

The new data, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, shows that while 1% of all kids in the U.K. have blood markers for the disease, there are socioeconomic disparities among who gets diagnosed.

Researchers looked at data from a U.K. database called the The Health Improvement Network (THIN) which collects public health records. The researchers looked at all children in the system from birth to age 18 with a general practitioner between the years 1993 and 2012. That came to a total of 2,063,421 kids, of which 1,247 were diagnosed with celiac. That came out to about one new case of the disease in every 10,000 kids every year.

Numbers of new diagnoses among infants remained low, but the data showed that among kids two years and older, the rate of diagnoses tripled during the time period. The spike was 53% greater among girls, and the overall rate of diagnoses between 2008 and 2012 was 75% higher compared to the rate between 1993 and 1997.

The researchers also noted that socioeconomically deprived children were only half as likely to be diagnosed with celiac compared to children who were better off.

MORE: Should You Eat Gluten-Free Bread?

Study author Laila Tata, an associate professor in epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, told TIME over email that while in theory the increases could be due to changes in risk factors like diet and a greater predisposition for the disease among the population, there was a lack of evidence to back that up. Another, more likely explanation is that a greater awareness of the disease and better medical means to diagnosis it could be contributing to the rise. “The differences we found relating to socioeconomic inequalities in diagnosis also support this rather than a true increase in the disease,” she says.

Tata says her team is now looking into whether there is a link between diagnoses and patient interactions with primary care doctors to determine if the socioeconomic inequalities could be due to a lack of patients seeking medical care.

“Another likely possibility is that ascertainment of disease varies, so awareness campaigns for clinicians and the general population may help to implement strategies for case-finding in all children and reduce this inequality,” says Tata.

TIME governors

Chris Christie Has Been Gifted 77 Weight-Loss Books While in Office

<> on January 13, 2015 in Trenton, New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives the annual State of the State address on January 13, 2015 in Trenton, New Jersey. Andrew Burton—2015 Getty Images

Titles include The Macho Man Diet and Leave the Cannoli, Take the Weights

Of the 1,100 gifts Chris Christie has received from the public since taking office five years ago, 600 are books, 77 of which are about diet, weight loss, exercise or bariatric surgery.

The gifts include CDs, DVDs and kits, NJ.com reports, and they come from authors and readers alike. Even Dr. Mehmet Oz sent the New Jersey governor a copy of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live.

While Christie has thanked supporters who’ve noticed his weight loss since his bariatric surgery two years ago, he prefers to keep the topic of his size a private matter. We’re guessing not all 77 of these titles have a permanent home on the Christies’ bookshelves.

[NJ.com]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why You Might Not Want To Mix Alcohol and Energy Drinks

370699 02: A shot of vodka is poured into a "Red Bull" energy drink in this 1999 photo taken in Los Angeles, CA. The mixed drink keep club goers buzzed but wide awake while partying. They''re calling this beverage "ecstasy in a can." (Photo by Evan Kafka/Liaison)
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Combining the two seems to make you want to drink more and mask signs of inebriation

For years, research has suggested that mixing alcohol and heavily-caffeinated energy drinks could have negative health effects. Combining the two seems to make you want to drink more and mask signs of inebriation.

The combo’s potential negative consequences aren’t just a personal risk, but a public health one, suggests a new paper in the journal Advances in Nutrition.

“When people mix energy drinks with alcohol, people drink more than they would if they had just consumed alcohol, which is associated with a cascade of problems,” says paper author Cecile Marczinski, associate professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University.

The increased likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, particularly drunk driving, is chief among the public health concerns, Marczinski says. The caffeine rush in energy drinks makes a drinker look and feel more balanced and coordinated than their drinking would suggest, leading some drinkers to believe they’re not actually drunk. In one study Marczinski cited, people who combined energy drinks and alcohol were four times more likely to think they could drive home than their counterparts who drank alcohol alone. The effects of the energy drink may also make it less obvious to police officers that a driver is drunk, making the officer less likely to breathalyze.

Other public health concerns that stem from mixing alcohol and energy drinks include adolescent brain damage, more emergency department visits and increased hospitalizations, the review says.

Even though the widespread popularization of energy drinks is a relatively new phenomenon, some jurisdictions have worked to address the growing public health issues, Marczinski says. Some parts of Australia ban the sale of energy drinks in bars after midnight. “You can have really dramatic solutions or minor steps in the right direction,” she says.

University of Connecticut Health Center researcher Steven Meredith, who has studied the health effects of the mixed drinks but was not involved in the review, says that more research is needed to fully understand how energy drinks and alcohol interact with the body together. Still, taking a more active approach to public policy makes sense, he says, given the reported risks.

