Easy Meal Makeovers

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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.

6 Meal Makeover Recipes

Here are six recipes for making over a cold cereal, a hot cereal, a soup, a sandwich, a Mexican favorite, and a pancake dish.

Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 cup hot cereal sweetened + 1/2 cup skim or 1% milk

Turn your instant oatmeal packet into a flavorful and fancy hot breakfast dish just by adding a few ingredients.

1 packet plain instant oatmeal (or lower-sugar instant oatmeal such as Quaker Lower Sugar Maple & Brown Sugar)
2/3 cup 1% low-fat milk (or use fat-free half-and-half)
1 tablespoon of toasted pecan pieces (or substitute walnuts or any nut)
1 tablespoon chopped dried cranberries (or substitute dried cherries or any dried fruit)

  • Empty packet into microwave-safe bowl. Add low-fat milk and stir. Microwave on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes and stir.
  • Sprinkle cranberries and toasted pecans over the top

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Yield: 1 serving

Per serving: 269 calories, 10 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 8.8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 4.5 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 374 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 29%.

Blueberry Almond Vanilla Cereal

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup soy milk (or skim or 1% milk) + 1/2 cup unsweetened canned fruit or pureed fruit + 1 cup unsweetened cold cereal

1 cup higher-fiber cold cereal (like bite-size shredded wheat or low fat granola)
1/2 cup vanilla soy milk (like Silk brand)
1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon toasted almonds (sliced, slivered or chopped)

  • Add the cold cereal to a bowl. Pour in vanilla soy milk.
  • Sprinkle blueberries and almonds over the top, and enjoy.

Yield: 1 serving

Per serving: 320 calories, 11 g protein, 55 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 3.4 g monounsaturated fat, 2.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 8.3 g fiber, 53 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.

Roasted Vegetable Quesadilla

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 veggie burger without added fat OR
1 light frozen dinner + 2 ounces low-fat cheese OR
2 slices whole-wheat bread + 2 ounces low-fat cheese + ½ cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat

Don't let the 30-minute roasting time for the vegetables frighten you. It only takes about five minutes to get the vegetables ready to roast, then pop them in the oven.

1 sweet or red onion, ends trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, quartered, cored, seeded
1 eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 1.5 pounds)
2 zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
1 tablespoon canola oil
Freshly ground pepper
Salt (optional)
4 large whole-wheat flour tortillas
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded, reduced-fat jack cheese or a combination of reduced fat cheddar and jack (available pre-shredded in packages)
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup salsa
1 avocado, sliced (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a nonstick large baking sheet or jellyroll pan with canola cooking spray. Lay onion slices, bell pepper strips, eggplant slices, and zucchini strips onto the pan. Brush the tops with canola oil and season with pepper and salt (if desired). Roast vegetables in oven until soft (about 30 minutes).
  • Add one of the tortillas to a large nonstick frying pan and begin to heat over medium heat. Give it about 30 seconds and then flip the tortilla over. Quickly top the tortilla with about 6 tablespoons of cheese, and then lay an assortment of the roasted vegetables over the top of the cheese. Continue to cook until the bottom of the tortilla is nicely brown.
  • Fold the tortilla over and cut it into about 4 pieces. Make the remaining quesadillas with the remaining ingredients. Serve each quesadilla with a garnish of a dollop of sour cream topped with a dollop of salsa and about four slices of avocado fanned out across the top.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 320 calories, 17 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 4.2 g monounsaturated fat, 1.7 g polyunsaturated fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 6.5 g fiber, 540 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%.

