published Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

How Southern cooks adapt favorite recipes for Weight Watchers

  • photo
    Stacy Minnick has taken her favorite recipes and adapted them to be Weight Watchers approved. For this meal she has prepared cheesy chicken bundles, fresh green beans, roasted vegetables and fresh fruit with dip.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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Stacy Minnick said growing up in rural Alabama, grocery stores were scarce and the family cooked what they grew in the garden.

"My grandmother is the one who taught me to cook. I grew up cooking almost like Paula Deen, using butter and bacon grease. I realized I just can't do that anymore. It's not healthy for my family," said the Chattanooga hairstylist.

So she joined Weight Watchers. But her goal of losing 20 pounds was secondary to learning better nutrition, how to cook healthier for her family and how to reduce portion size.

Minnick began taking recipes that are standards in all Southern cooks' recipe-card files and tweaking them to cut calories. Her ideas for cutting PointsPlus scored big points with her class members.

The cook admits her family was skeptical at first about serving as guinea pigs for her trial runs.

"They'd ask if it was going to taste like 'diet food.' So I quit talking to them about it and just did it. Most things they said were pretty good. They'd ask, 'Did you change something?' and I said I'd never tell."

She found her most successful substitutions were using ground turkey or chicken in place of ground beef.

"Especially in meatloaf. They actually liked the ground turkey better than the beef," she said.

Other changes were as simple as substituting light or fat-free products for original ingredients.

Minnick said she plans menus for three days at a time and does her prep work the night before.

She said sticking to this plan has given her more time in the evenings after work.

"It takes less time to cook fresh things -- we aren't boiling them to death with fat to put the flavor in. I have more time in the evenings with my family because I'm not spending as much time cooking."

Today she shares recipes for four dishes that she said she'd serve as one night's menu. Each dish is shown in its original, high-calorie version, then in her revamped, Weight Watchers-approved version. On this menu alone she cut the PointsPlus count from 49 to 7.

"These changes have saved on the points, ingredients and time. I'd say that's worth a second thought," she said.



Original Cheesy Chicken Bundles

4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup dried plain bread crumbs

1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter

Mix together bread crumbs, cheeses, salt and pepper (reserving 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese).

Dip chicken pieces in melted butter, then in cheese mixture. Tuck sides of chicken breast under to form individual bundles.

Place chicken bundles in shallow baking dish. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over bundles. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered at 350 F about 1 hour, or until chicken is crispy.

One chicken bundle: 13 PointsPlus.



Healthier Chicken Bundles

4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 1/4 cup crushed Wheaties

2 tablespoon shredded, fat-free, cheddar cheese

8 teaspoons reduced-fat Parmesan cheese

Nonstick cooking spray

Spray shallow baking dish and chicken pieces with nonstick cooking spray. Coat chicken with cereal. Tuck sides of chicken breast under to form individual bundles and place in baking dish.

Sprinkle with cheddar, then Parmesan. Spray with nonstick cooking spray once more.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 F about 1 hour, or until golden brown.

One chicken bundle: 5 PointsPlus.



Green Bean Casserole

1/2 cup butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 (8-ounce) package fresh mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 (28-ounce) cans French-style green beans, drained

2 cups french-fried onions

Lightly grease a 2 1/2-quart baking dish.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Gradually stir in milk, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Stir in next 5 ingredients, and spoon into prepared baking dish.

Bake 25 minutes, at 350 F, for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with french-fried onions, and bake 15 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serves 12.

One serving: 8 PointsPlus.



Fresh Green Beans

2 pounds fresh green beans

3 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon ham base

2 tablespoons minced dried onion

1 teaspoon pepper

Place all in slow cooker and cover with water. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. (Cooking on low will make a more tender bean.)

One cup: 0 PointsPlus.



Vegetable Casserole

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 stick oleo, melted

1 cup Ritz crackers

1 package frozen mixed vegetables

Cook frozen vegetables as directed; drain well. Mix first 5 ingredients with vegetables.

Pour into baking dish; crush crackers and spread on top. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Serves 6.

One serving: 20 PointsPlus.



Roasted Vegetables

1 head cauliflower

2 bunches broccoli florets

1 small bag carrots

Nonstick cooking spray

Salt

Pepper

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Wash and chop vegetables into bite-size pieces. Spray large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place vegetables evenly onto baking sheet.

Spray vegetables with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle, lightly, with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Bake uncovered at 450 F for 15 minutes.

One cup: 0 PointsPlus.



Fruit Salad

1 can chunk pineapple, drained

1 can cherry pie filling

1 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

1 can Eagle Brand milk

1 8-ounce Cool Whip

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate. Serves 10.

One serving: 8 PointsPlus.



Fresh Fruit With Dip

8 cups assorted fresh fruit

Dip:

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup light, sugar-free, strawberry preserves

2 teaspoons orange zest (optional)

1 1/2 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed

Combine sour cream, preserves and orange zest, if using. Fold in whipped topping until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with fruit.

Note: Any flavor of fruit preserves may be substituted for strawberry.

Half-cup fruit and 2 tablespoons dip: 2 PointsPlus.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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