“If you’re in public policy and health care, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Drink Almond Milk?

Without some of milk's major nutrients, is almond milk worth drinking?

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

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4/5 experts say yes.

This one’s no cold case. Almond milk is a worthy addition to your fridge, according to most of these experts.

The darling of the plant milk substitutes, almond milk is an obvious choice for vegans and people with lactose allergies, and almond milk is 50% lower in calories than cow’s milk, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, making it a good for people trying to lose weight. Because it’s not an animal product, it has no cholesterol.

But even though it can stand in for cow’s milk in smoothies, oatmeal and cereal, it’s not milk’s nutritional clone.

MORE Milk-Off! The Real Skinny on Soy, Almond and Rice

“Unlike dairy milk and soy milk, almond milk is naturally low in protein,” says Alicia Romano, registered dietitian at Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center. While a glass of cow milk or soy milk has 8 grams of protein, a glass of almond milk has a single measly gram. That may seem strange, since almonds are little ovals of protein: an ounce of the nuts has 6 grams. But its “milk” version is mostly water, and most of the nutrient-dense almonds get strained out of the final product. You don’t get as much calcium, either, unless it’s fortified.

That’s part of the confusion around a product like almond milk, which gives you neither the well-known nutritional benefits of almonds (protein and good fat) nor milk (calcium). “I’m staunchly against plant-based foods disguising themselves as [animal-derived] options,” says Jo-Ann Jolly, registered dietitian at American University. “A lot of times this process can leave foods with more additives and sometimes more calories, fat and sugar.” If you like the taste of almond milk, then by all means drink it, she says, but make sure to read labels. Unsweetened almond milk lets you avoid the surge of added sugar in the flavored kinds, says Outi Mäkinen, a researcher who’s studied plant milks like almond milk.

MORE How to Make Milk Out of Nuts in 5 Easy Steps

Almond milk isn’t for everyone, says Dr. Julie Lemale, a researcher at Hôpital Trousseau in France. Her study last year suggested that substituting milk with alternative milk beverages—including almond milk—in infants under a year old may result in nutritional deficiencies and the growth problems that can come with them.

If you’re not an infant, though, almond milk’s a safe bet. And if you find the non-sugary version delicious, you may have found your perfect non-dairy cereal match.

Read next: Should I Drink Coconut Water?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s Now Coffee to Help You Fall Asleep

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A new product mixes coffee with a sleep-inducing herb

Imagine brewing coffee as a nightcap. That’s what Deland Jessop says he and his wife have begun to do with Counting Sheep Coffee—a new product designed to allow coffee lovers to drink a cup before bed without being kept awake for hours.

“Instead of a glass of wine, we’ll brew up a cup of coffee instead,” said Jessop, who launched the company in 2013.

When his wife complained that she couldn’t enjoy coffee after 3 p.m., Jessop turned his home into a makeshift lab to search for a possible solution. After experimenting with a variety of herbs and supplements, he says he stumbled upon valerian—a plant that has been used as a mild sedative in Europe for centuries. He mixed it with decaf to mask the pungent smell, and sleep coffee was born.

Jessop notes that Counting Sheep Coffee is a food product, not a drug to help with sleep. Valerian is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient.

Experts don’t know exactly why the plant such a potent sleep-inducer, but there’s little known risk of side effects (other than the obvious drowsiness), says University of California San Francisco associate professor Stephen Bent. “In the studies that have been done, it’s been show to be safe,” he says. “It has a long traditional history of being used to induce sleep.”

The product first appeared at Bed, Bath & Beyond in 2013, and is now sold in several regional supermarkets.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

This Juice Is Good for Athletes—But Not for the Reason They Think

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Athletes are known to chug beet juice to give them an endurance boost. The root vegetables are a rich natural source of nitrates—which may help with blood flow—and they’re thought to give exercisers an edge by increasing flow to their limbs during workouts. Now, a new study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism shows that beet juice really is good for athletes—but maybe not for the reasons they believe.

In a small trial, 12 healthy men in their early twenties drank beet juice either with nitrates, or a placebo version with the nitrates removed. Three hours after drinking, researchers measured the size of their arteries and flow speed of their blood when they were at rest and during six different intensities of a hand grip exercise.

Contrary to what they expected to find, researchers discovered that the beet juice had no effect on blood flow or artery size, either at rest or during activity. But they did find that it lowered pressure of blood vessels at rest.

