Dressings, Marinades, and Dips: Bring Some Pizzazz to Your Healthy Meals

Dressings, Marinades, and Dips: Bring Some Pizzazz to Your Healthy Meals

Dressings, Marinades, and Dips: Making your own dressings, marinades, and dips at home is much easier and cheaper than you think.

As featured on FigureAthlete.com When most people think of "healthy food," they equate the phrase with lame, boring, pizzazz-free lettuce and cucumber salads. Here at Live Well 360, we know better than most, but even we have our days where we're looking for something with a bit more excitement. We're always on the lookout for something to liven up our boneless, skinless, and flavorless chicken breast, or the third salad in a row for lunch. Want to know my secret for brining a little spice back to my salads, meats, and snacks? The secret's in the sauce, or dressing for that matter — and I'm not talking store bought!

Why Make Your Own?

Making your own dressings, marinades, and dips at home is much easier and cheaper than you think. And have you even checked out the label on your standard "low-fat" salad dressing lately? Take a gander. The list of non-pronounceables seems endless, and many times, where there's a reduction in calories, there is an addition in sugars and less than optimal oils. Besides, the homemade, whole-ingredient dressings not only add flavor, but the healthy oils in them actually make some of the nutrients in the salad (particularly the fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals) more easily absorbed by your body.

How to Make Your Own Dressing

Listen up, because here are the two secrets to knock-your-socks-off flavorful homemade dressings. The first key is learning the concept — or the formula, itself, because once you understand it, you can substitute all kinds of variations. The second key is using only fresh, good quality ingredients. A standard vinaigrette is traditionally three to four parts oil to one part acid (3:1 ratio). I prefer to use two parts oil to one part acid (2:1 ratio), or even a one to one ratio, depending on how harsh the acid component is, in order to keep the calorie content down.

The Process

The following is the recipe for a basic vinaigrette. In a medium size bowl, whisk the acid (typically vinegar) with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings (more on this in a minute). Then add the oil in slowly, while still whisking constantly. Add greens and other salad fixings, toss and serve. The oil and vinegar can be combined with a blender, food processor, whisk, or in a jar. It really doesn't matter how you combine them, but the purpose is to create an emulsion, which is when the vinegar is finely separated and suspended in the oil. I personally throw all of the dressing ingredients into a small jar with a secure lid and shake until the ingredients are incorporated. Another method, if you want to be more chef-like, is to begin with a large bowl and either add a large clove of minced garlic, or if you prefer less garlic, just rub the clove around the inside of the bowl and then discard. Next, add a dollop of your favorite mustard, a little salt and pepper, and mix together with the garlic. Then finish by adding your favorite good quality extra virgin olive oil and whisk. This is the basic equation for dressings and marinades folks. As you can see, its not rocket science. The fun part is taking this basic recipe, and tweaking it depending on what kind of flair you want to add.


Oil Other types of oil that can be used instead of olive oil are sesame, almond, macadamia, hazelnut, flaxseed, walnut, and grape-seed oil, to name a few. Acid Some substitutions for the acid portion are red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, and freshly-squeezed lemon, orange, or lime juice. Herbs and Spices In addition to salt and pepper, I like to add a variety of fresh herbs and spices, depending on what ingredients I'm including in the salad (or if making a marinade, what type of meal theme I'm working on — i.e. Italian, Asian, etc). Some other goodies to think about adding are Dijon mustard, grated ginger, minced apple, minced scallion, and minced shallot. dressing

What About Creamy Dressings and Dips?

To make a creamy dressing or dip, start with a low-fat, all natural mayonnaise or a low-fat/fat free sour cream as a base. Recently I've been a huge fan of using Greek yogurt as a substitute for my sour cream in dips because it's so thick and creamy and also very high in protein. I then add in my herbs and spices. I like to mix together a concoction of herbs and spices in a separate small bowl, and then mix them in. Fresh herbs are fantastic. If you want a thinner dressing or dip, you can add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice if desired.

