Hungry Girl: How to Lighten Up Fast Food Burgers

03/30/2015 at 11:44 AM ET

Hungry Girl
Lew Robertson/Getty; Inset:Courtesy Lisa Lillien

Lisa Lillien is the author of the popular Hungry Girl website and email newsletter, featuring smart, funny advice on guilt-free eating. She is also the author of nine books, six of which debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Monday for slimmed-down celebrity recipes and more.

Crazy-indulgent burgers are tough to resist. There are advertisements everywhere for hamburgers smothered in cheese, bacon, and thrilling sauces — and you’ve gotta have ’em! Or do you? Here are my best tips for making better-for-you versions at home:

The patty: Where it all begins. Don’t think beef is out of the question; find some extra-lean ground beef (4% fat or less), and make classic patties. Or choose lean ground turkey (7% fat or less); the extra-lean turkey is just too dry. Just add some egg whites and seasonings, form your patties, and cook ’em up! Or snag a box of frozen vegetarian patties — Boca Original Vegan Veggie Burgers ROCK, and each patty has a mere 70 calories.

The bun: You’d be shocked to know how many calories come from the bun. The bun that Carl’s Jr.’s All-Natural Burger comes on — without anything on it — has around 300 calories and 9g fat. WHY? At home, opt for a small hamburger bun with around 120 calories, or get a pack of 100-calorie flat sandwich buns. Or skip the bun completely, and wrap up your burger and fixings in large lettuce leaves!

Heavy cheeses: Cheese is too good to skip altogether, but some cheeses are better than others. Regular cheese is too high in fat; fat-free cheese doesn’t melt or taste too great. The middle ground — reduced-fat cheese slices — is where you wanna be. And Sargento is your best bet. The brand even has Ultra Thin Slices, if you’d rather slim down with portion control than fat content.

Creamy sauces: The mother of all fast-food sauces is ranch dressing — make a simple swap by mixing dry ranch dressing seasoning into fat-free Greek yogurt. DONE. When it comes to spicy sauces, just stir some hot sauce (HEY, sriracha) into light mayo or some of that ranch-yogurt mixture. If chipotle mayo is your weakness, you must have a bottle of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce on hand at all times. Guacamole? Mash up a small amount of avocado (weigh out an ounce, which has 45 calories), and season it up.

Bacon: No one is impervious to the lure of bacon. But I skip it while I’m out, because I know I can make a swap at home and top my burger with center-cut (read: less fatty) bacon or turkey bacon. (P.S. I’ve recently discovered that tempeh bacon is also amazing.) What if there’s a sauce that has bacon IN it that you’re trying to replicate, like the one found on Burger King’s Spicy BLT Whopper? Precooked crumbled bacon is the answer. Find it with the salad toppings at the grocery store.

Fried toppings: First, ask yourself this: Is it worth it? Will you even appreciate the fried onion rings while they’re mingled in with the myriad other toppings? Wouldn’t regular sliced jalapeños be just as yummy on the burger as breaded and fried peppers? If the answer is “no,” go ahead and pop a non-fried version of the topping onto the burger — sauteed onions are WAY yummier than onion rings on a sandwich, in my opinion! If the answer is “yes, and OOOH, I want it NOW!”, follow my tips on faux-frying so that you can achieve the burger of your dreams with a more reasonable calorie price tag.

‘Til next time… Chew the right thing!

 

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