The authors note that more research is needed to determine if the results would change under more strenuous exercise, or in an older, less healthy population. But other studies have shown beet’s positive effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health—which could mean that far more of us than just elite athletes might want to give beets a chance.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Is It Bad to Eat the Same Thing Every Day?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You can get away with eating the same things on loop. But you have to be shrewd about the foods on your grocery list

Meal planning and prep is a pain—especially during the workweek. So it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying, making and eating the same foods day in and day out. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily bad news for your health.

For one thing, “More food variety universally leads to more food intake,” says Dr. Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.

Imagine a buffet of vegetable dishes versus one large bowl of salad. You’ll eat more from the buffet every time, Roberts says, since we’re “hard wired” for food variety. Unfortunately, that instinct kicks in even if you replace the healthy veggie buffet with its more realistic equivalent: junk food. For that reason, Roberts says trimming your mealtime array of food options is one way to control overeating.

MORE 5 Healthy Eating Habits to Adopt This Year

We have that hard-wired instinct toward food diversity for a good reason. “No one food has all the nutrients we need in the optimum amounts, so eating a variety of foods means you are much more likely to get enough of each one,” Roberts explains.

But how much variety is enough, and how much is too much? A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health found women who regularly ate 16 or 17 items from a healthy list of foods—which included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals like quinoa, fish, and low-fat dairy—enjoyed a 42-percent drop in death from any cause compared to women who ate fewer than nine of the foods on that list.

On the other hand, there’s some very preliminary research that suggests eating a varied diet may have some not-so-hot health effects when it comes to your microbiome. That’s the network of microorganisms that lives in your body and supports your digestive system, helps control your appetite and performs dozens of other essential functions.

MORE 7 Things You Should Know About Shrimp

Typically, microbe diversity is a good thing when it comes to your gut. But, according to Dr. Daniel Bolnick, an ecologist at the University of Texas, “We’ve shown that in some animals, mixing foods actually reduces the number and variety of gut microbes.”

Bolnick says the takeaway at this stage isn’t that eating a wide variety of foods is bad, but rather that combinations of foods can do unexpected things. “If you know the effect of Food A and the effect of Food B, you can’t predict what will happen to the microbiome when you eat both,” he says. “There’s no question that, as a species, we eat a greater variety of things now then we used to. But whether that’s good or bad for us is still in question.”

So is it good or bad to eat the same stuff every day? If you’re thinking a bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and meat with potatoes and a salad for dinner, you’re surely going to be deficient in a number of the necessary nutrients your body needs to thrive, Roberts says.

But if you’re packing plenty of healthful, micronutrient-dense vegetables into your simple meal plan—at least six, Roberts advises—you probably don’t have much to worry about. Just be sure the vegetables you eat come in lots of colors, which tend to correlate with different nutrients. And stay away from starchy vegetables like potatoes, which don’t offer a lot of nutrient bang for your buck, she adds.

MORE How You Can Eat More of These 5 Winter Fruits and Veggies

Roberts says the following sample menu would offer pretty much everything your body needs even if you ate it every day: Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for breakfast, a spinach or kale salad with chicken and vegetables for lunch, a fruit-and-nut smoothie for a snack, and some kind of vegetable-and-brown-rice stir fry for dinner.

Of course, there are a thousand other ways you could structure your meals to get all the good stuff your body needs from just a few dishes. And you don’t have to restrict yourself to such a limited plan. The big takeaway here is you also don’t have to go crazy trying to fit a million exotic “superfoods” into your diet if you want to be healthy, Roberts says.

Consider this permission to be monogamous when it comes to your favorite healthy meals.

Read next: You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?

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TIME advice

7 Common Cooking Mistakes

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An innocent error can easily lead to a disappointing dish. Here's how to prevent overcrowded pans, recipe missteps and more

Mistake #1: You Didn’t Read the Recipe Through Before You Started Cooking

“Reading a recipe is like looking at a map before going on a trip. It’s the best way to make sure your meal is successful,” says Linda Carucci, author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. Most cooking mishaps happen when a crucial detail is overlooked. Add cold butter instead of room-temperature butter to the batter and you may end up with a dry and lumpy cake; add tomatoes to the sauce before the onions are fully cooked and you’ll have a crunchy, not smooth, spaghetti topper.

What to do next time: Before picking up a spoon, take a minute to focus on the details.

  • Slow down and look in the recipe for action verbs, like chop, strain, and whip, to figure out which tasks need to be performed before you start cooking and which ones can wait until the recipe is under way.
  • Pull out the ingredients and the equipment you need. If everything is ready to go and you suddenly realize you don’t have a five-by-nine-inch loaf pan, you’ll still be able to look up an appropriate substitute, like an eight-inch square pan, before it’s too late―though you may need to adjust the baking time and temperature. (See easy pan equivalents.)

