Recipes to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

New Year Health Full Meal: (clockwise from upper left) Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes, Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes, Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, and Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

caption arrowCaption
New Year Health Full Meal: (clockwise from upper left) Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes, Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes, Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, and Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Health journey with notable weight loss can include delicious food.

The new year is a time that many people make resolutions or goals to lose weight, drink less, stop smoking, exercise more, or the kitchen sink catchall: get healthy.

Perhaps in our minds, we are erasing the mistakes of the past with pledges to improve our future. In late 2018, I looked at my life. I wasn’t happy in my own body. If you can’t be happy in your own body, where can you be? The dread of change was met with real life living. I had to lose weight and a lot of it. I had to get healthier. It was overwhelming, but I had to start.

People are often daunted by losing a big number of pounds. To prevent being paralyzed, my initial goal was to be healthy and strong. I started with small positive changes: eating healthier, being accountable with my intake and portion control, and moving my body. The pounds slowly started coming off. Subsequently, I’ve lost 70 pounds and have kept it off for more than a year.

Committed to losing weight and keeping it off, but not wanting to give up delicious food, I started trimming fat and sugar. I also began cooking smaller portions to eliminate lingering temptation on my countertop or in my fridge, especially with desserts and baked goods.

I am a French-trained Southern chef. Deprivation doesn’t work for me. I insist that food taste good. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to create recipes that prove that you can eat healthy food that tastes good. I am living proof.

If a middle-aged, post-menopausal, French-trained Southern chef can lose 70 pounds, you can, too. I feel better than I have felt in my entire adult life, and my bloodwork is better than it was decades ago.

ExploreHealthy Cooking recipes
caption arrowCaption
Virginia Willis, a French-trained Southern chef, wasn't happy with her weight (left). After eating healthier, being accountable with her intake and portion control, and moving more, she lost 70 pounds (right). (Before: Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / After: Courtesy of Food Network Kitchen)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Virginia Willis, a French-trained Southern chef, wasn't happy with her weight (left). After eating healthier, being accountable with her intake and portion control, and moving more, she lost 70 pounds (right). (Before: Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / After: Courtesy of Food Network Kitchen)

Credit: Virginia Willis

caption arrowCaption
Virginia Willis, a French-trained Southern chef, wasn't happy with her weight (left). After eating healthier, being accountable with her intake and portion control, and moving more, she lost 70 pounds (right). (Before: Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / After: Courtesy of Food Network Kitchen)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

How can the story of my health journey help you achieve your own health goals?

Do not quit before you start. Progress is progress, no matter how small. Everyone wants a quick answer, but it just doesn’t work that way in a sustainable manner. I grew to be unhealthy because of years of bad choices. Becoming healthier doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.

In addition, remember that to rely solely on willpower to make lasting change is absolutely not sustainable. You’ve got to find what really works for you. Little things add up. Consistency is as important as cutting carbs, calories and cocktails.

ExploreHealthy holidays to you with these easy plant-based recipes

A key piece of my health journey has been my tending to my whole body, not just my weight. Happiness is not found in a plate, pour or pill. Especially with the pandemic, I was exceptionally aware that without vigilance, I would eat and drink my fears and feelings. Exercise is key to me for clarity and peace of mind. My daily morning walks along the Chattahoochee are as beneficial for my mental health as my physical health. The weight loss has been a bonus. My suggestion is for you to find something that works for you. You don’t have to start training for a marathon. Build extra steps into your day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car in a spot farthest from the grocery store. Little things add up.

A major part of my personal growth is understanding that good health is not a place, state of being or destination. Good health is a state of action and it’s all interconnected. Hopefully, it’s an action that involves you cooking healthy recipes like my Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup, Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes, and Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes. To eat food that’s delicious and good for you is a goal worth striving for.

Virginia Willis is an Atlanta-based Food Network Kitchen chef, James Beard Award-winning food writer and cookbook author. Follow her at virginiawillis.com.

RECIPES

These good and good-for-you recipes are full of flavor with vibrant herbs and bold spices. They are packed with energy-lifting vitamins and minerals — and happen to be low in fat and calories. Say no to diets that tell you what you can’t have and say yes to what you can!

caption arrowCaption
For a soup with recognizable ingredients and plenty of flavor, make Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

For a soup with recognizable ingredients and plenty of flavor, make Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

caption arrowCaption
For a soup with recognizable ingredients and plenty of flavor, make Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup

This creamy scratch soup is made with real, recognizable ingredients as opposed to all those unpronounceable chemicals that appear on a can of store-bought soup. I prefer to use ultra-filtration fat-free milk, such as Hood Simply Smart or Fairlife brands, that removes some of the water and is creamier than the more traditional version.

