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Are you a master or disaster in the kitchen? More than half of students say they’re interested in learning to cook (and the other half already have some cooking skills), according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. Even if you’re hesitant to move beyond the microwave, it’ll benefit you to have a couple of basic cooking techniques and quickie recipes in your back pocket. These revamped versions of the classics are so off-the-chain, they might just become your new after-school staple.

Grilled cheese

Grilled cheese

Gooey cheese melted between two slices of bread: Can it get any better than that? Actually it can.

Ingredients

  • Two slices of whole wheat or whole grain bread
  • Canola or olive oil (the spray cans work great, or you can use the regular liquid stuff)
  • 2 slices of a fresh tomato (try roma or heirloom, but any kind will do)
  • Fresh baby spinach (the kind you’d put in a salad; it usually comes in a bag)
  • Two thin slices of sharp cheddar (or your cheese of choice)

Supplies you’ll need

  • A sharp knife for chopping
  • Chopping board
  • Frying pan
  • Stove top

Directions

Step 1
Wash the tomato by rinsing it off under running water.

Step 2
Cut two slices of tomato.

Step 3
Place two thin slices of sharp cheddar on one of the bread slices. Place two tomato slices on the other slice of bread. Put a handful of spinach on top of the tomatoes. Assemble the sandwich.

Step 4
Spray or spread a thin layer of oil onto the frying pan. Turn one of the stove burners on to medium-high heat. Let pan heat for 1–2 minutes.

Step 5
Place sandwich in middle of pan. Use spatula to press down on the top of the sandwich to ensure that the bread is getting crispy on the underside.

Step 6
Periodically check the bottom of the sandwich. You want it to turn brown but not burn. Once it’s reached a crisp brown color, flip the sandwich, lower the heat to medium-low, and repeat the cooking process. If you find that your bread is turning brown very quickly, turn the heat down. Once the second side is brown, flip the sandwich over to the first side again and heat for another 30 seconds, or until cheese is melted.

Step 7
Remove the sandwich from the pan and slice in half. Serve with oven fries.

Step 8
Eat. Savor. Be happy.

How we made this grilled cheese healthy

Veggies: The fresh tomato adds a burst of flavor, Vitamins A and C, and lycopene, an antioxidant. We’re sneaking in a bit of spinach, too, because it’s packed with nutrients, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, Vitamins A and C, folate, and fiber. You can hardly taste the spinach so fret not if greens aren’t your thing.

Bread: Go for a whole wheat or whole grain bread. This crisps up nicely like a grilled cheese should, provides a sturdy base to balance the melting cheese, and adds fiber and antioxidants. Look for bread that has whole grains or whole-wheat flour listed as the first ingredient and contains at least 3 g of fiber and 3 g of protein with little to no added sugar (aim for less than 3 g of sugar) per serving.

Cheese: Most of us love cheese. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s flavorful, it melts into ooey gooey glory, and it tastes insanely good. It’s got protein and calcium, but it falls a little short on the healthfulness factor due to the high fat and calorie content. The solution? Choose a strongly flavored cheese, where a little goes a long way. Our favorite for grilled cheese is sharp cheddar. Other options include: Swiss, pepper jack (for a spicy kick), goat (if you’re feeling adventurous), or crumbled feta. You can also use dairy-alternative cheeses made from soy or almond milk.


French fries

Oven-baked fries

Who doesn’t love their French fries soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside? But that whole frying thing is so 10 years ago. Try this much better for you baked version.

It’s hard to justify downing the deep-fried version of this American favorite. These days we know that deep frying foods in oil—the way most french fries are cooked—adds a load of fat and increases your risk of health issues such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Plus, a lot of restaurants and fast food joints use partially hydrogenated oil to fry their foods. Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans fats, the worst type of fat for our health.

The solution? Make these fries at home, and bake instead of fry them. Baking them removes that whole trans fat situation and reduces the amount of fats and calories overall. Trust us, it’s easier than you think to throw these together.

Ingredients

Serving size: 2–3

  • 1 russet potato (these are the long, brown ones)
  • Canola or olive oil (the spray cans work great, or you can use the regular liquid stuff)
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • Spices & herbs if desired (try any combination of rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, or oregano)

Supplies you’ll need

  • A sharp knife for chopping
  • Chopping board
  • One large cookie sheet
  • An oven

Directions:

Step 1
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 2
Wash the potato thoroughly by rinsing it under running water and scrubbing with a scrubbing brush or dishtowel. Make sure to get any dirt off the potato skins.

Step 3
Chop the potatoes into matchstick shape (as shown).

Note: The thinner you cut the fries, the crispier they’ll be. If you like softer fries, go for a thicker cut.

+ Learn basic knife skills and how to chop

Step 4
Lightly oil a baking pan with olive or canola oil (the nonstick spray cans of oil work great here). Spread the fries out on the pan.

Step 5
Drizzle a small amount of oil (1 tbsp) or spray oil over the top of fries and sprinkle with salt and pepper (if desired). Mix fries around so they are evenly coated. Once coated, spread fries into a single layer so that they aren’t touching—this helps them crisp up more.

Step 6
Bake for 25–30 minutes or until edges are browned and fries have reached desired crispiness. Use a spatula to toss the fries halfway through the cooking process to make sure they are cooking evenly.

Step 7
Remove fries from oven. If desired, toss them in your favorite herbs or spices, such as garlic powder and rosemary. Serve with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce.

Note: You can also use this recipe to make sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes are firmer and can be a bit tricky to chop, so make sure you have someone around who can help you if needed.

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Article sources

Photography by Joanna Carmona

American Heart Association. (n.d.). Trans fats. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp#.Voq4smQrIsk

Cahill, L. E., Pan, A., Chiuve, S. E., Sun, Q., et al. (2014). Fried-food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease: A prospective study in 2 cohorts of US women and men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: ajcn-084129.

Colorado State University. (2015). Colorado spinach. Retrieved from https://farmtotable.colostate.edu/docs/spinachfactsheet.pdf

Harvard Health Publications. (2015, February 3). The truth about fats: The good, the bad, and the in-between. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Food label guide for whole wheat bread. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19343.htm

TeensHealth. (2014, September). Which bread is better: Whole wheat or whole grain? Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/grains.html

United States Department of Agriculture. (2012, October). Tomatoes, fresh. Household USDA Foods Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/factsheets/HHFS_TOMATOES_FRESH_Oct2012.pdf

University of California Berkeley. (n.d.). Is cheese bad for your health? Berkeley Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/nutrition/slideshow/cheese-bad-your-health

Ally Carlton-Smith, MS is executive editor of Student Health 101. She has a master’s degree in health communication from Tufts University School of Medicine.

Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Student Health 101. She has also edited collegiate textbooks for Cengage Learning and creating language learning materials for the US Department of Defense, libraries, and other educational institutions. Her BA in Spanish is from the University of New Hampshire.