Making a few easy substitutions and using healthful cooking techniques can help you rejuvenate your favorite family recipes. There is no single way to change a recipe, but making small changes here and there can make big differences nutritionally.
Essential: Just as important as having the right ingredients is having the correct utensils for cooking healthier. Get a good quality set of nonstick skillets, baking pans, and saucepans so you can sauté and bake without having to add extra fat.
You may have to use less of an ingredient, substitute one ingredient for another, take an ingredient out completely, or add a new ingredient. The result of each change may be just a little bit different, but that is all right. Substituting ingredients and making over a recipe may take some trial and error, but the result will make the effort worth it.
Use these steps to help you modify recipes:
- Start by taking a look at the ingredients in the recipe and deciding which can be changed or modified to fit your nutritional goal, such as low fat, low sodium, or low sugar. Some ingredients have functional properties within the recipe, so be careful what you change.
- For easy substitutions, you can try substituting modified foods such as egg substitutes, reduced-fat cheese, reduced-fat sour cream, and sodium-reduced broth or soups.
- Think about the ingredient you are going to replace. If it is salt, that is what may give flavor to the dish, so be sure to replace it with some herbs and spices. To add a little more fiber and cut some fat, you can substitute whole-wheat noodles for egg noodles.
- Decide which ingredients you can eliminate altogether without altering the flavor or appearance of the dish.
- Decide what ingredients you can add to the recipe to add nutritional value, such as adding wheat germ to casseroles or shredded carrots to lasagna. Both will go unnoticed, but will add extra nutrition to the dish.
- Make changes to your recipe gradually. Just make one or two ingredient changes the first time you modify it to see what the results are. If those few changes work well, try a few more the next time.
- Modifying the method in which you prepare the dish can make big changes. Simple changes such as skimming the fat that collects on stew, rinsing ground meat after browning it, skipping the salt and oil in cooking water, or oven-baking chicken instead of frying it can all make big changes to fat and sodium content.
Recipe Makeover Tips
Once you have looked over your recipe and decided which ingredients can be modified, use some of the following suggestions for possible modification techniques:
- Replace cooking oil with vegetable spray or 1 to 2 tablespoons of defatted broth, water, or juice when sautéing.
- Fat-free cheese may not melt as smoothly as its full-fat counterparts. One option is to use finely shredded cheese. Low-fat cheese usually melts well, and it still cuts some fat from your recipe.
- For sauces and soups, try tossing cheese with a small amount of flour or cornstarch before melting it.
- For sour cream, substitute low-fat or nonfat sour cream, low-fat yogurt, or blend 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon skim milk and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
- For mayonnaise, substitute reduced-fat or fat-free versions, or use low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt.
- Because reduced-fat margarines are diluted with water, they should not be substituted for their full-fat counterparts one-to-one. To compensate for the extra water, substitute three-quarters as much of the light product for the full-fat margarine.
- Replace ricotta cheese with a lower-fat version or with 1 percent cottage cheese.
- Trim all visible fat and skin from meat before cooking.
- Replace a quarter to a half of the ground meat in casseroles or sauces with cooked brown rice, bulgur, couscous, dried beans, or tofu to decrease fat and increase fiber.
- Use pureed cooked vegetables instead of cream, egg yolks, or roux to thicken sauces and soups.
Fact: If sugar is the primary sweetener in your recipe that is not baked, scale down by 25 percent. For example, instead of 1 cup of sugar, use ¾ cup. Try adding a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice to increase the sweetness without adding extra calories.
Holiday Baking Tips
The holidays are the season for all kinds of goodies. Whether it's pumpkin pie, chocolate cake, or chocolate chip cookies, there are always plenty of sweet treats to choose from. Regardless of whether you are a baker, you may take to the kitchen at this time of year. The most popular holiday treats are usually quite high in fat, sugar, and calories. But you don't have to give up your favorite sweet treats if you modify your recipes to healthier versions. Here are just a few ideas:
- Substitute graham-cracker crusts for the traditional flour crusts on pies.
- Consider making apple, peach, or berry cobblers instead of a traditional pie; the dough used to make the cobbler is much lower in fat!
- For fat in baked goods such as pumpkin bread, banana bread, or brownies, use an equivalent amount of applesauce as a substitute for most (or even all!) of the oil.
- Use nonfat condensed milk when a recipe calls for condensed milk, or use skim milk in place of whole milk.
- For filled cookies, use chopped dates or 100 percent fruit spread rather than jelly.
- If the recipe calls for nuts or coconut, reduce the amount and try toasting to enhance the flavor.
- To cut down on saturated fat content, use vegetable oils instead of margarine, butter, or lard in your recipes.
- Substitute half of the fat in a chocolate cake recipe with an equal amount of pureed prunes or low-fat mayonnaise.
- Increase fiber in baked goods by using whole-wheat flour for at least half of the all-purpose white flour.
- Use equal portions of evaporated milk as a substitute for heavy cream.
- Instead of spreading frosting on brownies or cakes, sprinkle powdered sugar on top, or use a low-fat or fat-free whipped topping as frosting.
- If you decide to cook with artificial sweeteners, use a saccharin-based product. Aspartame breaks down and loses much of its sweetness when heated.
- If the recipe calls for baking chocolate, try cocoa instead. Replace one ounce of baking chocolate with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
- Since egg yolks, not egg whites, contain fat and cholesterol, use two egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute for one whole egg.