Meal Planning Monday ~ Big on Flavor, Not on Fat

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

If I’m going to eat something – anything – I want to enjoy it!  I want my meals to be full of flavor… but not full of fat and empty calories.  One of my hobbies is taking recipes that may be a little too full of calories and fat, and find ways to make them healthier, without sacrificing flavor.  One of the easiest ways to do this is with spices, fresh herbs, and low-calorie condiments.

Some recipe ingredient swaps are piece of cake.  It’s a no brainer to use reduced fat dairy products like low-fat cream cheese, sour cream, and milk for the full-fat versions in recipes.  I usually won’t use fat-free, because I do notice a flavor difference.  The one exception I make is using fat-free Greek yogurt in place of sour cream because it does have a rich flavor, plus an extra dose of slimming protein.  When sautéing meats or veggies, I will cut back or eliminate the oil and replace it with chicken (or beef) broth or sometimes wine, depending on the recipe.  When baking cakes or muffins, I typically replace half of the oil or butter with unsweetened applesauce.

Here are plenty of great seasoning options that I use to amp up the flavor of my meals to make them both healthy and delicious.

  • Citrus – A squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange juice or the zest of citrus fruits are a great way to pack a punch of flavor without overdoing fat or calories.  This Cilantro Lime Shrimp recipe is an easy and fantastic example of what a healthy squeeze of lime juice will do for a dish!  I frequently use citrus to jazz up sparkling water, make my own salad dressings, and even to make snacks like my Key Lime Greek yogurt!

 

  • Fresh Herbs – Fresh herbs are so easy to grow, that you should definitely give it a try.  There’s nothing like making salsa or tacos with fresh cilantro or adding fresh basil to a host of Italian dishes.

 

  • Garlic & Onions – The health benefits of both garlic and onions are well documented.  I always keep fresh garlic on hand for a variety of recipes.  Rather than drown my veggies in butter or cheese sauce, I will roast them with a touch of olive oil and plenty of freshly minced garlic.  I especially love asparagus, cauliflower, and zucchini (alone or together) cooked this way.

 

  • Hot Stuff – I’m a big fan of spicy stuff, so we go through a lot of red pepper flakes, cumin, and chili powder.  Also try adding fresh or canned jalapeños, chili peppers, or habaneros to spice up your meals.  A little goes a long way!  I found a shrimp and feta cheese recipe that I spiced up and slimmed down, which you’ll find below.

 

  • Sweet Stuff – Some spices have a natural sweetness that you can harness for your recipes which will mean less sugar needs to be added.  Try cinnamon, cocoa powder, cloves, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice in your baked goods or even your morning coffee!  I always put a generous shake of cinnamon or a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder in my brew, since I’ve given up using flavored powdered (processed!) coffee creamers in January.  I went out to eat for brunch with family this weekend and did have some of the flavored creamer in my coffee.  Too my surprise, I thought it was too sweet and definitely prefer half-and-half with a dash of real cinnamon.

 

  • Other Flavorful Ideas – Experiment with different flavors of vinegar – red wine, apple cider, rice, or balsamic – for salad dressings and marinades.  Mustard adds a great shot of flavor to meats and other dishes with hardly any calories!  This crockpot recipe for Maple Dijon Chicken is a great one to try.  I love putting a little bit of pesto on sandwiches for a big burst of distinctive flavor.  (Yes, pesto does have olive oil in it, but you really only need a teaspoon or two.)  If you haven’t had Mrs. Dash’s seasoning in a while, head to the spice aisle of your local grocery store.  You’ll see that there is a huge selection of flavor blends to try, like Fiesta Lime, Caribbean Citrus, Southwest Chipotle, to name a few.  Check out the Mrs. Dash’s website for more recipe inspiration!

  

Spicy Roasted Shrimp  (Modified from original recipe on Annies-Eats.com)

  • ½ Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup of white wine
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 ½ tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbs. parsley
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest (or dried lemon peel)
  • 1 pound of large shrimp (uncooked, peeled and deveined)
  • ½ cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • Fresh lemon wedges, for serving

 Directions:

 

  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a square glass baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.  Add the wine and bring to a boil.  Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until liquid is reduced by half.
  2. Add tomatoes with their liquid, oregano, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.  Stir to combine, reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, mix bread crumbs, parsley, and lemon zest.  Stir until thoroughly combined.
  4. When the tomato mixture has thickened, spread it on the bottom of the glass baking dish.  Place the shrimp in a single layer (tails up) on top of the tomatoes.  Scatter the feta cheese over the top of the shrimp, followed by the bread crumb mixture.  Spray cooking spray (preferably olive oil cooking spray) on the bread crumb mixture before placing in the preheated oven.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until the breadcrumbs begin to brown and the shrimp are cooked through.  Squeeze fresh lemon on top before serving.

Nutritional Facts:

 Recipe serves four.  Calories – 310; Carbs – 14 g; Fiber – 2 g; Protein – 28 g

Comments

  1. monica says:

    Fantastic! I see so many great recipes that look delicious but don’t fit into my lifestyle. These tips are great and helpful – I’m always looking for ways to make my meals healthier!

