Is there an air fryer sitting on your countertop these days? If you consider this kitchen tool your sidekick for making dinner quickly, I’m with you. Ever since it landed in my kitchen, the air fryer has become one of my favorite ways to cook, especially when I want crispy, crunchy foods. However, the more I use it, the more I turn to the air fryer not just for convenience and texture, but to make the foods I love with a healthier bent. Everything from crispy chicken tenders to coconut shrimp gets a healthy update thanks to the air fryer.
Along the way, I’ve begun to think in new ways around what healthy eating means and how to do it in a way that feels natural. Let’s take a look at some great air fryer recipes for healthy eating and a few ways to incorporate the air frying as a tool to support sustainable, healthy choices.
Jump ahead to:
How the air fryer can help you eat healthy >>
Healthy air fryer recipes: mains >>
Healthy air fryer recipes: veggies >>
How the air fryer can help you eat healthy
You’ll notice these dishes don’t feel restrictive or adhere to one diet (keto, Paleo, etc.) over another. Rather, they’re smartly prepared versions of dishes or foods we already love. That’s what makes the air fryer so helpful when you’re prioritizing your health as you choose what to cook for yourself and your family.
Because of the convection cooking used in air fryers, whatever you’re cooking ends up crispy and deeply browned, with a more developed flavor. All this is achieved without glugs of oil for frying. Think about how delicious a seared chicken breast tastes. With the air fryer you get that flavor without needing a ton of oil to do so.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind regarding the air fryer and healthy eating.
1. Air fry foods that are already good for you
Remember that air frying is a method of cooking, one in which hot circulating air helps to cook food until crispy. It does this without needing a lot of cooking fat. While this might make it easy to rationalize cooking snacky comfort foods — things like pizza bites, mozzarella sticks, and endless bags of frozen french fries (ahem, I am speaking from experience here!) — there’s no chance just because you air-fried these foods they’re somehow better for you.
So, build the foundation of what you cook in the air fryer with whole and nutritious food. Protein like salmon, chicken breasts, and pork chops, and veggies like zucchini, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. In the end, homemade, panko- and Parmesan-crusted chicken breasts made in the air fryer are a whole different situation from a bag of breaded chicken nuggets dumped into the basket. You know exactly what goes into the recipe you made at home, which means you can make adjustments as needed.
2. Air fry foods that are new to you
The ways you prepare a food — especially vegetables — can transform how it tastes. Remember when we went from a group of eaters who loathed Brussels sprouts to diners who snapped up the tiny little cabbages off of every restaurant menu under the sun? Roasting is responsible for our change of heart. When blasted with high heat (something the air fryer does as well as the oven), Brussels sprouts become delightfully crispy and even a touch sweet. When you’re thinking about the vegetables in your life — and the ones you’ve avoided — consider air frying them as a whole new way to experience all they have to offer.
3. Use the air fryer for meal prep
Nothing supports healthy eating quite like having prepared nutritious food right at your fingertips. The next time you’re spending a Sunday meal prepping, consider the air fryer a partner in prep. For salmon fillets and chicken breasts to veggie sides like green beans or cauliflower, use your air fryer to batch-cook healthy food for weeknights so you’re set up for success. The recipes listed below would all work for meal prep.
Healthy air fryer recipes: mains
From chicken to meatballs to salmon, these are the dishes you can build meals around. Pair these main dishes with veggie-heavy sides for a nutritious and balanced meal.
The air fryer is primarily responsible for rendering these chicken wings crispy, but baking powder is what helps them earn extra-crispy status. That’s because the baking powder helps the chicken to brown even faster. The seasoning blend on these wings (salt, garlic, chili powder) make them tasty when served just as they are, but if you’re feeling saucy, reach for your favorite BBQ, ranch, or what-have-you. The next time you’re craving wings, skip the deep-fried ones from the corner pizza joint and make these.
We all need a go-to healthy air fryer chicken breast recipe. This one does it for me — especially when I want chicken as a topper for a quick salad or grain bowl. This recipe is for two chicken breasts and uses dried spices including hardworking, herby Italian seasoning to build flavor. After a couple of minutes in the air fryer, you’ve got juicy chicken breasts with the most appealing golden sear. Has this dish whetted your appetite for air fryer chicken breast recipes? There are more where this came from.
