Healthier Recipes for Your Favorite Southern Foods

Whether it’s a hot, sunny morning or a brisk evening, the South will bring you decadent portions of delicious classics like mac and cheese, fried okra, and pecan pie. While these foods are tasty and should be enjoyed from time to time, you may feel guilty for eating all of that butter, cream, and oil. Luckily, there are ways to lighten up those favorite Southern recipes and recreate them with fresher and healthier ingredients. Try these healthier alternatives to your favorite classics without sacrificing any of the flavors. You’ll love these recipes so much that you might never go back to the originals.

1. Chicken-broccoli Mac and Cheese with Bacon

Source: iStock

Macaroni and cheese with bacon and chicken |

This recipe from Cooking Light has everything you want out of a hearty Southern dish. It’s cheesy and delicious, and the chicken and broccoli add nutrition your ordinary boxed mac and cheese doesn’t have. You can control how much cheese you want to add into this recipe as well, and go for low-fat milk to further control calories.


  • 6 ounces uncooked large or regular elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups pre-chopped broccoli florets
  • 3 coarsely chopped bacon slices
  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1¼ cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • ¼ cup and 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 5 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

Directions: Preheat your broiler to high. Cook your pasta in boiling water. During the last 2 minutes of cooking your pasta, add your broccoli florets to the water to cook. Drain your broccoli and pasta mixture and set aside.

Place your bacon in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon for 4 minutes, or until browned. Remove your bacon and reserve 1½ teaspoons of the bacon drippings in the pan. Season chicken with ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt and add the chicken to the pan with the bacon drippings. As the chicken is cooking, add the garlic and turmeric. The chicken will take about 4 minutes to cook, and be careful not to burn your garlic.

In a separate bowl, combine ¾ teaspoon salt, milk, chicken stock, and flour, and stir the mixture with a whisk. Add the milk mixture to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened for about 2 minutes. Add the pasta and broccoli mixture and 2 ounces of cheese, tossing it all together. Cover the mixture with the remaining 3 ounces of cheese and bacon. Broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese melts and starts to brown.

2. Bourbon-Glazed Pork Chops with Hoppin’ John

grilled pork chops with herbs served with potatoes and green beans

Grilled pork chop with herbs |

Hoppin’ John may be the quintessential Southern food, so now is the perfect time to try this pea and rice dish. This recipe from Eating Well incorporates fresh ingredients with bone-in pork chops for a ton of flavor. The black-eyed peas for the side dish don’t disappoint either. This is healthy Southern food at its finest.


  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon (or apple juice)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 bone-in pork chops, trimmed
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon ground pepper, divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large diced green bell pepper
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, rinsed
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme

Directions: Combine molasses, bourbon or apple juice, and mustard in a small bowl to create a glaze. Season pork chops with ½ tablespoon each of salt and pepper and then brush with half the molasses glaze. Set aside.

Position the rack in your oven to the upper-third area and preheat the broiler to high.

In a large cast-iron or broiler-safe skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and cook them until golden-brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

To the pan, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic, and cook until the vegetables are soft for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black-eyed peas, paprika, thyme, and remaining ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Place the pork chops on top of the peas and pour in any juices that have accumulated. Brush the pork chops with the rest of the glaze and place the pan under the broiler. Broil for 2 to 5 minutes, and check the temperature of the chops with a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temp reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Oven-Fried Chicken

Source: iStock

Oven-fried chicken paired with collard greens |

If you love fried chicken but you don’t like the idea of it touching a deep fryer, try this recipe from Food Network for chicken that’s crispy, delicious, and simple to prepare. A light fry on the outside of the chicken gives it that classic crunch you love, and finishing it off in the oven gives great flavor. You’ll never crave fried chicken again after trying this healthful spin on a Southern classic.


  • 2 (3-pound) chickens, each cut into 8 serving pieces
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil or vegetable shortening

Directions: Place the pieces of chicken in a large bowl and cover them in buttermilk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Take the chicken that has been soaking in buttermilk out of the bowl and coat each piece thoroughly with flour mixture. Pour oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees Fahrenheit, using a cooking thermometer to check the heat.

Carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and lightly fry for about 3 minutes on each side until golden-brown in color. Don’t crowd your pot — you will need to work in batches to pan-fry each piece of chicken. Remove the browned chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack that is set over a sheet pan to catch any drippings. Make sure the oil in your pan has returned to 360 degrees Fahrenheit before frying each batch.

When all the chicken has been crisped on the outside, bake the chicken for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through the inside.

4. Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Freshly made fried green tomatoes |

Fried green tomatoes are a timeless Southern favorite, and you don’t need to go buy a deep fryer to make this dish. You don’t need all of those extra calories from the heavy oils, either. Try this recipe from Southern Living for a healthful version of this tasty treat that you can make any night of the week.


  • 4 medium green tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup self-rising white cornmeal mix
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions: Cut tomatoes into slices that are a ½-inch thick, and sprinkle each slice with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Combine cornmeal mix and panko breadcrumbs in a shallow dish or pie plate. Place flour in a second shallow dish or pie plate. Whisk the egg whites in a medium bowl until light and foamy. Dredge the tomato slices in flour first, shaking off the excess, and then dip in egg whites and dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Heat 1½ tablespoons hot oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook half of the tomato slices in the oil for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Season with salt. Repeat the process for the rest of the tomato slices. To keep the tomato slices warm, place on a pan in a 225-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Serve at once.

5. Clean Peach Crumble


Baked peach crumble for dessert |

Peach cobbler is a sweet and wonderful way to end a delicious meal, but it typically comes with a boatload of fat and calories that will leave you feeling heavy. This clean peach crumble from Amy’s Healthy Baking has the sweetness of the fresh, ripe peaches you crave with a lighter topping. You won’t miss the full-fat version of this Southern classic after trying this tasty twist.


  • 4 extra large peaches, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • ¾ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons agave
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the diced peaches, cornstarch, almond extract, and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon until thoroughly mixed. In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, flour, and remaining cinnamon. Add the agave and butter into the oat and flour mixture, and mix until completely incorporated.

Spread the peach mixture into the pan, then top with oat mixture. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until bubbling and topping has browned. For best results, let cool for 2 hours before serving.