How to Eat Healthy When Your Partner Isn't Up for It
Changing your eating habits is harder when your loved ones don’t embrace the idea. But with these tips and surprisingly healthy recipes, you’ll be just fine.
My first husband was one of those people who could eat french fries and ice cream every day and never gain an ounce. At the time, I weighed over 250 pounds — we looked a bit like the number 10 when we stood together. While he supported my desire to lose weight, adjusting his own eating habits never appealed to him.
Yes, we got divorced. But not before I figured out some ways to make both of us happy (at the dinner table, at least). For almost 20 years now I’ve been with someone who shares my appreciation for health-conscious eating, but I still use the techniques I learned back then to cook healthy food that pleases everyone — even people who couldn’t care less about nutrition.
Make smart swaps: I recreate recipes that offer too many empty calories by substituting more nutrient-dense ingredients. It might be as basic as using low-fat dairy instead of full-fat, or as clever as replacing part of a recipe’s ground beef with chopped mushrooms.
Boost the produce: Whatever we’re eating, I give myself an extra serving of vegetables, make a side salad, or have fruit for dessert. Or I slip additional vegetables into a much-loved recipe.
Choose lean protein: We still eat burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, and other “fattening” meals, but I use ground poultry or plant-based options instead.
Adjust your technique: Just because something’s usually fried, it doesn’t mean it has to be. There are plenty of ways to make foods indulgently crispy without all that oil. Air fryers didn’t exist 20 years ago, but you can be sure I’d have used one if they did.
Banish the “H” word: All the cajoling in the world won’t sway a partner who truly isn’t interested in eating more healthfully. So why try? Here’s where the saying “You do you” comes in handy.
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Recipes that make smart swaps
With just a few simple substitutions, you can transform an indulgent recipe into one that fits into your health-focused efforts. In my family, nobody notices the difference.
Classic sloppy joes have more saturated fat and sugar than I’m looking for, thanks to ground beef, ketchup, and a generous amount of brown sugar. This version swaps finely chopped mushrooms for half the meat — their texture and umami make them blend right in. And instead of ketchup, the recipe calls for canned crushed tomatoes (an actual vegetable!) with vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and maple syrup. Whole-grain buns give the whole thing a fiber boost.
At that famous Italian restaurant chain, Zuppa Toscana comes loaded with Italian sausage and heavy cream — so it’s also loaded with saturated fat. This version recreates the flavors, but it uses chicken sausage instead of pork and a puree of cauliflower and cashews to provide that luscious, creamy texture. Add some soft breadsticks, and you’ll think you’re eating the original.
I could never give up mac and cheese. And I don’t have to, when the cheese sauce features Greek yogurt and low-fat milk instead of full-fat dairy. Adding Greek yogurt gives the recipe a protein boost, too, so you’ll feel satisfied longer.
Blanketed with melted cheese and crema or sour cream, enchiladas are often a rich, cheesy extravaganza. Substitute reduced fat cheese — which still melts beautifully and has plenty of sharp flavor — and nonfat Greek yogurt, and you’ll shave off a substantial portion of calories and saturated fat.
Recipes with plenty of vegetables
By boosting the vegetable content of a recipe, you’re able to reduce the amount of less-healthy ingredients in each serving. You still get the deliciousness, but with considerably more vitamins and fiber.
Whether it’s game day or just, y’know, Wednesday, nachos make a perfect dinner. And when you load them up with grilled slices of sweet potato, corn, and black beans, they’re a truly satisfying one. The cheese sauce here is lightened up, too, using just half a cup of Monterey Jack for the whole batch.
Guess what happens when you add finely chopped vegetables like zucchini, celery, carrots, and mushrooms to typically dry ground turkey breast? It stays juicy and rich-tasting, the makings of a very satisfying, secretly nutritious meatloaf. (I add a restrained slather of ketchup to the top of mine before baking — it makes it even more like the classic version.)
Almost any stir-fry offers you the chance to add more vegetables to your plate. Here, broccoli, bell pepper, and carrots meet up with lean chicken breast, all tossed in a sauce laced with honey, soy, and toasted sesame oil. Serve it on brown rice and pass the sriracha at the table.
Did you ever imagine you could have lasagna for around 200 calories per serving? It’s possible when you load up your layers with oodles of chopped vegetables (and add fresh spinach to the ricotta cheese filling). Any kind of veggies will do in this flexible recipe — it’s perfect for when the crisper’s got a handful of different ones threatening to go bad.
Recipes that use lean protein
One easy way to up your nutrition game: Switch out your choice of proteins. Instead of fatty red meats, opt for leaner cuts — or swap in a plant-based option instead.
Fast-food burgers ain’t exactly health food, and the “animal style” at one popular chain gives you double the calorie-laden secret sauce. Make it at home, though, and you can recreate the flavors with extra-lean ground beef and a homemade version of the sauce that uses light mayo and nonfat Greek yogurt. It’s got the same feeling of decadence, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat than the original.
If your partner isn’t vegetarian — or trying to eat more lean protein — tofu probably sounds as appealing as cardboard to them. Make this recipe, with its kapow! of savory, garlicky flavor plus a hint of sweetness, and your meat-eating beloved will probably have a second helping. It’s that good.
Traditional Bolognese sauce is meat-centric, packed with beef and/or pork or veal as well as pancetta, and it simmers for hours in a buttery, whole milk elixir. In other words, it’s a saturated fat-bomb. This pantry-based version, on the other hand, swaps red lentils and crushed walnuts for the meat — the lentils break down as they cook, and combined with the nuts they create a similar texture to ground meat. It gets an umami punch from caramelized tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. I won’t say this will fool your nonna, but it’ll certainly satisfy a meat-lover.
Nobody ever said chili has to include beef. Using boneless, skinless chicken breasts — and topping the chili with nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream — brings this hearty meal in at just 330 calories a bowl. But thanks to chopped green chilies and plenty of spices, it has enough flavor for twice that.
Recipes that use healthy cooking techniques
The ingredients you choose are important, of course, but so is what you do with them. Instead of deep-frying or pan-frying, these recipes recreate the crunch of popular dishes in other ways.
General Tso’s is my husband’s go-to order when we get Chinese food. Deep-fried bits of battered chicken — often dark meat, and often so covered in coating you can barely find the chicken — in a spicy-sweet sauce are undeniably yummy, but oof, does he feel heavy the next day. This clever reinvention bakes chunks of chicken coated in crushed cornflakes, and tosses them in a hoisin-based sauce. Add some broccoli, and it looks just like the real thing.
I haven’t had Chick-Fil-A in a few years now. Why would I, when I can recreate it at home without deep-frying? Marinating the chicken in pickle juice adds a ton of flavor, as do the spices in the coating. All you need are some air-fried waffle fries to complete the experience.
This classic Southern dish typically involves giving tenderized steak the fried-chicken treatment — hence the name. And it’s usually smothered in a creamy gravy. But if you pan-fry flour-dusted steak in just a few tablespoons of oil and top it with a gravy made from low-fat milk, your partner will never guess it has several hundred fewer calories than the original.
I saved what’s usually the most bonkers-indulgent recipe for last. I mean, I appreciate a good batch of chili cheese fries as much as the next person, but it would never occur to me to eat them on a regular day (or before 1 AM, honestly). And yet… When the “fries” are baked, spiralized sweet potatoes and the chili is made with lean ground turkey — and the whole thing clocks in at under an hour — I might just eat these every night.
What does healthy look like for you?
Whether you're just starting your healthy eating journey or you've got a Plan in place, we've got loads of inspiration on Yummly to help you out. Explore more ideas in these next articles.