test-9 Best Cheat Meals That Don’t Feel Like Cheating
Food & Nutrition
9 Best Cheat Meals That Don’t Feel Like Cheating
Swanson staff • June 21, 2022

9 Meals You'll Love That Won't Wreck Your Diet

Good job! Despite all the temptations out there, you’re eating better, making time for fitness and working on those little changes like drinking enough water and getting enough sleep that add up to major improvements in your health.

Try as you might, though, there will always be those cravings for foods we all know aren't the best for our health.

Thankfully, good health and responsible eating habits, like everything in life, are best experienced in moderation. If you force yourself into something uncomfortable without any breaks, you're sure to fail.

Believe it or not, though, when it comes to healthy eating, it's actually a good strategy to allow yourself a few "cheats" along the way!

For those seeking a path of moderation that will lead to long-term health, here are nine of our favorite "cheat" meals that are sure to satisfy, without wrecking your diet!

Healthy pancakes and bacon1Pancakes & Bacon

As everyone knows, breakfast is a big deal. Eggs, fruit and wheat toast are healthy staples, but it can be surprisingly easy for your diet to go south if you feel tempted by more heartier options.

Even if you're just opting for a traditional favorite like pancakes, the calories and carbohydrates can add up fast, especially if you’re adding butter and syrup after preparation.

Thankfully, a few simple changes can be made to make you feel less guilty about breakfast. It’s an important meal, after all! So let’s not waste it on unhealthy food.

Here's an example comparing two versions of a popular breakfast dish:

Traditional Approach: Two large pancakes and four pieces of pork bacon.

Those two pancakes will contain about 373 calories and 60 g of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.1 

Meanwhile, those four pieces of pork bacon will contain about 328 calories and 1 g of carbohydrates.2

Healthier Approach: Two whole wheat pancakes and four pieces of turkey bacon.

If you switch out the traditional pancake mix for a healthier 10 grain whole wheat mix, your two pancakes would only have about 300 calories and 56 g of carbohydrates.

Even better, your turkey bacon would only have about 70 calories and 0 g of carbohydrates!2 

That's a quite a difference made by making only a minor change. 

Healthy pepperoni pizza2Pepperoni Pizza

Pizza is a huge go-to cheat meal. It’s usually cheap, easy to order and it doesn’t require you to leave the house if you want a night in. Oh, and it’s delicious!

A major contributing factor in pizza's designation as "unhealthy" is the crust. Cheese and meat toppings also come into play, as well as sauce if you’re getting something with Alfredo or ranch.

Getting thinner crust and less cheese does wonders.

Traditional Approach: Two slices of personal pan pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut contain 300 calories and 34 g of carbohydrates.3

Healthier Approach: Consider making your pizza with an alternative flour, like cauliflower.

For example, the same portion of cauliflower crust pizza would have only around 114 calories and 14 g of carbohydrates.4  

Healthy turkey burger recipe3Burger & Fries

Burgers and French fries are an American staple. Much like most American staples, however, you’re typically not getting a very healthy or nutritious meal.

The burger and fries alone aren’t great, but adding toppings like mayonnaise and bacon really add up, not to mention the many dipping sauce options people use for fries.

For a healthier option, swap beef for turkey and regular potato fries for sweet potato fries!

Traditional Approach: One Quarter Pounder burger patty from McDonald’s has 220 calories, 16 g of fat, and 1g of carbohydrates.5

And the fries? A medium order of French fries from McDonald's will include about 320 calories and 43g of carbohydrates.6 

Healthier Approach: One turkey burger patty features only 296 calories and 0 g of carbohydrates,7 while one cup of sweet potato fries will only have 200 calories and about 18.5 g of carbohydrates.8

4Chicken Nuggets

Healthy chicken nuggets

Another popular food is chicken nuggets. While they aren’t the unhealthiest of cheat meals, they definitely don’t come with as much nutritional value as other options.

What’s worse, many popular restaurants don’t make nuggets with pure chicken, and the breading can be questionable as well. Making your own will help with these issues.

Chicken nuggets nutritional facts

Traditional Approach: Six chicken nuggets from McDonald’s have 270 calories, 16 grams of fat, 16 carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein. That might not seem terrible, but most people don’t eat only six chicken nuggets at a time.

Healthier Approach: Six baked chicken nuggets contain 188 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 8 carbohydrates and a whopping 26 grams of protein. That’s what you get when the meat in your nuggets is made only with meat!

How to Make It: Visit Skinnytaste for this delicious recipe.


Healthy tacos

Taco Tuesday, anyone? There are so many unique ways to make tacos. Some of them are healthy, but traditional drive-thru tacos aren’t doing you any favors.

Many tacos are topped with sour cream and cheese, and it’s hard to avoid adding a side like chips and nacho cheese. A lighter approach will give you the flavor you want without the extra calories, fat and carbs.

Taco nutritional facts

Traditional Approach: Two hard shell tacos from Taco Bell have 340 calories, 18 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of protein, not including sour cream.

Healthier Approach: Three lettuce cup tacos contain 198 calories, 2 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates and 30 grams of protein.

