5 secrets to healthier spaghetti & meatballs
I’m a sucker for those makeover shows on TV. Dramatic results in seconds (or at least right after the commercial break)? Yes, I could use that kind of inspiration! After all, most of us strive to be the best, healthiest version of ourselves. Sometimes we just need a friendly expert to show us the light.
Enter EatingWell nutrition advisor Sylvia Geiger, M.S., R.D. (Registered Dietitian). She does a lot of the behind-the-scenes magic here at EatingWell, analyzing recipe nutrition and developing the healthy meal plans that our readers love so much. (See her latest 7-Day Meal Plan for Weight Loss here.)
I imagine Sylvia feels the same way about unhealthy food that I feel about the participants on What Not to Wear. “This meal needs a healthy makeover, people!”
Sylvia helped us give the old dinner standby spaghetti & meatballs a face-lift, with 48 percent fewer calories, 65 percent less saturated fat and two-thirds less sodium, while bumping up fiber, minerals and vitamins. Here's what she did:
Before: White spaghetti (2 cups) with 8 meatballs (6 ounces), sauce (3/4 cup) and Parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons), garlic bread, iceberg-lettuce salad. This high-carbohydrate meal has—on average—a whopping number of calories (1,495) and fat grams (70) and more than a day’s worth of sodium, yet it’s shy in vitamins, minerals and other good things, such as antioxidants.
What you’re eating: The average restaurant serving of spaghetti & meatballs heaped with grated cheese is enough food for two people. While red sauce and meatballs are a much better choice than creamy pasta carbonara or alfredo, too much of a good thing can still be fraught with nutritional pitfalls, most notably excess calories, sodium and saturated fat. Add a slab of garlic bread made with margarine and you’ve loaded up on trans fats as well.
Iceberg lettuce adds great crunch to salad but few nutrients. Token tomatoes and a smattering of carrots barely help. Coated with 3 tablespoons Italian dressing and dotted with seasoned croutons, a salad like this tops out at about 1,300 mg sodium, 20 grams fat and 265 calories.
Store-bought garlic bread, typically made with margarine and flavored salt, adds 320 calories, 20 grams fat and 500 mg of sodium to an already burdened meal.
- 1,495 calories
- 12 grams fiber
- 211 grams cholesterol
- 70 grams fat
- 20 grams saturated fat
- 3,233 milligrams sodium
After: Whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup) with 4 meatballs (3 ounces), sauce (1/2 cup) and Parmesan cheese (1 tablespoon), crusty bread, broccoli, salad of mixed greens. While the overall amount of food on this plate is similar, the makeup has changed dramatically.
Make a Healthy Pasta Dinner at Home:
Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs and More Healthy Pasta Recipes
How to Cook 20 Vegetables
7 Quick Mix-and-Match Salads & Dressings
How We Made It Healthier: Start with a smaller portion of whole-wheat pasta and meatballs, simplify the garlic bread, add a few stalks of broccoli and use dark green leafy lettuce in the salad. These modest changes result in huge improvements:
- Mesclun greens and more carrots, tomatoes and red peppers now make the salad rich in folate and vitamins A and C. Chopped nuts add back the crunch along with iron and magnesium, all for 145 calories.
- Two tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing provides plenty of flavor without drowning the salad. Homemade salad dressings have much less sodium and often more flavor than commercial versions.
- Broil a slice of crusty whole-wheat bread with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese: great flavor for a fraction of the fat, sodium and calories of the original.
- A serving of broccoli (1/2 cup) adds fiber, folate and vitamins A and C.
- Whole-wheat pasta has twice the fiber of white-flour pasta. It also retains trace minerals not added back during the enrichment process.
- 779 calories
- 14 grams fiber
- 77 grams cholesterol
- 34 grams fat
- 7 grams saturated fat
- 1,023 milligrams sodium
What classic comfort-food meal would you nominate for a healthy makeover?
More Recipe Makeovers from the EatingWell Test Kitchen:
- How to Make Healthier Creamy Mac & Cheese
- 4 Secrets to a Perfect Casserole
- How to Bake Healthier Cupcakes
- 5 Tips for Classic Fluffy Mashed Potatoes