Recipe Makeover: Part I

I would like to make it known that a recipe doesn’t always have to have “healthy”, “light”, or “diet” in the title in order for it to fit into your diet or meal plan. A lot of recipes are healthy on their own and some can be tweaked or modified to make them fit into your plan. It takes a little practice and some analytical skills but I believe that anyone can do it.

Whenever I look for recipes, I always read the ingredient list first. Not only am I looking to see if the ingredients are affordable and tasty, but to see if I need to adjust the amounts or replace some ingredients in order to make the recipe healthier.  

Cut down on fat, sugar, and salt.

A lot of recipes contain large amounts of fat, sugar, and salt because these ingredients help to improve taste and mouth feel to food. The truth is, though they may taste good, they are dangerous to our health in large amounts. Butter, heavy cream, oil, cheese, syrup, honey, soy sauce, olives are examples of ingredients that can be modified by choosing a lower fat, sodium, or sugar version or by decreasing the amount. You’d be surprised at how much you can alter these ingredients without changing the taste of the finished product!

In order to adjust the fat, sugar, and salt content, you should first try to understand how much is appropriate per serving. 

  • Fat:  1 tsp of butter, 1 tbsp of heavy cream, one whole egg (and the rest white). 
  • Sugar: 1 tsp of sugar, honey, or syrups.
  • Salt:  1/4 tsp table salt. A good tip is to avoid adding salt until the very end of cooking so that it doesn’t lose it’s salty taste.
  •  3 tsp = 1 tbsp.

Then, multiply these amounts by the number of servings the recipe makes and use no more than that when preparing the meal. For example, if the recipe you are about to prepare serves 6 people and calls for a half a stick of butter (12 tsp= 4 tbsp), you would need to cut the amount in half in order for it to fit the guideline. Therefore I would use a quarter of  a stick of butter (6 tsp = 2 tbsp). Refer to this article  for additional tips on making healthy substitution ideas.

Fight for “nutrient dense” ingredients.

Always scan the recipe to see if it contains ingredients full of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are beneficial to your health  such as bright colored vegetables and fruits, whole grain, beans/legumes, and spice blends. If the recipe doesn’t contain a good amount of these nutrient dense foods, I would brainstorm ways to incorporate them into your recipe.

Try to imagine the type of food you are cooking and add vegetables that would fit with the flavor or cuisine. You can always find ways to incorporate vegetables and spices into your soups, pastas, casseroles, and wraps. For example, when a recipe calls for a pound of ground beef, I always use 3/4 of a pound of lean ground beef and add 4 ounces of chopped mushrooms. Or, if I have a casserole that takes a while to bake, I will add load it up with a bunch rough textured vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, squash, celery, and green beans. Read this article for more ideas of ways to incorporate vegetables into your food!

I hope this helps inspire you to get back into the kitchen this month and aim for at least 3-4 home cooked dinners a week. Please share any suggestions you have tried on your own!

Recipe of the week:

Lighter Crab Cakes– Instead of the typical heavy breading batter and oil used for frying, this recipe from Cooking Light uses mostly lump crab meat and fresh ingredients. I followed the step by step directions and they came out just as good if not better than restaurant quality!

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