Put down the phone, and pick up a skillet.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
February 18, 2021
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Credit: Charday Penn/Getty Images

I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions that take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to food and diet. Why? Because I know that when I decide to cut something out—like chocolate, alcohol, or restaurants—the approach tends to backfire. My cravings only seem to intensify for that "off-limit" food or drink. My eating habits are much healthier when I incorporate a little of the indulgences and find healthier alternatives for less-than-healthy foods. For me, this means preparing recipes that rival some of my favorite restaurant and takeout dishes.

Sure, cooking at home is hands down the smartest decision when it comes to spending money and watching your waistline. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the flavors of your favorite restaurant meals. I don't—and haven't—thanks to some of my favorite go-to Cooking Light recipes.

Here are 7 of my favorite just as good as—or better than—takeout recipes. If you're a Cooking Light Diet member, you can schedule all of these meals into your meal plan right now using the Search feature.

I hope you'll enjoy these restaurant-worthy meals as much as me and my kids have!

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo

Credit: Photo: John Autry and Randy Mayor

Classic Alfredo sauce is made with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to create a decadently rich pasta sauce. But these ingredients are also what make fettuccine Alfredo one of the dishes highest in calories and fat on an Italian menu. In this lightened version, though, a little half-and-half and lower-fat cream cheese are used in place of heavy cream to create the Parmesan cream sauce. The end product is a rich-tasting Alfredo that has almost 900 calories and 48 grams of saturated fat less than a popular Italian restaurant chain's portion.

Barbecue Chicken Sliders

There are at least four different barbecue joints within a 10-mile radius of my house, proof enough that barbecue is treated as its own cuisine here in the South. If you choose lean meat and poultry to start, grilling and smoking meats can be a fairly healthy choice. It's when the sodium-heavy rubs and marinades and sugar-laden sauces get added when things start getting unhealthy. These sliders are a great alternative, though. Pulled rotisserie chicken gets tossed with ketchup and a vinegar-based sauce that uses seven spices for a smoky depth even barbecue connoisseurs will love.

Quick Pizza Margherita

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

What's the secret to not letting pizza night get your healthy eating habits off track? The key is skipping the extra cheese and meat toppings, and instead choosing fresh ingredients that have just as much flavor (or sometimes more)—like garlic, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella cheese. One-fourth of this pizza contains about half the calories, saturated fat, and sodium compared to an equivalent amount of thin-crust pizza from a restaurant. And don't let this outdated picture fool you—this pizza is good.

Take all the stress out of meal planning! Subscribe to the Cooking Light Diet today and start receiving customizable meal plans—breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner—for less than $2 per week.

Air-fried General Tso's Chicken

Credit: Greg Dupree

General Tso's chicken is a popular Chinese takeout dish where chicken is lightly battered, fried, and then tossed in a sweet and spicy glaze. Even though it's delicious, one order can easily have a little over 1500 calories, 80 grams of fat, 60 grams of sugar, and 20000mg of sodium. Air frying creates healthier-yet-equally-crispy pieces of chicken in this lightened version of General Tso's. Meanwhile, the homemade sauce uses key condiments to maximize flavor while minimizing sodium and sugar.

Cheddar Cheeseburgers with Caramelized Shallots

Credit: Johnny Autry

Craving a juicy burger? This cheeseburger is one of my all-time favorites because of how close it comes to rivaling one of my favorite greasy takeout burgers. Cooking patties made with lean ground beef in the skillet is the secret to keeping these cheeseburgers juicy. When ready to eat, serve them on a toasted bun topped with golden sautéed shallots, arugula, and a little light mayonnaise. It's an unbelievably good burger, and it's only 370 calories.

Vegetarian Moussaka

Credit: Photo: John Autry

Moussaka is a Greek casserole where fried or grilled eggplant slices are layered between a seasoned lamb-based tomato sauce and a cheesy bechamel sauce. The end product is quintessential comfort food, but the dish is far from Mediterranean Diet standards. This meatless version swaps bulgur for lamb to create a hearty spiced tomato sauce that's lower in fat and sodium and higher in fiber, and it still maintains the creaminess of the classic dish by incorporating a lightened bechamel sauce.

Herbed Chicken Parmesan

Credit: Photo: Howard L. Puckett

Classic chicken Parmesan is typically breaded and fried before it's topped with marinara and cheese and served over spaghetti. While there are lightened versions that shave off calories by simply grilling the chicken, this version is unique because it doesn't forgo the breading and frying. Instead, the chicken is lightly breaded in a mix of fresh breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and dried herbs; pan-fried in a little olive oil; and then topped with a jarred marinara and a little provolone cheese.

Make meals better than takeout! Subscribe to the Cooking Light Diet today for customizable meal plans—breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner—for less than $2 per week.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is the author of Meals that Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert who specializes in simplifying food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award, and her work is regularly featured in or on respective websites for Cooking Light, RealSimple, Parents, Health, EatingWell, Allrecipes, MyFitnessPal, eMeals, Rally Health, and the American Heart Association. You can follow on Instagram (@realfoodreallife_rd) or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.