Save tons of calories in your meals by nixing bad cooking mistakes and adopting these new healthy hacks

By Nicole Yorio Jurick
Updated: February 18, 2015

Preparing meals at home is usually healthier than eating out-unless you're making these easy-to-fix mistakes. Skinny chefs share the biggest home cooking calorie bombs-and ways to trim hundreds of calories per meal. (For more at-home diet tips, check out these 11 Ways to Fat-Proof Your Home.)

Eating for Two

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Supersized portions don't only show up at restaurants. Many recipes yield four servings, so you could be downing way more than your body needs.

Skinny fix: If you're cooking for two and the recipe makes 4 servings, immediately divide the recipe into four-plate two servings and place the remainder in two containers to eat for leftovers, says culinary nutritionist Michele Dudash, R.D., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Or dish out your meal on portion control plates or by using measuring tools, which take the guesswork out of serving size.

Sneaky Sources of Sugar

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You wouldn't dump a teaspoon of sugar on your chicken breast, right? Certain sauces, salad dressings, and condiments are loaded with sugar-so you're essentially doing just that, says culinary nutritionist Stephanie Sacks, R.D., author of What the Fork Are You Eating? Not only does excess sugar turn to fat, it also intensifies hunger since it causes your blood sugar to spike and crash.

Skinny fix: Swap out store-bought dressings and marinades with easy, make-at-home versions, Sacks says. Instead of bottled dressing, toss salads with a teaspoon of olive oil and vinegar, or flavor stir-fries with fresh ginger and low-sodium soy sauce instead of teriyaki. And always check the ingredient list before buying. If sugar (or one of sugar's hidden names: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, malt, or anything ending in "ose"), is one of the first four ingredients, put it back on the shelf.

Overdoing the Oil

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Oil pours at a rate of 120 calories per glug. Translation: a few second stream could add more than 350 calories to your stir-fry or salad.

Skinny fix: To keep calories in check, use a pastry brush to coat a pan with oil, or transfer oil to a spray bottle and spritz to coat. Both methods prevent sticking for only 30 calories. Instead of greasing baking sheets with oil, line with parchment paper to create a stick-proof, calorie-free surface. (See more 15 Healthy Cooking Tips from the Food Pros.)

Picking While You Cook

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Scarfing down a handful of nuts or slice of cheese before you toss them into your salad or add it to your sandwich could mean you're eating 100 or more calories before you take your first bite of dinner.

Skinny fix: Get your mise en place-in the culinary world, that means having all your ingredients measured out before you cook. If a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of walnuts or 1/2 cup of cheese, set the measured ingredients in small bowls, and then put the ingredients away so you'll be less likely to snack straight from the bag. Or for a low-calorie snack, set out celery slices or baby carrots to eat while you cook.

Over Salting

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Sprinkling on too much salt could mean you'll get the post-dinner bloat, Dudash says. Plus, salt makes you dehydrated-and our bodies often mistake dehydration for hunger.

Skinny fix: Before you add salt to your food, season with fresh herbs, lemon zest or juice, or a splash of vinegar, Dudash suggests. They add flavor without sodium, and your taste buds won't miss the salt. And go for low-sodium versions of these sneaky high-salt foods: tomato sauce, broth and soups, and cold cuts.

Convenience Dinners

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There's nothing easier than nuking a frozen diet dinner, but with less than 300 calories per meal (and portions the size of a hockey puck), frozen dinners aren't enough to hold you over for more than an hour or two.

Skinny fix: Rethink "convenience" and go for easy, 15-minute meals. Try grilled chicken (you can make a bunch in the beginning of the week) with boil in a bag brown rice, and steam in a bag veggies. Or try bagged salad with a chopped up avocado and canned beans. All are low-calorie but give you more nutrition and way more food to keep hunger at bay, Sacks says. (Or try cooking a week's worth of meals in advance. See Genius Meal Planning Ideas for a Healthy Week to get you started.)

Traditional Recipes

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Grandma's egg salad, mom's chicken cutlets-many family favorites that end up in your recipe repertoire are loaded with fat and calories.

Skinny fix: Most recipes can be tweaked without sacrificing flavor. For pan-fried foods like chicken cutlets or breaded eggplant, coat in whole wheat panko breadcrumbs, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven, Dudash says-you'll still have that crispy "fried" flavor. For mayo-based salads, replace mayo with mashed avocado or Greek yogurt, Sacks says. And no matter what meal you make, 50 percent of your plate should still contain fruit and veggies.

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