By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA
“Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun.” — Julia Child

The famous chef’s words could apply to virtually any area of life. This month, we will focus on the theme of nutrition and cooking.

Cooking at home gives us more control of ingredients and seasonings and allows us to adjust flavoring according to personal preference. Certainly some people do not cook out of lack of knowledge or even being afraid to cook. It does require advance planning which helps us avoid impulse eating and fast food. One reader told me not to encourage men to cook. He feared his wife would stop cooking entirely and leave the whole job to him.

It isn’t as if we men don’t cook already. It’s just that it may be time to expand our repertoire from the backyard barbecue. Maybe we can do both by bringing our grilling creativity inside.

If you love grilling, one way to enjoy it while making a healthy meal is to get a few cedar planks from the barbecue section of your grocery store. Soak them in water for about a half hour, lay on a slab of salmon or other fish, chicken or even lamb chops. The cedar infuses a luscious flavor when placed on the grill. I usually season salmon with dill, lemon pepper, lemon juice or, more artistically, a cilantro-lime-avocado topping.

A couple weeks ago, I described making grain salads like tabbouleh. Grain salads are built by with a mixture of cooked grains with tasty, healthy plant ingredients like vegetables, fruits, berries and nuts stirred in. Other whole grains include wild or brown rice, quinoa or farro. I have found that adding one of these grains to a regular green mixed salad adds texture, color, protein and a nice nutty taste.

Another grain to consider is couscous. It cooks quickly and is adaptable with many recipes. It has enough protein to serve as a lunch or dinner entree.

A recipe I like mixes couscous with diced dried fruit like apricots, raisins, figs, prunes or cranberries. Adding pine nuts, pecans, almonds or cashews delivers a healthy crunch. Freshen up nuts that have been stored for awhile by lightly sautéing them in a frying pan or baking them for a few minutes in the oven. Season lightly with citrus and olive oil, salt and pepper. Voilà. Cinnamon, ginger, cumin and mint can add additional zest.

To close, here are a few simple and practical nutrition tips:
1. Consume at least 30 grams of fiber daily. Translation: five to 11 serving of fruits and vegetables, plus whole grain foods and beans. Search the internet for “fiber in foods” for details.

2. Avoid concentrated carbs in sugary drinks and diet sodas as well.

3. Use olive or canola oil in your cooking

4. Eat fish at least twice a week.

5. Get enough sunshine to build your vitamin D levels, around 15-30 minutes daily in addition to fish, dairy, other fortified sources of vitamin D and sometimes a supplement.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.