How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Flowers, chocolates and dinner in a fancy restaurant? If the go-to traditions are losing their luster, it may be time to consider a more intimate, unique (and less expensive) option: Creating a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner where the heart is: at home.

And, speaking of hearts, taking time to cook and share a heart-healthy menu like the one below is the perfect way to show you care, according to Kensie Weatherstone, registered dietitian at CoreLife Novant Health in Pineville, North Carolina, who created these “healthified” versions your favorite recipes.

The results — which deliver delectable flavors without excess sodium, unhealthy fats or added sugars — are guaranteed to warm (and protect!) your Valentine’s heart.

An enticing entree: Maple salmon

This main dish is packed with protein, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins. These nutrients help with overall cardiac health, while also minimizing inflammation and supporting proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system.

“Plus, not only is salmon a nutrient-dense food source, but so is maple syrup, which is great source of antioxidants!” Weatherstone said. “Just be sure to choose 100% pure maple syrup over the usual commercial brands, which will cut out a ton of added sugars.”

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To make this recipe even more heart healthy, limit added sodium by:

  • Using regular garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
  • Substituting low-sodium soy sauce for the traditional version.


  • 1/4 cup 100% pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound salmon fillet


Combine maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, garlic powder and pepper in a small bowl.

Divide salmon into four fillets. Place them in a shallow glass baking dish and coat evenly with the maple syrup mixture. Cover the dish and marinate salmon in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the uncovered baking dish in the preheated oven and bake until the salmon flakes easily with a fork (about 20 minutes).

Nutrition per serving (recipe yields 4 servings): 265 calories; 14 grams carbohydrates (12 grams sugars, 0 grams dietary fiber); 23 grams protein; 12 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 633 milligrams sodium.

Note: Depending on marinating time, ingredients, cooking method, etc., the actual amount of the marinade consumed will vary and may alter the final nutrition profile.

Adapted from:

Seductive side dishes

Butternut squash risotto

This side dish provides complex carbohydrates, while also giving you the benefits of a vegetable. Butternut squash is a veggie loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, calcium and fiber. These nutrients can help fight inflammation, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stroke.

"Risotto is definitely a labor of love, because it takes time and patience to create,” Weatherstone said. “But, if you take your time, this recipe will come out perfectly!”

To make this recipe as nutritious as possible, she offered the following tips:

  • Make the risotto with brown rice instead of white to boost your whole grain intake, which can help lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Add more colors and variety by using more of your favorite veggies.
  • To reduce the amount of sodium, limit or omit the salt.

Note: Pressed for time, or looking for a less labor-intensive side dish that is still heart-healthy? Weatherstone recommends preparing brown rice or whole wheat pasta and adding butternut squash and any other vegetables you enjoy.


  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups risotto or brown rice
  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley, for topping


Cut the stem end off the squash, then use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp from one half. Reserve the other half for another use. Slice the squash lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick strips, then slice crosswise to form 1/2- inch cubes.

Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce the heat and keep at a simmer.

Meanwhile, warm the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly golden, about five minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and cook until the squash is tender, 10 to 15 more minutes. Use a wooden spoon to partially mash the squash, pressing it against the side of the pan.

Stir in the rice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a ladleful of hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Be careful not to add too much stock at once, and make sure it is hot. Otherwise, it will stop the cooking process. Continue adding stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring until absorbed before adding more.

The entire cooking process takes about 20 minutes; start tasting for doneness after about 15 minutes. If you've used all of the stock and the rice is not yet al dente, heat a few cups of water and add by the ladle as you did with the stock until the dish is done.

The risotto is ready when you can drag the spoon through the center of the pan and make a clean line in the rice for a few seconds. Season with more salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Transfer immediately to serving bowls or a platter and top with Parmesan and parsley. Leaving finished risotto in the pan will cause it to continue cooking and become mushy. If you have leftovers — or would like to cook a batch and divide it for later meals — the risotto can be frozen and reheated.

Nutrition per serving (recipe yields 8 servings): 235 calories; 44 grams carbohydrates (1 gram sugar, 1 gram dietary fiber); 4 grams protein; 5 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 617 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from:

Sautéed Spinach

“Spinach makes a perfect vegetable side-dish for this Valentine’s Day meal,” said Weatherstone. “It is full of fiber, vitamin C, iron and vitamin A, which have antioxidant properties, aid in lowering cholesterol, and support heart and eye health.”

To keep this dish as healthy as possible, she advises:

  • Using only extra-virgin olive oil (“Just a little bit goes a long way!”) and eliminating the butter.
  • Boosting flavor by adding your favorite low-sodium seasonings, like garlic and onion powder.


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 ten-ounce package of baby spinach
  • Salt or low-sodium seasonings
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil (and butter, if using). Add the chopped shallot and cook about three minutes, until soft.

Add the spinach to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the leaves are wilted. Toss in seasonings to taste, and serve warm.

Nutrition per serving (recipe yields 2 servings): 159 calories; 9 grams carbohydrates (2 grams sugar, 4 grams dietary fiber); 5 grams protein; 13 grams fat (5 grams saturated); 410 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from:

…and a tantalizing treat

Frozen yogurt bark

This sweet treat is topped with almonds and fruit which are both good sources of fiber. And instead of the traditional white chocolate, this bark is made with lower-fat, high-protein Greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt also contains probiotics, which help sustain a healthy gut. For added antioxidants — and to make it even more decadent — drizzle the bark with melted dark chocolate or adding dark chocolate chips.

For variations you can also:

  • Experiment with various Greek yogurt brands, as their flavors can vary.
  • Switch up the fruit — try shredded coconut and antioxidant-rich strawberries, raspberries or pomegranate arils for a fun Valentine’s Day color scheme.
  • Try a variety of unsalted nuts and seeds (chopped pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.). They all deliver healthy fats, but each contains slightly different nutrients.


  • 1 1/2 cups plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons honey or 100% pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, unsalted almonds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped mangoes (you can also use peaches, apricots or any favorite fruit)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup blackberries, chopped if large


Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with parchment paper.

Combine yogurt and honey in a medium bowl with a whisk. Using a spatula or knife, spread the yogurt mixture as thinly as possible over the paper.

Sprinkle with almonds and, using your fingertips, gently press the almonds into the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle the mango, blueberries and blackberries over the bark, pressing the fruit gently into the yogurt mixture.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Freeze overnight.

To serve, remove the baking dish from the freezer. Gently lift the parchment paper from the dish and transfer to a cutting board. Using your hands, break the bark into pieces (it may help to hit it lightly on the surface of the cutting board).

It's best to eat the bark immediately. It begins to melt 15 minutes after being removed from the freezer. Any leftover bark can be wrapped in parchment paper, put in a resealable plastic freezer bag, and frozen for up to one month.

Nutrition per serving (recipe yields 8 servings): 70 calories; 10 grams carbohydrates (9 grams sugars, 1 gram dietary fiber); 4 grams protein; 2 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated); 15 milligrams sodium.

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