How to Lighten Up All-American Favorites

Allison Fishman Task shares her best secrets for putting a healthy spin on your family favorites.

It's hard to believe that the classic American recipes in Lighten Up, America! are actually lighter dishes. They’ve been re-envisioned so that they are lower in fat, sodium, and calories than their traditional preparations, but just as delicious as their guilt-laden namesakes—if not more so!

I begin with fresh, seasonal ingredients when possible. They tend to have the best flavor and therefore require the smallest amount of embellishment. Once the best ingredients are in hand, putting them together in lean variations of favorite dishes can be achieved if you stick to some easy guidelines.

  1. Add flavor and texture with veggies. 
    People tend to bulk up lots of their favorite dishes with starches like rice, potatoes, or corn. Instead, I add vegetables. I’ll toss broccoli into a mac and cheese, zucchini or peppers into chili, and mushrooms or spinach into breakfast casseroles. Vegetables are loaded with fiber and beneficial vitamins and they’re oh-so low in fat and calories.
  2. Switch to whole grains.
    Whole grains provide energy with fiber, and they take longer for the body to digest, so they keep you full longer. They also add a chewy texture and nutty flavor to most dishes.
  3. Choose healthy, protein-rich ingredients. 
    Proteins from eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, soy, nuts, and beans are more satisfying than carbohydrates and fats alone. Eating an adequate amount of protein keeps you full and helps you maintain muscle mass, which helps to burn calories. I try to incorporate a little protein into every meal and snack.
  4. Make smart substitutions. 
    Some of my favorite all-American recipes are laden with fat and calories. Lobster rolls. Lasagna. Spinach dip. A few educated substitutions are usually all it takes to turn favorites into lighter versions. I use leaner cuts of meat and substitute reduced-fat or fat-free dairy for a portion of the full-fat whenever possible.
  5. Keep refined ingredients, like sugar and flour, in check. 
    Refined sugars and flours are not everyday foods for me. But since I don’t keep “never” lists, I call them “sometimes” foods. Dessert is a fabulous treat, but not something to have at the end of every meal.
  6. Rely on portion control. 
    I eat what I want, but if it’s not particularly good for me, I try not to eat too much of it. Balance is key.