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10 Light Recipes That Are Full of Flavor

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer with more than 10 years of experience as a nutritionist. Her work is featured in the Huffington Post, DAME Magazine, The Good Men Project and more. She specializes in eating disorders and loves connecting with readers and writers via her blog and social media.

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10 Light Recipes That Are Full of Flavor
Young woman washing lettuce at kitchen sink, close-up of hands

Creating meals that are rich in nutrients and flavor yet relatively low in calories can help ensure lasting weight control and overall wellness. To manage your weight and fend off chronic disease, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating more nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting refined grains, unhealthy fats and added sugars. The following 10 slides contain meal ideas (with full recipes) that can help you prepare healthy and delicious meals promising to please any palate. These are simple-to-prepare recipes that can easily be added to your cooking repertoire.

1. Quinoa Stir-Fry


For whole-grain nutrition in a hurry, opt for quinoa. This ancient grain cooks faster and contains more protein than other grains and can be a substitute for rice in any recipe, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For a light, flavorful meal, Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian in Morristown, New Jersey, stir-fries quinoa with onions, bell peppers and cashews. For sweetness and spice, Marinaccio adds jalapenos and a touch of pure pineapple juice and then tops it off with cilantro and scallions. “This is a protein-packed, economical vegetarian dish with great textures that can be served as a main or side,” says Marinaccio. If you serve it as a main dish, she suggests a side of kale salad. You can also stir-fry leftover veggies with herbs and spices to serve atop plain cooked quinoa. CALORIES PER SERVING: 433.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

2. Sesame-Crusted Chicken Breast With Pasta and Asparagus
grilled chicken legs


Breaded and fried, chicken Parmesan is a rich, high-fat dish. For an equally flavorful yet light alternative, coat a boneless, skinless chicken breast in sesame seeds and sauté in a small amount of olive oil until brown on each side, then bake it until it’s cooked through. For added fiber and antioxidants without loading up on calories, serve the chicken on a moderate portion of cooked whole-grain pasta with a side of roasted asparagus or other colorful vegetables. Rather than cook asparagus in butter, Kansas-based registered dietitian Dirk M. Noteboom recommends sprinkling with olive oil and adding a low-sodium seasoning. Bake them wrapped in foil alongside the chicken. CALORIES PER SERVING: 362.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

3. Fish and Veggie Tacos
Talipia Fish Tacos


Tacos prepared in whole-grain tortillas and filled with grilled fish and veggies create a well-balanced, nutritious dish. Tina Marinaccio, RD, recommends filling a softly toasted whole-grain tortilla with grilled mahi-mahi, tomato, basil, avocado and red onion to serve with grilled corn on the cob brushed with olive oil and fresh basil. “This is a great way to get kids to eat fish, and finger foods always get my vote,” says Marinaccio. The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends limiting fish with moderate mercury-poisoning risks, including mahi-mahi, to six servings or less per month. Low-risk fish and seafood like tilapia, shrimp and salmon also make for tasty, healthy taco fillings. Salmon provides valuable amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fats as well. CALORIES PER SERVING: 375.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

4. Egg Whites on Toast
Scrambled egg on toast


Egg yolks contain valuable nutrients including choline, vitamin D and phosphorus, but opting for the whites only lowers the overall calorie content from 72 calories to only 17, and it also lowers overall fat and cholesterol intake. For a light, sumptuous and energizing breakfast, Erik Bustillo, a registered dietitian in Miami, Florida, recommends serving egg whites sautéed in a small amount of coconut oil on whole-grain bread, topped with a slice of Swiss cheese for added calcium and flavor. To make it even more satisfying and nutritious, add veggies like chopped mushrooms, tomatoes or kale to your eggs. Mushrooms are one of the few plant sources of vitamin D. To keep the flavor and nutrients in an egg, you can also try using one whole egg and one to three egg whites instead. CALORIES PER SERVING: 294.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

