6 Recipe Makeover Tips to Cook Healthier Meals

Small changes to your recipes can lead to big calorie cuts. A few ingredient swaps can make home-cooked dishes so much healthier.

I’ve talked about small changes you can make at the grocery store – that is, after all, where the path to healthy eating begins. Now that you’ve brought your healthy ingredients home, it’s important to cook them in the right way.

With just a few small changes, you can make every dish you prepare at home a little bit better, so over time, you can develop healthy eating habits.

How to Adjust Recipes to Make Healthier Meals

When it comes to recipe makeovers, a good place to start is with your “go-to” foods: those dishes that you make over and over again. If you transform a recipe for a dish that you eat every week, the calories you cut out can really make a difference in the long run.

Here are some of my best tips for cutting down on fat and calories when you cook:

1. Make healthy swaps

Look over the list of ingredients and see if you can make some healthy swaps to reduce fat and calories or boost its nutritional value. Would plain yogurt work in your dish instead of sour cream? Would ground turkey work just as well as ground beef? Could you add more fiber by using brown rice instead of white?

2. Consider the amounts of some ingredients

If a recipe calls for frying, could you sauté or stir-fry instead to reduce the fat? Can you use less salt or sugar? Could you double the vegetables called for?

3. Don’t wrong a right

Don’t be fooled into thinking that by starting with very-low-calorie ingredients, it means you have extra calories to “play with” when you cook. If you fry instead of grill, or sauce instead of steam, by the time you’re finished, you may as well have eaten a cheeseburger.

4. Add veggies and fruits

Add diced vegetables to soups, chili, meatloaf, casseroles, tuna or chicken salad and pasta sauce to reduce overall calories and boost nutrition. You can also add fresh fruits to your salad for a change. Try slices of orange, tangerine, apples or kiwi. Use deep green leafy vegetables instead of iceberg lettuce for more nutrition.

5. Be smart about seasoning

Season steamed vegetables with lemon, vinegar, herbs, garlic, onion and spices rather than relying on butter, sauces or salt. Try different mustards and kinds of vinegar for seasoning salads and veggies without fat. Incorporate heart-healthy “good” fat by using olive oil and flaxseed oil.

6. Cook once, eat twice

Double the recipe for dishes that freeze well, such as soups, stews, and casseroles. That way, when you’re tired and don’t want to cook, you can pull something healthy from the freezer rather than pulling into the drive-through. This is also a good exercise on portion control and meal planning.

Additionally, I’ve put together a table of swaps you can try for some common ingredients that can help you lighten up your favorite recipes. Have fun experimenting, and don’t be surprised if you end up liking the healthier version even better!

If the recipe calls for… Use this instead….
Ground beef Ground turkey or chicken breast, plant-based substitutes like soy ground round
Butter or margarine for baking Applesauce; baby food prunes or carrots; mashed banana or avocado
Butter to sauté vegetables Pan spray; broth, wine, vegetable juice
Cheese Reduced fat cheese
Eggs in baking Egg whites or egg substitutes
Mayonnaise Nonfat mayonnaise
Nuts Reduce by half
White rice or regular pasta Brown rice or whole-grain pasta
Sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, cream Use nonfat versions; evaporated nonfat milk in place of cream
Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.

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