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Pandemic baking aside, food has become quite the obsession, and many people complain of putting on extra pounds in lockdown. With the vaccine in sight, healthy eating is top of mind for me over the next few months to replace the comfort food I’ve been consuming. Cutting fat and sugar is one way – the following recipes are lower in calories and fat – and see more tips in my Personal Chef column on eating healthier without sacrificing flavour.

Roman Spinach Soup

Serves 4

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Buffalo mozzarella, which has a sweet nutty flavour, is half the fat of regular mozzarella. Substitute ¼ cup grated Parmesan if you don’t have any, and use a package of frozen spinach if that’s what’s on hand. The soup is thickened by the cooked garlic, giving it a robust, interesting flavour.

  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 lb spinach, washed, stemmed and sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces buffalo mozzarella, crumbled

Combine leeks, garlic and broth. Bring to a boil then simmer covered for 10 minutes, uncover and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes or until garlic cloves are very soft.

Purée soup, return to pot and add spinach. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Season well with salt and pepper and lemon juice. If soup is too thick, add a little more stock.

Serve soup in bowls, crumbling mozzarella into each serving.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 6

This colourful and tasty mixture of sweet potatoes and lentils makes a healthy and bright soup that’s low in calories. Lentils add protein to the mix, and the spicing, although not hot, adds a depth of flavour. Vegetable stock is available at many supermarkets; chicken stock can also be used. You can also use water, but the taste would not be as robust.

  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup red lentils
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup yogurt, optional
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup sage leaves

Combine onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, ginger, chili flakes and cinnamon. Add lentils and stir everything together.

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Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are very soft and lentils have exploded.

Puree soup in food processor or with hand blender. Return to pot, stir in yogurt and season with salt and pepper. Stir in lime juice and maple syrup. Reheat when needed.

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat and fry sage leaves for 30 seconds or until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Use to garnish soup.

Low-fat Fish and Chips

Serves 4

Nothing beats deep-fried fish, but here is a lower-fat version for when the craving strikes. Serve with lemon slices and a salad.

  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 6-ounce pieces cod or haddock, skinned

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Season buttermilk with salt and pepper. Combine dill, flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper in a dish. Dip fillets into buttermilk. Dip each side into flour mixture and shake off any excess.

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and oil the paper. Bake fish for 12 to 15 minutes, until coating is slightly browned and white juices just appear.

Oven-baked chips

Cut 3 russet potatoes into thick French fries. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bake at 425 F for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size, turning occasionally or until golden brown. (If you are making them in the same oven as the fish, you can bake at 400 F, but note it will require a longer bake time.)

Oven-poached Black Cod

Serves 4

A drop-dead gorgeous recipe – low in calories and high in taste. Substitute halibut or grouper for black cod if desired. Large scallops work too.

  • 2 12-ounce fillets black cod
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed ginger root
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated
  • 2 star anise, ground, or ½ teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 250 grams (4 oz) shiitake mushrooms, quartered
  • ¼ cup slivered green onion
  • ½ cup coriander sprigs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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Place cod in a baking dish in a single layer.

Combine oil, soy sauce, water, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, lemon rind and star anise. Pour over fish and cover with foil.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish is opaque and just cooked.

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add shiitake mushrooms and fry until just limp, about 2 minutes. Stir in green onions and coriander and remove from heat.

Place fish on a platter and surround with mushrooms. Pour over cooking liquid.

Beef and Barley Skillet Supper

Serves 4

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This is a healthy one-dish meal that takes minutes to put together. Switch up the vegetables depending on what you have on hand. Serve with a salad.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 cups boiling water or stock
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add beef, thyme and red pepper flakes. Sauté beef until browned, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add onions, peppers, garlic, carrot and zucchini. Combine with meat and sauté 2 minutes. Add barley and soy sauce and mix with meat and vegetables.

Pour over boiling water and stir together. Bring to a boil, cover skillet and cook on low heat for 45 minutes or until barley is tender. Add more water if needed.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir-fried Chicken, Green Beans and Lentils

Serves 4

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Slightly spiced and utterly delicious, this dish is quick and healthy, too. Lentils du Puy, caviar lentils and black lentils are all small dark lentils, mostly grown in Saskatchewan. They are generally available in gourmet or bulk stores, but if you can’t find them, substitute regular green lentils.

  • 1 cup lentils du Puy
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 slices lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon curry paste or powder
  • 4 ounces (125 g) green beans
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons coriander, chopped

Place lentils, water and lemon slices in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain. Discard lemon slices and season lentils with salt and pepper.

