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Trying to juggle those twin goals of proper nutrition and caloric minimalism can be a challenge to the most creative culinary talents. Ease of preparation becomes even more important. This is no time for meals that are a bother to make and a burden to clean up, for infernal pot-rattling and interminable washing-up.

Here's a rundown on handy gadgets that can help you cut the fat in your foods by half. Also, new ways of looking at your old utensils:

Non-Stick cookware. If you've ever been guilty of attempted

weight-loss, you'll know that one of the prime accessories after

the fact (that you failed) is that old-fashioned frying-pan which

allowed your food to have a gay old time absorbing a great deal of oil and delivering it straight to your hips. In contrast, a non-stick pan allows you to cook food using just a thin film of oil. For instance, instead of coating a chicken breast with batter and frying it (which can double the fat), saut? it in a non-stick fry pan and you can virtually eliminate the fat.

Just one 12-inch non-stick skillet, about three inches deep with a tight-fitting lid and an oven-proof handle, will allow you to bake, fry, saut? arid even boil.

In a non-stick pan, foods that already contain fat, such as eggs, poultry or red meat, can be cooked without added fat. And fatless foods like vegetables will cook with just a teaspoon of oil.

When buying, select a utensil that's heavy for its size; a lightweight skillet will not conduct heat as evenly as a heavier, well-constructed pan (so foods closer to the bottom may stick and burn).

And avoid scratching off its non-stick coating with metal spoons or forks; buy the wooden spatulas that come with it.

Pressure cooker. Is there still a home without one? By making healthful cooking a matter of convenience, the pressure cooker makes a practical contribution to your weight-loss effort. Dried

beans that normally take an hour and a half, for instance, are done in 10 to 15 minutes, wild rice in less than 10 minutes compared to the usual 45.

The speeded-up preparation time also encourages you to cook those hearty, healthful roots and tubers like turnips, sweet potatoes, beetroot and yam that you might otherwise avoid because they take a while to cook.

Blender. If you've cached away your blender because all you used to use it for were fattening faloodas, get it out of cob-webs. Use it to make contemporary low-fat smoothies that centre

around skim milk (or buttermilk) and fruits. Try, for instance, this breakfast-on-the-run: a banana, a cup of buttermilk, a teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of sugar if you must. Top with chopped dry fruits or with fresh fruit of the season.

Other low-fat options that your blender can dish up:

Low-fat sauces using low-fat paneer or low-fat curd in place of cream.

Purged vegetables.

A low-cal salad dressing.

The versatile blender can also be used to prepare big batches of vegetable soups which you can then deep-freeze (they'll last up to a year). To the basic garden-soup ingredients of onions, tomatoes, carrots, garlic and parsley, you can add other vegetables you happen to have around at the time.

And finally, of course, your blender can even be used to concoct a quick no-cook soup, such as a gazpacho: cucumbers, capsicums and tomatoes, seeded and chopped, chopped green onions, celery and garlic; vinegar, salt and hot sauce to flavour. Chill — and slurp up. No, you really don't need the traditional splash of olive oil.

Roasting Rack. Its fat-cutting favour works on the simple principle that, as meat or poultry roasts upon an elevated rack, the fat drips into a pan below, leaving the roast with less fat than if it were allowed to sit around in its own grease.

Skewers allow you to exercise instant fat and portion control. Your meal-on-a-stick can contain a few juicy bites of meat or fish while its bulk is made up of colourful vegetables — capsicum, cherry tomatoes, onion quarters, corn.

Steamers allow you to retain more nutrients than when you boil foods in water.

A cheese grater will help you to measure out judicious amounts of cheese, the most popular varieties of which can contain as much — or more — fat as well-marbled red meat. The grater should also incorporate a sheer that will make ultra-thin cheese slices with less fuss than a knife.

A food scale takes the guess-work out of weighing ingredients.

Spice & Condiment Tools. Any seasoned cook knows that a little flavouring goes a long way.

Use your ice-cube trays to freeze all kinds of liquid seasonings and stocks, from fresh lemon juice to homemade chicken broth. When they have set in the trays, transfer the cubes to sealed plastic freezer bags so that you have small amounts on hand for instant use. Thus you can drop in a cube of chicken broth straight into a dish being prepared with very little oil. If you puree and freeze fruit in cubes, they can be used to dress up a dish of plain frozen yoghurt.

A bit of grated lemon rind adds zest to fresh fruit or steamed vegetables.

A Food Diary. An invaluable aid to weight control. At the outset, list the foods you've eaten over three typical consecutive days (preferably including one of the weekend days). Make sure

you put down all the nibbles and guzzles and all the spoonfuls of tasting you may have done in the kitchen. Make your entries everyday. Don't trust your memory: If you tried today, could you

remember everything you ate three days ago, and in what amounts? (Did you have two kachoris at tea-time that day, or was it three?!)

Also, make a note of when you ate, and what you were doing and/or feeling at the time. This will give you an idea of the times and things that tempt you to pig out... when you're feeling low, when you're watching your favourite TV soap, when you can't sleep at night.

A food diary also lets you see at a glance the items that could be major stumbling blocks in your weight-loss effort: deep-fried foods; high-fat spreads; rich sauces and salad dressings. You'll see where you can make immediate or easy changes.

If you're starting out on the weight-loss trail under the guidance of a nutritionist, she or he will help you tote up the amount of daily calories, the amount of calories from fats, carbos and proteins, the tally of vitamins and minerals in your current intake; together, you can then work out better-eating options.

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