Some men love to cook. Some don’t. But no matter where you fall on that spectrum, you have to eat. And while takeout and ordering in are always options, there are times when all you want to do is throw something together. You know—one or two of those super-quick, super-easy meals you’ve been living on for years. The thing you cook when nothing else will hit the spot.
The only catch? Many of the most basic recipes in a guy’s cooking repertoire – classic comfort foods like mac and cheese and sloppy joes – leave a lot to be desired nutritionally. They’re usually high in calories, loaded with fat, and without a shred of fiber or vegetables. But they don’t have to be.
With a few simple tweaks and substitutions, and the addition of a few healthy ingredients, all your classic mealtime standbys can be converted into great – tasting grub – food you can enjoy without sacrificing your abs.
Switch from white bread to whole-wheat for a boost of as much as 2 grams of fiber per slice. And instead of peanut butter, try one of its cousins. Cashew and almond butter taste just as good in a sandwich and have significantly more fiber and vitamin E. Finally, in place of sugar-laden jelly, add a layer of fresh fruit. Slices of banana or strawberries are lower in calories and significantly higher in metabolism-boosting, disease-fighting nutrients than plain old jelly.
Although you don’t have to lose them all, try ditching at least a couple of the yolks from whatever you’re scrambling up. One egg yolk contains 55 calories and 5 grams of fat, while an egg white has just 17 calories and zero grams of fat. (Egg substitutes like Egg Beaters make going yolk-free even easier.) Next, instead of melting butter in the pan, invest in a good nonstick skillet and coat it with cooking spray. Your eggs won’t cling to the bottom, and for every tablespoon of butter you avoid using, you save yourself about 100 calories and 12 grams of fat. To make your omelet even leaner, fill it with a handful of low-fat shredded cheese and whatever veggies you have on hand. Try stashing a bag of spinach or broccoli in your freezer specifically for omelet-making. You can pull out a handful, defrost it, and toss it into your eggs for instant omelet filling.
Go ahead and make your meat sauce as normal, but then add a can of your favorite beans (cooked lentils, black beans, or small white beans are all good choices). If you’re not a bean guy, toss in some finely chopped, cooked portobello mushrooms. The shrooms’ meaty texture will blend right in, cutting the number of calories you get per serving and upping the joe’s vitamin and mineral count.
We’ll be the first to admit it: Most whole-wheat, high-fiber pasta sucks. But whole-wheat blends are an entirely different beast. They’re less dense and chewy and have the same great pasta taste you know and love-along with an added blast of fiber that’s barely noticeable. Barilla makes an excellent line called Barilla Plus. Once your pasta is cooked, make sure you top it with the right sauce. Many big brands are filled with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Take a quick scan of whatever you’re buying: If either sweetener is listed among the first four ingredients, it’s time to find yourself a better sauce.
Instead of making an all-beef brick, try a 50/50 mixture of lean ground round and ground turkey breast. Some preground turkey breast contains dark meat and skin, so if you’re keeping a tab on calories, you’re better off picking out the meat yourself and having your butcher grind it. Be warned, however, that turkey loaf can cook up dry. To keep your loaf moist, soak 1/2 cup of oatmeal in 1/2 cup of milk and add it to the meat mixture-you get tenderness plus an added shot of fiber. And to lower fat and calories even more, omit the egg yolk from your recipe. The whites will bind everything together just as well, while helping keep your loaf as lean as possible.
A good burger consists of one main ingredient: ground beef. Typically, the more fat the meat has, the tastier and juicer your burger seems. Does that mean you can’t make a tasty burger without a lot of fat? Absolutely not. Go ahead and buy the leanest beef available, then jazz it up with a small diced onion, 1 packet of ranch-dressing mix, and 1 cup of fat-free shredded cheddar cheese (to enhance juiciness). Mix well, and grill the resulting patties as you would a typical hamburger.
Rather than standard fried tortilla chips, opt for the baked variety. And instead of using cheese sauce that comes from a bottle or box, make your own. Don’t worry, it’s easy. Just dump 1 cup of skim milk and 1 1/2 cups of low-fat shredded cheddar cheese in a sauce pan, cook over medium heat, and stir until it’s melted. Top your nachos with fat-free sour cream, salsa, and jalapenos – but not refried beans, which are often made with lard. For a leaner alternative, pop open a can of black beans and use a fork to mash them, along with a bit of vegetable oil, water, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Heat the mixture in the microwave and serve with your chips.