  2. Eva says:

    I always have peppers in my garden because they are so versatile. I am actually thinking about pickling peppers later this year so I have some during the winter.

  3. This is a great post! So many people assume that dishes that are low in calories are also low on flavor, but as you have proven here, that is NOT TRUE! I use natural spices and herbs to add flavor to the dishes I serve in our home, just like you did in this recipe, and I find them to be more flavorful than those with artificial seasonings and ingredients. The spicy nature of the dish makes it seem like one my husband and I would adore!

  4. Andy Hayes says:

    Great tips! I think everything is better with some salt, pepper, citrus, and a splash of extra virgin olive oil!

  5. Mariana says:

    Great tips! I love adding flavor to my food with vinegar and spices!

  6. Brett says:

    oh. your maple dijon chicken recipe mention caught my eye. i need to investigate. sounds WONDERFUL!

  7. Steven says:

    A little tip:

    ALWAYS wash your hands when dealing with hot peppers / jalapenos. The juices will get under your fingers, so make sure you wash thoroughly. Getting the stuff in your eyes is a major pain. Great recipe, though!

  8. Kristin says:

    I love using garlic and onions in my cooking! I’m gonna have to try that shrimp recipe!! Thanks :)

  9. Dawn Lopez says:

    What fantastic ideas! I need to do a better job at this.. its so easy to fall into bad patterns and rely on the more fattening things to quickly add flavor to foods. Thanks for the recipe.. I’ll be trying to incorporate some of these fabulous ideas! ;)

  10. Love these ideas and will definitely be trying that shrimp recipe!

  11. Danielle says:

    I’ve been trying to get my family to eat clean. i love the tip for adding citrus for flavour.

  12. Danyelle says:

    Great list of tips! We love garlic and lemons, I put them in almost everything!

  13. Danyelle says:

    We add garlic and lemon to just about everything! Great list of tips :)

  14. I am soo going to be making this shrimp recipe. It sounds delicious.

  15. Ellen says:

    Thanks for the tips. I have started using coconut oil. It is good for you and very tasty.

  16. Oh, we loved shrimps. I will definitely try this recipe. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the great tips, too.

  17. Very good recipe with the ingredients I love. I too love cooking and for me cooking is a creative art. Loved your post.

  18. Cyndie says:

    Love the tips and the recipe. Having a garden this year had made it easier for me to walk to my yard for ingredients. That is so much easier!

  19. Ruby says:

    My old man does all the cooking.

  20. Scott says:

    Cooking is awesome and having this information at your fingertips will only improve you. Great recipe too :)

  21. Ave says:

    Thanks for sharing great tips with us. Had no idea you can use applesauce instead of butter.

  22. Thanks for sharing the tips and the recipe! I love adding garlic and onions to everything.

  23. Jeff says:

    This recipe looks both healthy and delicious. I will definitely be trying it soon! Thanks!

  24. Like you, I’m especially fond of spicy food so I experiment a lot with all kinds of spices. Herbs too actually.

  25. christy karch says:

    the recipe looks yummy but way to sophisticated for me to perform, but i love lemon juice or lime juice on many veggies and fish.

  26. I love these ideas, I am working on incorporating a lot of new healthy updates into our life, as we are getting older, and want to continue to do so! Thanks for sharing such unique tips!

  27. Thanks for these great ideas for adding flavor to food. I am trying to kick up my cooking game and I will be using these tips. I like the idea of adding citrus juice to enhance flavor.

  28. Debra says:

    Herbs are a great way to add flavor without adding the fat and a great way to freshen up any meal.

  29. I love citrus, and add lemon to almost everything if possible!

  30. Kyle says:

    Yum. That shrimp recipe sounds delicious! I’ll be sure to try it!

  31. I’m wondering if my son might like this. I know my brother would.

  32. Amy Qur says:

    I totally agree ,using great herbs is a best way of making any dish taste great and special.

  33. i love this post great tips and the suggested alternatives sound even better than the original ingredients.. I am going to have to make the shrimp recipe for my husband since I don’t eat seafood

  34. We are big hot and spicy fans in our home.

  35. Joanne says:

    Great resource Christine. I’m going to try that recipe you posted.

  36. Ronnie says:

    Great list! It’s all about the seasoning to add that extra bit of delicious taste to recipes.

  37. Robyn says:

    I will have to keep these ideas in mind when I am cooking!

  38. I am definitely going to have to try the Spicy Roasted Shrimp! My family and I all love shrimp so I think that would definitely be a big hit in my house!

  39. What a great Meal Plan, I plan every week, too and it helps tremendously with cooking and planning, budget and soo much more. BEST 20-30 min ever I spend a week to get my family organized and yours looks like a YUMMY week. Will have to try the Spicy Roasted Shrimp, that sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing

  40. That recipe sounds delicious. I love switching out high fat/calorie ingredients for lighter items that pack a lot of flavor to make healthier dishes.

  41. Sophie S says:

    Thanks for the recipe! My family is big on fresh herbs for cooking and it really adds flavor to the food and is good for your health too!

  42. I love using fresh herbs and onions and garlic. Never thought about using citrusy stuff though! Good idea.