Delicious but nutritious pie recipes

Specialist Dietitian, Bupa Cromwell Hospital
04 March 2020

The Great British pie is a traditional dish loved by many and celebrated even more so during the first week of March with National Pie week! But with healthy eating in mind, pies can often be calorific and loaded with saturated fat, both in a pastry topping and meat filling. Here, I share my top tips to making your pies that bit healthier, as well as two delicious recipes for you to try yourself.


Simple swaps can make a pie recipe healthier and more nutritious, but just as tasty. Here are my top 10 tips.

  1. Use white or sweet potato as a topping rather than pastry. Potatoes are lower in saturated fat, higher in fibre, and contain vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes also count as one of your five-a-day.
  2. If you’re using mashed potato as a topping or side, mash with olive oil or vegetable spread rather than butter for less calories and saturated fat.
  3. If you’re topping your pie with cheese, use grated mature cheeses as these have a stronger flavour. This means you can use a smaller portion size but achieve the same taste.
  4. If you’re making meat-based pies, use lean cuts or extra lean mince and include plenty of vegetables with it to bulk it out.
  5. Make your meat filling go further by mixing in a tin of lentils or beans. Replacing some of the meat with pulses lowers the meal’s saturated fat content and adds protein and fibre.
  6. If you want to use pastry, only put it on top of the pie (as a lid), not underneath (lining the dish). This can reduce the saturated fat per portion by 40 percent and calories by 25 percent.
  7. If you make your own pastry, use an unsaturated fat spread (for example, made with olive or sunflower oil) rather than butter or lard. This can halve the saturated fat content of your pastry.
  8. Don’t use a low-fat spread (less than 38 percent fat or 38g fat per 100g), as the higher water content will leave you with tough pastry.
  9. Swap a shortcrust top for filo pastry to reduce the fat content further. This pastry has the lowest fat content by far.
  10. Pies are high in energy, so be mindful of your portion size. Eat as part of a meal with vegetables on the side.

Recipe: vegetarian Shepherd's pie

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp rosemary, chopped
  • 200ml white wine
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400g tin brown or green lentils
  • 900g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 50g butter
  • 50 to 75g mature cheddar cheese, grated

Filling

  • In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the oil and fry the onion with the star anise until softened.
  • Reduce the temperature to low.
  • Add the carrot, tomato purée, garlic and most of the herbs (keep a good pinch back for the top of the pie) and cook for two minutes.
  • Pour in the wine and simmer for five minutes until reduced slightly.
  • Remove star anise, then add the stock cube, tinned tomatoes and lentils with their juice, and 50ml of water.
  • Cook for ten minutes until the carrots are tender. Season to taste.

Potato topping

  • Cover the sweet potatoes with cold water in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Drain then return to the pan and mash with the butter and plenty of seasoning.

Cooking

  • Heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
  • Spoon lentil mixture into a two-litre pie dish and dollop the mash over the top.
  • Sprinkle with enough cheese to just cover the mash and the remaining herbs.
  • Cook for 20 minutes, or for 35 minutes from chilled, until piping hot all the way through and golden on top.

Recipe: chicken and vegetable pie

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 450ml chicken stock
  • 100ml white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 tarragon sprig, plus 1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves
  • 225g carrots, cut into batons
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts, 500g total weight
  • 225g leeks, sliced
  • 2 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 heaped tbsp chopped flat-leaf or curly parsley
  • 70g filo pastry (approx three 39 x 30cm sheets)
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Filling

  • Pour the stock and wine into a large, wide frying pan.
  • Add the garlic, thyme, tarragon sprig and carrots, bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for three minutes.
  • Lay the chicken in the stock, grind over some pepper, cover and simmer for five minutes.
  • Scatter the leek slices over the chicken, cover again then gently simmer for 10 more minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and let the chicken sit in the stock for about 15 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into a jug. You should have 500ml (if not, make up with water).
  • Tip the chicken and veg into a 1.5 litre pie dish and discard the herb sprigs.
  • Pour the stock back into the frying pan, then slowly pour in the cornflour mix.
  • Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraîche, mustard, chopped tarragon and parsley.
  • Tear or cut the chicken into chunky shreds. Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture, then stir everything together.
  • Heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

Topping and cooking

  • Cut each sheet of filo into four squares or rectangles. Layer them on top of the filling, brushing each sheet with some of the oil as you go. Lightly scrunch up the filo so it doesn’t lie completely flat.
  • Tuck the edges into the sides of the dish or lay them on the edges if the dish has a rim.
  • Grind over a little pepper, place the dish on a baking sheet, then bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Serve immediately.

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    Rebecca McBride
    Specialist Dietitian, Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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