Mr. Saturday and I often get questions about how we stay fit and lean. It has a lot to do with our active lifestyle, but I want to share a secret with you – it has a lot to do with what we eat, too.

I’m not talking about depriving yourself of the foods you love, and I’m also not talking about calorie counting. The trick is being able to eat what you crave, but modifying it so that it doesn’t include the extra, unnecessary fat, cholesterol, and sugar that will leave you feeling gross. By the way, did you know that there’s only two ways we get cholesterol? First, we make our own cholesterol and the amount depends on your body, but can increase due to an unhealthy lifestyle and food choices. The only other way that we get cholesterol is by eating animal products (since animals also produce their own cholesterol).

Where to start? Here are some tips we live by that help us stay lean, but also makes us feel good every day.

1. Order wisely at restaurants.

It’s easy to just accept whatever is served to us at restaurants, but remember that your health is not their concern! Their only concern is that you like the food, so they’re fine with piling on the calories. The workaround here is to ask the right questions and order as wisely as possible in the first place. I cringe about having to send food back to the kitchen! Here are some examples of questions for the server and follow-up requests. I’m not trying to be difficult, but health is a top priority!

Q: What is the dressing on the salad?
Request: May I have vinegar and lemon wedges on the side in place of the dressing?

Q: What comes on the sandwich?
Request: The tomato, lettuce and onion are great, but please leave off the mayo and cheese. I’d love some mustard on the side. Also, can I have the fish grilled, not fried?

Q: What’s on the baked potato?
Request: Please leave off the butter and sour cream, but would be great to have the diced onion. Could you possibly add some steamed veggies on top?

Q: What is the liquid base for the fruit smoothie?
Request: Can you use water in the smoothie instead of any fruit juice or milk?

Q: What are my side options?
Request: I’d like to swap out the fries with a side of veggies, but is it possible to have them steamed without butter?

2. Drink more water.

Our bodies require water, not coffee, soda, or juice. Water is the only essential liquid we need, so drink more of it as compared to other possible drinks. By replacing some of your non-essential drinks with water, you’ll shave off those unnecessary calories, take in less sugar, and still quench your thirst!

3. Portions, portions, portions!

Trust me, I am not focused on calorie cutting – if I’m hungry, I eat. But, simply put, don’t eat too much! Do you ever have eyes that are bigger than your stomach? Do you feel like you have to finish all the food on your plate? Or have you ever been so hungry that you devour two meals before you realize just how overly full you are? I’m definitely guilty of these occasionally, but here are some ideas to curb overeating:

  • Share a meal at a restaurant. You can always order more food after you’ve finished your first plate.
  • Eat slowly! Eating slowly will allow your brain to catch up with your stomach. It helps to enjoy your meal as though it is an event – to take pleasure in the taste, the company, and in your surroundings.
  • At home, always start with the a small portion size. The easiest way to be consistent with portion sizes is to use the same small bowl or plate. You can always go back for seconds if you’re still hungry.

4. Substitutions and compromises.

When cooking or baking at home, there are simple, healthier substitutions for traditional ingredients found in your recipes. If you’re not wanting to completely replace an ingredient, compromise and see how the recipe turns out with a portion of the fatty or sugar ingredients.

Homemade vegan pancakes topped with blueberry syrup

These delicious golden brown pancakes are so tasty!

  • Replace dairy milk with non-dairy variations. This one is super easy because there are so many options to choose from now: almond, cashew, coconut, and soy. Though the big dairy industry doesn’t want you to know about it, there are studies showing a strong link between dairy and cancer (check out the China Study.) Besides, the non-dairy variations don’t have the cholesterol and will leave you feeling better.
  • Replace butter with applesauce when baking. Applesauce is a staple in our home!

    Tip: Replace 1 cup butter with ½ cup applesauce.

  • Replace eggs with mashed banana or ground flaxseed. This works great in muffins or pancakes.

Tip: Replace 1 egg with half a banana (mashed) OR 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed (beat with 1 tablespoon water).

  • Don’t use oil. We do keep coconut oil in the house, but only to grease the pan. Sautéing with water seems to do just fine, and oil is also completely unnecessary in baked goods. It’s true that baking without oil will produce slightly different desserts than you may be used to if you typically buy sweets at a bakery, but the end result is just as delicious and is definitely worth it.

Tip: In baking, replace 1 cup oil with ½ cup applesauce.

  • Use beans in creamy dishes as the base (pureed). Alfredo, dips, hummus – need I say more? When Mr. Saturday makes his favorite vegetable soup with a clear veggie broth, I even like to mix in a heaping spoonful of hummus (bean dip). Voila – creamy soup!

5. Eat at home more often.

This pertains to both cooking and baking. Not only will you save money, but you can choose healthier options at home. Win-Win! For example, a bakery will no doubt add butter by the stick in a batch of muffins, whereas your homemade muffins don’t have to have any fat!

Plus, here are a couple of recipes for you. Bon appetite!

Fat-Free Pumpkin Spice Muffins Recipe

Adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Makes either 12 muffins or 4 mini-loafs

Plate of vegan pumpkin spice muffins

I decreased the sugar called for in the original recipe to have more bread-like muffins that are perfect for breakfast.

3 T. flaxseed, ground
½ c. water
1 c. sugar
1 ½ c. unsweetened applesauce
1 can pumpkin puree (14 ounce)
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (or 2 c. unbleached flour and 1 c. wheat flour)
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground nutmeg
1 t. baking soda
½ t. baking powder
½ t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use non-stick or silicone muffin or loaf pan.

In a food processor or with an electric hand mixer, whip the flaxseed and water together until thick and creamy. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, applesauce, pumpkin puree, and flaxseed mixture.

In a medium-size bowl, stir together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Thoroughly combine the dry ingredients, then add them to the wet. Stir until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Low-Fat Biscuits Recipe

Adapted from How it all Vegan by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer
Makes 8-10 biscuits

Plate of vegan sausage biscuits and biscuits with jelly

Where to start? Here are some tips we live by that help us stay lean, but also makes us feel good every day.

I like to cut these in half for open-faced sandwiches or with my favorite jam.

2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 t. baking powder
1 t. Salt
⅛ c. unsweetened applesauce
¾ – 1 c. sour non-dairy milk (non-dairy milk + 1 t. apple cider vinegar)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine the sour non-dairy milk with the applesauce, and add to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined.

Flatten out the dough on a flour-sprinkled surface until it is ¼-1 inch thick and cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Tip: I recommend sprinkling flour on top of the dough before flattening it out.

Place the biscuits side-by-side on a non-stick pan. Bake for 11 minutes.

I’d love to hear, what food do you crave the most?