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Healthy cooking tips from chef athlete Meg Galvin

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Healthy cooking tips

Can you really be an athlete and a Cordon Bleu-trained chef? You can if you’re chef Meg Galvin, a marathon runner and one of only 20 female World Master Chefs. And, no, Chef Meg doesn’t run marathons just to burn off all the calories she consumes from the traditional French recipes under her belt. She has dedicated her career to creating healthy – and great-tasting – recipes, and is the healthy chef for SparkPeople.com, America’s largest weight-loss website. Here’s more on the chef athlete and her healthy cooking tips.

Chef meg

Commitment to healthy cuisine

Chef Meg learned early on that the life of a chef (or chef-in-training) was rigorous, with fast-paced days in the hot kitchens, late nights studying and weekends of internships perfecting her techniques. She knew the only way she was going to make it was to take care of herself. "I made a commitment to myself then and there that I needed to stay healthy if I wanted to succeed," Chef Meg recalls.

But a chef's life wasn't the only reason the healthy cooking expert embraced nutritious cuisine. "The commitment to my health and well-being was reinforced when I was working at Shriners Hospitals in Cincinnati, where I was in charge of cooking for children who were recovering from severe burns and other injuries," Chef Meg explains. "Good nutrition is imperative to wound healing, and it truly showed me that what you put into your body is what makes you strong and healthy."

(Over)eating like an athlete

You'd expect Chef Meg to be fit and trim, since she's a marathon runner, but she confides that when she started long-distance running, she actually found herself gaining weight. The lightbulb went on for her as she was training for her first marathon when, after months of preparation, four 20-plus mile training runs, cross-training and the actual race, she actually weighed more. How could that be?

"Easy! I consumed more calories than I burned," Chef Meg exclaims. "I was a ravenous food monster after long runs, grabbing any carbs I could find (such as bread and pastries) and later in the day racing for proteins with loaded fat (burgers and fries!)."

Putting it all together

Chef Meg learned a valuable lesson that applies to us all, super-athlete or not. "I learned later that although I was truly hungry, what my body was really craving was liquid -- thirst often masks itself as hunger," she shares. "As I trained for my next race, I paid as much attention to what I ate and drank before and after workouts as I did to my running. Guess what? I didn't gain weight -- and I lost the weight I put on during that first training season." Chef Meg's commitment to nutrition and healthy living is the secret to her feeling on top of her game; she successfully sets -- then meets and even beats -- fitness goals every year.

A chef athlete's healthy cooking tips

Though most of us don't have a healthy personal chef whipping up our meals, we can still eat well by making small changes in our everyday cooking. Here are a few of Chef Meg's favorite healthy cooking tips.

1Give your favorite recipes a makeover

Chef Meg credits her ability to stay slim to giving even the most calorie- and fat-laden recipes a healthy turn. "As a culinary instructor, I am always asked how I stay slim," says the healthy cooking expert. "I realized early on that although I teach primarily classical French cuisine, I can give the recipes a healthy twist." No matter what recipe you want to make, you can find a slimmed-down rendition.

2Healthy swaps

Look for ways to swap out fattening ingredients with healthier substitutes. "Instead of hollandaise, made with butter, egg yolks and lemon juice, try a Greek yogurt sauce with herbs," suggests Chef Meg. "Instead of drowning a fresh piece of grilled fish or chicken in a rich sauce, top it with a salsa made from diced seasonal fruits and vegetables."

3Combine fiber and protein

Meals containing fiber and protein can not only aid in weight loss and keeping the weight off, they can also keep you running at peak performance. "That brings me to one of my favorite post-run recipes from The SparkPeople Cookbook: wheat berry and broccoli salad," says Chef Meg. "The fiber in the broccoli and the wheat berries fills me up, and I add extra almonds for crunch and even more protein."

4Spice up your recipes

Herbs and spices do wonders to add color, flavor and texture to meals without adding a lot of calories. "You can work magic with spices and herbs," says the health-focused chef.

Chef Meg recommends:

  • Use celery seed as a substitute for salt.
  • Rub a couple of dried spices on your favorite protein instead of a bottled marinade (which are mostly sugar, salt, and fat), then grill it to perfection.
  • Finish as many dishes as you can with a sprinkle fresh chopped herbs.

Be adventurous with herbs and spices to give all of your meals a healthy, mouth-watering change.

5 Make-ahead meals

Planning ahead is key to eating healthy. "After a long run (or long day), the last thing anyone wants to do is cook," Chef Meg says. "I make [meals] the night before, and they are ready to eat when I get home." A good example is Chef Meg's wheat berry and broccoli salad. "I grab a bowl of this along with some leftover roasted chicken, and the ravenous food monster in me is satisfied!"

Up next: Chef Meg's Wheat Berry and Broccoli Salad recipe >>

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