It’s summertime, and while the living might be easy, choosing clean and healthy foods that still satisfy our cravings might not be as simple.
What better way to cool down on hot days than with an icy daiquiri, and how can anything other than a poor boy satiate a hankering for classic soul food? It might seem that there is no way around those sudden cravings for our favorite New Orleans treats, and while there’s nothing wrong with going for the real thing, it can’t be our go-to every time.
With the help of Molly Kimball, registered dietitian with Ochsner Fitness Center and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit, we propose alternatives to satisfy whatever your palate might be longing for. By electing for a cleaner version of whatever your temptation of choice might be — or by making small modifications to your usual order — you can still enjoy your favorite dishes while still being mindful of your health and nutrition.
Craving a Frozen Daiquiri? Try a Frosé
5 ounces of rose: 100-120 calories
32 oz daiquiri: 1,800 calories
When temperatures skyrocket, a frozen daiquiri can seem like the ideal treat — they’re icy, refreshing and sweet, and even the occasional brain freeze is welcome if it means cooling down.
What we often overlook, however, is the sugar crash: according to Kimball, a regular 32 oz. daiquiri contains around 1,800 sugary calories, which means you might find yourself more dehydrated and exhausted after consuming one.
Enter frosé, a frozen version of rosé that still delivers coolness and sweetness at just a fraction of the nutritional cost: there are about 100-120 calories in 5 ounces of rose — which means even lower values for frosé when ice is blended in. This thirst-quenching treat can be found at many local favorites, like Wayfare (garnished with basil and strawberry), Bayou Wine Garden, Tchoup Yard, Flamingo A-Go-Go and even a few daiquiri shops
Craving a Fried Seafood Poor Boy? Try a Grilled Chicken Poor Boy
Swapping out a poor boy for a different kind of poor boy might not seem like a major change, but the proteins we choose for our orders are the biggest determinates of nutritional value. Not only that, but the preparation of your protein can further impact sodium and fat levels.
Opt for chicken, catfish or shrimp for a leaner protein that doesn’t come with the high fat percentages of sausage and other processed meats — and get it grilled.
These healthier options also open doors for some non-traditional flavor profiles: Green Room Kukhnya makes the delicious Chicken Shashlik PoBoy, a grilled chicken sandwich that comes dressed with peppers, onions and Georgian spiced plum sauce.
ADDITIONAL TIPS: There’s no shame in a half-size order, and if you’re preparing these at home, try a low-fat mayo and make sure to load up with fresh veggies. Reduce the amount of bread with a bottom-only poor boy, and if you simply can’t resist a traditional sandwich, get a half-and-half order with your favorite meat on one side and a healthier option on the other.
Craving a Burger? Try a Beet Burger
A traditional dressed beef burger includes around 350 calories, 17 grams of fat, 497 MG of sodium.
According to a Mayo Clinic recipe a beet burger average around 221 calories, 5 grams of fat, 300 MG of sodium.
I was a nonbeliever, and then I tried it: The Beet Burger at Green Room Kukhnya, made from a blend of beets, lentils, rice, almonds and other herbs and spices, then topped with goat cheese and traditional veggie dressings and served on a grilled bun. Even though there’s no meat, the experience is the same as eating a traditional burger – you get all the richness and texture of a beef patty while substantially cutting back on fat intake.
If beets just aren’t your thing, The Uptown Burger at TruBurger comes dressed with garlic, arugula, goat cheese and tomatoes and is available either with a beef or veggie patty.
The legendary beer belly isn’t necessarily caused by the beer itself – it’s the calories and alcohol content. When you drink, the liver focuses on burning alcohol instead of fat, which means that larger amounts of alcohol consumption can eventually lead to a rounder midsection.
So which beer is the healthiest? The best option is a light beer, which has less alcohol and calories than other varieties, but does come with the sacrifice of richness and flavor. Instead, choosing a stout or porter before an amber or a lager will grant you more vitamins and minerals but may come with a higher alcohol content. No matter what you drink, monitoring the alcohol content will be the biggest factor in avoiding too high of a calorie intake.
