FATHER'S DAY GIFT GUIDE 🍳

 

Table of Contents

  • What is a cast iron skillet, really?
  • What are the benefits of cast iron skillets?
  • Why use cast iron for healthy recipes?
  • 25 healthy cast iron skillet recipes
Photo: Lauren V. Allen

The internet is full of the latest gadgets for helping you cook healthier meals. But one of the best tools for cooking wholesome, nutrient-packed dishes doesn’t need a plug or a digital screen of any kind—it’s a cast iron skillet.

More like a piece of history than today’s cooking gadgets, the benefits of cast iron skillets include versatility, practicality, and impressive performance. Whether you’ve decided to cook with more vegetables, go vegan or keto, or just decided to cook at home instead of opting for takeout, a cast iron skillet can help cook more healthfully.

What is a cast iron skillet, really?

These multipurpose skillets are created from cast iron, typically in one piece with the handle made from the same material as the cooking surface. Dating back to the sixth century BCE, this cookware retains heat and gets better with age if you care for it properly.

Because the surfaces are porous and unfinished, the main difference between cast iron skillets and other types of skillets is how you care for them. Cast iron requires gentle cleaning and repeated seasoning, the act of thinly layering oil to seal the bumpy surface then setting it with heat.

If you see cast iron skillets dating back from your great-great-grandparent’s days with a silky finish and no rust, it’s because they never let it soak in the sink and kept up with a good seasoning routine.

What are the benefits of cast iron skillets?

A cast iron skillet can be used on your stovetop and used in your oven, making it an excellent option for searing, browning, or even roasting. Its durability allows you to use it for indoor cooking or even while outdoors on a campfire or bbq.

And while it doesn’t start as a non-stick pan, it can become one with more use and seasoning. Unlike most tools in your kitchen that will depreciate in quality over the years, these skillets truly get better with age.

Why use cast iron for healthy recipes?

Beyond its ability to upgrade your at-home chef skills, cast iron can help make vegetables or proteins that can typically be on the dull side more exciting. If you’re wondering what to use a cast iron skillet for when it comes to healthy meals, think maximum flavour and versatility. Get the perfect crust on your proteins with less oil or braise nutrient-packed veggies like kale or cabbage.

If you’re looking to avoid the type of harmful chemicals that are sometimes used in the formulation of nonstick pans, you don’t have to worry about that either.

25 healthy cast iron skillet recipes

We’ve gathered 25 recipes to help get your healthy meal inspiration going. A lot of your basic kitchen know-how will help if you want to customize any of these recipes to fit your health goals, the only difference with cast iron is to avoid cooking acidic foods for long periods of time (like a slowly simmered tomato sauce), and use another piece of cookware for those types of dishes.

Mains

1.

Pan-Roasted Whole Trout

Crispy skin, flavorful and flakey fish with the fresh taste of herbs like rosemary or chives. Feel free to customize the herbs however you like and top with lemon. Not a fan of trout? This technique will work for other types of skin-on fish. Plus this recipe has great tips for how to care for your cast iron skillet after cooking fish and using citrus.

2.

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Shrimp Skillet

Whatever your health goals: to eat more nutrient-rich vegetables, paleo, or low-carb, this cast iron skillet recipe ticks all the boxes. The sweet potato is high in vitamin C, vitamin B, and beta carotene while the kale is packed with nutrients. For protein, the shrimp is low in calories not to mention delicious.

3.

Skillet Salmon with Broccoli Rabe

This salmon is cooked completely on the stovetop to achieved perfectly crispy skin. Salmon is high in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. From heart health to glowing skin, salmon is an excellent protein to cook at home and pairs well with a variety of flavors like lemon, dijon, dill, and maple syrup.

4.

Skillet Taco Bake

Craving tacos? This skillet casserole is everything tacos should be: cheesy, satisfying, and piled high with toppings.. By swapping out fattier meats like beef for ground turkey or chicken, mixing in protein-rich black beans, and adding plenty of vegetables, you’ll get the yummy textures and flavours of tacos with less calories.

5.

Shakshuka

They say we eat with our eyes and this shakshuka recipe proves just how true that old saying is. Delicious for any meal this dish with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, spices, and baked eggs is satisfying and savoury. Nervous about cooking the tomatoes in your cast iron skillet? This recipe has great tips for how this sauce can be cooked in cast iron to achieve a perfect dish without risk of damaging your cookware.

6.

Zucchini Fritters

Try trading in your crispy hashbrowns for these fritters made from lower-calorie and vitamin A-rich zucchini. Once you remove the excess water from the grated squash, these fritters will be the perfect mix of crunchy on the outside and tender and soft on the inside. We suggest dipping them in a zesty yogurt sauce.

7.

Chickpeas, Cashews, and Broccoli with Garlic Sauce

A one skillet dinner that you can make in 20 minutes? Count us in. This healthy recipe is vegan, egg free, and dairy free. You can eat this recipe as is and get the benefits of protein-rich chickpeas and vitamin-filled broccoli, or try serving it over noodles or rice.

8.

