6 Ways to Make Healthier Versions of Your Favorite Meat Dishes

In the fall and winter, we crave hearty comfort food. For many, that means meaty dishes. Whether you like chicken, pork, turkey, or steak, there’s a good chance you have a favorite main meal that stars meat. The only problem is, those dinners can be packed with calories. Fortunately, there are recipes for healthier renditions of your favorite carnivore-friendly meals, and we’re highlighting them today. With a few easy substitutions, you can enjoy delicious dinners without devastating your diet.

1. Filet Mignon with Mushroom Wine Sauce

Filet mignon

Filet mignon | iStock.com

Steak eaters love filet mignon, but the restaurant version can set you back in the calorie department big time. Make the meal at home and you can feel better about what you’re eating. This recipe from Cooking Light yields a dinner of filet mignon with mushroom wine sauce. It serves only 2, and each yields about 315 calories.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup less-sodium beef broth
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon bottled minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks
  • 1 cup pre-sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup sweet Marsala

Directions: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add steaks to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of done-ness. Remove steaks from pan. Add mushrooms to pan, and cook 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove mushrooms from pan. Remove pan from heat; add Marsala. Reduce heat to medium. Return pan to heat. Add broth mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in mushrooms.

2. Healthy Chicken Parmesan

Spaghetti squash chicken Parmesan dinner

Spaghetti squash chicken Parmesan dinner | iStock.com/shyflygirl

If Italian is your comfort food of choice, give it a healthy spin with this recipe for chicken Parmesan from Giada De Laurentiis. Giada lightens up the traditional version of the dinner by flavoring the chicken with herbs and brushing it with olive oil rather than breadcrumbs. The resulting dish is still plenty hearty and satisfying but won’t leave you bloated for the rest of the night.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 4 chicken cutlets (about 3 ounces each)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup marinara sauce
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 8 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Directions: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, stir the oil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley together to blend. Brush both sides of the cutlets with the herb oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add the cutlets and cook just until browned, about 1 minute per side. Remove from the heat.

Spoon the marinara sauce over and around the cutlets. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of mozzarella over each cutlet, then sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons of Parmesan. Dot the tops with the butter pieces, and bake until the cheese melts and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

3. Oven-Fried Chicken

Oven-fried chicken

Oven fried chicken | iStock.com/Ravsky

Fried chicken is delicious, but it’s not an everyday dinner. Oven-fried chicken, on the other hand, can be enjoyed on a busy weekday or slow Saturday night. This recipe from Food Network takes less than 1 hour start to finish and yields 6 to 8 servings. You’ll bread your chicken in cracker crumbs, cereal flakes, sesame seeds, garlic powder, and cayenne before baking it for 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • ½ sleeve whole-grain salted crackers, pulsed in a food processor until fine
  • 2½ cups corn cereal flakes, pulsed in a food processor to fine crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup low-fat, plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 4 medium-size skinless chicken breasts and 4 skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry (about 3½ pounds chicken)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray a baking sheet with olive oil. Combine the crackers and corn cereal crumbs, sesame seeds, cayenne, and garlic powder in a shallow bowl.

In a large bowl, combine egg whites, yogurt, Dijon mustard, and salt. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the yogurt mixture. One at a time, dip the chicken pieces in the cracker mixture, packing crumbs onto chicken. Arrange the chicken on a baking sheet and spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife.

4. Healthy Beef and Broccoli

Beef and broccoli

Beef and broccoli | iStock.com

Make your favorite takeout food at home with this recipe for beef and broccoli from A Sweet Pea Chef. The first step to the one-pan meal is browning the beef, and then it’s time to cook your broccoli. After that, you can make your homemade sauce by combining soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and red pepper flakes. After the sauce has thickened, you can add back the beef and broccoli and stir to combine. Serve with brown rice and you have a healthy homemade meal that is satisfying at half the sodium content and calories.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1-pound flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups broccoli florets (about 2 small crowns)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¾ cup water
  • ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
 Directions: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the beef until browned. After about 6 to 8 minutes, remove beef from pan and set aside. Using the same pan with the beef drippings, add in the garlic, shallot, and green onions. Cook one minute before adding broccoli and covering for 5 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Next, mix together soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Add cornstarch mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.

After removing cover from pan, add sauce. Allow sauce to thicken, about 3-5 minutes. Add back beef and stir to combine, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve over brown rice, if desired.

5. Barbecue Pork Ribs

Barbecue ribs with beans and slaw on a blue plate

Barbecue ribs with beans and slaw on a blue plate | iStock.com

Make some lean barbecue pork ribs and you’ll never go back to the fatty kind again. A good rack of ribs doesn’t need to set you back in the calorie department. A serving of this dish from Oxmoor House is only about 315 calories and has nearly 24 grams of protein. The recipe has you starting your meat on the grill and then finishing the cooking in the oven, so preheat your outside grill while the weather is still mild. You’ll make your own pan sauce to spoon over your meat, and then it’s time to eat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup hickory wood chips
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 1½ tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (3-pound) rack pork loin back ribs, trimmed
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Cooking spray

Directions: Soak wood chips in water 1 hour. Drain well.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat using both burners. After preheating, turn the left burner off. Place wood chips on heat element on right side. Place a disposable aluminum foil pan on heat element on left (unheated) side. Pour 2 cups water in pan.

Combine sweet paprika and next 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Stir in oil, vinegar, and garlic to form a paste. Rinse and pat ribs dry. If desired, remove thin membrane from back of ribs by slicing into it with a knife and then pulling it off. Sprinkle both sides of ribs with salt; rub with spice paste. Coat grill rack with cooking spray; place on grill. Place ribs, meaty sides down, on grill rack over direct heat; cover and grill 10 minutes. Turn ribs over, and move them over indirect heat, covering left burner. Cover and grill for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove ribs from grill; wrap with heavy-duty foil. Place foil-wrapped ribs on a baking sheet; bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours or until meat begins to pull away from the bone. Let ribs stand 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with drippings.

6. Saffron-Roasted Chicken Wings

Roasted chicken wings

Roasted chicken wings | iStock.com

There’s no need to bread and fry your chicken wings to make them taste good. The tender chicken is good on its own and only needs light flavoring to shine. This recipe from Martha Stewart has that flavor coming from lemon juice, saffron, olive oil, and butter. You’ll brush your chicken wings with half of the sauce, roast for 20 minutes, turn wings over to brush again, and then cook for the final 15 minutes. There’s no need to over-complicate chicken wings when you can enjoy them the healthier way with a little butter and seasoning.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron
  • 6 whole chicken wings
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top of the foil; set aside. In a small saucepan, combine olive oil, butter, lemon juice, and saffron. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is combined.

Arrange chicken wings on rack and brush with half of the saffron mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn wings over and brush again. Cook until wings are browned and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes more.