Light Family Favorites

Just about everyone has a favorite food that they ate growing up, that one food that can turn anything around. Maybe you had a terrible day and suddenly you feel the warmth and comfort of your favorite meal. It’s that one meal can make all the difference. 

Lucky for me, my mom is a great cook, so I have a whole list of favorite meals and so do my siblings. We share a lot of the same ones on our lists like mini meatloaves, “that corn dish”, gumbo, pasta pie, and crunchy ramen salad. You could always tell that these meals were made with a lot of love, but they were also made to be budget-friendly since we were a family of 6.

My parents recently moved from my childhood home on Long Island to a condo right outside of Daytona. They’ve only been living there for a few weeks, but I’m already experiencing a homesickness that’s different than any other time. I loved being able to go home whenever I wanted to enjoy a nice home-cooked meal and time with family.

My brother and I recently realized after a day at the beach that we actually have no home to go back to. We didn’t have a home to rinse off at, a place to eat, or anywhere to hang out at before my train time. It was the strangest feeling. So this weekend I decided to fly down to my parents’ new place for my dad’s birthday and to help my mom cook light versions of our all-time childhood favorites.


My mom’s mini meatloaves happen to be my personal favorite. These little babies are so comforting. One bite is comparable to the best hug I’ve ever had- it just makes me feel so warm and safe and happy. You can’t ask for much more than that from a meatloaf! The thing that makes it even better is that it is fully portioned out, so you know exactly how much to have.

The meatloaf recipe is traditionally made with ground beef, full fat cheese, milk, and maple brown sugar oatmeal packets. Instead, I decided to lighten it up a bit by switching to ground turkey, unsweetened almond milk, and reduced fat cheese. I also cut back on the sugar for the sauce. This is a perfect meal to make if you have trouble with portion control since you make individual meatloaves. I have also tried making this using a muffin tin, which worked out well. 

For side dishes, I decided to make another classic favorite of the family’s- “That Corn Dish” as we call it. “That Corn Dish” is a cross between cornbread and creamed corn, and it’s usually referred to as a corn casserole by other people. While the meatloaf is easy to control your portions, I struggle with this corn casserole because I can easily eat the whole pan in one sitting, that’s how good it is. We like to make this a lot for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always an instant hit.

The reason “That Corn Dish” is so delicious is because it’s filled with everything you probably shouldn’t be eating a ton of. There’s a whole stick of butter in this side and a cup of full-fat sour cream. As usual, I decided to try something new with this recipe to lighten things up. I used non-fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream and actually used pumpkin instead of the stick of butter. The pumpkin gave it a nice orangey color, which I think would actually compliment the dish if you’re serving it for Thanksgiving.

Now, I know pumpkin might sound a little “out there,” but I’ve been kind of obsessed with it lately. Pumpkin puree is actually high in fiber and can be a useful substitute for butter. Not to mention, it’s also a sneaky way to get more fruits (yes, pumpkin is technically a fruit) into your meals.


I’ve used pumpkin in spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes, chili, and smoothies. It has a very mild flavor and typically takes on the flavors of the seasonings you’re using. As I was opening a can for my cat (it’s also good for pets with stomach issues), I noticed that the lid had a list of things pumpkin can be a substitute for, including butter, eggs, and oil- all things which should be had in moderation. 

While I was making these dishes tonight, my mom also decided to make our favorite cauliflower dish which we call “PJ’s Favorite Cauliflower.” This is such a simple side, but really packs the calories in by using mayonnaise and full fat cheese. We switched the mayo out for non-fat plain yogurt and switched the full fat cheese to be 2% cheddar.

Here are the recipes:

Mini Turkey Meatloaves (serves 6)


1 egg
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup 2% shredded cheddar
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
16 oz. 93% lean ground turkey
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp mustard

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the egg, almond milk, cheddar, oats, and turkey together in a bowl until combined.
2) In a small bowl, mix the ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard.
3) Spray a baking sheet with oil. Make 6 small meatloaves and put them on the baking sheet. Coat them in the sauce mixture (there will be extra!).
4) Bake for 45 minutes uncovered.


That Corn Dish (serves 12)

*this cooks for the same time as the meatloaf and the same temperature! 


1 egg
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
15 oz. can of creamed corn
15 oz. can of corn, lightly drained
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 package Jiffy corn bread mix
1 cup non-fat plain yogurt

1) Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until combined.
2) Pour the mixture into a sprayed casserole dish.
3) Bake uncovered for 45 min-1 hour, or until set.

PJ’s Favorite Cauliflower (serves 6)


1 head of cauliflower
1 1/2 cup of plain non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup 2% shredded cheddar
2 tbsp Sandwich Sprinkle (you can find this at Penzey’s)
1/2 tsp of smoky paprika
1 tbsp spicy mustard
1/3 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

1) Cut the cauliflower into florets. Steam them until tender, but not mushy. Drain. Put the cauliflower in a casserole dish. 
2) In a mixing bowl, mix together yogurt, cheese, and mustard. Spread on top of the cauliflower.
3) Sprinkle seasonings on top. Top with breadcrumbs. 
4) Bake on 350 for 30 minutes.

So what did we think of the lightened up versions?

The turkey meatloaf was just as good as the original. I actually preferred the turkey over the regular version, and my parents thought it was really good, too. My dad liked the original cauliflower recipe better, but I’ve never been a mayonnaise person to begin with, so I was very content with the new version of cauliflower. I also haven’t had it in so long that I couldn’t even tell the difference. To me, it tasted just as good as the original. 

As for “That Corn Dish,” well, it wasn’t anything like the original. It came out totally different. This lightened version was more like a corn pudding. We decided that it was either because I forgot to lightly drain the corn, or that I added the pumpkin. The texture was creamy, kind of like mashed potatoes, but the corn bits gave it some texture. I personally enjoyed it, but if you’re looking to make something like the original version (which is more like corn bread), I would probably not use the pumpkin. We all agreed that the light version is a fine side for a regular dinner, but if it’s being served at a holiday you should go for the real deal. After all, it’s one day of pigging out, you may as well go all-in. 

Give these recipes a shot and see what your family thinks- they may quickly get added to your favorite list too!

What are your favorite family recipes?
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.

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