Spring is here, the days are longer and soon the weather will be warmer. You know what that means – it will be time to retire our coats and sweaters to the back of the closet and bring out the lighter, more revealing clothes. If you have spent the colder months warming yourself with hearty stews, chilis and stick-to-your-ribs food, it may be time to think about eating lighter and healthier. That doesn’t mean you have to only eat salad and drink smoothies every day (though salads and smoothies are awesome). We can still enjoy our favorite dishes by making lighter versions of them. All it takes are a few swap-outs, a couple of hacks and some creativity and we can make even the heartiest dish light, refreshing and delicious. Whether you are working towards your summer bikini body or just don’t want to feel weighed down, here are the ways to make lighter versions of your favorite dishes.
1. Don’t Pass Up Pizza
One of the first ways people often try to lighten their meals is to cut out the carbs. While any food is good when eaten in moderation, it’s possible to eat your favorite carb-loaded dishes by getting creative about the carbs. No one should have to give up pizza, that’s just cruel. Instead of making pizza crust with flour, try something lighter and healthier like this Healthy Digestive-Friendly Quinoa Pizza Crust. This One Bowl Gluten-Free, Oil-Free Flax Meal Pizza Crust is made with flax and carrot pulp. You can even make pizza crust out of veggies like this Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Black Mung Bean Curry and you can try the same recipe using broccoli for a greener pizza.
2. Oodles of Noodles
Did you know that a serving of pasta is only 2 ounces? I’m serious! A one-pound bag of pasta is supposed to feed 8 people. I can hear my Italian ancestors laughing from here. But if you make the pasta out of veggies, you can eat a big bowl of it and still feel good afterwards. Use a spiralizer to make long noodles out of carrots, zucchini, eggplant or almost any long veggie. If you don’t have a spiralizer, don’t worry. Do what I do and just use a vegetable peeler. Try these Sweet Potato Noodles with Coconut Curried Veggies, Zucchini Pasta with Pesto Sauce, Roasted Pepper Zucchini Pasta, Carrot Beet Angel Hair Pasta with Spicy Pine Nut and Pistachio Pesto, Spaghetti Squash with Alfredo Sauce, Miso Roasted Tomatoes with Spiralized Carrot Noodles, Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodles with White Bean Salad, Kohlrabi Spaghetti alla Foriana and Vegan Eggplant Noodles. Use zucchini and eggplant in lieu of noodles to make this amazing Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna. Cabbage replaces the noodles in this Street Pad Thai that is filled with veggies. You can also make noodles out of beans. Check out this article to learn How to Make Bean Pastas and see 7 Wheat-Free Noodle Options to Use in Your Favorite Dishes.
3. Slimmer Sauces
Now that we know we don’t have to give up pasta (phew!), let’s rethink the sauces we put on it. We don’t have to use lots of heavy milks, creams and cheeses to make luscious sauces. Instead, try using nuts and seeds to make this cheesy and indulgent Very Vegan Mac and Cheese, Creamy Cashew Alfredo Pasta, Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo with Kale and Peas, and Succulent Tortellini with a Nut Cream and Wild Mushroom Sauce. Want to go even lighter? Use veggies like pumpkin, butternut squash, cauliflower, cucumber and avocado to make creamy, flavorful sauces that are healthy and low in calories. Try this Mac ‘N Squash, Vegetable Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce, Spaghetti Squash with Basil and Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, Zucchini Alfredo with Zucchini Pasta and Cauliflower Sauce and Creamy Avocado-Cucumber Sauce. Making sauce out of pesto is a great way to flavor your pasta and eat more greens at the same time. Try this Avocado Herb Pesto with Zoodles, 5 Minute Basil Pesto Raw Zucchini Pasta, and this Ramp and Spinach Pesto Pasta.
4. Smart Swaps
Sometimes all it takes to make a meal lighter is just swapping out an ingredient or two for something healthier and less fattening. If you love mashed potatoes, you can have them but instead of using all potatoes, try swapping half of them for another vegetable. There are lots of veggies that can be boiled and mashed or pureed just like potatoes – parsnips, turnips, celeriac, rutabaga and even cauliflower like this yummy CauliMash. Read Make Better Choices: Healthy Alternatives to Mashed Potatoes. Rice is one of those foods I have trouble controlling my portions of but if I make my own “rice” out of cauliflower, I can eat as much as I want and not feel guilty. Try this Spicy Curry Cauliflower (Rice) with Kale, Unfried Cauliflower Rice in Ginger Miso Sauce and this Spicy Orange Cauliflower Couscous. Oatmeal works too as in this Mushroom Steel Cut Oatmeal Risotto.
