Elaine Magee presents her picks for best lightened-up appetizer, main dish, salad, breakfast, and dessert recipes.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Some people are passionate about sports, or gardening, or the latest best-selling novels. But those honorable interests just don't float my boat. Instead, I'm positively passionate about doing recipe makeovers. There's little that's more exciting to me than the challenge of taking favorite recipes and creating new, healthier recipes that are just as great-tasting.
I enjoy comparing nutrition information for the "before" and "after" versions of the recipe and calculating how many calories, grams of fat and saturated fat I've saved and how many grams of fiber I've added. But the biggest thrill comes when people who have tried a recipe tell me that their family loved it. That's the ultimate reward.
While it's always fun to create healthy recipes, I have a few that I have to say are among my all-time favorites. Try them, and maybe they'll become your favorites, too.
Best Healthy Appetizer Recipe
Here is one of my favorite appetizer recipes. It's always popular at parties (even kids love it). I also like how you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.
Light 7-Layer Dip
[85 calories and 2 g fiber per serving]
Keep it light by serving with reduced-fat tortilla chips (homemade or store-bought) or reduced-fat crackers. Use 1/2 cup store-bought guacamole or make homemade by blending the following together in a small food processor:
1 avocado peeled, pitted, and diced
2 teaspoons lime juice, fresh or bottled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons salsa
Garlic powder or garlic
Salt to taste (optional)
Black pepper to taste
-8 ounces fat-free sour cream
1-ounce packet taco seasoning mix
15-ounce can fat-free or vegetarian refried beans
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese blend (i.e. Jack and cheddar)
2 1/4-ounce can sliced black olives (optional)
1. Make guacamole, if you're not using store-bought, and set aside.
2. In small bowl, blend sour cream with taco seasoning.
3. Spread the refried beans in the bottom of a deep-dish pie plate (you can warm the beans up in the microwave briefly to make them more spreadable.)
4. Top the beans with the sour cream mixture, then top that with the guacamole.
5. Spread the tomatoes on top, then sprinkle the green onions over the top, followed by the shredded cheese and black olives, if desired.
6. Serve with reduced-fat tortilla chips or reduced-fat crackers.
Yield: 16 appetizer servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving (dip only): 85 calories, 5.2 g protein, 6.4 g carbohydrate, 4.4 g fat (1.9 g saturated fat, 1.9 g monounsaturated, 0.3 g polyunsaturated fat), 7 mg cholesterol, 0.7 g fiber, 258 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 46%.
Best Healthy Breakfast or Brunch Recipe
I find myself pulling out this recipe and making it again and again, especially if I've got company coming for brunch! It's a wonderful cross between the delightful dessert, creme brulee, and the favorite brunch dish, French toast.
You can assemble it the night before and then in the morning, just bake it and serve.
Overnight Creme Brulee French Toast
[294 calories and 2 g fiber per serving]
- 3 tablespoons low- or no-trans fat margarine or butter
- 5 tablespoons reduced-calorie pancake syrup
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur), divided
- At least 8 (1-inch thick) slices of French or sourdough bread (you might need more to cover the bottom of the pan depending on the size of your bread)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
- 1 1/2 cups fat-free half-and-half
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Garnish: Fresh strawberries or other berries and a dollop of light whipped cream or Light Cool Whip.
1. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray. Melt margarine or butter in a small nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Mix in reduced-calorie pancake syrup, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
2. Remove crusts from bread and arrange slices in the baking dish in a single layer on top of the brown sugar mixture (enough slices to cover the bottom of the pan).
3. In small bowl, whisk together eggs, egg substitute, fat-free half-and-half, vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier, and salt. Pour mixture evenly over the bread. Cover well and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
5. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes until puffed and lightly browned. Serve with fresh fruit and a dollop of light whipped cream, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 294 calories, 12 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat, 2.1 g monounsaturated fat, 1.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 82 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 537 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.
Best Healthy Muffin Recipe
I love muffins because they're delicious and so convenient to grab-and-go or enjoy with your morning coffee or tea. And Lemon Blueberry Corn Muffins are definitely among my favorites. Each small muffin contains a boost of fiber, and the lemon and blueberry flavors complement each other perfectly.
