Because let’s face it: Eventually, the chill in the air is going to lure you to eat more rich food than you need to (and then regret it later). But you can have those creamy, meaty, carb-laden dishes with no side effects if you simply find slightly healthier versions of your fall favorites.
So many of our much-loved fall dishes are loaded with butter and cream and sugar and everything good in the world. We don’t advise skimping all the time! But sometimes, these dishes can be just as creamy and flavorful with lighter ingredients substituted in the recipes.
Related Reading: The Best Healthy Meal Kits to Try in 2019
1. Lighten Up Meat with Fall Fruit
Pork chops and cream are frequent partners on our fall table, but sometimes it’s a little too much of a good thing. Lean yet tender pork tenderloin is a great alternative to gloriously fatty chops, and fresh pears and figs provide a sweet complement to our beloved other white meat that doesn’t weigh it down. Get our Easy Roasted Pork Tenderloin recipe.
2. Replace Pasta with Veggies
Inspired by classic cacio e pepe, here’s a lower carb version of the simple pasta dish using noodles made from spaghetti squash. The cooked strands are tossed with a simple sauce of minced garlic and shallots warmed in olive oil, black pepper, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Get our Roasted Spaghetti Squash recipe.
Related Reading: A Gluten-Free Fall Pasta Guide
3. Bypass Beef for a Change
This chicken chili is a little lighter than traditional beef and kidney bean chili. Smashing some of the cannellini beans thickens the broth, and a squeeze of lime juice at the end balances the richness and heat with a bright kick. Get our White Chicken Chili recipe.
4. Make Mac and Cheese Healthier with Secret Squash
By pureeing cooked butternut squash into the sauce for healthy mac and cheese, the dish keeps its rich cheesy mouthfeel and depth of flavor, but skips all the cream of a béchamel. This recipe also uses another secret ingredient: caramelized onions, which lend even more complexity. Less cheese is needed to make the flavor pop, but you can use whatever kind you like best, from gruyere to cheddar.
Best part, it sneaks in an extra vegetable to a warm and comforting winter meal, but even kids will go gaga for it. Get the Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese recipe.
5. Grab Greek Yogurt for Your Dips
Football season means snacks on snacks. That usually means chips and dip will be spread over a table like a cornucopia of temptation. Skip the cream cheese blue cheese dips for a game or two and switch it out with one of our favorite lightening ingredients: fat-free Greek yogurt. It keeps the dip thick and adds a tangy note to your favorite game-day go-tos, but cuts down on the calories (you’re not a linebacker, after all). Get our Jalapeño Cilantro Yogurt Spread recipe.
6. Change Up Your Cheesecake
Cheesecake is a year-round dessert, but its dense, smooth richness has extra appeal in the cooler months. And cottage cheese is roundly disparaged as a diet food eaten with pineapple by sad women, but trust us—it is one of the most versatile ingredients in the substitution arsenal. Its mild flavor enables it to blend into a myriad of dishes, from dips to gratins to this ethereal cheesecake recipe with less than half the calories of one from that… ahem…factory.
Puree or whip the cottage cheese for a smoother texture if you prefer. Here, it pairs with Greek yogurt and maple syrup, and you can replace the jam with caramel or chocolate, and even add some pumpkin pie spice to the filling, or try gingersnaps instead of graham crackers in the crust. Get the Healthy Cheesecake with Cottage Cheese recipe.
7. Lighten Up Lasagna with Squash
Summer or winter squash make an easy alternative to noodles in this recipe, but feel free to try it on your favorite family lasagna recipe as well. This one lightens things up further by skipping the usual ricotta and mozzarella in the filling for cottage cheese and parmesan—lower fat but plenty of flavor. Get our Zucchini Lasagna recipe.
8. Swap in Sweet Potatoes for Pastry
Chicken or vegetable pot pie is a fall and winter classic. It sticks to your ribs and is a one-pot wonder that reminds us of our childhoods (shout out to Marie Callender!). But by using thinly sliced sweet potatoes rather than puff pastry for a crust, you get the benefits of an extra vegetable while cutting out all the additional butter. Get the Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust recipe, or try the technique to top off your favorite pot pie recipe.
9. Cut Carbs by Using Cauliflower in Place of Potato
Another one-pot wonder loaded with ground turkey and vegetables makes this easy dish a fall and winter winner! The typical topper of buttery mashed potatoes piled high is familiar, but mashed cauliflower subbed in means it still tastes like the same dish while being way lower in carbs. (Our Kohlrabi Shepherd’s Pie recipe, pictured up top, pulls the same trick with another underrated vegetable.) Pro-tip: Few dishes freeze as well as shepherds pie, so do yourself a favor and put one away for later! Get the Ground Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Topping recipe.
Related Reading: All the Amazing Ways You Can use Cauliflower
10. Let Fall Fruit Take Center Stage in Dessert
Apple desserts are often weighed down by copious amounts of pastry, and butter, and sugary toppings. The fruit has plenty of sweetness on its own, so instead of a turnover covered in ice cream or a traditional apple crisp under a whipped cream avalanche, try slicing the apples like hasselback potatoes to better caramelize, then top with just a small sprinkle of oatmeal streusel for a dessert that won’t derail your day. It’s so much lighter, in fact, you can still put the scoop of ice cream on top. Get the Hasselback Apple recipe.
11. Try Liquid Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin is a superfood (and an iconic fall ingredient), but pumpkin pie isn’t exactly health food—still, you can capture those same sweet autumn flavors in smoothie form for a healthier take on a seasonal fave. This pumpkin pie smoothie is vegan, with pumpkin puree, frozen banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, maple syrup, and the plant-based milk of your choosing. Enjoy the pure taste of pumpkin pie for breakfast, or top it with vegan whipped cream for more of a midday treat. Get the Healthy Pumpkin Pie Smoothie recipe.
12. Skip the Hot Cocoa & Creamy Drinks for Spiced Wine
Hot cocoa with schnapps, buttered rum, pumpkin whipped cream something or other. All delectable choices to imbibe on an autumn’s eve, but a black hole of sugar and fat. For a holiday party or a night in, try spiced wine instead. The recipes vary, but it’s typically warmed wine with spices and just a little sugar for a whole bottle of vino. Our German-inspired take adds brandy too, plus lemon and orange, with cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom providing the spice. Get our German Mulled Wine recipe.
— Original article by Vanessa W. Simmons in 2015; updated by Amy Sowder and Jen Wheeler.
Header image by Chowhound