Oatmeal often gets a bad rap as a bland breakfast food for nursing home patients.
37 Healthier Dressings, Spreads, and Marinades
A burger isn’t a burger without ketchup and mustard. A salad without dressing? Yeah right. Dressings, condiments, and marinades add kick to our plates, but when it’s super simple to just pour it out of a bottle, that not-so-healthy nutrition label can easily evade us, adding empty calories, sugar, and sodium. Here are 37 recipes to make dressing that salad a little healthier, slathering that burger bun a little more wholesome, and marinating that meat a little more natural.
1. Olive Oil: Sometimes all a salad needs is a drizzle of some really good olive oil. And if I teach you one thing, let it be that a little fat is never a bad thing. In fact, recent research actually found that full-fat salad dressings might help the body better absorb certain nutrients (specifically carotenoids). Extra virgin olive oil (meaning the purest form of olive oil, with no defects or acidity) typically has the best flavor and is tops for using in it’s raw form. Plus, it’s high in omega-3s, including oleic acid, which is essential in keeping brain cells healthy. It’s also high in phytochemicals, a type of antioxidant that has helped prevent some types of cancer.
2. Fruit n’ Nut Delight Dressing: There’s nothing better than making a dressing packed with whole foods! Get all the benefits of whole fruit and nuts by mixing them into a dressing. The addition of nuts also creates a creaminess without added fat like egg yolks or mayonnaise. Try blending 1/3 cup chopped nuts, ½ cup chopped fresh fruit, ¼ cup unsweetened soy or almond milk, and 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice.
3. Mighty Avocado Dressing: It’s no secret that here at Greatist, we’re huge fans of the mighty avocado. The creaminess of the avocado makes for a great texture without adding too much oil, and the flavor adds richness to any salad. This mix of avocado, plain yogurt (we like Greek yogurt!), red onion, dill, and other spices is a perfect tangy touch to any crunchy salad.
4. Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette: Any dressing that gets in another serving of whole vegetables gets an A+ in our books. The addition of whole roasted tomatoes to this dressing recipe not only adds tons of great nutrients but also achieves an awesome hearty texture. Plus, tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a carotenoid (antioxidant) that’s been credited with everything from reducing cancer risk to preventing cardiovascular disease. The basics? Plum tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, Italian seasoning, and red-wine vinegar. Perfect topper for a green salad or roasted veggies or meat.
5. Cheat-Sheet Buttermilk Ranch: Ranch dressing is one of those classic childhood favorites (or maybe late-night college pizza joint flavors?) that piques our indulgence every once in a while. But the kind from the bottle, typically packed with mayo and other ridiculous additives (modified food starch, anyone?), isn’t exactly an everyday treat. Try a mix of non-fat buttermilk, white-wine vinegar, fresh basil, chives, and garlic to replace that classic flavor any night of the week (guilt-free).
6. Classic Lemon Vinaigrette: Emeril Lagasse has it right with this one. His recipe for “Salt-free Lemon Vinaigrette” creates that classic French vinaigrette flavor without maxing out our daily sodium intake. The secrets? Fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives, and oregano), shallot and garlic, lemon and lime zest, and Dijon mustard (plus some other goodies)!
7. Sweet Honey Dressing: Sometimes fruit needs a little dressing too, right? Try a light blend of 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons honey (or agave), 1 tablespoon grated orange zest, and the juice from ½ a lemon.
8. Green Goddess: This classic avocado dressing is perfect for summer. Blend the meat of 1 avocado, 1 ½ cups fat-free buttermilk, ¼ cup fresh herbs (tarragon, mint, parsley, and cilantro work well), and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar until smooth.
9. Maple Mustard Dressing: Who doesn’t like the tangy-sweet combo of maple and mustard? This dressing is the perfect combo and goes well with any hearty salad — especially mixed greens with goat cheese, pecans, and beets. (Yes, this is a personal favorite!)
10. Easy Apricot: Here’s another recipe that uses fresh fruit! A base of fresh apricots, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard makes this salad dressing a perfect sweet and savory mix. And by using fresh fruit, you eliminate the need for added sugar (a calorie-count killing culprit in many bottled dressings).
11. Ginger Carrot Dressing: Ever wonder what’s in that delicious orange pulpy dressing that coats nearly every Japanese restaurant’s green salad? Here’s the secret: White miso paste! Try this simple recipe, combining carrots, shallot, fresh ginger, miso, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.
