Potluck Makeovers

Try these lighter versions of your favorite portable dishes

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Just bring a side dish," I would be able to get that adorable pink iPod mini.

And for good reason: Whether it's a church social, a family cookout, or a neighborhood get-together, the menu always seems to work out well when guests are asked to contribute a side dish.

One thing I've learned is that if you ask people to sign up to bring either a side dish or a dessert, the dessert column always fills up first. I haven't quite figured out why that is.

At your typical potluck, you might see pasta salad, fruit salad, potato salad, green salad, coleslaw, some garlic bread, and the obligatory crock pot filled with baked beans. The dessert table might include cobbler, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, a couple of sheet cakes, and some Rice Krispies treats. Sound familiar?

Today, we're going to give a few of these favorite potluck dishes a Weight Loss Clinic Makeover. We'll start with some general tips for healthier potluck cooking, then move on to a few recipes.

Side dish/main dish makeover tips:

  • Add light mayonnaise instead of regular.
  • Dress your green salad or pasta salad with a reduced-fat dressing (with 6 grams of fat or less per 2-tablespoon serving).
  • Use extra-lean meats, skinless poultry, less-fat bacon bits, etc., instead of higher-fat versions when possible.
  • Use reduced-fat cheese and other dairy products (like fat-free sour cream).
  • Choose whole-grain products when possible (multigrain pasta, brown rice, etc.).
  • Go heavy on the vegetables in your dish (add extra broccoli, carrots, or tomato, for example).
  • Use reduced-fat, condensed creamy soups for your recipes instead of the full-fat versions.
  • In many side dish/main dish recipes, you can substitute a nonfat, lower-calorie ingredient (like chicken broth, white wine, fat-free half-and-half) for some or all of the fat.

Dessert makeover tips:

  • Use light Cool Whip instead of regular.
  • Use less-fat margarine or whipped butter (with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon) instead of the full-fat types.
  • Add unsweetened fresh or frozen fruit every chance you get, to boost the fiber and nutrition.
  • With bakery items, depending on the recipe, you may be able to substitute a lower-calorie ingredient (fat-free sour cream, orange juice, low-fat yogurt, etc.) for half the fat called for.
  • You can usually get away with half the amount of frosting called for.
  • You can make a great frosting using a less-fat or diet margarine (with 8 grams or less of fat per tablespoon) instead of regular margarine or butter.
  • Use light ice cream or low-fat frozen yogurt when making ice-cream pies, sandwiches, or sundaes.
  • Depending on the recipe, you can substitute Splenda for half the sugar called for. Or try cutting the sugar by 1/4 or 1/3 to bring down the calories per serving.

To get you started on the road to light potlucking, here are a handful of recipes (a bread, a couple of salads, and a dessert) just perfect for your next get-together!

Garlic Cheese Bread

1/3 cup less-fat margarine (with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon)
2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley)
1-pound loaf French or sourdough bread, cut in half lengthwise
2 cups shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 green onions (the white and part of the green) chopped

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Add margarine, ricotta cheese, garlic, and parsley to a small food processor (a hand mixer can also be used) and mix until blended.
  • Place bread halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan. Spread half of the mixture on one half of the loaf and repeat with the remaining margarine mixture on the second half.
  • Bake in hot oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted. While it's baking, toss the mozzarella cheese with the green onions. Remove bread from the oven and sprinkle the top with the mozzarella mixture. Return to oven for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Yield: 12 servings

Per serving: 182 calories, 9 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 2.8 g saturated fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 355 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.

7-Layer Salad

This is a very popular potluck recipe in some areas of the United States. Now you have a lighter version to bring, and no one will be the wiser.

Layer #1:  8 cups of shredded Romaine or green leaf lettuce
Layer #2:  1 green pepper, chopped
Layer #3:  2 cups sliced mushrooms or carrots
Layer #4:  1 1/2 cups canned kidney or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
Layer #5:  1 1/2 cups frozen peas (run cold water over them in a strainer to partially thaw)

Layer #6 (dressing):
   6 tablespoons light Miracle Whip (or other light mayo)
   6 tablespoons light or nonfat sour cream
   6 tablespoons low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half
   3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
   1 1/2 teaspoon crumbled oregano leaves
   1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Layer #7:
   1 cup, packed, reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
   1/4 cup less-fat bacon bits (optional)

  • Assemble the first five layers in a 9x13-inch glass dish.
  • In a separate bowl, beat dressing ingredients together with wire whisk. Spread over the top layer in the glass dish with a spatula.
  • Sprinkle cheese and bacon bits (if desired) evenly over the top of salad. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.


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