Nothing says “summer is finally here!” like a juicy burger beside a mound of cool and creamy coleslaw. Unfortunately, that creaminess comes from fat-heavy mayo, which can do a number on your waistline and your health. Luckily for slaw fans, there are easy ways to dial down the fat and calories without sacrificing that flavor and texture you love. Here’s how to lighten up your favorite summer side.
Use a mayonnaise substitute
Don’t knock it before you try it—swapping Greek yogurt for mayonnaise is a healthier way to get that creaminess you crave. In fact, it’s healthier than choosing low-fat mayo, which can be higher in sugar and sodium to compensate for flavor. “Start with at least half yogurt and eventually swap out the entire portion,” says Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Atlanta. You’ll even sneak in some extra protein for satiety, she adds.
Add fresh veggies
The summer harvest is especially bountiful, so take advantage of those fresh flavors. Not only will you pump up the nutrition by adding variety to your traditional cabbage medley, those flavor surprises will outshine some of the unhealthier ingredients (such as salt or mayo) that you’re lacking. “Using fresh summer vegetables such as zucchini or corn allows for the season to really shine through,” says Geoffrey Zakarian, Food Network star and chef and partner of Point Royal at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla. Spiralize the zucchini or throw in raw corn kernels straight off the cob.
“Bold and acidic ingredients punch up the flavor, allowing you to cut back on mayo and salt,” says Moore. First, cut back your mayo portion by at least 25 percent (the more you can slash, the better!), then add the acid. “Jazz up your traditional coleslaw with lemon or lime juice or apple cider vinegar.”
Experiment with ethnic ingredients
Cabbage has such a mild flavor that it can handle just about any flavor profile you dress it in. “Kick up the flavor without a lot of calories by trying international sauces or toppings like chimichurri, kimchi, English mustard, or ponzu,” says Judy Joo, owner and chef patron at Jinjuu Restaurants in London and Hong Kong. Mix the mustard with a little mayo, chimichurri in place of mayo, kimchi as a tangy mix-in, or a drizzle of ponzu to achieve that vinegar note.
Asian flavors meld seamlessly into a coleslaw. Moore suggests adding shredded carrots and make a dressing of rice vinegar, fresh grated ginger, and a small bit of sesame oil—then toss with a white and red cabbage mix and immediately inhale.
Don’t forget about fruit
Diced apple chunks or sectioned oranges can add a hit of sweetness to both a zesty vinegary slaw and a creamy one. Throw in a handful of sunflower seeds or chopped almonds or walnuts and you’ve just added fiber and protein to the mix.
Mix up your slaw mix
You don’t need to stick to strictly cabbage for it to be considered coleslaw. Shredded broccoli and kale make nutritionally powerful additions—not to mention delicious ones! If you need inspiration, try Moore’s broccoli slaw with a honey tahini dressing (the tahini is another smart mayo swap that provides creamy flavor without all the saturated fat.)
Bring the heat
Don’t forget about the sides to your side
Choose a healthy main dish, otherwise you’ll negate all the good you did healthifying your coleslaw. Opt for lean protein like grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, or lean cuts of beef.