How to Make It: Brown one pound of ground turkey. Add water and taco seasoning and cook for about 5 minutes. Add a couple spoonfuls of taco meat to lettuce cups and add additional toppings. I used the taco seasoning recipe from Foodie Fun and added tomato, onion and avocado for toppings. For a healthier sour cream, use Greek yogurt.

6Spaghetti & Meatballs

Healthy zucchini noodle pasta

Spaghetti and meatballs are as traditional as you can get for Italian dishes. Unfortunately, tradition comes at the cost of high calories and carbohydrates.

Choosing a healthier approach like vegetable pasta and turkey meatballs will cut down the concerning numbers, allowing you to enjoy your meal and not feel bad about it later.

Noodles and meatballs nutritional facts

Traditional Approach: A serving of spaghetti and meatballs from Olive Garden has 900 calories, 38.5 grams of fat and 95 grams of carbohydrates.

Healthier Approach: A serving of zucchini noodle pasta with turkey meatballs contains 440 calories, 15 grams of fat and 42 grams of carbohydrates. Cutting everything in half (or more) will make a huge difference, and you won’t sacrifice flavor in the process.

How to Make It: Visit Daily Burn for directions.

7Macaroni & Cheese

 Healthy baked mac and cheese

Whether you’re going out for dinner or making Kraft at home, macaroni and cheese is typically made with a lot of milk, butter and artificial ingredients. You sacrifice a lot for the sake of noodles and cheese.

Solution? Be mindful of how much dairy you’re adding, and this time you don’t have to make vegetable pasta. Try a baked version with more flavor that’s better for you.

Mac and cheese nutrition facts

Traditional Approach: A small serving of macaroni and cheese from Noodles & Company contains 520 calories, 23 grams of fat and 59 grams of carbohydrates.

Healthier Approach: One serving of baked macaroni and cheese has 297 calories, 9.7 grams of fat and 34.5 grams of carbohydrates. Bonus: This recipe is baked with extra flavor, so you get more for less.

How to Make It: Visit Skinnytaste for this light and cheesy recipe.

8Fried Rice & Egg Rolls

Healthy cauliflower fried rice and spring rolls

Chinese buffets can be a nightmare for people trying to eat healthy, and ordering in isn’t any easier due to large portion sizes.

Fried rice and egg rolls are pretty common choices, both at buffets and when ordering for home. We took another vegetable approach with the rice by using cauliflower, and the deep fried egg rolls were swapped for non-fried spring rolls.

Fried rice nutrition facts

Egg rolls and spring rolls nutrition facts

Traditional Approach: Fried rice from PF Chang’s yields 960 calories, 22 grams of fat, 162 carbohydrates and 22 grams of sugar. Two chicken egg rolls have 320 calories, 52 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of sugar. That’s 40 grams of sugar if you eat everything!

Healthier Approach: One serving of cauliflower fried rice contains 108 calories, 3 grams of fat, 14 carbohydrates and 1 gram of sugar. Two chicken spring rolls have 200 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of sugar.

How to Make It: Visit Skinnytaste for the cauliflower rice recipe. For the spring rolls, prepare preferred vegetables and any other ingredients like herbs or noodles. Cook chicken in a skillet with a little soy sauce or aminos for flavor. Going one at a time, place rice paper in a pan or deep plate of water for 5-10 seconds before removing and setting on another plate or cutting board. Add preferred amounts of chicken, vegetables and other ingredients on the end closest to you. Begin rolling, folding each side in about halfway before completing the roll. Visit My Skinny Sweet Tooth for a delicious peanut dipping sauce recipe.


Healthy milkshake

Last but not least… dessert! There are so many healthy versions of desserts online, but I’m an ice cream fan who used to go to Dairy Queen far too often in the summer.

For a healthier version of my favorite milkshake, I rely on Halo Top ice cream for the base. This ice cream comes in many flavors to suit your shake and sundae needs.

Milkshake nutrition facts

Traditional Approach: A small peanut butter milkshake from Dairy Queen has 650 calories, 34 grams of fat, 73 carbohydrates and a whopping 58 grams of sugar.

Healthier Approach: A peanut butter cup with banana milkshake contains 220 calories, 8 grams of fat, 36 carbohydrates and 16 grams of sugar.

How to Make It: Add 1 cup of Peanut Butter Cup Halo Top ice cream, ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk and ½ banana to a blender and blend under smooth. Top with cinnamon for a little extra flavor, or add unsweetened cocoa powder for even more chocolate.


The best cheat meal is going to be the one you enjoy enough to give up the "real thing" for.

After all, eating healthy is a journey that requires dedication and lifestyle changes.

Always serving our customers,

Your friends at Swanson


1. Pancake Nutrition Facts. VeryWellFitness. Read source

2. Turkey Bacon. Carb Manager. Read source

3. Pizza Hut Nutritional Information. See source

4. Is Cauliflower Crust Healthy? HealthLine. Read source

5. McDonald's Nutritional Information. See source

6. McDonald's Nutritional Information. See source

7. Carbs in Turkey Patties. Carb Manager. See source

8. Carbs in Sweet Potatoes. Carb Manager. See source