Looking To Cook Lighter, But Don’t Know Where To Start or Even How To Do It? Cooking Light Magazine Could Be Just The Ticket.
Ratings (1-4 Scale: 1= poor, 2= fair, 3= good, 4= excellent)
Recipe Originality: 4
Directions/Ease of Prep: 4
Overall Content: 3
Design & Visual Appeal: 4
Overall Rating: 3.8
Cooking Light Pros:
- Nearly 100 healthy recipes each month
- Photos accompanying nearly every recipe
- Full-nutritional labeling for each recipe
- Easy recipe index lets you quickly find meals that interest you or fit your schedule
- Good selection of meatless and meat-based recipes
- Tested recipes with clear directions
- Regular tips, tricks and tutorials that can help you become a better cook
- Excellent website that supports the magazine
- Good value from a price perspective
- Good supporting editorial content on nutrition and health news
Cooking Light Cons:
- One-third of the article content is not directly related to cooking (travel, lifestyle, wellness, etc.)
- Exercise advice and routines are kind of fluffy
Cooking Light Magazine Review
Eating healthy and cooking light doesn’t have to mean bland.
One of the main reasons people fail to stick to healthier eating routines is simply out of boredom: There’s only so much boiled chicken breast, celery sticks, yams and bare-naked broccoli any normal person can take.
But eating clean and cooking light doesn’t have to mean meal-after-tasteless-meal. In fact, nearly every fat-laden, simple-carb-loaded recipe or dish you love can be made both healthy and flavorful with just a few common-sense changes to ingredients.
But where to start?
What if the demands of your career and staying in shape make it difficult to cook for yourself? Even worse, what if your cooking skills aren’t nearly as impressive as your 5 minute mile, last Iron Woman competition or the previous night’s bench press?
That’s where healthy or “light” cooking magazines like Cooking Light come in.
Cooking Light Philosophy: Eat Smart, Be Fit, Live Well
Cooking Light actually started out not as its own magazine, but as a small “Cooking Light” column that regularly appreared in Southern Living magazine.
In 1987, the publishers decided there was a enough interest in ”lighter” cooking to spin the column off and make it a monthly magazine.
Over the past 20 years, monthly readership of Cooking Light magazine has grown to 1.6 million, and the magazine’s popular companion website attracts over a half million visitors a month.
It’s easy to understand why: The magazine has a test kitchen staff of six, and relies on a small army of nutritionists, physicians, writers and exercise experts to produce the magazine’s almost 200 pages of content each month.
What To Expect from Cooking Light
When Cooking Light started publishing in the late-80s, the magazine was almost completely dedicated to taking old favorites like Macaroni and Cheese and figuring out ways to make low-fat versions of them.
Over time, they started developing more original recipes and incorporating more novel and exotic ingredients. But for the first 10 years, the majority of Cooking Light’s content was around recipes and cooking.
In the late 90s, the editors began to expand the magazine’s offerings to include more articles on general health, wellness and exercise. Recipe content and the number of recipes each issue still remained consistent with the old format, but the magazine became heftier as they added more lifestyle features on things like travel and dining.
Overall, I’m fine with this approach, especially considering the magazine’s demographics, which tend to skew very female and affluent.
Part of this decision was clearly driven by business considerations — broadening your content to include subjects aside from cooking allowed the publishers to sell more advertising and diversify. Probably a good move, since Cooking Light has managed to stay afloat even while other magazine have been bludgeoned by the economy.
Also, I appreciate that the magazine’s theme, ”Eat Smart, Be Fit, Live Well“, treats food, health and exercise holistically, rather than treating them as silos.
Being fit and healthy isn’t just about diet, but also lifestyle, exercise and state-of-mind. Cooking Light does a nice job of reinforcing this through their features, so while not every article is going to appeal to everyone, their intent is well-placed.
Today, Cooking Light still offers around plenty of recipes each issue, but around one-third of the magazine’s content is around general fitness, nutrition, health and wellness articles, geared primarily at women — which is its predominate demographic. Expect to see features on things like yoga, pilates, making your home “greener”, etc.
Most of the fitness advice and exercise features are pretty light-weight — the kinds of stuff you would expect to find in a woman’s health magazine like Shape. You know … lots of recycled toning exercise routines that really don’t tone, but rather indulge the myth that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights.
If your goal is to find new workout routines, I wouldn’t recommend relying on Cooking Light. Get it for the recipes, but try something like Oxygen Magazine or Muscle & Fitness Hers for advice in the gym.
This is really my only real gripe with the magazine. But other people may find these types of features useful. Aside from that, I really don’t have any complaints with the content, which is overall, very good.
Cooking and Recipes: Where Cooking Light Shines
Regardless of whether you find the non-food-related content valuable, Cooking Light magazine is still one of the best monthly sources for healthy recipes, advice on shopping and selecting healthy foods at the grocery store and cooking tips and tutorials.
On average, a typical issue of Cooking Light magazine will have at least 100 original recipes each month. At least 50 percent of the magazine’s non-advertising pages have to do with nutrition, recipes, or preparing meals.
