Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recipe Makeovers: How Can I Modify Recipes to Make Them More Healthy?

I am a 31-year old mother of 4, trying to eat more healthy, for myself and also to prepare more healthy meals for my family. I have recipes my family loves and that have been in the family for generations. How can I adjust them to be more healthy?   Linda C.

Hi Linda,

This is a great question, and I'm sure many people are wondering if they can still use those old recipes. It seems people back then didn't pay any attention to lard or sugar content!

To lower fat content in entree recipes: Many recipes calling for cream or whole milk can be adjusted by using low-fat or fat-free (skim) milk. If you need the consistency to be thicker, like with a sauce, consider using a bit of flour (start with a small amount and stir it quickly and constantly over heat, mixing with the other ingredients) or cornstarch. You may use pureed vegetables, too, depending on the dish--adding pureed tomato to a creamy pasta sauce, for example, might just be an improvement on the recipe!

For casseroles that call for cream soup, just reach over to the next row for the "light" soups that are reduced in sodium and/or fat. My pantry is always stocked with low-fat cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups for those creamy casseroles that go over so well on a cold winter day.

To lower fat content in baked goods: Lots of desserts call for sticks of butter or cups of crisco. You can cut down the fat content by using a lower fat product, or less of the full-fat ingredient. Some light butters are great substitutes for butter sticks, but read the label first--some indicate they are not appropriate for cooking.
I think you can always skimp and cut up to 1/4 of the fat out, but if you're going to cut out more than that, you'll need to replace with another ingredient to keep the final texture pleasant.
For waffles I have substituted yogurt for the oil, and you can use either plain or flavored--the flavored yogurt lends its fruity taste to the waffle and keeps it moist.
For quickbreads and cookies I'll cut the fat in half and replace the missing half with applesauce, vanilla or lemon yogurt, or light sour cream. You'll need to experiment, and be sure to make notes on your recipe card so you can remember what you tried and what worked!
For cake mixes I love the idea which someone told me came from their Weight-Watchers group: Instead of adding egg and oil as directed, just pour in one can of soda! That's all--just a can of diet or regular soda, and you're taking about 100 calories off each serving of cake. The texture is a little more like sponge-cake and some people will notice the difference (like my husband did) but I think it tastes just great!

To lower sugar content in baked goods, in my opinion you can automatically cut the added sugar by at least 1/4 or 1/3 without noticing. I just baked a peach crisp this weekend and left off not just the 1/2-to-1-cup of sugar they suggested pouring over the peaches (I sprinkled 2 tsp over the top--and that's just because I also mixed some cherries in and they were tart), but cut the cup of brown sugar to mix into the crumb part by 1/3 as well. It still tastes fabulous, as any fruit-containing dessert will!
Sometimes I replace 1/2 the fat with applesauce when making gingerbread, banana bread, etc, and in this case you are getting the sweetening power of the applesauce so again you can cut down on the sugar by 1/3 to 1/2.
Fans of artificial sweeteners use them in place of sugar. I'm not a fan of the taste, so I can't speak to personal experience with this substitution, but I understand it works well for many bakers.

Let me know if you have a particular recipe in mind and I'll make suggestions for replacements!
And feel free to post other tips on reducing fat and sugar in cooking and baking below so we can all try them out :)


  1. Denise DenutritionistAugust 20, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    Replacing the egg & oil in a cake mix with a can of pop (soda) is a neat idea which I'd never heard of! Looking forward to trying it out; are any particular flavours recomended over others (ie. 7-Up over a darker pop like Coke/Pepsi)??

  2. Hi Denise--Great Question! I've heard of ways to mix flavors for the best outcome: cherry coke in chocolate cake; lemon-lime soda in white or orange cake; and colas in spice cake.