A typical taco recipe has you cooking ground beef with a scoop of seasoning powder and then serving the meat in a corn shell. But if you make your taco with ground chicken or turkey, you can cut 43 calories from every shell. To keep the meat moist, add a can of diced tomatoes to the mixture and cook until it’s thick. Rather than topping your taco with high-calorie options like shredded cheddar cheese and regular sour cream, try fat-free cheddar and sour cream, salsa, lettuce, and chopped tomato. (Since fat-free cheese never tastes good cold, add it to the meat sauce when it’s hot so it melts right away.) Finally, if you want to be really good, ditch the fried taco shells and substitute whole-wheat flour tortillas instead for a serious high-fiber, calorie-saving boost.
Mac and Cheese
You can eat lean without giving up that infamous blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. All you need to do is change the way you prepare it. Start by skipping the butter for a savings of more than 300 calories and 30-plus grams of fat (you won’t even know it’s gone). As for the milk, opt for skim over whole. If you like your mac super creamy, try pouring in an extra half cup. And if you’re feeling truly righteous, add 1 cup of defrosted chopped broccoli to your mac and cheese for a boost of C, folate, potassium, and fiber.
Canned Tomato Soup
Instead of adding water to your condensed soup, pour in an equal amount of either skim milk or plain soy milk. This will make it not only creamier but also higher in protein. To turn your bowl of soup into a meal, add some shredded cooked chicken or turkey. Or, if you like vegetables, try dumping in some defrosted spinach, broccoli, or mixed vegetables. Instead of oily croutons, crumble whole-wheat crackers over the soup. And if you love cheese (and what guy doesn’t?), top everything off with 2 tablespoons of shredded low-fat cheddar.
Ice Cream Sundae
A cup of high-quality ice cream can have as much as 30 grams of fat. To make your sundae healthier, begin by switching your full-fat premium ice cream to a lower-fat, lower-sugar variety. There are dozens on the market: Haagen-Dazs, Breyers, and Ben & Jerry’s all make great-tasting lean varieties. Then, instead of layering fattening sauces and sprinkles on your sundae, toss on a dash of ground nuts or a high-fiber cereal like Kashi’s GOLEAN Crunch. Add a few slices of banana or a handful of berries for a good serving of vitamins and fiber. Top it all off with some sugar-free Hershey’s chocolate syrup or Reddi-wip Light. And, of course, don’t forget the cherry on top.
A few simple substitutions can transform any vat of ground beef, spices, and tomatoes from just another greasy bowl of chili into a healthy, filling, and hearty meal. First, forget about going con carne and chuck a can of rinsed black or red beans into your pot. This adds flavor and texture as well as fiber and protein. Then toss in a cup of corn (either frozen or canned) for more fiber and crunch. Finish off individual bowls of chili with shredded low-fat cheese, diced onion, and fat-free sour cream.
Your average shake harbors more than 200 calories per cup. So the next time your ice cream craving strikes, think high-protein mini-meal rather than sugar-filled dessert. Start with a couple of scoops of sugar-free or no-sugar-added ice cream or frozen yogurt. Then fill your blender with skim milk instead of whole-and add a scoop of protein powder for a hefty nutrient boost. If you need a chocolate fix, add a dash of sugar-free chocolate syrup or cocoa powder. Or, if you prefer fruit flavors, drop in some bananas, berries, or a combo of the two for a truly guilt-free concoction.
Pasta, tuna, and cream of mushroom soup are the three essentials for tuna casserole. To make this classic dish leaner, ditch the white pasta and use a whole-wheat pasta or pasta blend instead. Add a can of tuna packed in water-oil-packed tuna has twice the calories. Then, stir it all together with a can of low-fat mushroom soup (Campbell’s has a line with 25% less sodium), plus – for flavor and fiber – a handful of either fresh string beans or frozen peas.
As simple as it is to make, even the humble grilled cheese can be made healthier. Start by switching white bread for whole-wheat and regular American cheese for Kraft Fat-Free Slices. Regular cheese has 100 calories and 7 grams of fat per slice; the fat-free slices are only 30 calories and zero grams of fat. That means you can double up on the cheese for a gooey sandwich and still save calories. Instead of buttering the bread, spray it with butter-flavored spray and cook it in a nonstick skillet. For added cancer-fighting lycopene plus a dose of additional protein, layer a couple of slices of fresh tomato and ham or turkey breast. Cheesy and delicious.