5 Low-Calorie Meals & 10 Healthy Hacks to Get You Through the Workweek

Low-calorie meals: sliced pork with a side of asparagus

Counting calories is never fun, but with a handful of flavorful recipes and helpful health hacks, you can be well fed without feeling fed up. From tasty tacos to a unique twist on pizza, we’ve gathered tasty dinner recipes that keep calories low but flavor high. Plus, we're sharing some top tips to ensure you’ll enjoy low-calorie meals whether you're cooking at home or dining out.  

5 Can't Miss Low-Calorie Recipes

Low-calorie meals: a fork and knife on a tabletop

Achieving your low-calorie eating goals can be a challenge, but these healthy recipes prove you don't need to sacrifice taste to reach your target. 

1. Barbecue Pork Tacos With Apple Slaw

Low-calorie meals: Barbecue Pork Tacos With Apple Slaw
Image: Taste of Home

Calories: 396 (two tacos with one cup of slaw)

Simple to make and oh-so tasty, these barbecue pork tacos with apple slaw will add a flavorful, low-calorie kick to any weeknight (or weekend). Simply simmer a couple of pork tenderloins in the slow cooker while you prep a quick slaw of cabbage, apples, cider vinegar, lime, and a few other ingredients. Before you know it, it's taco Tuesday any night of the week. 

2. Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce Chicken Recipe

Low-calorie meals: Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce Chicken Recipe
Image: Diethood

Calories: 262 (per piece)

This quick and easy recipe for an Italian-style one-pan chicken dinner is not only ridiculously flavorful, it takes just about 30 minutes to make. With a handful of ingredients, including chicken breasts, garlic, onion, vegetable broth, and sun-dried tomatoes, you’ll have a low-fat, low-calorie meal that’s perfect for a busy weeknight or a special occasion at home.

3. 15-Minute Sweet Potato Salmon Cakes

Low-calorie meals: 15-Minute Sweet Potato Salmon Cakes
Image: Ambitious Kitchen

Calories: 196 (per salmon cake)

This low-calorie recipe for sweet potato salmon cakes makes a great lunch or dinner when you're really pressed for time. Throw peeled sweet potato, canned wild salmon, an egg, and panko bread crumbs into a food processor, then mold the mixture into patties and sauté in a pan. Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, this easy dish is even better with a dash of cumin, garlic, and cayenne to complement the sweetness.  

4. Vegan Portobello Pizzas

Low-calorie meals: Vegan Portobello Pizzas
Image: Minimalist Baker

Calories: 165 (per piece)

Who says you can't have pizza when you’re going low cal? This healthy recipe for vegan portobello pizzas is just what you need when a greasy slice of pie isn't an option. Using just eight ingredients and one baking sheet, this gluten-free, plant-based take on the fast-food favorite hits all the marks — savoriness, crispiness (thanks to the veggies), and chewiness (courtesy of those meaty mushrooms). 

5. Easy Pad Thai Zoodles

Low-calorie meals: Easy Pad Thai Zoodles
Image: The Iron You

Calories: 307 (per serving)

A much healthier alternative to takeout, this easy recipe for pad thai zoodles centers around spiralized zucchini noodles. While the recipe calls for eggs and fish sauce, you can easily vegan-ize it by omitting the eggs and using soy sauce instead. If you want added protein, feel free to mix in tofu, chickpeas, tuna, or chicken. You can also throw in red peppers or any veggies you have on hand. 

10 Health Hacks for Low-Calorie Meals

Low-calorie meals: a vegetable and grain bowl
Image: Ella Olsson

When you’re going low calorie, everything can seem like it’s off limits. But with these easy health hacks, you’ll be able to stock your kitchen for success and whip up something tasty (and healthy!) in a pinch.

1.  Go Lean 

Choosing lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken, fish, or pork tenderloin, is a surefire way to cut calories. You don't have to go vegan and give up red meat entirely, just opt for leaner cuts and scale back your meat intake. You can also try more plant-based proteins, like tempeh and tofu, which have fewer calories and fat, plus no cholesterol.