12. Classic Honey Mustard: I will dip anything in honey mustard dressing. Chicken fingers? Done. Fries? Absolutely. Apple slices? Hey, don’t judge! Unfortunately, the creamy bottled versions (Ken’s Steakhouse, I’m looking at you) aren’t exactly the picture of health. Fortunately, the replacement’s simple: apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, agave or honey), and olive oil.
13. Simply Citrus: Fresh citrus juice is a perfect accompaniment to almost any green. A mix of juices — orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime — is what makes this dressing special. Combine 3 tablespoons of each citrus juice with 1 ½ cups olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake or whisk until well combined. (This dressing goes especially well with nut-filled salads!)
14. Lemon Caesar: Perhaps the most ubiquitous of any salad dressing, the classic Caesar can certainly take a toll on any healthy diet — it is a dangerfood, after all. Instead of the classic egg yolk-based dressing, try this combo: 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire, 2 garlic cloves, ½ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt, and a dash of pepper. (Makes 2-3 servings)
Spreads and Condiments
15. Yogurt Herb Dijon Spread: Nonfat Greek yogurt is a great way to get a creamy dressing without the extra fat (and with an extra dose of protein!). Mix ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs and serve with veggie sticks or toasted pita.
16. Ketchup: Even though the shelf-stable varieties might not be such a healthy choice (most are packed with sugar/ high-fructose corn syrup, and all), this popular tomato-based condiment is actually pretty healthy. (You can thank lycopene!) Try this simple recipe made with a base of tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and a handful of spices.
17. Horseradish: Bloody Mary lovers rejoice! Horseradish is packed with glucosinolates, compounds also found in cruciferous veggies (like cauliflower) that can prevent damage to the lungs and stomach by carcinogens. They can potentially protect against those cancers — though that’s no excuse to light up!    .
18. Hot Sauce: This one’s okay to get out of the bottle. Capsaicin is the star of this spicy sauce — it’s what gives chili peppers their heat, and it can boost metabolism. Plus, some studies suggest the compound can help the body better use fat as fuel  .
19. Avocado Spread: This might be the simplest “spread” out there. Mash an avocado — that’s it. Because of it’s high (healthy) fat content, mashed avocado makes a great substitute for creamy sandwich spreads like mayonnaise. Plus, it’s a great source of omega-3s.
20. Hummus: Hummus is another great alternative to mayo. It’s just as creamy, even more flavorful, and also offers a little extra protein. Just be careful not to overdo it! More than a tablespoon or two and this spread can get a little calorie-heavy.
22. Pesto: Basic pesto can turn any Panini or grilled cheese into something a bit fancier. And it doesn’t require any skill to whip up a batch, either — beyond owning a blender or food processor. Combine 2 bunches fresh basil, 2 sun dried tomatoes, 5 cloves of garlic and ¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil and blend until smooth! Not so crazy about pungent garlic flavor? Roast the garlic first! Good ol’ garlic — roasted or otherwise — is great at treating everything from high blood pressure and cholesterol to certain types of cancer.
23. Green Mayo: Don’t run away just yet! We’re not so crazy about mayonnaise itself, but throwing in a healthy dose of greens makes anything at least a little bit healthier. Check out this recipe, which takes the classic base for homemade mayonnaise and adds parsley, spinach, and basil. This one’s definitely Greatist-Approved.
24. Cranberry Orange Thyme Sauce: When it’s time to relive Thanksgiving with one of those turkey cranberry sauce sandwiches, reach for this fresh cranberry classic. Flavored with thyme, and sweetened with orange juice and honey instead of the traditional sugar, this sauce goes great with poultry any time of year.
25. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee: Believe it or not, that morning cup of Joe is actually a great steak marinade! Coffee is perfect for tenderizing red meat in place of high-sodium, bottled marinades. Don’t want to brew a pot first? Coffee grounds also work as a great rub for grilling meats.
26. Mojito Marinade: A marinade with rum in it? Yes please. Try a mix of shallot, mint, rum, and lime juice (plus some other good stuff) for a festive flavoring that’s great with chicken.
27. Chile Spice Rub: Packed with capsaicin, chili peppers and powders are a great addition to any meaty meal. Mix equal amounts of cumin, chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and oregano and rub on chicken or steak before roasting or grilling. Be careful! This is a spicy one.