5. Wrap It Up
If you’re like me, you love burgers and sandwiches. There’s no need to give them up but we might want to choose something besides bread, rolls and buns. I love serving burgers minus the buns on plates with special sauces like these Red Lentil and Amaranth Protein Patties with Spicy Avocado Mayo or these Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto. When it comes to sandwiches, we can swap out the bread for lighter options like wraps. Tortillas are delicious and hold everything together. Try these Kale Avocado Wraps with Spicy Miso-Dipped Tempeh in sprouted grain tortillas. Or you can use veggies to wrap your other veggies like these Raw Zucchini Wraps, Hummus Collard Wraps, Grilled Artichoke and Quinoa Lettuce Wraps and these Rawsome Wraps that use spinach wraps. Did you know you can make your own wraps out of eggplant, cauliflower and coconut flour? Check out 7 Ways to Make Grain-Free Wraps and Tortillas for recipes and how-tos.
6. Lighter Cooking Methods
Besides swapping out ingredients, another way to make dishes lighter is to change how we cook those ingredients. Forget deep-frying! You can make crispy, amazing food with a ton less oil just by pan-frying, sautéing and stir-frying. It uses a lot less oil, it’s easier, and much healthier. See my Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style and 10 Simple and Awesome Saute Sauces. You can even choose to skip the oil with these 7 Ways to Avoid Oil and Cook Delicious Tofu and Stir-Fry.
Use the oven more to roast and bake your food. Roasting makes vegetables taste incredible as it caramelizes the natural sugars. Try this Easy Roasted Root Veggies, Miso Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini, and Curry Spiced Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas. See the Ultimate Guide to Roasting Vegetables for the best cuts and cooking times. Any food you can fry can also be made by baking it. For instance, I love jalapeno poppers but between the breading and frying, they can be heavy and fattening. Skip the breading and bake them instead and you have a delicious appetizer that you can feel good about eating a bunch of. To make my Baked Jalapeno Poppers: cut the stems off 12 jalapeno peppers and slice them in half. Remove the seeds and ribs to make little boats. In a bowl, combine 6 oz. vegan cream cheese, 1 cup vegan cheese shreds, 4 finely chopped scallions, 2 tsp. Mexican chile powder, 2 tsp. garlic powder and ½ tsp. kosher salt. Mix it well to make sure the spices are evenly distributed. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and spray with the cooking oil spray. Add about 1 Tbs. of the cheese mixture to each pepper half. Lay the filled peppers onto the baking sheet. Spray the tops of the peppers with the cooking oil spray. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. When the cheese is melted and the peppers are softened but still have their structure and some crunch, they are ready to eat. Serve while hot. For more baked-instead-of-fried dishes, try these Baked Eggplant Fries, Chickpea Fries, The World’s Healthiest Onion Rings, Oven-Baked Green Tomatoes, and Baked Blueberry Doughnuts. Changing your cooking method can give you a whole new take on the same ingredients. See Try These 10 Methods for Cooking Flavorful Vegetables for more tips and recipes.
7. Dessert Do-Overs
Trying to eat lighter and healthier does NOT mean giving up dessert. You can make smarter choices and still delight in sweets. Add veggies to your desserts like in these Carrot Cake Bites, Clean Eating Pumpkin Truffles, Chocolate Beet Cupcakes , Sweet Potato Maple Mousse Pie, and Pumpkin Bean Bars. Put whole grains in your treats like these Turtle Cookie Energy Bites, Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter Bites, Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies and these Hemp Seed, Oat, Cacao Nib, and Dried Cherry Cookies.
Cut the sugar down or out completely and use alternate ways of adding sweetness to your goodies. Read Sweet! The Healthiest Alternative to White Sugar and then go make Berry Chocolate Cheesecake Squares, No-Bake Cookie Butter Cashew Cheesecakes, Vegan Mocha Fudge – Guilt Free, Raw Mini Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecakes and The World’s Healthiest Vanilla Milkshake. Screaming for ice cream? Dig in to these Ice Cream Tarts With Chocolate Sauce and Pecans, Raw Banana Ice Cream Sundae, Healthy Chocolate Fudgesicles, and this Blackberry Ice Cream: No Fat and Low Sugar.
See? Eating lighter doesn’t have to mean sacrificing taste, flavor or dessert. With just a few simple swaps and some creative cooking, you’ll be ready for the warmer weather feeling healthy, light and energetic.
Lead Image Photo: Raw Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Avocado-Cucumber Sauce