2. Go 'Shrooming 

Studies have found that replacing meat with mushrooms offers the same satiation and can significantly enhance weight loss, weight maintenance, and overall health. If you don't want to completely replace meat, simply reduce whatever amount of meat you're using by half and add mushrooms instead. For example, if you need one pound of ground beef for tacos, mix a half pound of meat with a half pound of finely chopped mushrooms. 

3. Load Up on Veggies 

You already know that eating vegetables is good for your health ⁠— they’re full of fiber and nutrients yet low in calories. In fact, the updated USDA food pyramid recommends that you eat vegetables more than any other food group. Instead of relegating them to a side dish, try planning a veg-centric meal such as a veggie stir-fry, soup, or salad.

4. Limit Your Dairy Intake 

Swap out dairy cheese and whole milks ⁠— which are high in calories and saturated fat ⁠— with cheeses and milks that are made from tree nuts such as almonds and cashews. Tree nut cheeses and milks are generally low in calories and have no saturated fats or cholesterol. That said, authentic Parmesan cheese is naturally low in fat, lactose-free, and free of carbs.

5. Beware of Dressings and Sauces 

You might think you're being healthy by having kale salad every week, but many calories lurk in dressings — especially creamy ones like ranch or Caesar. A great low-calorie alternative is simply drizzling olive oil and balsamic vinegar over your greens with a little salt and pepper to taste. You could also throw in some Dijon or brown mustard for an instant mustard vinaigrette. Mustard also makes an excellent low-calorie substitute for aioli and other calorie-laden sauces. 

6. Stock Up 

Reduce calories by using vegetable stock instead of oil or butter when cooking. You'll still be able to sauté meat or veggies with plenty of flavor, but you'll end up with far fewer calories. Just remember to use non-stick cookware to avoid food getting stuck on the pan.

7. Say Farewell to Frying 

Grill or bake your food instead of frying it. Fish, chicken, and veggies all taste great roasted in the oven or grilled on the barbie. And it doesn't get better than the Tovala Oven, which can steam, bake, and broil your food with the touch of a button or scan of a barcode. Whether you're cooking Brussels sprouts, pork chops, butternut squash, or grilled chicken breasts, this convenient countertop oven ensures a healthy meal every time. 

8. Replace Refined Pastas 

Most pastas these days are refined, which means more calories, high carbs, and low fiber. Opt for low-calorie, low-carb alternatives like zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, cauliflower rice, broccoli rice, and quinoa. If you don't want to say good-bye to pasta entirely, no problem. Studies have found that whole-grain pastas promote fullness and reduce appetite. 

9. Eat the Right Kinds of Fats 

Sure, you should avoid saturated fats and steer clear of trans fats that are found in fast food and processed snacks, but healthy fats found in avocados, nuts, chia seeds, and salmon can be part of a wholesome, low-calorie diet.  

10. Don't Drink Your Calories 

Drinks are often a forgotten source of calories, so even if you're having a low-calorie dinner, adding a cocktail, soda, or fruit juice can send calories (and sugar levels) soaring. Naturally flavored, unsweetened waters are a great option when you want something a bit more exciting than plain H₂O. 

Low-Calorie Meals Done Right

Low-calorie meals: a Tovala meal of salmon with white beans and leafy greens

When you're cutting calories, the way you cook your food plays a key role in your success. While using a steam-convection oven like the Tovala Oven is an important first step, you still might not have the time or energy to pore through recipes and cook your meals from scratch. That's where Tovala Meals come in.

Tovala Meals are crafted by real chefs using only fresh, high-quality ingredients. No artificial ingredients are ever used and meal plans work for a variety of diets, including low-calorie, high-protein, low-carb, gluten-free, and vegetarian lifestyles. 

What's more, you won't have to bother counting calories because each Tovala Meal is perfectly portioned at 400-800 calories. Oh, did we mention the total time to make your Tovala Meal from start to finish is just 20 minutes? When it comes to low-effort, low-calorie meals, you can’t go wrong with that.