Modifying a Recipe to be Healthier

Revised by: Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator
Cheryle Jones Syracuse, Extension Educator
Ohio State University Extension

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes we need to reduce the amount of fat, sodium (salt) and added sugar we consume, and increase our consumption of fiber. When buying food, we can check the label, but when using a recipe we may need to make some changes by substituting ingredients or changing the cooking technique. Just like you substitute when you are out of a certain ingredient, you can make changes in a recipe so that it is healthier.

The following fact sheet provides you with ways to decrease the amount of fat, calories, sugar and salt (sodium) in your recipes. Ways to increase the fiber in your recipes is provided to help you make more nutritious food. Remember you can experiment with recipes and change ingredients. You may also be able to find other recipes that are similar to yours that have less fat, sugar, salt, and have more additions of nutritious ingredients. Have fun when you are cooking: Experiment!

Tips to decrease the total fat and lower calories

Instead of:

Try using this:

Shortening, butter, margarine, or solid fat.

Use ¼ less liquid oil or solid fat called for in the recipe. If recipe calls for 1 cup use ¾ cup. If recipe uses ¼ cup shortening, use 3 Tablespoons oil. Use equal amounts of oil for melted shortening, margarine or butter.

Shortening, butter, or oil in baking

Use applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening or oil. May need to reduce baking time by 25%.

Whole milk, half and half or evaporated milk

Use skim milk, Skim PlusT, 1% milk, evaporated skim milk, fat-free half and half , or plain soymilk with calcium.

Butter, shortening, margarine, or oil to prevent sticking.

Fat to sauté or stir-fry.

When frying foods use cooking spray, water, broth or nonstick pans.

Full-fat cream cheese

Use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese, Neufchatel or low-fat cottage cheese pureed until smooth.

Full-fat sour cream
Full-fat cottage cheese
Full-fat Ricotta cheese

Use nonfat or reduced fat sour cream or fat-free plain yogurt. (Yogurt is not heat stable.) Use 2% or fat-free cottage cheese. Use part-skim ricotta.

Whipping cream

Use evaporated skim milk
Use nonfat whipped topping or cream (This is only nonfat if a single serving size is used.)


Use egg whites (usually 2 egg whites for every egg) or ¼ cup egg substitute.

Whole fat cheese

Use reduced fat cheese, but add it at the end of the baking time or use part skim mozzarella.

Frying in fat

Use cooking methods such as bake, boil, broil, grill, poach, roast, stir-fry, or microwave.

Regular mayonnaise or salad dressing

Use low fat, reduced or nonfat mayonnaise or salad dressing.

Canned fish

Use water-packed canned products or canned products packed in ‘lite’ syrup.

Fatter cuts of meat – skin on

Leaner cuts of meat or ground meat, remove skin before cooking.

Tips to reduce sodium:

Instead of:

Try using this:


Omit salt or reduce salt by ½ in most recipes (except in products with yeast).

Cook foods without adding salt.

Don’t put the salt shaker on the table.

Frozen or canned vegetables

Choose frozen vegetables without sauces or use no-salt-added canned goods.

Rinsing canned vegetables will help reduce sodium.

Seasoning Salt or spice mixes with salt

Use salt-free seasonings and spice mixes. Use herbs, spices, lemon juice, or vinegar to flavor food instead of salt. Seasonings high in sodium include catsup, chili sauce, chili powder, bouillon cubes, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and meat tenderizers.

Ways to increase Fiber:

Instead of:

Try using this:

White rice, enriched grains

Whole grain, brown rice, wild rice, whole cornmeal (not degermed), whole barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous.

All purpose flour

Substitute whole wheat flour for up to ½ of the flour. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups flour, try 1 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour. Use “white whole-wheat flour” or “whole wheat pastry flour” for total amount of all-purpose flour.

Pastas, crackers, cookies, cereals

Whole grain pastas, crackers, cookies, and cereals.

White bread

100% whole wheat bread and 100% whole grain bread.

Iceberg lettuce

Romaine lettuce, endive, and other leafy lettuces, or baby spinach.


Use more dried beans and peas. Add legumes and lentils to many different dishes: try adding lentils to your spaghetti sauce.

Peeled fruit and vegetables

Add extra fruits and vegetables, such as adding carrots to spaghetti sauce, leaving apple peels in apple crisp, zucchini bread, etc. Add extra fruits and vegetables to recipes and include the peel when appropriate.

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