It’s that time of year again. You’re eating better, making time for fitness and working on those little changes like drinking enough water and getting enough sleep.
Then it hits: You’re craving pizza, and you want it now.
Instead of calling your favorite pizza restaurant and ordering something you’ll later regret, why not try a healthier approach with just as much flavor?
As someone who has been on various diets since childhood, I understand the struggle. Fortunately, I’ve finally figured out the secret to a healthy diet: “cheat” in moderation, and find the right way to do it. I’m not saying you can never have regular pizza again or that your favorite Chinese buffet is out, but there is a way to enjoy some favorite cheat meals in a healthy way.
Check out my favorite 9 approaches to healthier cheat meals that are easy to make and won’t leave you feeling sick and full of regret.
1Pancakes & Bacon
If you’re like me, breakfast is a big deal. Eggs, fruit and wheat toast are healthier staples, but it’s easy for the diet to go south if you like the heartier options.
Whether you’re going for pancakes, waffles or French toast, the calories and carbohydrates add up fast, especially if you’re adding butter and syrup after preparation. Fattier breakfast meats that we so love to eat can be just as bad—unless you’re vegetarian, of course.
A couple simple changes can be made to make you feel less guilty about breakfast. It’s an important meal, after all; let’s not waste it on unhealthy food.
Traditional Approach: Two pancakes and four pieces of bacon from IHOP contain 480 calories, 26 grams of fat and 46 grams of carbohydrates.
Healthier Approach: Whole wheat pancakes and turkey bacon in the same amounts results in 289 calories, 16 grams of fat and 24 grams of carbohydrates.
How to Make It: Visit To Live & Diet In L.A. for the pancake recipe. For the bacon, bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes, or longer if you’re like me and prefer crispy bacon.
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, it’s also delicious.
A major contributing factor in unhealthy pizza 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 medium, hand-tossed pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut contain 470 calories, 20 grams of fat and 56 grams of carbohydrates.
Healthier Approach: An entire Flatout pizza with turkey pepperoni, onions, mushrooms and peppers yields 328 calories, 13 grams of fat and 32 grams of carbohydrates.
How to Make It: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake each side of a Flatout bread for one minute before removing and adding your toppings. Bake for another 5 minutes, or more if you want it crispier. We used ¼ cup pizza sauce, 1/3 cup reduced fat mozzarella cheese, 15 slices of turkey pepperoni and oregano, onions, mushrooms and peppers to taste. Add a light side salad for even more vegetables.
3Burger & Fries
A burger and French fries is an American staple. Much like most American staples, you’re typically not getting a healthy, 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 potato for sweet potato.
Traditional Approach: One Quarter Pounder cheeseburger with a side of fries from McDonald’s has 760 calories, 38 grams of fat, 70 carbohydrates and 10 grams of sugar.
Healthier Approach: One turkey burger with chipotle sweet potato fries has 269 calories, 11.7 grams of fat, 20.3 grams of carbohydrates and only 4 grams of sugar. You could eat two rounds and still be under the McDonald’s version!
Another popular food from my childhood 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. Eating healthy is a journey that requires dedication and lifestyle changes.
What are some of your favorite healthier “cheat” meals?