I just l-o-v-e lasagna, but most traditional recipes include ingredients that make it a carb and fat-laden calorie bomb.
For this version, I’ve cut a substantial portion of the fat content by using 90-percent lean ground beef, fat-free cottage cheese and low-fat part-skim mozzarella cheese. I’ve also reduced the salt content by using low-sodium marinara sauce, added fiber by using whole-grain noodles and even sneaked in veggies by adding spinach.
The result? While still not calorie-free (shucks!), the healthier ingredients improve the nutritional quality of this comfort-food favorite without sacrificing flavor.
Lasagna also freezes well, which makes it great for batch-cooking.
For the filling, brown the ground beef and drain thoroughly. Thaw the spinach in the microwave oven and add to the ground beef. Add cottage cheese and marinara sauce to ground beef/spinach mixture and stir to thoroughly combine ingredients.
Spoon 1/3 of the lasagna filling into a 9 X 9-inch pan, and top with a layer of noodles. Repeat, then top with the remainder of the filling.
Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top.
Bake in 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
Calories: 390 | Carbohydrates: 24 g | Protein: 34 g | Fat: 17 g | Saturated Fat: 6 g | Cholesterol: 65 mg | Sodium: 590 mg | Potassium: 425 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 43% | Vitamin C: 20% | Calcium: 30% | Iron: 30%
One of my absolute favorite comfort foods is peanut butter. So, a real treat for me was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup pie at Baker’s Square Restaurant and Bakery, a local Midwestern chain restaurant known for its amazing pies. (Alas, the restaurant has sadly closed.)
The dessert, of course, was meant to resemble an actual Reese’s peanut butter cup (my all-time favorite candy), with its chocolate graham cracker crust, peanut butter cheesecake filling and chocolate ganache topping liberally sprinkled with chopped peanut butter cups. Ah-h-h-h!
The bad news: Each slice contained a whopping 830 calories. Even more scary was the delectable dessert’s heavy fat and sugar content – 56 grams of fat and 63 grams of sugar. The online recipes that came closest to duplicating the restaurant version – with their heavy cream and astronomical sugar content – flunked the nutritional test nearly as badly.
The good news: With just a few ingredient tweaks, I’ve been able to improve the dessert’s nutritional content considerably. So, I get to have my pie and eat it too, so to speak. Better yet, this no-bake recipe is fairly simple to make. The pie also freezes well for up to three months, so it can be enjoyed a slice at a time over a period of several weeks.
Replacing regular cream cheese with the fat-free variety cuts nearly 12 grams of fat and 140 calories from each serving. I further reduce the calories, fat and sugar content by using sugar-free Cool Whip, sugar-free vanilla pudding made with fat-free milk, sugar-free chocolate frosting and even sugar-free peanut butter cups.
Bottom line: Sorry, this still is not a totally low-calorie treat – but I’ve managed to cut out about half the calories, half the fat and nearly all of the sugar. And I swear there is NO sacrifice in taste. Plus, this version actually has some nutritional value – about the same protein content as a 3-ounce hamburger patty, in fact.
Of course, one way to further cut the calorie content as well as fat and sugar consumption is to control portion size. Cutting the pie into 12 servings rather than the standard 8 still allows for a somewhat generous slice (in fact, a slightly bigger slice than I got when splitting the restaurant dessert with a friend, which I sometimes did). Below, I’ve provided nutrition information for a smaller slice (12 servings per pie) and a larger slice (8 servings per pie).
Note: I’ve included brand names for some of the ingredients I use because of the marked differences in taste and quality between the various fat-free and sugar-free products. These are the brands that have worked best for me in terms of flavor, and which don’t just replace fat content by increasing sugar content. I always have to watch for this when using reduced-fat products.
8-inch pre-made Oreo pie crust
8-ounce package fat-free Philadelphia cream cheese
8-ounce package fat-free Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup peanut butter
Small (1 ounce) package Jell-o brand sugar-free vanilla pudding mix
1 cup fat-free (skim) milk
1 cup sugar-free Cool Whip whipped topping
½ of 15-ounce container Pillsbury sugar-free chocolate fudge frosting
8.8-ounce bag Reese’s sugar-free miniature peanut butter cups
Prepare pudding according to package instructions but using only one cup of milk. Add whipped topping and stir until blended.