Recipe Selection & Variety
The recipe selection still runs the gamut from home-grown American favorites to more exotic recipes adapted from Indian, Asia, Middle-Eastern or even African-cooking traditions.
There’s hardly a genre that I haven’t found Cooking Light willing to tackle.
They’ve not only figured out ways to make Fettucine Alfredo “healthy”, but also traditional French dishes that I never thought could be “lightened up” without ruining the flavor. I’m a fairly discriminating eater, and have almost always found that the Cooking Light recipes taste fantastic.
Just for an idea of the range of recipes and cooking advice you can expect from Cooking Light magazine, I opened up the January-February 2009 edition and found:
- A three page feature on choosing lean cuts of beef and how to read meat labels and evaluate fat content
- A seven page spread Chinese New Year cooking complete with recipes for stir-fried shrimp, Long Life Noodles, Stir Fried Bok Choy, Chinese Potstickers, Spicy Sweet & Sour Chicken, Salt Baked Chicken, Pickeled Spiced Cucumbers, Double Mango Pudding, and a supplemental on choosing Chinese pantry items like sesame oil, hoisin sauce and soy sauce.
- Five healthy, family-oriented take-out or fast food favorite “makeover” recipes
- Four meals that can be prepared in under 20 minutes
- Four meals that can be prepared in under 30 minutes
- Three meals that can be prepared in under 40 minutes
- A feature on classic casseroles with step-by-step directions on how to make them and what equipment you need
- A slimmed down version of a cookie bar dessert
- The four winning recipes (including a spicy black bean hummus) from the Cooking Light magazine reader recipe contest
- A feature on Moroccan food, including seven recipes
- Seven healthy bread recipes
- A one page feature on Port Wine
- A Smoky Slow Cooker Chili recipe (amazing)
What If I’m a Vegetarian?
One of the other strengths of the Cooking Light magazine recipe selection is that they do a nice job of balancing out meat, poulty and fish dishes with plenty of meatless entrees or side dishes.
A typical issue of Cooking Light will have around a dozen meat-based recipes, six or seven seafood/fish entrees, eight-to-10 chicken recipes, and at least six-to-seven vegetarian options. They also spread their recipes out to include things like appetizers, beverages, desserts, sides and main courses.
In other words, it’s pretty easy to find something in each issue of Cooking Light that will fit with whatever your style of eating is, or what you are craving.
What Does “Cooking Light“ Mean: Looking at the Nutrition of Cooking Light Recipes
The term “cooking light” or “light cooking” means different things to different people.
Originally, it was born out of the fat-free/low-fat movement in the Eighties and early-Nineties. Back then, most of Cooking Light’s recipes focused on reducing dietary fat in recipes. At that time, the magazine paid less attention to things like carbohydrates and sugar and just tried to make low-fat version of dishes.
However, to the magazine’s credit, as research has emerged around the health benefits of including healthy fats in your diet, they have dropped the low-fat mantra and started to focus much more on the types of dietary fat in their recipes.
In fact, beginning with the January 2009 edition, the editors have started to add a more detailed breakdown of the fat profile of their recipes, showing the percentage of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat (MUFAs) and Polyunsaturated fats.
Overall, the nutritional detail and profile of the recipes in Cooking Light is excellent.
The magazine’s test kitchen and nutritionists actually develop each recipe to hit a certain nutritional and calorie target and profile.
Most of Cooking Light’s recipes will come in under 300 calories, with a good balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats. Some recipes will approach 400-500 calories, but these are primarily entrees. Even then, a 400-500 calorie meal, if properly balanced, is just about right for most people.
The one place to watch out is with the desserts, which tend to still be fairly high in refined sugars. Go ahead and enjoy … but in moderation.
Each recipe comes with an ingredient list and detailed instructions for preparing the dish. Nutritional information is available at the end of each recipe, and it includes calories, fat (including what type of fat), protein, carbs, fiber, cholesterol, iron, sodium and calcium.
Cooking Light Layout, Design, & Photography
The magazine is superbly designed, with pictures of every recipe.
Photography of the dishes is actually critical, because seeing a recipe laid out on a plate makes you much more likely to cook it. This is one of the benefits of subcribing to a monthly magazine: When you see the steaming bowl of chili on the cover, it will encourage you to actually get up off your rear and make the time to prepare it. And many of the dishes will leave you with leftovers, which can provide healthy meals throughout the week.
Cooking Light magazine also has some nice features like a recipe index at the end of the magazine that let’s you pick something quickly depending on what you have on hand or what you feel like preparing that night.
The recipes are categorized into things like grains, meats, vegetarian, appetizers, etc., and they also have cool color codes next to them to indicate not only staff favorites, but also meals that can be prepared quickly and easily, prepared ahead of time, or frozen for quick meals-on-the run. This is a great time saver for people who want the benefits of preparing their own healthy meals, but are pressed for time.
What If I Don’t Know How To Cook?
If your cooking skills are limited to blending up smoothies, making scrambled egg whites and microwaving a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, you shouldn’t let that discourage you from subscribing to something like Cooking Light magazine (or any other healthy cooking magazine, for that matter.)
Same goes if your a male. Don’t let the “female-bent” of some of the wellness articles get in the way of subscribing and trying out the wide-array of great, body-builder friendly recipes each month.
