Now that you know which foods are essential to good health (see previous post here), you can start thinking in terms of healthy recipe makeovers. You've heard the resident health nut or dieting junkie blasting traditional comfort food favorites like mac and cheese and bacon cheeseburgers as being “bad for you”.

It's not that these types of meals are unhealthy. It's more likely that the portion size is out of control, much more than we really need to satisfy our hunger and nourish our bodies. And it's also much more likely that the comfort foods that get a bad rap only do so because they contain filler ingredients — like whey protein and weird additives in your processed cheese. Or, like an enriched white bun, that packs on lots of empty calories, spikes blood sugar and causes your body to gain fat.

For decades, people who were looking to lose weight simply reduced fat in their diets. That seemed easy enough, but it overlooked the fact that certain fats really are good for you and essential to a healthy and well-functioning body. Nowadays we know better.

If you get enough good fat in your diet, you can minimize the health risks that come from eating saturated fat.

So doing something like indulging in a couple slices of salami can be counterbalanced with a side of healthy fat and some really good healthy veggies. A green salad splashed with olive oil vinaigrette, topped with ripe tomatoes can hold its own with a few slices of salami and some aged cheese chunks. Sprinkle on your healthy fat – nuts – for the ultimate healthy and delicious lunch!

Okay so now that we are a little bit more aware of what constitutes a balanced and nutritious meal, let's explore the general process for giving a healthy makeover to your favorite dishes.

Reduce saturated fat or replace half saturated fat with healthy fat.

You can go by the numbers in your diet plan if that helps you. However, we are talking in generalities today. So, if you're looking to cut fat, really start thinking about where you can replace things like butter, whole milk cheese, whole milk ice cream, whipped cream, full fat dressings from a bottle, and mayonnaise with healthy substitutes that contain less fat.

Let's think of an example. Butter is a saturated fat. You are used to putting butter on your toast or bagel in the morning.

A serving of pancakes or waffles, according to your traditional breakfast standards, gets a pat or two of butter. But you have plenty of healthier options to either eliminate or completely replace reduce or completely replace the serving of butter in your morning meal.

Here are some ideas:

  • Replace the butter in your oatmeal with a tablespoon of coconut oil.
  • Replace your buttered toast with avocado toast.
  • Instead of buttering your waffle, give it a smear of coconut oil.
  • Cook your scrambled eggs in olive oil instead of butter for a change of pace.

These ideas should get you going on the possibilities as far as looking to reduce or eliminate saturated fats such as butter in your diet.

What about meat? Americans are notorious for eating too much meat.

A serving size of protein that you would typically have at a meal should fit inside the palm of your hand. For a lot of people, a food scale helps them portion out their protein. But when you don't have a scale, it's easy enough to use your hand as a gauge.

So, let's say you have a fresh salad all ready and you'd like to top your salad with chicken for protein. Your normal serving of a protein, if you're looking to lose weight or maintain weight already lost, would be a section of chicken breast that can fit into your palm.

You can enjoy that salad with even less chicken and replace the missing protein with plant-based protein such as a handful of chopped nuts, a few cheese cubes, or a sprinkle of edamame or chickpeas.

Fun fact: plant-based proteins assimilate better when eaten together. In the old days, they called beans combined with dairy like cheese or yogurt, a “complete protein.” No one says that anymore, but it still applies.

This way you can still get your allotted portion of protein that's needed to fill you up and nourish your body. But instead, you get to enjoy a wider variety of food which means a broader array of vitamins and minerals in your diet.

What about eliminating and reducing carbs? As mentioned, lots of people are going low carb or no carb. Some have blazed into full-blown keto, completely replacing glucose in their diet as the main form of fuel for energy with fat.

To reduce your carb intake without jumping on the keto bandwagon, here are some meal makeover strategies to try.

Replace white enriched white pasta with whole grain pasta

You'll find lots of white pasta alternatives on your grocery store shelves. You might try brown rice pasta, spelt pasta, buckwheat pasta, whole wheat pasta and other types of noodles.

Lots of people who live low carb swear by shirataki noodles

While they lack the consistency of regular white pasta noodles that you may be used to, these do provide an exceptionally low carb alternative to help you sop up your sauces and provide a nice contrast with your protein-based meals.

Cut the amount of carbs you ingest

In your eating travels there will be those times that you just can't connect with a source for that whole grain carb… and that's okay. Example, you just got sushi from the grocery store, and it came with white rice. Some prepackaged sushi meals go heavy on the rice. That throws off the proper ratio of fish protein to starch.

No one said you had to eat all those little rice rolls that come with your pre-packaged sushi

Instead, you can reassemble your sushi so that one slice of fish goes on top of half a rice roll. Toss the other half of the rice roll; you don't need the extra carbs. This will seem more appealing because you're getting more of the fish in every bite, and you won't be overdoing it on the carbohydrate servings.

Choose whole grain breakfast foods

Grains are perennially popular for breakfast. This is true whether you have been aware of whole grains or just eating traditional carbohydrate meals like cereals made from white flour.

Carbohydrates give you a boost of energy to start your day although whether or not you choose to eat a carb-based breakfast like cereal or muffins is your own personal preference. You may in fact shy away from that if you're trying to lose weight.

But that doesn't mean that you can't have ANY carbs with your breakfast. You just have to choose the right ones. Feeling like muffins? Get into the habit of making these from scratch using whole grains as the basis of the recipe.

Your healthy morning muffins might include leftover whole grain brown rice, leftover oatmeal made from whole rolled oats, whole wheat flour, oat flour, brown rice flour, cornmeal and other greens that will provide fiber. While you're at it, add fruit like banana as a sugar replacement, and choose a healthy oil like coconut for the fat component.

Stay tuned to my next post which includes a recipe makeover (and recipe) for Chicken Parmesan!

For now, check out this delicious recipe.

Healthy Recipe Makeover - The Basics
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Chicken & Quinoa Casserole

Servings 6 people
Calories 392kcal
Author Deborah Hanyon, MPH, RDN, ACE-CHC


  • 1 cup 170g uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 2 red bell peppers chopped
  • 1 lb. 450g chicken breast, chopped
  • ½ cup 120ml hoisin sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp. fresh ginger minced
  • 1 ¼ cups 300ml water
  • 1 cup 150g cashew nuts


  • Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  • Place the quinoa into a casserole dish and top it with the onion and bell peppers. Next add the chicken on top.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the hoisin sauce, garlic, tamari, ginger, and 1 cup of water. Pour the sauce over the chicken and quinoa.
  • Place the casserole dish into the oven, cover and bake for about 45 minutes. Add the cashews and bake for a further 10 minutes.
  • Once ready, let everything sit for 5 minutes before serving.


Healthy Recipe Makeover - The Basics


Serving: 11/6 of recipe | Calories: 392kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 469mg | Potassium: 759mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 1272IU | Vitamin C: 54mg | Calcium: 47mg | Iron: 4mg

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