Add cream cheese and peanut butter. Blend thoroughly in a food processor or blend using a food processor stick. (You may wish to add the cream cheese a small chunk at a time or soften it in the microwave oven about 30 seconds to one minute to make the blending process easier.)
Spoon mixture evenly into pie crust and refrigerate at least four hours until pie filling is firm. Or place in the freezer for about a half hour.
Soften frosting by placing in the microwave oven for up to 30 seconds and then stirring. Spread the frosting evenly over the cheesecake.
Chop the peanut butter cups and sprinkle over the top.
Servings: 12 | Calories: 335 | Carbohydrates: 44 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 20 g | Saturated fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 4 mg | Sodium: 400 mg | Potassium: 143 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: .5%
Servings: 8 | Calories: 502 | Carbohydrates: 66 g | Protein: 12 g | Fat: 30 g | Saturated fat: 4 g | Cholesterol: 6 mg | Sodium: 600 mg | Potassium: 215 mg | Fiber: 6 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 2% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 1%
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy, meat (usually pork or chicken) and lots of delicious seasonings.
As anyone who regularly follows my blog knows, I’m always looking for ways to sneak more wholesome stuff like vegetables and fiber into my diet while ditching the bad stuff like added salt and sugar.
So I’ve created a variation on this favorite that reduces both calories and carbs, features extra veggies and eliminates added salt without sacrificing a bit of the flavor. It’s also gluten-free (be sure to check the label on the hominy). If you omit the chicken and substitute low-sodium vegetable broth for the chicken broth, it can even be made vegetarian.
This recipe makes about 10-12 cups of soup and is perfect for batch cooking. The soup can be frozen for up to three months.
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2½ teaspoons chopped garlic cloves
2 small zucchini or yellow squash, sliced and quartered
4-5 stalks of celery, sliced
4-5 carrots, sliced
Medium green pepper, quartered and sliced
Medium onion, quartered and sliced
1 16-ounce can white or golden hominy (pozole)
Stir together the oregano, cumin, basil and black pepper in a small bowl.
Add the chicken, blended spices, lime juice, bay leaves, garlic and cloves to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer.
While the soup is simmering, chop/slice the squash, celery, carrots, onion and pepper and add to the mixture.
Add 4-5 cups of water, or until the soup is of desired thickness.
Continue to simmer for about a half hour, or until vegetables reach desired softness (slightly al dente) and chicken is completely cooked.
Add the hominy when the vegetables are nearly cooked through.
Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 75 | Carbohydrates: 8 g | Protein: 9 g | Fat: 1 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 25 mg | Sodium: 130 mg | Potassium: 372 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 3 g | Vitamin A: 85% | Vitamin C: 30% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 3%
What a delicious way to sneak an extra veggie serving into our meals and meet our daily 3-5 fruits and vegetables challenge! By using Egg Beaters and fat-free feta cheese, I cut out most of the fat and cholesterol usually found in this kind of recipe.
I use store-bought pie crusts – much easier! If you’re looking for a healthy alternative or have dietary restrictions, Wholly Wholesome makes whole wheat, as well as gluten-free ready-made crusts (link HERE).
One thing I love about this quiche is its versatility. I may have a slice for breakfast, for lunch or for a light evening meal. Depending on the meal, pair it with either a fresh fruit cup or a salad.
Another thing I like is that this quiche freezes well for up to three months, which means the recipe lends itself to batch cooking.
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach Dash of black pepper 1/2 cup fat free feta cheese 1½ cups plain Egg Beaters or similar product 9-inch frozen pie crust
Allow pie crust to thaw for about 20 minutes before adding filling. Using a fork, poke holes evenly throughout the pie crust to prevent bubbling.
Thaw spinach in microwave for about 5-10 minutes or leave in refrigerator the night before to thaw out. Make sure spinach is thoroughly thawed and drained. It is important to press out all the moisture from the spinach before using.
Sauté the garlic in olive oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the spinach. Lightly sprinkle black pepper over the mixture and continue to sauté until the mixture is heated through.
Remove from heat. Add the eggs and feta cheese, stirring only until blended.
