Written by: Paige Whitmire, RD, LDN

Most people think of eating healthy as having to give up their favorite foods, but that is not the case.  Healthy foods can still have great taste and texture; it’s a matter of finding substitutions and alternatives that work.  This week’s Focus Point will compare meal options to help show you how a small change can make a big difference.

Here is a great comparison between a typical pasta and meatball dish and a healthier black bean pasta and turkey meatball dish:

     Typical recipe (average of all brands)                           Homemade recipe

Premade Meatballs (4 x 1oz)

335 calories

19 grams protein

25 grams fat

1 gram fiber

Turkey Meatballs (4 x 1oz)

195 calories

28 grams protein

4.5 grams fat

2 grams fiber

Pasta (1 cup)

210 calories

7 grams protein

1 gram fat

4 grams fiber

Black Bean Pasta (1 cup)

215 calories

25 grams protein

2 grams fat

12 grams fiber

Premade Tomato Sauce (1/2 cup)

80 calories

2 grams protein

2 grams fat

2 grams fiber

Pasta Sauce (1/2 cup)

40 calories

1 gram protein

0.5 grams fat

2 grams fiber

Totals: 625 calories, 28g protein,

28g fat, 7g fiber

Totals: 450 calories, 54g protein,

7g fat, 16 grams fiber


As you can see, the difference in total calories, protein, fat and fiber are significant, and you are eating the same amount of food, but the homemade recipe will leave you even more satisfied!

Here are some helpful tips to remember, both when eating out and at home:

  • Fried, au gratin, crispy, scalloped, pan-fried, sautéed or stuffed foods are high in fat and calories. Instead, look for steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted The difference between grilled chicken (3oz = 135 calories) and fried chicken (3oz = 275 calories), as well as steamed vegetables (1 cup = 25 calories) and sautéed vegetables (1 cup = 115 calories) is truly significant.
  • High-sodium foods include those that are pickled, in cocktail sauce, smoked, in broth or in soy or teriyaki sauce. Limit these items. For example, look for grilled salmon (3oz = 50mg sodium) instead of smoked salmon (3oz = 665mg sodium) on the menu.
  • Have gravy, sauces, and dressings served on the side so you can control the amount you eat or skip them completely.
  • Even if they aren’t on the dessert menu, many restaurants can offer you fruit or sherbet (1 cup of sherbet = 215 calories) instead of high-fat pastries and ice creams (1 cup of ice cream = 375 calories).

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to give in to temptation.  Instead of avoiding your favorite treats, prepare them yourself by using recipe substitutions.  Try some of these swaps in any recipe for the same great taste and texture:

  • 1 tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas for 1 tablespoon butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt for 1 tablespoon sour cream or mayonnaise
  • 1 cup evaporated skim milk for 1 cup heavy cream

As you can see, small healthy alternatives can greatly improve the calorie and nutrient breakdown of the foods we eat.  Try the recipes provided in this Focus Point sometime soon and enjoy!