Easy Meal Makeovers

Tired of the same old, same old for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? You don't necessarily need a whole new menu; you might just need a few easy meal makeovers.

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

Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Tired of the same old, same old for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? You don't necessarily need a whole new menu; you might just need a few easy meal makeovers.

There's a big difference between plain scrambled eggs and a savory spinach-and-mushroom scramble. You could have the standby grilled cheese -- or a toasty sandwich made with grilled onions, lean ham, and a little Gruyere. Why just mix up a packet of instant oatmeal when you could have a bowl of vanilla-flavored oatmeal topped with plump blueberries and crunchy almonds? Even quesadillas can use a little embellishment. Add some roasted vegetables, and your quesadilla becomes more colorful, more interesting, and more nutritious.

These are easy meal makeovers -- traditional dishes transformed into fancier fare with a few ingredient switches or additions. No panini press or exotic ingredients are required! With a little imagination, you can upgrade dishes with items found right in your pantry and refrigerator.

10 Foods that Lend Themselves to Meal Makeovers

Certain foods or products are just asking to be upgraded, like egg dishes. Many handy ingredients complement the somewhat neutral flavor of eggs. Since eggs have some fat, saturated fat, and protein, I recommend thinking about vegetables, herbs or even seafood as egg embellishments -- and not so much greasy meats.

Here are 10 foods that really lend themselves to meal makeovers:

  • Eggs and omelets
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta dishes (cold and hot)
  • Hot and cold cereal
  • Canned soup (Depending on the type of soup you can add corn, edamame, chopped carrots, chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms, green beans, shrimp, shredded chicken or beef, etc.)
  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Sandwiches (cold and hot)
  • Quesadillas and other simple Mexican dishes like nachos and cheese enchiladas.
  • Muffins and breads
  • Yogurt

20 Products That Make Meal Makeovers Easy

Certain convenient products make meal makeovers even easier. Open a couple of cans, and you're got "fancy" nachos with seasoned refried beans and Ortega chili peppers. Toss together a cold pasta salad with light vinaigrette, sprinkle the top with green olives, and suddenly it's a party!

Here are 20 products that make upgrading easy:

  • Fat-free or vegetarian canned refried beans blended with taco seasoning from a packet (use about 1 teaspoon of seasoning per 1 cup of beans). Add to nachos, taco dip, burritos, etc.
  • Canned, chopped Ortega chili peppers. Add to nachos, eggs, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees.
  • Canned/bottled whole or sliced black or green olives. Add to pasta salads, chicken or tuna salads, sandwiches, pizza, etc.
  • Bottled roasted red peppers. Add to pasta dishes, sandwiches, pizza, quesadillas, etc.
  • Frozen pesto (make sure you buy one that uses olive oil or canola oil). A little goes a long way, because pesto is full of flavor. Add to sandwiches, appetizers and spreads, pizza and other entrees.
  • Bottled or dried sun-dried tomatoes. Add to sandwiches, pasta dishes, appetizers, spreads, etc.
  • Fat-free sour cream. Add to Mexican entrees, soups, potato dishes, egg dishes, etc.
  • Shredded, reduced-fat sharp cheddar or Parmesan. Add to salads, breads, soups, pasta, sandwiches, etc.
  • Canned or bagged roasted nuts. Add to muffins and breads, yogurt and fruit desserts, chicken and tuna salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes (hot and cold), cereal (hot and cold), appetizers, etc.
  • Dried fruit. Add to muffins and breads, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, appetizers, salads, etc.
  • Frozen chopped spinach. Add to egg dishes, savory muffins and breads, potato dishes, soup, etc.
  • Frozen or bottled artichoke hearts. Add to sandwiches, quesadillas, cold pasta dishes, salads, etc.
  • Fresh sliced mushrooms. Add to egg dishes, salads and sandwiches, casseroles, and all sorts of entrees.
  • Frozen shelled edamame. Add to egg dishes, soups, casseroles, green and pasta salad, etc.
  • Pre-sliced or chopped carrots. Add to soups, casseroles, green and pasta salads, etc.
  • Frozen or fresh herbs (fresh basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, etc). Add to sandwiches, egg dishes, pasta dishes, and all sorts of entrees.
  • Bottled chutney and salsa (there are all sorts of fun flavors available). Add to sandwiches, Mexican entrees, and grilled meat dishes.
  • Light herb cheese spread, goat cheese, or light herb cream cheese. A little goes a long way, because these spreadable cheeses are full of flavor. Add to sandwiches, egg dishes, pasta dishes, etc.
  • Ground flaxseed. Add to hot or cold cereal, yogurt, soup, casseroles, etc.
  • Fresh or frozen fruit. Add to yogurt, hot or cold cereal, pancakes and waffles, muffins, and breads.

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