Craving Spaghetti and Meatballs? Try a Turkey Meatballs and Zoodles
Measured by the plate, a serving of spaghetti and meatballs at a leading Italian food restaurant averages at about 1,037 calories, 1,980 MG of sodium.
Their turkey meatballs and zoodles (a kind of pasta made from zucchini) comes in 12 oz. servings that amount to only 250 calories, 370 MG of sodium.
There’s nothing quite like a perfectly-twirled forkful of spaghetti with spicy meatballs on the side. While this favorite dish is not the unhealthiest dish in this guide, there are still cleaner ways to enjoy it that don’t compromise on flavor.
Sweg’s Kitchen, with multiple locations in New Orleans and Metairie, offers an alternative that divides these nutritional values by more than half.
All the best elements of the original dish are still there, but each one is modified ever-so-slightly to give your diet that healthy edge.
Craving Hot Wings? Buffalo Cauliflower Nuggets
120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1,172 MG of sodium. *Still too high in sodium? Vegan dining spot Seed offers a delicious order of cauliflower nuggets with alternate choices of agave mustard, BBQ, and garlic aioli for dipping.
A small order of boneless wings (containing six pieces) contain 660 calories, 34 grams of fat, 1,540 MG of sodium.
This particular craving might not be local to New Orleans, but when it strikes, it means business. It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves, tuck-in-your-napkin, and dive-in kind of meal that goes best with a tall pitcher of beer — but it’s also high in sodium.
While not as good a source of protein, buffalo cauliflower wings are just as delicious. Even better, this alternative won’t require several hours of exercise to burn off.
ADDITIONAL TIPS: Want to decrease nutritional values even further? Molly Kimball recommends grilled chicken wings with Hanley’s Creole Ranch. The dip is made from a cayenne pepper mash and is free of GMOs. Even better, it’s only 75 calories and 90 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Try gluten-free or cauliflower crust.
This one is easy to satisfy without compromising flavors: substitute a regular crust for cauliflower or gluten-free crust. You get all the great flavors from your toppings and reduce your carbohydrate intake from an average of 30g to 14g.
Reginelli’s will prepare any of their specialty pizzas on a 12” cauliflower crust. Theo’s Pizza offers a gluten-free crust option, and red sauce can be replaced with olive oil or pesto.
Craving Ice Cream? Try Gelato
Nutrition facts will vary by gelateria, with calories typically ranging from 150 – 230 calories.
In a half- cup serving of ice cream 350 calories.
It’s impossible to address summer cravings without mentioning the big one: ice cream.
“I’m a big believer that there are no ‘bad’ ice creams, just bad choices when it comes to sizes and toppings,” said Molly Kimball.
Sure, don’t get a loaded sundae if you’re trying to be smarter about your sugar intake, but what about a regular cup or cone? With up to 350 calories in a half-cup serving of ice cream, it’s certainly possible to enjoy the real thing without putting too big a dent in your daily fat and calorie intake — but you might end up with a kid’s size scoop. And Kimball said that if your favorite parlor tends to be more generous with their scoops, those values might change.
Many people have already discovered alternatives like sorbet and non-dairy ice cream, but our personal favorite is Italian-style gelato, which is lower in both fat and calories. Some of the best in town can be found at Piccola Gelateria on Freret Street, which specializes in house-made artisanal gelato. Flavors include traditional favorites like Chocolate and Hazelnut and lighter flavors like Rose Petal and Sea Salt Caramel.
Try all-natural or no sugar added flavors.
It seems impossible to propose a decent alternative to a New Orleans snoball, so why bother trying? However, there is a way to enjoy these while staying health-conscious. Start with the obvious solution and forego any sugary add-ons like condensed milk or a stuffed ice cream center. If you need a little extra dimension, adding fresh fruit can go a long way in providing texture.
To further cut back on sugar intake, consider a No Sugar Added or sugar-free flavor. Favorite spot Hansen’s Sno-Bliz offers sugar-free variants of traditional flavors like Cream of Coffee, Cream of Strawberry, and Cream of Wedding Cake. There’s also a wide selection of all-natural flavors, including Honey Lavender, Ginger-Cayenne, Anise, Cardamom, Plain Chocolate and Vanilla Bean.