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Eating healthy, at home or with takeout

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The pandemic may have made eating right more challenging, but don’t buy into the notion that COVID-19 means it’s OK to have gained 19 pounds.

If you’re getting takeout or having meals delivered, look for these options:

  • Skinless chicken, fish and lean meat (have it grilled, sautéed, roasted, steamed, baked or poached)
  • Whole-grain bread, rice and pasta
  • Broth-based soup with lots of vegetables
  • Baked potato or side salad (get dressings and sauces on the side so you control the portions)
  • Black beans
  • Guacamole or pico de Gallo
  • Light sauces flavored with herbs, spices or vinegar (again, get these on the side so you control the portions)
  • Fresh fruit and fruit-based desserts

Here are simple and healthy recipes to make two takeout favorites – Sweet and Sour Chicken, and Tailgate Chili – at home:

Sweet and Sour Chicken

This version cuts out the sugar and fat often found in restaurant takeout. Makes 4 servings. Serving size: 2 cups chicken and ½ cup brown rice.

A plate of shrimp stir fry on a bed of brown rice.


4 bell peppers, 1 each of red, yellow, green, and orange if possible, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips (around 5 cups)

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 teaspoons canola oil (divided)

1¼ pounds skinless, boneless, thinly sliced chicken breast (cut into 1-inch strips)

¼ cup cider vinegar

4 teaspoons cornstarch (divided)

1 large egg white

½ cup pineapple juice and 1 cup pineapple chunks from 1 20-ounce can of pineapple chunks in juice, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons sugar substitute (granulated)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

¼ cup chopped scallions, to garnish

2 cups cooked brown rice (from ½ cup uncooked brown rice), to serve


Cut each bell pepper in half the long way. Remove and discard seeds. Slice each one into 1-inch strips.

Prepare sweet-and-sour sauce: Into a small bowl, add ½ cup pineapple juice, cider vinegar, tomato paste, sugar substitute, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Stir together to combine.

Place chicken breast pieces the long way on a cutting board and cut 1-inch strips of chicken. Add to a bowl with egg whites and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Stir together to combine.

Warm a large nonstick pan with 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken; stirring frequently, sauté until chicken is fully cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness. Remove from heat, transfer chicken to a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.

Again warm the nonstick pan with 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper strips and stirring constantly, cook until peppers are soft and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, stirring and cooking for 30 seconds, before stirring in the reserved sweet-and-sour sauce and 1 cup pineapple chunks. Stir until sauce slightly thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in reserved chicken and cook another minute. Remove from heat and garnish with scallions.

Serve sweet and sour chicken over the brown rice.

Pro tip No. 1: Mixing raw chicken slices with cornstarch and egg whites is a Chinese cooking technique called "velveting." It prevents meat from drying out while cooking in a stir-fry and provides a soft, velvety texture.

Pro tip No. 2: Mixing tomato paste with a low- or no-calorie sweetener is a short-cut to replace ketchup in a recipe without the extra sodium of the condiment.

Pro tip No. 3: 1 teaspoon of ground ginger can be substituted for the fresh ginger; just mix into the sweet-and-sour sauce in advance.

Nutritional information per serving: 471 calories, 9.6 g fat (1.4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 2.3 g polyunsaturated fat, 4.4 g monounsaturated fat), 91 mg cholesterol, 510 mg sodium, 57 g carbohydrate, 6 g dietary fiber, 26 g sugars, 36 g protein

Dietary exchanges: 1½ starch, 2 fruit, 1 vegetable, 4 lean meat

Tailgate Chili

Makes 4 servings. Ready in 30 minutes.


1 pound 95% lean ground beef (or ground white meat chicken or turkey for a healthier option)

1 medium onion (chopped)

1 medium green bell pepper (chopped)

1 medium jalapeño, chopped (optional, only if you like spicy chili)

4 cloves minced, fresh garlic OR 2 teaspoons minced garlic from a jar

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

15.5-ounce can no-salt-added or low-sodium pinto or kidney beans (rinsed and drained)

14.5-ounce can no-salt-added or low-sodium diced tomatoes (undrained)

¾ cup salsa from a jar (lowest sodium available)


Spray large saucepan with cooking spray. Cook beef and onion over medium-high heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly to break up beef. Transfer to colander and rinse with water to drain excess fat. Return beef to pan.

Stir in bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Optional: Serve topped with low-fat grated cheese, a dollop of fat-free sour cream, sliced avocado, snipped cilantro or chopped green onions.

Pro tip: If you want 5-alarm chili, add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Nutritional information per serving: 297 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 g monounsaturated fat), 62 mg cholesterol, 288 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrate, 7 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugars, 31 g protein.

Dietary exchanges: 1 starch, 3½ lean meat, 3 vegetable.

Source for both recipes: American Heart Association

Published: Monday, March 1, 2021
Author: Jeff Ash