Choosing and Adapting Recipes for Healthy Cooking

Being a true healthy eater means preparing the majority of your meals at home and choosing to cook healthfully.  This does not mean you have to give up on taste.  Healthy eating is fabulously delicious.  And there is no better feeling than knowing you are nourishing your body and the bodies of those you love with healthy foods.

Healthy cooking begins with choosing recipes.  When searching for a new recipe, you have to ask yourself two questions:

 Is this recipe healthy?  and  Can I make it healthier?

The first thing to do when considering a recipe is to look at the ingredients.  The ingredients will tell you whether the recipe is healthy or not.

Some recipes can be adapted or changed, and some need to be avoided.

For example, if you are looking for a dinner recipe and you see one for chicken and vegetables on top of white  pasta in a broth-based sauce, that’s a good choice—as long as you make a few changes.  Change the white pasta to whole grain, be sure to use low-sodium broth and increase the amount of vegetables. Now you’ve changed the recipe for the better!

However, if you see a recipe for Fettucine Alfredo with heavy cream, butter, cheese and white pasta, pass.  Heart attack in a bowl.  Look for a pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce instead.  Or if you see a cookie recipe that uses two sticks of butter and 2 cups of sugar, pass.  That amount of butter and sugar is absolutely excessive, even for a dessert.  Most cookie or muffin recipes call for way more sugar than is necessary to create a delicious sweet treat and the amount of sugar can easily be reduced without giving up on taste.

Most of the time, changing or adapting a recipe will not drastically alter the taste, but it may change the texture…like in baking.  Reducing the amount of butter you use in a standard cookie recipe will make the cookie more cake-like rather than crispy. But then you don’t have to feel so bad when you eat too many of them.

You have to consider what is important to you.  Would you rather make something unhealthy and, although it may taste delicious, feel crappy after eating it because unhealthy foods make you feel that way?  Or would you rather make some simple changes to a recipe to make it healthier and then feel great about eating it?  Although I do agree with the saying “everything in moderation”, we have to be realistic and realize that we aren’t so “moderate” with our portions— in fact we eat WAY LARGER portions than we should.  So if you don’t think you can STOP eating Aunt Judi’s cookies or Grandma Rose’s lasagna after you make it, then you’re better off eating a healthier version instead.

Here are some ways you can CHANGE a recipe to make it healthier:

If a recipe calls for ground beef, use ground turkey, ground chicken or grass-fed ground beef instead. You can also use less meat than is called for in a recipe, such as less meat and more vegetables in a bolognese sauce.

If a recipe calls for chicken thighs, you can substitute chicken breasts instead.

If a recipe calls for butter, you can use olive oil instead.

If a brussel sprouts dish calls for bacon, eliminate the bacon.  Brussel sprouts are totally delicious when roasted or sautéed, and guess what?  Minus the bacon you can actually taste the sprout instead of overwhelming it with the taste of bacon.  Side note: bacon contains a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and sodium and takes a vegetable from healthy to not-so-much.

If a pizza recipe calls for white crust, gobs of cheese and sausage, use a whole-wheat or sprouted-grain crust, lots of veggies, crushed tomatoes for sauce, lots of oregano and just a small amount of cheese instead.

If a cookie or muffin recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use only 1/2 cup.

If a cookie or muffin recipe calls for 1 stick of butter, you can replace half with applesauce instead.  This may change the texture, but you won’t feel as badly when you overeat it 🙂

If a homemade salad dressing calls for 1 cup or 1/2 cup of extra oil, use only 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil instead.

If a recipe calls for white pasta, use whole wheat pasta or spaghetti squash noodles or zucchini noodles instead.

If a recipe calls for white couscous, use quinoa, farro, barley or whole wheat couscous instead.

If a recipe calls for white rice, use brown or black rice instead.

If a recipe calls for white flour, use all or partial or whole wheat flour instead.

If a recipe calls for a lot of cheese, reduce the amount by half.

If a recipe calls for sour cream, use Greek yogurt instead.

If a recipe calls for cream, use mostly unsweetened almond milk, skim or 2% milk and just a touch of cream instead.

If a recipe calls for broth, be sure to use low-sodium varieties.

If a recipe calls for artificial sweetener like Stevia, unless your diabetic, use regular sugar instead.  (Google the equivalents and then reduce the sugar!)

If a recipe calls for a lot of oil, reduce the amount. For example, instead of frying foods in large amounts of oil, you can usually saute in a small amount of oil or bake.

If a recipe calls for pork or beef sausage, use chicken or turkey sausage instead.

Sometimes you can ADD to a recipe to make it healthier.  Here are some examples:

When baking muffins or healthy cookies, add 1/4 cup ground flaxseed.

When making soups, puree a can of beans and add it to the soup.

Double up on spices in recipes when possible!

Add extra vegetables to any recipe whenever possible!

Cooking is a way to nourish your body and it can be a lot of fun!  But be sure to choose recipes that are healthy.  You can explore many great recipes on this blog, so give one a try today!



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