Author and chef Sheridan McLaren strikes a balance between taste and nutrition

When chef Sheridan Mclaren takes a booking for a private dinner party, he asks his clients if they'd like a menu created with nutrition in mind.

"A lot of times it's 'No, we don't want it' or 'No, we want full flavour,'" says McLaren (Cook '09). "At the same time, I see that starting to change and to evolve."

He's found a way to do both. While his four- to seven-course dinners contain decadent elements, his cooking often features creative, healthy offerings rich in flavour but not calories. He shares that information with his clients.

That passion for healthy and delicious cooking is the focus of two easy-to-use, beautifully photographed Company's Coming cookbooks. The Red Seal chef and nutritionist helped author 400-calorie Mains (2014) and Healthy Family Recipes (2013), providing nearly half of the recipes in the former and all for the latter.

Healthy food is much "more than a salad with no dressing and carrots chopped on top."

Healthy food is much "more than a salad with no dressing and carrots chopped on top," says McLaren, 26. Recipes in the coil-bound books, which will appeal to vegetarians and meat-lovers alike, add flavour through ingredients such as fresh herbs, vinegars or marinades and fruit.

The 75 recipes in each book are analyzed using Health Canada's Canadian Nutrient File. Each recipe's calories, fat, sodium, protein and other information are listed to help people make healthier choices, says Kathryn Howden, a registered dietician and director of retail and ancillary services at NAIT, who reviewed the books' recipes. "There's definitely creative ideas on how to maximize nutrition with these recipes."

Those ideas are important, especially when you're starting to create your meal. Like many people, McLaren builds his meals around protein when planning his private dinner parties, a focus of his Edmonton-based private chef business. That's why contributing to 400-calorie Mains interested McLaren, who's proud of the book's diverse recipes, such as Blue Cheese Beef Tenderloin, one of his contributions.

Using accessible ingredients, including a preference for fresh and natural items - yes, that includes butter - as well as recipes that won't overwhelm a novice cook, was also important to him.

"I want to empower people to cook," says McLaren, who attributes his love of cooking to his grandmother, a caterer who also ran a diner in Tofield, Alta.

"Everybody can cook," he says. "Just try it."

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