Tips and Tricks

  • A common complaint when reducing the oil content of a dressing recipe is how easy it is to miss the thick texture that oil adds to your recipes. Try adding Dijon mustard as an emulsifier to make up for the reduced oil. Like oil, mustard is thick enough to bind the other ingredients; plus, it adds a tangy flavor.
  • Never store products containing vinegar in metal containers. Vinegar can react with metals and create chemicals that are toxic to humans, as well as creating a metallic taste in the food.
  • Transfer any unused dressing into a sealed container. Most dressings are good for up to a week in a sealed container, in the refrigerator.
  • It really only takes a small amount of an oil-based dressing to coat the leaves of a salad. The trick is to put a small amount in a bowl and toss the salad very well. This not only uses less oil, but also allows the dressing to evenly distribute rather than sitting on top or on the bottom of the bowl.

Marinade Time

When you're working with marinades, it's important to not over-marinade your meats and fish because the acid in the marinade can start to cook the protein. Check out this chart for the correct length of time for each.
Chicken, Duck, Pork, Beef 2 hours - overnight
Fish 30 minutes - 1 hour
Scallops 5 minutes
Shrimp 15 minutes - overnight
Tofu 30 minutes - overnight


These recipes are some of my favorite homemade variations. Most of them are versions of other recipes I've found along my way and tweaked to make them my own. Note: I've included the recipe "as is" in terms of oil to acid ratio, but feel free to adjust this if you prefer less oil. Remember you can always add more, but you can't take it out after you have added it!

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 drops liquid stevia* or 1 tsp agave nectar
  • 2 tbsp finely minced red onion
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil (melted if solid)
Makes about 8 servings. Great as a dressing on a spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumber, avocados, etc; or as a marinade for chicken. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 63 calories; 7 g fat; > 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein.

Alkaline-Forming, Yeast-Fighting Healthy Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
  • 4 drops liquid stevia* or 1 tsp organic honey or agave nectar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/3 cup organic flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, or virgin coconut oil
  • 1 tsp liquid aminos
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Makes about 8 servings. Wonderful with fresh baby spinach, diced onion, apples, dried cherries, and your favorite toasted nuts. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 84 calories; 9 g fat; > 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein. Source: The back of a Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar bottle

Asian Dressing

  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup low sodium organic soy sauce
  • 4 drops liquid stevia* or 1 tsp organic honey
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
Makes about 8 servings. Excellent with mixed greens, shredded carrots, watercress sprigs, and pears. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 78 calories; 8 g fat; > 1 g carbohydrate; > 1 g protein. * Note: The liquid stevia mixes better than the powder form. salad-avocado

Ginger Dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp sugar or 4 tsp liquid stevia
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 2 scallions, chopped
Makes about 8 servings. This is great as a marinade and as a dressing. Fantastic over greens, with mandarin orange slices, homemade croutons, and slivered almonds. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 78 calories; 8 g fat; > 1 g carbohydrate; > 1 g protein.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • 2 tsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 2 tsp, fresh parsley chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, mayo, Greek yogurt, vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper until smooth. Stir in herbs. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to 3-4 hours before serving, to allow flavors to meld. This is a great homemade ranch recipe and is also great for veggie dip. It is a thicker dressing, so if you want to thin it out a bit, you can add a bit more buttermilk and/or vinegar. I have also tried fresh squeezed lemon juice in place of the vinegar for different taste. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 2 tablespoon serving-size: 50 calories; 3 g fat; 4 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein.

Classic Caesar Dressing

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (or plain fat-free yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 fresh cracked pepper, or to taste
Puree garlic and cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add yogurt, parmesan, vinegar, and Worcestershire and pulse to blend. Season with salt and pepper. This dressing is fantastic with romaine lettuce, homemade croutons, and a little more fresh grated parmesan. Nutritional Info Per Serving: 2 tablespoon serving-size: 36 calories; 0 g fat; 1 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein. Source: Eating Well Magazine There you have it, ladies: You'll never be bored with veggies, salads, chicken, fish, or meat again — while staying as lean and healthy as ever! Once you dive into the realm of homemade dressings, marinades, and dips, the sky's the limit; you'll never turn back and will soon have lots of your own ideas to share. I'll be looking forward to adding some of your creations to my recipe book, so please start adding to my recipe list in the discussion to follow.
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