28. Superfood Garlic Rub: Lets just face it — garlic makes just about anything better. That definitely includes grilled and roasted meats! For every 1.5 pounds of meat, combine 8 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and a sprinkle each of salt and pepper. Rub on meat, and let sit for a few hours before cooking.
29. Classic Indian: Want tasty tandoori chicken from any oven or grill? It’s easy! (And no, you don’t need to buy a Tandoor oven.) Marinate chicken or beef in ½ cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, and ½ teaspoon ground coriander.
30. Easy Teriyaki: Never rely on Chinese takeout for good Teriyaki. Simply mix 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1 clove of garlic (crushed) and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.
31. Dijon Sun-Dried Tomato: This is a Greatist Family favorite. Combine 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon rosemary, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Spread on top of salmon or chicken, and bake until cooked through. Voila!
32, Terrific Thai: This marinade is perfect for fish, shellfish, and chicken. You’ll never need to order Thai takeout again! Combine ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk, 1 shallot (minced), the juice of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley (chopped), and ½ teaspoon chili paste (or powder).
33. Simple Lemon and Herb: Perfect on chicken, fish, or pork, a combination of lemon zest and fresh herbs can never go wrong. Combine the juice and zest of 1 lemon, ¼ cup olive oil, and 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs and marinate meat for up to 30 minutes. Careful, though — the citrus juice can start to “cook” the meat (especially fish) if left too long!
34. Turkish Delight: Take a trip overseas with this Turkish-inspired marinade, perfect for lamb or chicken (especially in kebab form). Combine 1 cup plain yogurt, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 cup chopped fresh mint, 2 garlic cloves (mince), a sprinkle of salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cayenne, and ¼ teaspoon ground allspice. Mix and marinate the meat for anywhere between one and four hours. Grill for best results!
35. Rosemary Balsamic: This one’s simple, and simply perfect on chicken thighs! Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 6 cloves of garlic, 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary, and a hearty grind of pepper. Marinate for up to 24 hours and grill or bake.
36. Classic Chipotle: Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce make this marinade super special. Combine 1 chipotle in adobo, 3 garlic cloves (minced), the juice of 1 lime, and 1 teaspoon vinegar (of your choice) with 1 pound of meat — chicken or pork work well— and marinate overnight.
37. Honey Lime Marinade: Get tropical with this sweet and sour favorite. Bonus points: it’s simple, too! Combine ½ cup honey, 1/3 cup soy sauce, and the juice of 2 limes. This mix should cover about 4 chicken breasts — although we recommend making it a double. (Believe us, there will be no regrets later.)
What’s your favorite healthy alternative to bottled dressing, condiments, and marinades? Anything missing from this list? Share with us in the comments below!
- Chemoprevention of tobacco-related lung cancer by cruciferous vegetable. Balcerek, M. Katedra i Zakład Farmakognozji, Collegium Medicum UMK w Bydgoszczy, Poland. Przeglad Lekarski, 2007;64(10):903-5.⤴
- Effects of cruciferous vegetables and their constituents on drug metabolizing enzymes involved in the bioactivation of DNA-reactive dietary carcinogens. Steinkellner, H., Rabot, S., Freywald, C., et al. Institute of Cancer Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria. Mutation Research, 2001 Sep 1;480-481:285-97.⤴
- Effects of cruciferous vegetable consumption on urinary metabolites of the tobacco-specific lung carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone in singapore chinese. Hecht, S.S., Carmella, S.G., Kenney, P.M., et al. University of Minnesota Cancer Center, Minneapolis, MN. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 2004 Jun;13(6):997-1004.⤴
- Chemoprevention by isothiocyanates and their underlying molecular signaling mechanisms. Keum, Y.S., Jeong, W.S., Kong, A.N. Department of Pharmaceutics, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ. Mutation Research, 2004 Nov 2;555(1-2):191-202.⤴
- Effects of novel capsinoid treatment on fatness and energy metabolism in humans: Possible pharmacogenic implications. Snitker, S., Fujishima, Y., Shen, H., et al. University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 June; 89(1):45-50.⤴
- Pharmacokinetic and the effect of capsaicin in Capsicum frutescens on decreasing plasma glucose level. Chaiyasit, K., Khovidhunkit, W., Wittayalertpanya, S. Inter-department of Pharmacology, Graduate School, Chulalongkom University, Bangkok, Thailand. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 2009 Jan;92(1):108-13.⤴