Learning to cook just takes a little bit of practice, but nearly anyone can figure out how to do it if they try.
The directions in Cooking Light are generally very clear and accurate and don’t assume that you know what you are doing.
In general, they don’t require much fancy equipment beyond a decent set of pans, knives, mixing bowls and measuring cups and spoons. So if you have those things, there’s no reason you can’t be successful in the kitchen.
The magazine also typically has at least one feature or side-bar on cooking equipment or techniques in each issue, so you’ll probably pick up plenty of cooking knowledge the more you use the magazine. They also regularly have articles on choosing ingredients, which can make you a smarter and healthier shopper.
Occassionally you’ll hit a dud recipe — but in general, most of the recipes in Cooking Light will be delicious.
Cooking Light Website: Why Should I Subscribe When I Can Get Recipes Online?
A pretty extensive selection of past recipes from Cooking Light magazine can also be found online at the their website.
The Cooking Light website is a great place to get an idea for the types of dishes and recipes in the monthly magazine.
Not all of Cooking Light’s recipe inventory is available for free on their site, but there are hundreds of recipes for you to try out. I’d encourage you to browse around and see what you think.
Which raises the question of why you would subscribe to the monthly magazine, when you can just browse their online recipe collection? There are a couple of good reasons for actually subscribing to the magazine:
- The monthly magazine is designed to feature recipes that match the season and food naturally available. So in the January, it will be heavier on winter “comfort” foods like soups, while in November and December, you’ll get healthy suggestions for holiday meals. This is important, because the foods will be more appealing to you during these times, and you’ll be more likely to actually prepare them.
- Not all recipes in the Cooking Light magazine are available online.
- Getting the magazine each month will entice you to actually read it, which again will make you more likely to prepare the foods and put more variety in your diet.
That said, the website is a great primary source for recipes and tips, and I use it regularly along with the monthly magazine. Best of both worlds.
Tips for Getting The Most Out Of Cooking Light Magazine
If you do decide to give the magazine a try, there are a few things you’ll want to consider to get the most value from your Cooking Light magazine subscription:
- Review the recipes nutritional info carefully and match them to your fitness goals: Not every recipe in Cooking Light is going to match your specific goals. For example, some recipes may be too high in carbs or sugars for your specific objectives. Read the nutrition facts and choose recipes that support your personal goals.
- Clip your favorite recipes: When you find recipes you like, cut them out or clip tham and put them in a big three ring binder in your kitchen. This will keep you from digging around in piles of back issues to find your favorites.
- Make notes alongside the recipe: Remind yourself of why you liked the recipe — this will encourage you to make it again.
- Don’t be afraid of improvising: As you become more skilled at cooking, don’t be afraid to play around with ingredients to customize the recipe. All good cooks eventually do this. Again, write down your changes alongside the actual recipe for future reference.
- Keep the magazine in a place where you’ll see it frequently and be motivated to try things: Whether that’s the bathroom, the kitchen or the coffee table, out of site is out of mind. If you want to take full advantage of the magazine, keep it visible.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Fail: Cooking is part science and part art — and both of those things are subject to error, even for the most experienced cooks. Expect to screw some recipes up, and don’t be afraid to try it a second tiime if things go sideways.
- Extend Your Boundaries: Try some of the more exotic recipes. These are the things that make cooking fun and will help liven up your diet.
The Cooking Light Annual Recipe Book: Another Option
Cooking Light also publishes an annual hardbound edition of its recipes each year.
While I still like receiving a magazine each month, I actually also buy the hardbound book because it makes it easier to search for past recipes. It’s also a great way to get recipes from past years if you’re a new subscriber and have turned into a Cooking Light magazine fan.
You can buy the annual collection books here at Amazon.com or at your local bookseller like Barnes and Noble.
Price of Cooking Light Magazine and How to Buy a Subscription
Cooking Light magazine can be picked up on newstands for $4.99 an issue.
Obviously, buying a yearly subscription is much more economical — saving you up to 67 percent an issue over the newstand. And you get the benefit of 100 new recipes delivered to your door each month.
You can find some good yearly Cooking Light subscription deals online if you shop around. Right now, ValueMags.com is offering a 12-month/11-issue Cooking Light yearly subscription for $18 – which is the lowest price I’ve been able to find.
You can also buy a subscription via Amazon.com, or directly from the Cooking Light website.
The Final Verdict and Review
I’ve been a Cooking Light subscriber for years, and it’s not because I’ve never picked up a spatula or need someone to explain to me why you shouldn’t put hot liquids in a blender, or what Epazote is.
I’ve subcribed to Cooking Light magazine because they take some of the labor and mental work out of figuring out how to take dishes Fried Chicken and make them actually good for you instead of a one-way ticket to coronary bypass surgery. I could figure this stuff out myself (and still sometimes do), but why bother when someone else is paid to do it for you?
But the biggest long-term benefit to Cooking Light is that it’s managed to keep me from getting bored with eating well, which is easily worth the $18 a year.
What do you think? Are you a fan of Cooking Light? Leave your review below!
Category: Magazine & Cookbook Reviews