Cast Iron Steak

Nothing helps you cook a steak like cast iron. Get the perfect sear on the outside and let the impressive heat retention help you get that steakhouse taste, at home. This recipe uses a herb butter to intensify the flavor which can be switched out for ghee if you’d like a lactose-free alternative.

9.

Chicken Fajitas

Chicken breast is a lean protein and the colorful peppers make this fajita recipe an easy dinnertime win. Fill up tortillas or serve over rice then customize with any type of toppings you prefer.

10.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

If the fajitas recipe caught your eye, or you just want to serve up some tacos at home, a cast iron skillet is a great tool for making your own corn tortillas. They may take a little work but the result is worth the effort.

11.

Chicken Under a Skillet

For those who have more than one skillet at home, this is a fun way to cook an entire chicken and get the best combination of crispy skin and juicy meat. The weight from the second skillet helps flatten the spatchcocked chicken and lets the skin come into contact with more of the heated surfaces. Cooking a whole chicken is a great way to add protein to salads or wraps throughout the week.

12.

Ricotta and Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms

Perfect for portion control and a great way to switch out pasta, these stuffed mushroom caps remind us of a carb-free cannelloni. Mushrooms are low-calorie but also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and the filling includes iron-rich spinach. By using a cast iron skillet you can sautee the filling ingredients and bake the mushrooms in the same pan.

13.

Cider-Steamed Mussels

Looking for a restaurant indulgence to make at home? Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice some fancy foods now and then. Mussels are high in protein, vitamin B12, and omega 3s, while being low in calories. Even though this recipe contains cream, it’s made for sharing and sure to wow whoever you serve it to.

14.

Ginger-Sesame Tofu

Try this marinated tofu recipe for a way to add protein to a variety of dishes. Soaking the firm tofu in the sweet, salty, and peppery ginger liquid for at least an hour ensures that this soy-based protein is anything but bland.

15.

Frittata

Whatever vegetables you want to eat more of can likely be worked into a fluffy frittata somehow. An excellent vessel for leftovers, this protein-filled dish is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Add in caramelized onions, spinach, kale, mushrooms, peppers, the possibilities with frittatas are almost endless.

Mains

16.

Rice Pilaf

A simple rice pilaf can be the base to so many nutritious meals: top with sauteed vegetables for a filling bowl, or serve alongside proteins like pork or chicken. You can’t really go wrong. This recipe teaches you how to make a classic pilaf in your cast iron skillet with fluffy, never gummy rice.

17.

Seared and Steamed Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are finally getting the attention they deserve after years of neglect, and for a good reason. For such a small vegetable they’re full of antioxidants, fiber, as well as vitamin C and K. Start this recipe by searing the sprouts to get that mouth-watering crunch then finish steaming in the same skillet for tender, inner layers.

18.

Whole-Roasted Cauliflower Shawarma

Recreate the rich spices that infuse shawarma but swap the meat for a head of cauliflower. This recipe teaches you how to create your own baharat spice blend then roast the cauliflower to perfection. Drizzle with tahini and this dish is an excellent side or can even be served as a main course.

19.

Braised Kale with Pancetta

Braising has the ability to transform foods including stiff and nutritious kale. The result? A perfect mix of fresh, salty, and savory with all the vitamins kale is famous for, namely vitamin A, C, and K. And while it may taste like you let these leafy greens cook for hours, the entire process (including crisping the pancetta) will likely take 25 minutes tops.

20.

Blistered Green Beans

Something magical happens when green beans start to get those little blackened bits on their surface, taking the vivid and fresh beans and adding a savory, almost meaty punch. This cast iron recipe is perfect for making on your stove or over a fire with only four ingredients including: iron-rich almonds and green beans which offer vitamin C and fiber.

21.

Caramelized Onions

From making you want to cry while chopping to the tears of joy when you taste how your patience paid off, making caramelized onions is a worthwhile journey. There’s no better partner for this task than a cast iron skillet. Add these golden strands to sandwiches, soups, a frittata, or a veggie burger and prepare to wow even yourself.

22.

Roasted Carrots

Bring out the natural sweetness of carrots with a touch of maple syrup and caramelizing these root vegetables in the oven. Carrots contain high levels of vitamin A as well as beta carotene which have been attributed to eye and heart health. Topping these softened carrots with hazelnuts adds a tasty crunch as well as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

23.

Roasted Acorn Squash

This classic Thanksgiving side is perfect throughout squash season. Acorn squash is a great source of antioxidants and vitamin A, while turmeric has been praised for its anti-inflammatory properties. Combining the two ingredients with a maple butter? Well, can’t go wrong there.

24.

Braised Leeks with Walnuts and Parsley

Braising leeks in a tasty vegetable broth infuses these vitamin A, C, and K rich vegetables with flavor. To make this dish just a touch fancier and add a kick of omega 3 fatty acids, garnish with crunchy walnuts and a healthy handful of fresh and bright parsley.

Dessert

25.

Apple Crisp

We had to end with a dessert, didn't we? This healthy apple crisp lets the natural sugars of the apples be the star while staying gluten free, dairy free, and vegan. Vitamin-rich oats give this cast iron recipe the perfect crunch and if you decide to serve it with vanilla frozen yogurt, all the better. But don’t skip the author’s trick to make sure the apples caramelize without adding sugar!