Spoon the spinach mixture evenly into the pie crust.
Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for approximately 75 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
I usually top a slice of the quiche with a dollop of Hollandaise sauce, which I make from a pre-packaged sauce mix. Knorr makes a sauce mix that is very quick and easy.
If heating up leftover quiche, pop single servings into the microwave for approximately 90 seconds to two minutes.
Makes 6 servings.
Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 16 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 396 mg | Potassium: 93 mg | Fiber: 1.5 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 20%
This salad was a Sunday dinner staple at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up, and I still think of it as comfort food.
I took the classic recipe and removed some of the calories, fat and sugar content by using fat-free cottage cheese, sugar-free jello and pineapple canned in its own juice rather than syrup. And the salad is still delicious.
Small .3 ounce package sugar-free lime jello
1 cup water
1 cup ice cubes
8 ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice (no added sugar)
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Bring the water to a boil and add the powdered jello, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the ice cubes, stirring until all the cubes have melted.
Drain the crushed pineapple and add to the jello.
Add the cottage cheese, then the chopped nuts, and stir until well blended.
Refrigerate for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.
Makes approximately 6 servings.
Serving size: 2/3 cup | Calories: 85 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 6 g | Fat: 4 g | Saturated fat: 0 | Cholesterol: 2 mg | Sodium: 195 mg | Potassium: 140 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 7% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 2%
But alas, the store-bought variety is often chock-full of unhealthy ingredients – refined sugar, saturated fat and salt. And did I mention that most granola is a veritable calorie bomb? Some store-bought granolas have as many as 250 calories per 1/4 cup serving.
So I decided to make my own. This version replaces the unhealthy fat with omega-3-rich olive oil and eliminates both the added sugar and added salt. The recipe can be made gluten-free as well. (Just make sure the rolled oats are certified gluten-free.)
What’s left is good-for-you protein and fiber and about half the calories.
Now I’m going to confess: I just go ahead and allow myself a more realistic 1/2 cup serving rather than limiting myself to 1/4 cup if I’m eating my own granola as cereal. And I add 1/4 cup rather than the recommended two tablespoons to my yogurt if I’m having a fresh fruit parfait. That means I’ll end up consuming the same number of calories, but I get to eat twice as much.
This recipe makes approximately 4-5 cups of granola, depending on whether one adds the optional dried fruit. I generally make some with the fruit to enjoy as cereal with nonfat milk, and some without the dried fruit so I can add it to a fresh fruit parfait.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup sugar-free maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsalted sliced almonds or chopped pecans
1 cup unsweetened raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the oil, syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Use a stick blender if necessary to mix thoroughly.
Add the oats and nuts and stir until completely coated with the oil and syrup mixture.
Spread the mixture onto a large baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking oil.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until golden brown.
Add the fruit after removing from the oven.
Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.
Nutrition information for plain granola
Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 200 | Carbohydrates: 19 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 13 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 0 | Sodium: 20 mg | Potassium: 90 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 0 | Iron: 3%
Nutrition information for granola with dried fruit added
Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 245 | Carbohydrates: 32 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 13 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 0 | Sodium: 20 mg | Potassium: 90 mg | Fiber: 8 g | Sugar: 5 g | Iron: 3%
Sometimes I just pour skim milk on the granola and enjoy. But on mornings when I have a little time to relax, I figure, “Why stop there?”
One of my favorite breakfast treats is a fresh fruit parfait. I start with about 3/4 cup of fat-free plain Greek yogurt, pile on a generous layer of fresh fruit such as strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, add about 1/4 cup of my homemade granola, and top with a dollop of sugar-free whipped cream.
Nutrition information for Fruit Parfait
Calories: 235 | Carbohydrates: 25 g | Protein: 20 g | Fat: 8 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 10 mg | Sodium: 75 mg | Potassium: 395 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin C: 50% | Calcium: 15% | Iron: 1%
One of my best-loved comfort foods is homemade soup, and vegetable beef barley is one of my favorites.
