Healthy hacks: Cooking with more flavor and less salt

Health & Wellness Nutrition Prevention Stroke
Last updated: 

What’s on your plate in the new year? Small changes can make a big difference in your health, and we’re making it easier than ever to enjoy your favorite foods while reducing your salt intake. After all, a healthy eating pattern is about making smart choices and finding ways for food to be satisfying.

Eat sodium smart

Almost all of us eat more sodium than is healthy for our bodies, so the Connect blog team has teamed up with the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, to provide three delicious recipes along with simple tips to cut sodium. See how easy it can be to make smart choices while cooking favorites like beef sliders, bacon mac and cheese and a breakfast burrito.

Beef Sliders with Avocado, Roasted Poblano Pepper and Cotija Cheese

Serves 4; 2 sliders per serving


  • 2 large poblano peppers
  • ¾ pound extra-lean ground beef
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 whole-wheat slider buns (lowest sodium available)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon crumbled cotija cheese
  • 1 large Italian plum (Roma) tomato, cut crosswise into 8 slices
  • 1 medium avocado, mashed with a fork


1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the peppers on the baking sheet. Place on the middle rack of the oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Turn over the peppers. Roast for 10 minutes, or until the skins are charred and blistered. Remove from the oven. Put the peppers in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, using your hands or a spoon, shape the beef into 8 thin patties, each about 3 inches in diameter. (The uncooked patties will be larger than the buns and will shrink as they cook.) Sprinkle the patties with the salt.

4. Preheat a large nonstick skillet or griddle pan over medium-high heat. Cook the patties for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over the patties. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the beef is no longer pink.

5. Peel the skin off the peppers by gently rubbing them with a dry towel. Remove the seeds and ribs. Cut each pepper into 4 long strips.

6. Place each patty on a bottom bun. Sprinkle with the cotija cheese. Top with 1 pepper slice folded in half and 1 tomato slice. Spread the avocado over the tomato. Put the top buns on the sliders. Serve immediately.

Sodium smart

Roasting vegetables brings out their natural flavors, enhancing the overall tastiness of a meal. Bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, squash, onions, garlic, eggplant, cauliflower, beets, carrots, asparagus and brussels sprouts are all delicious roasted. Simply arrange chopped vegetables (large chunks) in a single layer on a baking sheet. Lightly drizzle them with canola or corn oil and sprinkle them with pepper and/or herbs. Roast them for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir. Roast them for 8 to 10 minutes more, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp. You can serve them as a side dish, pile them on a sandwich or purée them and make soup.

Bacon-Mushroom Mac and Cheese

Serves 8; 1 cup per serving


  • 6 ounces dried whole-wheat corkscrew pasta
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon olive oil (extra virgin preferred), divided use
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced, or 2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
  • 2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, crumbled, and 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, crumbled, divided use
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 slices cooked turkey bacon, diced
  • 3 tablespoons whole-wheat panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)


1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

2. Prepare the pasta using the package directions, omitting the salt. Set aside. Reserve ¼ cup pasta water.

3. In a medium skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-low heat, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the onion and garlic for three to four minutes or until the onion is soft but not brown, stirring frequently. Cook the mushrooms, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, and the pepper for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the water. Cook for two minutes.

4. In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt and both cheeses. Add the yogurt mixture, turkey bacon, pasta, and reserved pasta water to the mushroom mixture in the skillet, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat. Transfer to an 8-inch square or 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.

5. In a small bowl, stir together the panko and the remaining 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle over the pasta mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the panko is golden brown.

Sodium smart

Avoid salting the water when you prepare pasta and rice. To flavor cooking water, try adding dried Italian seasoning, other herbs or salt-free blends, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a bay leaf (be sure to remove the bay leaf before serving the food).

Egg, Avocado, and Black Bean Breakfast Burrito

Serves 4; 1 burrito per serving


  • Cooking spray
  • 1¹⁄3 cups liquid egg whites
  • 1 15.5-ounce can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 6-inch whole-wheat tortillas (lowest sodium available)
  • 2 medium avocados, sliced
  • ¼ cup hot sauce or salsa (lowest sodium available) (optional)


1. Lightly spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat. Pour the egg whites into the skillet, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula to scramble. Cook until the egg whites are almost set. Add the beans, stirring gently until combined and heated through.

2. Microwave the tortillas on 100% power (high) for 45 seconds. (This makes them pliable and easier to roll.) Transfer to a work surface.

3. Spread the egg white mixture in the center of each tortilla. Top with the avocados and hot sauce.

4. For each burrito, fold two sides of the tortilla toward the center. Starting from the unfolded side closest to you, roll the burrito toward the remaining unfolded side to enclose the filling. Transfer with the seam side down to plates.

Cook’s tip: For a quick grab-and-go breakfast, make the burritos the night before and wrap them in parchment paper. When you’re ready to eat the burritos, microwave them on 100% power (high) for 2 to 3 minutes.

Sodium smart

When shopping for tortillas and pita breads, take note of the different sizes. You can reduce your sodium intake if you choose the ones with smaller diameters.

To watch cooking videos and see nutritional information for these recipes, visit  

Encompass Health is a national sponsor of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative. Through this initiative, Encompass Health provides educational and healthy resources, such as these recipes, to raise awareness of stroke and show that it is treatable, beatable and preventable.

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.