500 or Less: A Long Overdue Recap

Nothing like being an ENTIRE month behind on posting, right??? Yikes.

Quick recap: In January I challenged myself to scale back my cooking to try to make every meal 500 calories or less. Incentivized by scanning social media posts about New Year’s resolutions and the rest of the world doing some kind of Whole30/paleo/Weight Watchers/Jenny Craig/21 Day Fix/you-name-it wellness craze, I felt inspired… not to mention I didn’t want to be the only jerk posting pictures of fried chicken while everyone else was eating a salad! 🙂 Despite my inspiration, I was a bit anxious to go down the “diet food” path again.

The problem was, I didn’t realize that “diet food” and “mindful cooking” are two VERY different things. Every time I’d go the “diet food” route, I’d be eating meals that were maybe 300 calories and left me starving, unfulfilled and angry at consuming 300 very bland and unseasoned calories to begin with when I could have just had some delicious french fries.

So, I made the food I love – but with small modifications. I realized where the calories crept in and where they were hiding in plain site. Here are the top three things I discovered along the way:

  1. Don’t Eyeball! Yes, eyeballing is fine generally speaking because cooking is so forgiving. But if you want to scale back, better measure out that tablespoon of olive oil. I quickly realized that the scant teaspoon of oil I *thought* I was pouring out into a pan was actually about a generous tablespoon. No big deal… unless you want to TRIPLE those calories (120 calories for a tablespoon vs. 40 for a teaspoon). This same rule applies to measuring portions and weighing ingredients. Buy a kitchen scale. You’ll use it all the time!
  2. Feed Your Cravings. One day I woke up and thought, “man I want some french toast.” Now mentally, that equated to some sort of delicious 1-2″ thick slice of challah bread or brioche gently tossed in milk, sizzled in butter and unabashedly drizzled with Grade B dark Vermont maple syrup. OK… no. But I modified it, used some regular sized whole grain toast, measured (see above!) my delicious syrup and supplemented my plate with some delicious berries that left me feeling fuller longer than I would have if I had just eaten a mountain of carbs.
  3. Discover What You Don’t Miss. The thing that surprised me most was how many times I was able to remove ingredients, scale back quantities or swap them for something else, and how many calories I could save without noticing a taste difference. Take the kale, lentil and avocado salad below. The original recipe called for double the amount of grapeseed oil. I saved 500 calories just cutting that in half – which is an entire meal in and of itself! Here’s another example – every week we’d get Korean rice bowls from a local takeout place we love and they’d ask me if I wanted sesame oil drizzled on top as part of the final seasoning. It’s recommended and tastes great… but why on earth did I need that extra 120 calories? Was a drizzle of sesame oil going to change my world? Nope. And now that I order it sans oil, do I miss it? Take one guess.

What started off as a little experiment has really changed the way I cook forever. I still think there’s a place for the deep fryer. I don’t think about this stuff when I go out for a nice dinner. And I will occasionally make that french toast with Challah because, let’s face it, Challah is the best bread in the entire world. But the rest of the time I’m cooking, I’m more careful, thoughtful and mindful in the kitchen. With that, here are five additional recipes that rose to the top this month.



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