Put Recipes on a Diet: Shrimp ‘n Grits

This is the first, in a 4-part series, on how to put your favorite recipes on a diet, making them healthier and just as delicious in the process!


I’m about to head East in a few weeks to visit my mom in lovely Wilmington, North Carolina. I’m sure, upon a return to “God’s country,” as we liked to say in Chapel Hill, I’ll be reminded of the many things I miss about the South. Southern food, of course, is one of them.

It will only take a few days, however, to remember why I was 15 pounds heavier when I lived in this region of the country. Not only do I have to be careful about what I order out when I’m visiting, I have take special care of how I re-create dishes once I’m back home.

In Finding Life’s Secret Sauce, I delve into the topic of how our heritage influences our food preferences and diet. I also offer a few simple guidelines if you like to partake in Southern food – or rich food in general (e.g., fried or soaked in butter and/or cream!).

  • Use less mayonnaise.
  • And use less butter. Do we really need to flavor vegetables in a stick of it?
  • If the recipe says to sauté something in layer of oil, use only enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
  • Use less bacon. Many recipes call for bacon and lots of it. I admit bacon tastes great, but a little does the trick just as well.
  • Use half and half instead of heavy whipping cream. Likewise, use 1% milk instead of whole milk, if possible.
  • Avoid deep frying. Pan fry, sauté or broil/bake instead.
  • Even if baking, try to use less sugar (and see if you notice a difference).

Shrimp and Grits

If you happen to be in Chapel Hill, or most anywhere in North Carolina, you’ll find Shrimp ‘n Grits on the menu. This recipe came from the late Bill Neal, former owner and chef of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill—my favorite restaurant when I attended the University of North Carolina. I’ll start with the original ingredients and make suggestions on where to cut back to make it healthier – in italics.

This dish serves four (though I made it a few weeks ago for 3 1/2, and everyone was wishing for more, even Luke!).

1 batch cheese grits (see recipe below)

1 pound fresh shrimp

6 slices bacon (2–3 thin slices are plenty)

Peanut oil (less than recommended)

2 cups sliced white button mushrooms

1 cup minced scallions

1 large glove garlic, peeled and minced

4 teaspoons lemon juice

Tabasco sauce

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

Prepare the grits (see below) and hold in a warm place.

Peel the shrimp, rinse and pat dry. Dice the bacon and sauté in a skillet until the edges of the bacon are brown, but the bacon is not crisp. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels; then crumble. Add enough peanut oil to make a layer of fat ⅛” thick to the same skillet. (Drain out almost all of the bacon grease, leaving bits for flavor, and then add just enough peanut or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.) When the oil is hot, add the shrimp in an even layer. Turn the shrimp as soon as they start to turn pink; add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring, about four minutes. Add the scallions and garlic. Heat and stir about one minute more. Then season with lemon juice, a dash or two of Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper to taste and parsley.

Divide the grits evenly between four plates. Spoon the shrimp over, sprinkle with bacon (or leave off the bacon to make even healthier), and serve immediately.

Cheese Grits

1 cup quick (not instant) grits

2 cups water

2 cups milk (1% or skim milk)

1 cup cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

4 tablespoons butter (make it 1 tablespoon)

½ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon white pepper

Cook the grits according to the package directions. Turn off heat and add remaining ingredients. Stir until just mixed.

If you don’t serve the grits immediately, then cover and remove from heat. If the grits get too thick while sitting, just add a little milk and reheat.

Recipe Courtesy of Remembering Bill Neal, by Moreton Neal.

Melinda Hinson