As I almost always do with home-cooked meals, I’ve tweaked the traditional recipe to make it healthier. I leave out the teaspoon or so of salt the recipe usually calls for, use reduced-sodium broth and no-added-salt tomatoes, and substitute a bit more spice to retain flavor. I also cut the amount of meat in half to lower both the calorie count and the cholesterol/saturated fat levels and double the veggies. The result is nutritious as well as delicious.
The soup is super easy to make. As a bonus, it freezes well, and therefore lends itself to batch cooking. This recipe makes approximately 10 one-cup servings.
1 pound lean beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
32-ounce carton reduced-sodium beef broth
3-4 cups water
28-ounce can no-added-salt diced tomatoes
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
6 stalks celery, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup barley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 small bay leaves
Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat, barley and vegetables are tender. If the soup begins to get too thick, add a cup or two of water.
Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 168 | Carbohydrates: 17 g | Protein: 12 g | Fat: 5 g | Saturated fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 31 mg | Sodium: 244 mg | Potassium: 477 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 5 g | Vitamin A: 128% | Vitamin C: 24% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 6%
I’ll confess: Sometimes I give in to that irresistible urge to nibble between meals. And I’ve found that having fresh cut veggies in the refrigerator – celery, carrot or zucchini sticks, cauliflower and broccoli florets or mushrooms – reduces the chance that I’ll snack on junk.
Alas, raw veggies tend to taste much better with dip, which itself can add too many calories if I’m not careful. So I’ve created some dips that make the crudities more appealing while reducing the guilt factor.
These dips also work well on baked potatoes as a replacement for butter or margarine.
The secret is a “base” that cuts out the fat without sacrificing flavor. I use the base to create a variety of delicious dips. Here I’ve included directions for making blue cheese dip and feta cheese dip.
The following recipe makes approximately 2 cups of the “dip base,” which lasts up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Ingredients for dip base
1 8-oz. package fat-free cream cheese
1 5.3 oz. individual size container non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup fat-free mayonnaise
Soften cream cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds to one minute until softened and easily stirred. Add yogurt and blend until smooth. Then add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. I use a hand-held “stick” blender when making the base to achieve the smoothness I desire.
Blue cheese crumbles and feta cheese crumbles both come in reduced-fat varieties, and make delicious dips when added to the above base.
When blending in the additional ingredients, I recommend stirring them in by hand rather than using a blender or food processor because I like preserving the original consistency of the crumbles.
Blue Cheese Dip
Mix together equal parts dip base and reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles and stir until well-blended. For example, I might mix together ¼ cup of the base with ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles, reserving the rest of the base for another use.
“Cardiac event” was most definitely not on my To-Do list.
Following an extended pull-my-hair-out busy patch that seems to happen for at least two weeks each month despite my retirement, I was looking forward to a short stretch of downtime. Instead, I began a beautiful October weekend with a ride in the back of an ambulance.
The good news: My radiating chest pain and rapid heart rate (200-plus beats per minute) turned out not to be a heart attack. The bad news: After an overnight stay in the hospital spent hooked up to a Holter monitor, I left with a diagnosis of A-fib and “diastolic dysfunction.”
The upshot: My eagerly-awaited downtime this past couple of weeks has been supplanted by a round of follow-up doctor visits. I’ll need to add three new heart medications to my ever-expanding drug salad, and a lot more salads to my increasingly restricted diet. And veggies.
Alas, since I prefer chocolate-covered peanut butter cookie bars to celery, it is even harder for me to adhere to a healthy eating plan than it was for me to quit smoking 15 years ago. Add to that, the challenge of finding recipes my husband and I can both stand. We each have veggies we like and veggies we loathe. Problem is, the ones I like are on his “loathe list” and vice versa.
But the cardiac event that hijacked my calendar has reminded me of my need to keep “self-care” on my list of priorities – after all, 1 Corinthians 6:19 says my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s past time to stop taking my health for granted.
So I’d love to have readers of this blog share their irresistible veggie recipes. Or yummy salad recipes. “Quick and easy to prepare” is a plus.
Count on my husband to add a bit of levity to a tense situation. While waiting for me to be released from the hospital, he and I were discussing the health issues we’ve both been experiencing this past year.
I said, “At our age, we probably need to get used to this. It’s going to be the new normal.”
To which my sweetie pie replied, “You mean the new abnormal? We were NEVER normal, my dear!”