Okay, remember that bag of breaded chicken nuggets I mentioned earlier? Instead of reaching for those when hunger strikes, whip up these easy-to-make healthy air fryer chicken tenders. Some of the breadcrumbs are replaced with Parmesan cheese, which keeps them carb-conscious. And since these are not fried, they’re not full of unnecessary fat. I tend to make extra of these and freeze them for those days when the call (and ease) of chicken nuggets is strong.
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to salmon. You want the flavor of the fish to come through with just enough seasoning to highlight its flavor. That’s why I like this recipe. It uses heart-healthy avocado oil, salt, pepper, and paprika to flavor the fish. But the real reason you need to try this healthy air fryer salmon recipe is for the cooking method. In 7 minutes you’ll have juicy, perfectly cooked salmon. Keep in mind that if you make more than what the recipe calls for, the cook time might need to be increased.
I can’t get over how vibrant, juicy, and seriously flavorful these air fryer pork chops are. In part, that’s to do with starting off with a thick, center-cut chop that won’t dry out during cooking. Serving them with a delicious Italian-style salsa verde doesn’t hurt either. The pork chops are seasoned like classic Italian porchetta (with fennel seeds, black pepper, fresh rosemary, and red pepper flakes), so don’t be surprised if you get people wandering into the kitchen asking you what’s for dinner the second the chops start cooking.
Air fryer meatballs are definitely a game changer — especially if you normally pan-fry your meatballs and finish them off in sauce. There’s no sputtering in hot oil here! A mixture of lean ground beef and lean ground pork keeps the fat levels in check without omitting the flavor, so you won’t have to worry about messy cooking or bland meatballs. I love to make meatballs for meal prep and enjoy them on salad and in soups. Any extras go straight to the freezer.
Sometimes, healthy eating looks like satisfying your cravings without compromising your health goals. If you’re a major fan of the sweet and crispy taste of coconut shrimp but are trying to limit the fried foods in your life, this thoughtful version deserves your attention. It uses sweetened shredded coconut (you can go for unsweetened instead, though the flavor is very different), panko, and flour for the breading — the regular cast — so the flavor is just like what you’re craving. But skipping the deep fryer in favor of the air fryer means you don’t feel weighed down after eating them. I really like these when a veggie stir-fry is also on the menu. For serving, you might skip the usual sugary sweet chili dipping sauce for a squeeze of lemon.
Healthy air fryer recipes: veggies
Air fryer veggies are in a class of their own. The hot air of the air fryer turns every veggie into the crispiest, crunchiest version of itself. Here are a few faves to include when you want both flavor and good nutrition in your side dish.
I’m convinced if you roast — or air fry — veggies with a blend of Parmesan cheese, panko bread crumbs, and some form of herb or spice, you’ll turn anyone into a vegetable lover. In this case, a half pound of Brussels sprouts serves as proof of concept. I like them reheated in the air fryer the next day to serve alongside fried eggs and bacon for breakfast!
Maybe you’ve already tried your hand at zucchini fries made in the air fryer and you’re a believer just seeking more of the good stuff. Look no further than these delicious zucchini chips made with bold Cajun seasoning. To make sure these crisp up, cut them super thin. A mandoline or very sharp knife does the trick. You might find yourself reaching for a batch of these over a bag of chips. They’re that good.
The crispy skin on a baked potato can be an overlooked attribute, but once you’ve had air fryer baked potatoes, you’ll be claiming them as your favorite part. The potatoes cook up fluffy on the inside, making them the perfect invitation for good-for-you toppers like sautéed peppers or Greek yogurt and a drizzle of pesto. When we say loaded baked potato, we’re talking about loading it up with things that are good for you!
I love when a recipe can help me fall in love with a vegetable all over again. With a warm and spicy combination of cinnamon and chili powder, this easy dish of seasoned sweet potatoes does just that. Add in tart cranberries and red onions, which develop their own sweetness during cooking, and the veggie dish you get is just as good for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner.
When they aren’t deep-fried, vegetable egg rolls are such a delicious, healthy little package. I like a recipe like this one because it puts the emphasis on “vegetable.” Filled with cabbage slaw, onion, and bell peppers, these are crispy without a residue of oil from deep frying to coat your fingertips. And there’s a bonus of flaxseeds for protein and healthy fat. If you have a smaller air fryer, cook these off in batches of two to allow for the best browning.
Convenient and healthy
At Yummly, we have loads of recipes to support you in your healthy eating goals, whether you’re looking for a light chicken thigh soup for the Instant Pot, for sweet potato fries and Buffalo cauliflower to cook in the air fryer, or salmon with an easy frozen spinach stuffing to bake in the oven. Check out more ideas in the following collections.