5 Fast-Food Favorites You Can Make Healthier at Home

By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine

Restaurant meals taste good and eating out sure is convenient. But some of the dishes we've come to love are costing our waistlines big-time. For example, the Olive Garden's Fettuccine Alfredo serves up as many calories as some people should eat in an entire day and far more fat and saturated fat than is recommended in a day. Instead of cutting yourself off completely, try to make some of your favorite dishes at home. You may be surprised just how easy it is to make your fast-food and restaurant favorites at home and how many calories and grams of fat you'll save. EatingWell's healthy makeover of Fettuccine Alfredo, for example, has less than a third of the calories and reduced the amount of fat and saturated fat to a sixth of what is in the Olive Garden version.

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Below are 5 popular dishes at chain restaurants, recipes to make them healthier at home and a look at how many calories and how much fat you save by eating your homemade version instead of eating it at the restaurant. (You'll save money too!)

Fast-Food Favorite: Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo
Nutrition stats: 1,220 calories, 75 grams fat, 47 grams saturated fat

Recipe to Make It Healthier at Home: EatingWell's Fettuccine Alfredo
Nutrition stats: 379 calories, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat
What you save: 841 calories, 64 grams of fat, 41 grams of saturated fat

We replaced the copious amounts of butter and heavy cream used in traditional Alfredo sauces and instead we blend garlic-infused broth, reduced-fat sour cream and Parmesan cheese for a low-fat Alfredo sauce. With plenty of fiber from whole-wheat pasta and only 6 grams of saturated fat per serving, you can put Alfredo back into your pasta repertoire.

Related Link: Tortellini Primavera & More Italian Favorites Made Healthier

EatingWell's Fettuccine Alfredo
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 35 minutes

3/4 cup vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth (see Tips for Two)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
4 ounces whole-wheat fettuccine
1 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks
2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Combine broth and garlic cloves in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the garlic cloves are soft, about 15 minutes.
2. After the garlic has simmered about 10 minutes, cook fettuccine in the boiling water, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Drop in zucchini and cook until the fettuccine is just tender, about 1 minute more.
3. Meanwhile, transfer the garlic and broth to a blender. Process until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. (Use caution when blending hot liquids; see Tip.) Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add cornstarch mixture; whisk it until slightly thickened, about 15 seconds. Remove from the heat and whisk in sour cream, nutmeg and pepper. Return the pot to very low heat to keep the sauce warm. (Do not boil.)
4. Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan; toss to coat well. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately, passing the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan separately.
Makes 2 servings, 1 1/2 cups each.

Per serving: 379 calories; 11 g fat (6 g sat, 3 g mono); 33 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 21 g protein; 8 g fiber; 628 mg sodium; 326 mg potassium.

Tips for Two: Leftover canned broth keeps up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in your freezer. Leftover broth in aseptic packages keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Add to soups, sauces, stews; use for cooking rice and grains; add a little when reheating leftovers to prevent them from drying out.

Pureeing hot liquids: Hot liquids can splatter out of a blender when it's turned on. To avoid this, remove the center piece of the lid. Loosely cover the hole with a folded kitchen towel and turn the blender on. Better airflow will keep the contents from spewing all over the kitchen-and yourself.

Fast-Food Favorite: Chipotle burrito with steak, beans and cheese
Nutrition stats: 700 calories, 25 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat

Recipe to Make It Healthier at Home: EatingWell's Steak Burritos
Nutrition stats: 471 calories 16 g fat, 6 g saturated fat
What you save: 229 calories, 9 g fat, 7 g saturated fat

It's easy to get carried away with a burrito. There are just too many choices and too little room in that tortilla to squeeze in the meat, cheese, rice, beans, two kinds of salsa . . . you get the picture. And that's why burritos often end up swimming in calories-they're just too darn big. EatingWell's healthier Steak Burrito was inspired by San Francisco's super burritos that come packed with meat, beans, rice, cheese, guacamole and salsa. We've made this home-style version a whole lot healthier with brown rice and whole-wheat tortillas and a much more reasonable serving size that still hits the spot.

Steak Burritos
Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
Cost per serving: under $4

1/2 cup prepared fresh salsa
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup instant brown rice
1 15-ounce can black beans, preferably low-sodium, rinsed
12 ounces strip steak, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 8-inch tortillas, preferably whole-wheat
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup prepared guacamole
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine salsa and water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Stir in rice, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in beans, return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes more.
2. Meanwhile, sprinkle steak with pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. To assemble, divide the steak among the tortillas and top with equal amounts of cheese, guacamole, cilantro and the rice mixture. Roll each tortilla up into a burrito.

Per serving: 471 calories; 16 g fat (6 g sat, 5 g mono); 63 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 31 g protein; 7 g fiber; 600 mg sodium; 279 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Zinc (29% daily value), Folate (27% dv), Calcium & Iron (23% dv), Magnesium (18% dv).

Fast-Food Favorite: Red Lobster New England Lobster Roll
Nutrition stats: 590 calories, 34 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat

Recipe to Make It Healthier at Home: EatingWell's Grilled Lobster Rolls
Nutrition stats: 310 calories 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat
What you save: 280 calories, 26 g fat, 3 g saturated fat

If you've ever been to the Maine coast, chances are you've had a run-in with a lobster roll. Lobster meat is sweet and mild and doesn't need tons of embellishments. The meat is coated in either butter or mayo, tossed with bits of celery and enjoyed on a hot-dog roll. What makes it great is the simplicity-but it's easy to get carried away when two of the four ingredients are notoriously high in fat and calories. We offer a healthier alternative where we grill lobster tails and toss the meat with peas and only a touch of low-fat mayonnaise. It may not be traditional per se, but it saves you a ton of calories and fat-and it's delicious. If you want to make it even simpler, skip grilling the tails and buy already-cooked lobster meat from your seafood counter.