Cut chicken breasts in ¼-inch slices. Season with salt and pepper. Heat wok on high heat. Add oil and heat for 1 minute more. Add onions and fry for about 2 minutes or until soft but not brown. Stir in garlic, ginger and curry paste and fry 30 seconds.

Add chicken and beans and stir fry for 3 minutes or until chicken is browned but pink in centre. Stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes longer or until chicken and beans are cooked through. Stir in yogurt and coriander. Serve over lentils.

Quinoa Risotto

Serves 4 to 6

You can buy mixtures of several colours of quinoa, which gives this recipe a splash of colour. Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain, making it an essential part of a vegetarian diet. Using a mixture of risotto rice and quinoa makes a festive side dish for the mushrooms. This is not the traditional way of making risotto, but it works very well.

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  • ½ cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups hot vegetable stock or water
  • 2 cups roasted diced squash or sweet potato
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup Parmesan shavings

Place water in a small pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 12 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Set aside to steam, covered, while preparing rice.

Heat oil in a wide heavy-bottom soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add rice and sauté until rice becomes whiter and feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Add onion and sauté another 2 minutes or until softened.

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 12 to 14 minutes or until rice is al dente.

Add squash and quinoa along with another splash of stock if mixture seems dry. Stir until they are fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with shaved Parmesan.

To roast squash

Toss diced squash with 2 tablespoon olive oil, place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 F for 15 to 18 minutes or until tender and golden. Toss once halfway through cooking.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

Serves 3 to 4

Broccoli and cauliflower are always a good combination, but their flavours really come out with this creamy anchovy drizzle.

  • ½ head broccoli
  • ½ head cauliflower
  • ½ cup red onion, chopped
Creamy anchovy drizzle
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 anchovies, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • ½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Cut florets from broccoli and cauliflower. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add cauliflower florets. Boil for 2 minutes, add broccoli and boil 2 minutes longer or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water until cold. Pat dry.

Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, Dijon mustard, vinegar, anchovies and garlic. Whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss with vegetable mixture and red onions. If too thick, thin with a little water.

Scatter parsley and pumpkin seeds over the mixture.

Low-fat Caesar Salad Dressing

ballycroy /iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Makes about ¾ cup

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A salad dressing with half the calories of the regular one but plenty of taste. I usually have this at the ready in the fridge. It keeps a week.

  • ½ cup ricotta
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • ¼ cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan, grated

Process ricotta, freshly ground pepper, anchovy fillets, skim milk, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and olive oil in food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in Parmesan. Season to taste.

To make low-fat croutons

Cube slices of bread. Place on baking sheet and bake at 400 F for 5 to 8 minutes, turning once.

Fudge Brownies

Irrin0215 /iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Makes 32 small pieces or 16 regular

This brownie recipe is based on the one at Canyon Ranch, a luxurious spa in Arizona. It is super delicious, and a small piece goes a long way. Use baby food for the prune puree or make your own, but thin it out with some water. If it is too thick, it will not amalgamate properly.

  • 2 tablespoons 70 per cent dark chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons prune puree
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Lightly spray an 8-inch by 8-inch pan with canola oil and set aside. Line with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate, butter and oil in a pot over low heat. Add prune puree and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sift together ½ cup sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites and remaining ¼ cup sugar until soft peaks are formed.

Gently fold half of flour mixture into chocolate mixture and mix well. Gently fold into egg-white mixture. Fold in remaining flour mixture to egg whites.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth out and bake for 30 minutes or until slightly wobbly in the middle.

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Remove from oven. Cool. Cut into 1-inch by 2-inch pieces for a small serving.

Winter Fruit Salad

Serves 6

Winter fruits make an excellent salad when they are marinated with a tasty dressing. Blood oranges are available from the end of January through April, and their intense ruby colour makes an attractive dressing.

  • 2 blood or navel oranges
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 3 kiwi fruit
  • 1 cup seedless red or green grapes


  • ½ cup blood orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped preserved ginger, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Peel oranges, removing all the white pith. Cut into sections. Peel and thinly slice bananas. Scoop cantaloupe into balls with melon baller, or dice melon, and add the fruit to a bowl. Peel and thinly slice kiwi fruit, toss with grapes and add to bowl. Combine blood orange juice, sugar, ginger, lime juice and cardamom in small bowl. Drizzle over salad and chill thoroughly before serving.

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