Lemon Blueberry Corn Muffins
[145 calories and 2 g fiber per serving]
Bake the batter in a nonstick mini angel food pan (or similar) for a pretty presentation. This is a great way to work some fruit, whole grains, and plant omega-3 fatty acids (from canola oil) into your morning.
- 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal (finely ground works best)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup Splenda (or other sugar alternative for baking)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Zest from 1 lemon, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
- 3/4 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 2 cups frozen or fresh blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 15 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.
2. Whisk together the flours, cornmeal, sugar, Splenda, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
3. Add canola oil, fat-free half-and-half, egg and egg substitute to a large mixing bowl and beat on medium until well blended. Gradually add flour mixture to the batter in the mixing bowl, while beating on low speed, until just combined. Gently stir in blueberries and spoon batter into prepared muffin cups using a 1/4-cup measuring cup. Bake until a tester inserted in center of largest muffin comes out clean (about 18 minutes).
Yield: Around 15 muffins
Nutritional Information: Per muffin: 145 calories, 4 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 4.4 g fat (0.4 g saturated fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 198 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 27%.
Best Healthy Main Dish Recipes
Here are two of my favorite main dish recipes, including one for the fish-lover, and one for the vegetarian (full- or part-time). Butternut Squash Risotto is a uniquely flavored and colored risotto that I enjoy as a lunch or dinner entree. Seasoned Salmon with Lemon Caper Sauce is a simple but elegant dinner entree that gives you a big boost of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Butternut Squash Risotto
[323 calories and 4.5 g fiber per serving]
- 5 cups butternut squash cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1, 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, , and cut and cut into cubes)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
- 6 cups chicken broth (lower sodium if available)
- 2 cups leeks (white and pale green parts), rinsed very well and thinly sliced
- 2 cups medium-grain rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup whole milk or fat-free half-and-half
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (more for garnish optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (available in most produce sections)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with foil. Add the squash cubes and 1 tablespoon olive oil to medium bowl; toss well to coat the cubes. Spread them onto the prepared pan and bake until tender and lightly golden (about 40 minutes), stirring after 20 minutes.
2. While squash is baking, add the chicken broth to a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cover to keep warm until needed.
3. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and sautÃ©, stirring often, until soft and lightly brown (about 5 minutes). Add the dry rice and stir frequently for a minute. Pour in the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until wine is absorbed (1 to 2 minutes). Reduce heat to low and add a cup of hot stock and simmer, stirring frequently, until absorbed (3-5 minutes). Add remaining stock, a cup at a time, each time allowing stock to be absorbed before adding more. Stir each time you add stock. Right about the time you've added the 6 cups of stock, the rice should just be tender and the mixture should look a little creamy.
4. Gently stir in the roasted squash cubes, the milk, Parmesan cheese and fresh sage and cook about a minute or two, just until everything is heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste if desired and serve each bowl with a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 323 calories, 10.5 g protein, 53 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 4.5 g fiber, 230 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 22%.
Seasoned Salmon with Lemon Caper Sauce
[191 calories and 0.1 g fiber per serving]
When I want to fix salmon fast, this is one of the recipes I often grab. It takes five minutes to put together and 10 minutes to broil the salmon. And it tastes terrific -- can't get much better than that.
- 1 pound salmon fillet
Canola cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (depending on preference)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (depending on preference)
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
- Lemon Caper Sauce
1/2 cup fat-free or light sour cream
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest or peel (optional)
1. Preheat broiler. Line a 9-inch round pan or dish with foil. Coat the foil with canola cooking spray.
2. Rinse and dry salmon fillet well. Place the salmon skin-side down in the prepared pan.
3. Coat the top of the salmon fillet (flesh side) with canola cooking spray.
4. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over the top of salmon. Then sprinkle garlic powder and dill weed evenly over the top of salmon. Place under broiler (about 6 inches from the heat) for five minutes. Flip salmon over (skin-side up now) and broil five minutes longer. Check the thickest part of the salmon to test if it is done.
5. Peel off the skin (it comes off easily) and throw away. Serve the salmon seasoned-side up (spoon any juices and seasoning in the bottom of the pan over the top of the salmon).
