11 Different Ingredient Swaps to Make Healthier Lunches

According to a recent article published by CNN, American Food: the 50 greatest dishes, America’s most beloved food items consist primarily of “stuff that’s best described by words better suited to greasy, industrial output.” Naturally, hamburgers, hot dogs and Twinkies all made the list. But not to worry, we’ve got some simple swaps to turn your favorite foods into healthy lunch options!

1. Crab Cakes

Try swapping out sodium laden breadcrumbs for Panko crumbs, pan sear the crab cakes in a spoonful of olive oil instead of deep frying.  Give your remoulade a makeover with mustard and capers, in lieu of using only mayo. Instead of weighing in at 734 calories, these crab cakes have only 292. Now that’s what I call a serious savings swap! Get the recipe here.

2. Cobb Salad

We always feel so virtuous when we’re eating salads, but some salads can have just as many calories as a Big Mac! With bacon and mounds blue cheese, Cobb salads are one of the most fattening salad choices you can make.  Instead of swearing off your favorite salad, try swapping the bacon for a smoked chicken breast, add only a small sprinkling of blue cheese, and use a blend of nutritious spinach and basil instead of plain romaine. Get the recipe here.

3. Caesar Salad

The main culprit for Caesar salads being so heavy is the dressing.  It normally contains at least a half cup of olive oil. That equals 900 calories, and we haven’t even added the parmesan cheese yet! Try swapping most of the oil for nonfat Greek yogurt, and forgo adding the mayonnaise altogether. Get the recipe here.

4. Enchiladas

Give this Mexican classic a makeover. Try swapping lean chicken breast meat for beef or cheese enchiladas. Add chipotles in adobo for plenty of flavor and forgo the sour cream. Use half the cheese, sprinkling it on top, for plenty of cheesy goodness in each bite. Get the recipe here.

5. Pasta Primavera

Taste of Home

Say ciao to the heavy cream and butter in your pasta primavera. Us olive oil to replace the butter.  Add flavorful chicken broth or white wine instead of heavy cream. This lighter version will have you singing amore! Get the recipe here.

6. Pizza

Chowhound

Next time you want to grab a slice, skip the pepperoni and sausage. Instead, try choosing a pizza with some veggies, or even fruit on top! Go light on the cheese, or even skip the mozzarella altogether, and add a few dollops of naturally lower in fat goat cheese.  Who says you can’t lose weight while eating pizza? Get our Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza recipe.

7. Philly Cheesesteak

Cooking Light

The iconic Philly cheesesteak consists of a heavy hoagie roll, stuffed with loads of chopped meat and drowned in processed cheese. A classic cheesesteak sandwich has over 1,000 calories. That’s over half the recommended allowance of calories per day for adults!  To take this heavyweight down to a lightweight, try using flank steak instead of fatty rib-eye. Add in some meaty Portobello mushrooms and peppers to swap out some of the meat, while working in a few veggies. Swap out the artificial cheese for a light drizzle of provolone cheese sauce. With a few cuts, you can shave over 700 calories off of your cheesesteak sandwich. Get the recipe here.

8. Reuben Sandwich

She Knows

Who doesn’t dream of a Reuben sandwich when they see a New York style deli? It’s almost a Pavlovian response. But with toasted buttery bread, melted cheese, and layers of pastrami slick with Thousand Island dressing, the Reuben is definitely not a healthy option. Now you can enjoy this classic without clogging your arteries. Try swapping the pastrami for sliced turkey (or turkey pastrami). Use a light Swiss cheese instead of full-fat. Cut the mayo in the Thousand Island down by using nonfat Greek yogurt instead. Get the recipe here.

9. Cheeseburger

Give beef the boot! For a seriously slimmed down cheeseburger, try a dark turkey meat burger instead of using beef. It’s more flavorful than a turkey burger made with breast meat, but it’s still significantly lighter than using beef. Swap heavy mayonnaise for avocado, or better yet, add a dollop of guacamole! Get our Guacamole Turkey Burgers recipe.

10.  Clam Chowder

Food Network

This classic creamy New England soup is the perfect lunch on a winter’s day. But with all of the heavy cream and chunks of bacon, it might not be the perfect lunch for your waistline.  Skip the heavy cream and use light or fat free half-and-half instead. Add in some celery or extra potato and go light on the bacon. Get the recipe here.

11.  Chinese Chicken Salad

Gimme Some Oven

This crunchy, sweet, and salty salad can have as much as 98 grams of fat per serving! You might as well eat an entire cheesecake at that point. It wouldn’t be much worse. Skip the fried chow mein noodles, or add half the amount of fried chow mein noodles. Swap the canned sugary mandarin slices for edamame. Cut the oil down in the dressing from more than 1 cup to only ¼ cup, and give it extra flavor with fresh ginger and soy sauce. Get the recipe here.

Header image: Guacamole Turkey Burgers from Chowhound

Marisa Churchill is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, as well as a certified nutritionist. She has worked in many notable San Francisco restaurants. She is the host of My Sweet & Skinny Life, and author of the Sweet & Skinny cookbooks. She was a competitor on season 2 of Top Chef. Her work has also been featured on the Food Network, The Talk on CBS, Oprah.com, Food & Wine, and more!

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