Makeover Monday: Use This, Not That

While my interest in cooking remains in the not to mildly range, I’ve been collecting tips on how to make home-cooked dishes healthier and to reduce the calories involved, where possible. Most of the general guidelines I’ve learned are probably common knowledge among you cooking types, and I’ll hope you’ll share the results of your experiences with us in the comments. I share my notes here, primarily to get them recorded in one central place for my own future experimentation.

Sugar – Many recipes can tolerate a sugar reduction of 1/3 to 1/2. As I understand it, for cookies and cakes and such, you can replace the sugar you’re omitting with nonfat dry milk to preserve the richness. Not only would that reduce calories, it would add protein, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. Or you could double the amount of vanilla to increase the sweet taste without adding calories. Dried fruits (raisins, dates, or apricots) are also good choices to replace the omitted sugar.

Flour – You can add fiber to recipes by replacing 1/4 to 1/2 of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, oat bran, or ground oatmeal.

Fat – Apparently, many recipes are still quite tasty even if 1/3 of the fat is eliminated. For substitution, an equal amount of applesauce or plain, non-fat yogurt can be used. This will create extra moisture, so any liquids called for may need to be reduced. For flavorful fat substitutions , try substituting pureed prunes, pureed pumpkin, or grated zucchini for the omitted fat. You can also substitute 2 egg whites for 1 whole egg to reduce saturated fat.

Salt – While some recipes (yeast breads, rolls) need salt for texture and taste, other recipes can have the salt omitted or reduced substantially, and replaced with herbs and spices.

Obviously, these are just a few of the basics, and I’m sure there’s sometimes a trade-off in taste or consistency. I’m sure there’s also a lot of “tinkering” that goes on to find the right combination. I hear this is fun. :)

In cooking, as in life, there are all sorts of exchanges and trades that can be made. Cook’s Thesaurus has an impressive list of substitutions. Fabulous Foods has some great suggestions for reducing fat content of recipes. HeartHealthyLiving magazine has an online slide show with good substitutions for common ingredients. And perhaps the most ambitious of all, VegetarianTimes has an awesome list of substitutions for meat ingredients.

With that, I’ll pass the microphones to you all. Have you tried any of the substitutions described here? Do you have any other substitutions to share? Altered recipes you think the rest of us need to know about?

I’m looking forward to trying new, healthier recipes this winter. I’ll never make “foodie” status, but it should be fun playing around with favorite older recipes. It will be my mission in life to come up with a healthier version of Rotel Cheese Dip. Holiday parties just aren’t the same without it. :)

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