When you're trying to eat healthier, it's important to plan ahead and know basic cooking techniques. Registered dietitian and professional chef Lourdes Castro loves to share her healthy cooking tips to help beginners feel confident in the kitchen. At a recent session at IDEA World Fitness Conference, she talked about the importance of incorporating whole grains into your diet and the best ways to do it — especially when watching your weight.

If you're worried about calories, instead of skipping out on healthy carbs altogether, cook a pot of grains on Sunday night and use a little at a time throughout the week. This will help you cut portions down instead of always heaping a big spoonful onto your plate. Besides taking in fiber, protein, and B vitamins, eating whole grains will help signal to your brain that you're eating a complete meal. "The thing about grains is they give you that satiety. When a meal doesn't have a grain, you always leave feeling a little hungry, and when it has grains you always end up leaving full," Lourdes says. Stave off cravings of unhealthy foods by using different cooking methods that can help keep your taste buds interested.

  • Pasta method: This method is the most common way people cook grains and works well with wheat berries, black barley, quinoa, and buckwheat, Lourdes says. Add your grains to a pot full of cold water, then cook for 15-20 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process and maintain texture.
  • Simmer method: This method is similar to the pasta method, but you need a specific liquid-to-grain ratio that allows the grain to absorb all of the liquid, Lourdes explains. Use this method for grains like brown rice (usually 1 1/2-2 cups of water per cup of rice).
  • Pilaf method: For added flavor, sauté aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onion in olive oil, then add dry grains into the pan. Stir until the grains are coated with the oil; this will prevent clumping, Lourdes explains. Then add liquid and stir occasionally until done. This method works well for grains like rice and quinoa, Lourdes says.
  • Risotto method: This is another way to add flavor while playing with texture. Sauté aromatics in olive oil, then add grains and stir to coat. Keep adding small amounts of liquid and stir, regularly alternating between adding liquid and stirring until done. Try it with brown rice or stone or steel cut oats, Lourdes suggests.