6. While the salmon is broiling, add sour cream, capers, and lemon juice (lemon zest if desired) in small food processor and pulse about five seconds to blend well. If you don't have a food processor you can finely chop the capers and blend the capers, lemon juice and sour cream together well in a small serving bowl.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 191 calories, 24 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat (1.4 g saturated fat), 65 mg cholesterol, 0.1 g fiber, 206 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.
Best Healthy Salad Recipe
I never get tired of this salad. You can use strawberry slices instead of blackberries if that's what you have in the fruit crisper. During the winter months, you can use any fresh fruit or dried cranberries instead of the blackberries.
Blackberry Spinach Salad
[167 calories and 6 g fiber per serving]
This salad has so much flavor that the only dressing you'll need is a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
- 4 cups baby spinach, rinsed and dried (comes in packages this way), packed measure
- 2 cups fresh blackberries (thawed blackberries can also be used)
- 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (or reduced-fat or regular feta cheese)
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (chopped ripe tomatoes can be substituted)
- 1 large or 2 small green onions, sliced
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts or walnut pieces
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (add more to taste)
1. Add spinach, blackberries, cheese, cherry tomatoes, green onion, and walnuts to a large serving bowl. Toss to blend well.
2. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve into 4 salad bowls.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 167 calories, 7 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (3.2 g saturated fat, 1.6 g monounsaturated fat, 1.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 129 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 37%.
Best Healthy Dessert Recipes
Here are two of my favorite dessert recipes, one for when you've got a taste for a comfort-food winter dessert, and one for when you want fresh, colorful fruit with a sweet taste of meringue.
[199 calories and 5 g fiber per serving]
3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries or blackberries (about 1 pound)
3 cups diced pears
2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour (or 3 tablespoons if using frozen fruit)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Splenda
2 tablespoons liqueur, such as Chambord or Grand Marnier
3/4 cup quick oats
6 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
6 tablespoons unbleached white flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup less-fat margarine (a brand with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon) or whipped butter
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 9-inch or 8 x 8-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
2. Add berries, pears, flour, sugar, Splenda, and liqueur to a large mixing bowl and toss to blend well. Pour into prepared baking dish.
3. Add oats, flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt to a large mixing bowl; beat with electric mixer on low speed to combine. Add margarine in chunks and beat on medium speed, cleaning margarine off beaters several times, until a nice crumb has formed. Drizzle buttermilk over the top of oat mixture and blend with mixer just until your crumb mixture has moistened nicely. Add another teaspoon or two of buttermilk, if needed.
4. Sprinkle oat topping over berry and pear mixture and press down gently. Bake 20-25 minutes or until topping is nicely brown and fruit filling is thick and bubbly.
Yield: 9 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 199 calories, 3 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 8 mg cholesterol, 5 mg cholesterol, 147 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.
[150 calories and 1 g fiber per serving]
This dessert was reportedly created for Anna Pavlova, one of the world's best-known ballerinas, while she was performing in New Zealand.
- 3 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Dash salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 cups peeled and sliced mixed fruit, such as kiwi, strawberries, or peaches
- 1 1/2 cups pressurized whipped cream (or sweetened whipped cream)
1. Put the egg whites in a large bowl and let stand for about one hour. Meanwhile, cut a brown paper grocery bag so that you can use it to cover a thick cookie sheet. Use a pencil and ruler to draw eight, 3-inch circles on the paper.
2. Preheat the oven to 300Â°. Add the vanilla extract, cream of tartar, and salt to the egg whites. With an electric mixer, beat on medium speed till soft peaks form. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed until very stiff peaks form and the sugar is almost dissolved (about 7 minutes).
3. With a pastry tube (or using a spoon), pipe the meringue onto the circles on the paper, building up the sides to form eight shells.
4. Place the cookie sheet into the preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes. Turn off the oven. Let the shells dry in the oven, with the door closed, for one hour. Remove the shells from the paper.
5. In a medium bowl, toss the fruit slices to blend. With a large spoon, fill the cooled shells with the fresh fruit mixture. Add a dollop of whipped cream to each mini pavlova. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8 mini Pavlovas
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 150 calories, 2 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 8 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 35 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 15%.
Published September 2008.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2003-2008 Elaine Magee.