5. Roasted Beef With Potatoes and Broccoli


When you do opt for red meat, choose a lean cut like beef eye of round for less saturated fat and fewer calories. “This type of beef can be seasoned with whatever you like,” says Dirk M. Noteboom, RD. “From a rub with olive oil, a little sea salt and pepper to rosemary and garlic to your favorite barbecue rub, it will come out tasting very good!” Noteboom suggests cooking the roast slowly at a low temperature in the oven or in a slow cooker. Roasted potatoes provide a nutritious carbohydrate source, particularly if you leave the peels on. Add fresh or steamed broccoli for added texture, nutrients and few additional calories. CALORIES PER SERVING: 423.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

6. Veggie-Loaded Pasta
Homemade Broccoli and Parmesan Pasta


Pasta can seem off limits when you’re controlling your weight, but half a cup of cooked whole-grain pasta fulfills a third of your daily recommended minimum of whole grains, according to the University of Georgia Health Center. Like other whole-grain foods, pastas made of whole wheat, spelt, brown rice or other grains provide valuable amounts of fiber, protein and B vitamins. Dirk M. Noteboom, RD, recommends adding roasted veggies, including zucchini, eggplant and carrots, to cooked whole-grain pasta. Vegetables increase the bulk of the dish without adding many calories, and the fiber in the dish makes it filling. To keep the overall calorie count low, you can top with a marinara sauce (sans added sugar) or lightly spritz with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. CALORIES PER SERVING: 245.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

7. Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Larb - ລາບ / ลาบ


A 10-inch diameter flour tortilla contains 217 calories. Preparing a wrap in a romaine lettuce leaf instead shaves 212 calories from the entree! Tina Marinaccio, RD, recommends filling lettuce leaves with lean ground turkey, onions and peppers, cooked and seasoned with ancho and chipotle chili powders and smoked paprika, then served with a healthy coleslaw for crunch. “This meal is loaded with veggies, and leftovers hold over well,” says Marinaccio. “In fact, it tastes better the next day.” To make your own coleslaw, Marinaccio recommends blending jicama and carrots in a food processor to toss with a light dressing. CALORIES PER SERVING: 332.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

8. Greek Yogurt With Nuts and Berries


Some light meals require no cooking at all. Erik Bustillo, RD, recommends topping a cup of Greek yogurt with a handful of mixed berries and a small handful of mixed nuts for a filling breakfast. Greek yogurt differs from other yogurt in that most of the whey and lactose has been removed, resulting in a thicker, higher-protein variety. The process also lowers the calcium content, although a six-ounce serving still meets about 20 percent of your calcium needs. To add back a bit more, top yogurt with almonds, which contain 80 milligrams of calcium per ounce. CALORIES PER SERVING: 195.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

9. Baked Fish With Brown Rice and Veggies


Swapping out cuts of meat that are higher in fat for fish can lighten your saturated-fat load and do wonders for your heart. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week for improved cardiovascular health. Fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon and lake trout, provide omega-3 fatty acids -- essential fats that guard against heart disease. Registered dietitian Dirk M. Noteboom recommends serving baked fish with brown rice, fresh green beans and tomatoes for a light, nutritious meal. Brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. CALORIES PER SERVING: 322.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

10. Pork Tenderloin With Sweet Potatoes and Bok Choy


Pork is eaten the world over more than any other meat, according to a report published in the journal Nutrients in 2014. For a healthy, delicious pork dish, Tina Marinaccio, RD, recommends grilling pork tenderloin -- a cut of pork that is lower in fat -- marinated in ginger, soy sauce and orange juice, then serving it with grilled sweet potatoes and bok choy. “This provides a great balance of flavors, colors and textures,” Marinaccio adds, “and cleanup is a snap using the grill.” Marinating the pork helps keep it tender. CALORIES PER SERVING: 194.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info in MyPlate

What Do YOU Think?


Which of these recipes are you most tempted to try? What other light, nutritious dishes do you frequently prepare? What’s your favorite way to make bland dishes flavorful? Share your ideas and tips with us in the comments below -- we love to hear from you!

Related: The 13 DOs and DON’Ts of Intermittent Fasting

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