Apple & Bacon Swedish Pancakes

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion fresh fruit + 2 pieces of "pancakes, waffle, French toast"

6 strips turkey bacon
1 1/2 apples, each quarter cut into about 6 slices
2 large eggs, separated (use higher omega-3 eggs, if available)
2 tablespoons egg substitute
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 drizzles light pancake syrup (optional)

  • Add turkey bacon to nonstick frying pan and cook over medium heat until lightly cooked; remove from pan and set aside. Coat the same nonstick frying pan with canola cooking spray. Over medium-high heat, lay the apple slices in the pan and cook until apples are nicely brown on both sides (about 4 minutes).
  • Add egg whites to mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Spoon whipped egg whites into another bowl and set aside.
  • In the mixing bowl you just used, add the egg yolk and egg substitute. Beat until the mixture is thick and creamy; then beat in sugar and sour cream. Stop the mixer and add whole-wheat flour, white flour, salt, cinnamon, milk, and vanilla to the mixing bowl, then turn on the mixer on LOW and beat until combined. Scrape sides of bowl midway. Fold whipped egg whites into the batter.
  • Start heating a new medium-sized nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, and coat with canola cooking spray. Add 1/2 cup of the batter, tilting the pan to evenly distribute. Lay two strips of the turkey bacon on top. When bottom is nicely browned, flip pancake over to cook other side. As it is cooking, arrange a third of the apple slices on half of the pancake. When bottom is ready, drizzle the apples lightly with pancake syrup, if desired, and fold the pancake over (you should see the bacon strips in the pancake) and remove to a serving plate.
  • Repeat the whole process with canola cooking spray and remaining batter, bacon, and apples.

Yield: 3 servings

Per serving: 279 calories, 13 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 96 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 628 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

'Halfway Homemade' Chicken Noodle Soup

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal each serving as 1 cup hearty stews, chili, bean soup + 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat

You can throw all the ingredients (except green onions) in a slow cooker and cook on HIGH for a couple of hours, or bring to a gentle boil in a saucepan over the stove, cover the saucepan and simmer for an hour.

2 ready-to-serve cans (about 14 ounces each) chicken noodle soup
1 1/2 cups shredded or cubed boneless, skinless, roasted or grilled chicken breast
1 cup shelled frozen edamame
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped green onions

  • Add all of the ingredients except the green onions to a slow cooker. Set the slow cooker on HIGH, cover, and let simmer for around 2 hours. If you would rather use the stove, add the ingredients to a medium saucepan, bring to a gentle boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and simmer for about an hour.
  • Ladle soup into individual bowls and sprinkle green onions over the top.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 280 calories, 18 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 440 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%.

French-Style Ham & Cheese Sandwich

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 sandwich and burger moderate fat meat

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced (red or white onion can be substituted)
2 teaspoons light pancake syrup (optional)
4 slices of your bread of choice (sourdough, French, whole grain, or even a white or wheat flour tortilla)
3 ounces thinly sliced extra lean ham (honey ham, maple, or other flavor)
2 tablespoons whipped light cream cheese (light cream cheese can be substituted)
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, firmly packed

    Directions:
  • Add olive oil to medium nonstick frying pan and begin to heat over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute, stirring often, until onion is nicely browned and caramelized (about 4 minutes). Drizzle pancake syrup (if desired) over the top and stir into the onions. Set aside to cool.
  • Toast bread slices, if desired. Top two of the slices with the ham slices and spread the caramelized onions over the ham. Then spread a tablespoon of the cream cheese over the remaining two slices. Sprinkle shredded Gruyere cheese evenly over the top of the cream cheese.
  • Place all four slices until the toaster oven broiler (or regular broiler) and broil, watching carefully, until the Gruyere cheese is starting to bubble (about 3-4 minutes). Place the slices with the cheese over the slices with the ham and onions. Cut each sandwich on the diagonal and serve!

Yield: 2 servings

Per serving (using whole wheat bread): 377 calories, 25 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 15.5 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 997 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 37%.

Published March 30, 2007.


Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2007 Elaine Magee

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Quick GuidePortion Control Tips: Lose Weight and Stick to Your Diet

Portion Control Tips: Lose Weight and Stick to Your Diet

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Reviewed on 4/2/2007

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