Grilled Lobster Rolls
Healthy Weight Healthy Heart
Active time: 40 minutes | Total: 40 minutes

2 10- to 12-ounce lobster tails, thawed if frozen (Uncooked lobster tails are available in the freezer section of most supermarkets.)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 whole-wheat hot-dog buns
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
2. Lay lobster tails on a cutting board with the soft side of the shell facing up. Cut the tails in half lengthwise through the shell using kitchen shears, starting from the fan (see Kitchen Notes). Run your fingertips along the inside of the shell to loosen the meat in the shell. Brush the meat with oil.
3. Lay the tails on the grill, cut-side down, and cook until the meat is lightly charred and the shell is beginning to turn red, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and continue grilling until the meat is opaque and cooked through and the shell is completely red, 2 to 4 minutes more. Transfer the lobster to a cutting board. Meanwhile, toast buns over indirect heat, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. While the lobster cools, bring a small pan of water to a boil. Cook snow peas until bright green, 1 minute. Drain, refresh under cold water and slice very thinly (almost shredded). When the lobster is cool enough to handle, remove the shell and coarsely chop the meat.
5. Mix celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot, mustard, tarragon, pepper, salt and garlic powder in a large bowl. Stir in the chopped lobster and snow peas. Divide the salad among the toasted buns.

Makes 4 servings, about 1 cup salad each.

Per serving: 310 calories; 8 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 86 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 30 g protein; 4 g fiber; 665 mg sodium; 386 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Zinc (53% daily value), Magnesium (23% dv), Vitamin C (20% dv), Iron (15% dv).

Tip: To defrost frozen lobster tails or crab legs, let thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Kitchen Note: How to Shell a Lobster:
1. Grasp claw at the knuckle, near the body. With a firm twist, remove the claw from the body. Repeat with the second claw.
2. To remove claw meat, crack through the claw shell using a pair of kitchen shears. (Alternatively, crack with a lobster cracker.)
3. Holding the body in one hand and firmly grasping the tail in the other, twist and gently pull the tail from the body. (Discard the body.)
4. Cut the tail in half lengthwise with kitchen shears, starting from the underside. Serve halves in the shell or remove the meat.

Fast Food Favorite: P.F. Chang's Sweet & Sour Chicken with a side of white rice
Nutrition stats: 590 calories, 19 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

Recipe to Make It Healthier at Home: EatingWell's Sweet & Sour Chicken with Brown Rice

Nutrition stats: 469 calories, 10 fat, 1 g saturated fat
What you save: 121 calories, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat

In about the time it takes to order and pick up Chinese takeout, you can make this much healthier version of sweet & sour chicken. Our version loses all the saturated fat that comes from deep-frying, along with the extra sugar and salt. We serve ours with brown rice, which gives you an added boost of fiber.

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Sweet & Sour Chicken with Brown Rice
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 35 minutes

2 cups instant brown rice
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated or minced fresh ginger
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 cups bite-size pieces of vegetables, such as snow peas, broccoli and bell peppers
1 5-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

1. Prepare rice according to the package directions.
2. Meanwhile, whisk vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch and apricot preserves in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink on the outside and just starting to brown in spots, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.
4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, garlic and ginger to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds. Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add vegetables, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender-crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in water chestnuts and the chicken. Whisk the reserved sauce and add to the pan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is heated through, about 1 minute. Serve with the rice.

Makes 4 servings (about 1 1/2 cups stir-fry & 1/2 cup rice each).
Per serving: 469 calories; 10 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 68 mg cholesterol; 62 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 7 g fiber; 709 mg sodium; 408 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (320% daily value), Vitamin A (70% dv), Fiber (28% dv).

Fast-Food Favorite: Macaroni Grill Caesar Salad
Nutrition stats: 420 calories, 39 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat

Recipe to Make It Healthier at Home: EatingWell's Shrimp Caesar Salad
Nutrition stats: 312 calories, 16 g fat, 4 g saturated fat
What you save: 108 calories, 23 g fat, 4 g saturated fat

Salads may seem innocent enough in the nutrition department, but calories are lurking in them everywhere-especially the dressings. Caesar salad is no exception. Its creamy, mayo-laden dressing can pack quite a punch calorically, but it's easy enough to make your own healthy version at home. Here we skip the mayo altogether and whip up a dressing from lemon juice, olive oil and flavorful Asiago cheese. We even add shrimp to our version and it still comes in around 100 calories less than a restaurant version.

Shrimp Caesar
Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 20 minutes | To make ahead: The dressing (Step 1) will keep, in a jar in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. Shake vigorously just before tossing with the salad.

3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus 4 lemon wedges for garnish
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 anchovies, coarsely chopped, or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or to taste
1 small clove garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 cups chopped hearts of romaine (about 2 hearts)
1 pound peeled cooked shrimp (21-25 per pound; thawed if frozen)
1 cup croutons, preferably whole-grain

1. Place lemon juice, mustard, anchovies (or anchovy paste) and garlic in a food processor; process until smooth. With the motor running, gradually add oil; process until creamy. Add 1/4 cup Asiago cheese and pepper; pulse until combined.
2. Combine romaine, shrimp and croutons in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates, top with the remaining 1/4 cup Asiago cheese and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Makes 4 servings, about 2 1/2 cups each.

Per serving: 312 calories; 16 g fat (4 g sat, 8 g mono); 235 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 2 g fiber; 669 mg sodium; 368 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (50% daily value), Vitamin C (45% dv), Iron (30% dv), Calcium (20% dv).

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By Hilary Meyer

Hilary Meyer
Hilary Meyer

EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

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