Mistake #2: You Overcrowded the Pan

Covering the entire surface of a pan traps heat and creates steam. And steam, says Richard Simpson, director of education at the Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City, is an enemy of browning, which locks in flavor and juices.

What to do next time: To guard against overcrowding, use two pans or cook in batches. To prevent the first batch of food from getting cold while you cook the second, keep it on an ovenproof plate in an oven set at a low temperature (about 200° F).

MORE 3 Breakfast Rules to Follow to Lose Weight

Mistake #3: You Didn’t Preheat the Pan, and Your Fish Fillets Turned Out Soggy

“The cooking surface has to be hot enough to seal in the juices and brown the food,” says Tamara Murphy, owner and chef of Brasa, a restaurant in Seattle. Food also tends to stick to a pan that’s too cold, which makes it harder to sauté everything, from onions to potatoes.

What to do next time: Heat the cooking surface on high for several minutes before adding the oil. You’ll know that the pan is hot enough when a few drops of water thrown on the cooking surface skitter and evaporate quickly. Now you can add the oil. When it begins to shimmer and ripple slightly, or a few seconds later, add the meat or the fish. If you’re using a nonstick pan, put the oil in the pan before you turn on the heat, as nonstick pans may release toxins when they’re heated up empty.

Mistake #4: You Cooked Pasta in a Small Pot and Ended Up With a Pile of Gummy Noodles

When food is added to a boiling pot, it immediately lowers the temperature of the water. Add too much food to too little water and the water will stop boiling, which changes the cooking process and makes your spaghetti taste starchy. If you blanch beans or basil in water that isn’t hot enough, they’ll discolor and turn brown, says Mike Sheerin, chef de cuisine at Blackbird, a restaurant in Chicago.

What to do next time: Use lots of water. “You really want the food to swim,” says Simpson. How much water should you use? For a pound of pasta, use at least a five-quart pot, filled with rapidly boiling water. For more help, watch this video about how to cook pasta, then try one of these family-friendly spaghetti recipes.

MORE Should I Eat Whole-Wheat Pasta?

Mistake #5: You Sautéed Wet Greens

The excess water on leaves in a hot pan creates steam, leaving spinach that’s stewed and mushy rather than bright and tender. In addition, “hot oil will splatter when it’s hit with cold water,” says Murphy. “So you’d better duck.”

What to do next time: To get tender greens, invest in a salad spinner.

  • For best results, spin the greens, pour out the water, toss, and spin again.
  • Wait until the pan is very hot before dumping in the greens, says Simpson. They should be sautéed only a minute or two, until they’re just wilted.

Mistake #6: Using Dried Herbs in a Recipe in Place of Fresh Ones Resulted in a Heavily Overseasoned Dinner

Adding a tablespoon of dried oregano in place of a tablespoon of fresh seems like an easy fix. The problem is that some herbs, like basil and parsley, lose some of their flavor when dried, while others, like oregano and tarragon, “are massively more powerful, and if you put in too much, you’ll overwhelm a dish,” says Simpson.

What to do next time: When making substitutions, let the strength of the herb guide you. Here’s how to season smartly.

  • For especially fragrant dried herbs, use about a third of the amount of fresh herbs called for in the recipe. For extra-mild dried herbs, add a little more. Don’t know if the dried herb is fragrant or mild? As a general rule, if a recipe calls for a fresh herb to be added at the beginning of the cooking process, it is probably stronger when dried; if it’s called for at the end of the process, it is probably mild when dried.
  • The best way to judge an herb’s strength is by taste. If your dried oregano has almost no flavor, neither will the sauce, so use a heavy hand.
  • You can wake up the flavor of dried herbs by toasting them in a pan for a minute or two, says Carucci.

MORE How You Can Eat More of These 5 Winter Fruits and Veggies

Mistake #7: You Fried Food in Oil That Wasn’t Hot Enough

Whether you’re panfrying or deep-frying, food will absorb too much oil and become heavy and greasy if the oil is below 350° F.

What to do next time: Use an oil with a high smoking point (the temperature at which it begins to burn), and get it good and hot. Safflower, peanut, grapeseed, and canola oils are ones to try. Then follow these tips to tell if the pan is hot enough for cooking.

  • If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, do a test run, suggests Sheerin. Dip a bit of whatever you plan to fry, like a corner of a fish fillet, into the oil. It should sizzle immediately if the oil is ready.
  • You can also test a hunk of bread, which should brown in 10 seconds.
  • If you goof up and put the food in too early, “pull it out of the oil immediately,” says Sheerin. “Just because you’re doing it wrong doesn’t mean that you can’t fix it.” Let the oil heat and try again.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Read next: 6 Cooking Techniques You Need to Know

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