Creamy Broccoli Parmesan Soup
  • 2 cups fat-free milk or 2% low-fat milk (more if needed), warmed
  • 2 cups chicken stock, warmed, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour or chickpea flour
  • 1 1/2 pounds of broccoli, cut into florets, with stalks peeled and chopped
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups packed baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • Combine the milk and chicken stock in a small saucepan or in a large liquid measuring cup and warm over low heat or in the microwave. Keep warm.
  • Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir to combine. (The mixture will be very dry.) Add the reserved warm milk-stock combination and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the broccoli stalks and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then decrease the heat to simmer. Cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the broccoli stems are just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the florets and stir to combine. Continue to cook until tender, an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Add the spinach and stir to combine and wilt the spinach.
  • To finish the soup, in the stockpot, using an immersion blender, puree the soup. (It will take a few minutes.) Or, ladle the soup into a blender and let cool slightly so you won’t be splattered with scalding soup. Puree until smooth a little at a time. Leave it coarse and chunky if you prefer a more rustic soup. Add the cheese and cayenne; stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. If needed, rewarm the soup over medium-low heat. Ladle into warmed serving bowls and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 170 calories (percent of calories from fat, 29), 12 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 6 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 15 milligrams cholesterol, 376 milligrams sodium.
caption arrowCaption
For Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, use fish such as trout, catfish or rockfish. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

For Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, use fish such as trout, catfish or rockfish. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

caption arrowCaption
For Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets, use fish such as trout, catfish or rockfish. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets

I make a point to eat seafood at least once a week. As a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Chef’s Advisory Board for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s very important to me to purchase only sustainable seafood. The task is made easy with the Wild Alaskan Company, a monthly membership that delivers wild-caught, sustainable seafood to my door.

Herb-Crusted Fish Fillets
  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 small cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) boneless skinless fish fillets, such as trout, catfish or rockfish
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking mat.
  • Combine the panko, parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Brush each piece of fish with some of the oil, season with salt, then dust the top side with the panko-herb mixture. Place the fish on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the fish is firm and opaque, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.
  • Serve immediately on warmed serving plates. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 251 calories (percent of calories from fat, 30), 37 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 102 milligrams cholesterol, 129 milligrams sodium.
caption arrowCaption
Add a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit to your meal with Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Add a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit to your meal with Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

caption arrowCaption
Add a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit to your meal with Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes

Grapes aren’t just for snacking! I make it a point to eat at least two servings of fruits or vegetables at every meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner. This recipe delivers both servings in a single dish. I have always also loved Brussels sprouts. Of course, you don’t like them if the only way you’ve ever had them was cooked to stinky mush. Give this recipe a try.

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Grapes
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, about the size of a walnut or smaller, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cups seedless grapes
  • 3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pepitas, sunflower seeds or chopped pecans
  • Coarse salt
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Tilt the pan to evenly distribute the oil or use a brush to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Place the Brussels sprouts in the pan cut-side down to sear and char. If they won’t all fit cut-side down in the skillet, you can layer them on top of one another, but know that you’ll get a better sear with the cut-side down. Season with pepper, but not salt. (When roasting vegetables, I don’t season them with salt because it draws out the moisture.)
  • Cook, without stirring, until the Brussels sprouts are lightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the grapes, garlic and pepitas. Stir to combine. Transfer to the oven and bake until the sprouts are tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the sprouts. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 125 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 6 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium.
caption arrowCaption
Enjoy a reasonable portion of a delightful dessert with Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Enjoy a reasonable portion of a delightful dessert with Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

caption arrowCaption
Enjoy a reasonable portion of a delightful dessert with Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes

Pudding cakes are a magical combination of smooth creamy pudding and moist, tender cake. It’s a perfect recipe to adapt to small-batch baking. Small-batch dessert recipes are extra important in my kitchen. I don’t like going without dessert, but it is necessary to remove any extra temptation!

Small-Batch Lemon Pudding Cakes
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably Meyer
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, preferably Meyer
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 4 (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins with nonstick cooking spray; place them in a deep baking dish such as an 8-inch square baking dish. Put a pot of water on to boil for the water bath.
  • Whisk 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Add the milk, lemon zest and juice, butter and egg yolk. Whisk until smooth.
  • Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Evenly divide the batter among the prepared ramekins placed in the roasting pan.
  • Place the baking dish in the oven and carefully pour in enough boiling water to come almost halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (Don’t skip this step.)
  • Bake the pudding cakes until golden brown and the cakes have pulled away slightly from the sides of the ramekins, about 25 minutes. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 178 calories (percent of calories from fat, 23), 4 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 56 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium.
ExploreOur favorite dishes in Atlanta right now

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.