Tweaking Grandma’s Recipes: Healthy Substitutes

Tweaking Grandma’s Recipes: Healthy Substitutes

My mother was an amazing woman who lived a full life that could be encapsulated in three words: family, faith, and food. She loved family, had an intense faith, and she was known for her love of preparing food. My mother considered cooking for the family and creating a healthful environment for the family to be the most important responsibilities of a parent. She understood the value of eating a balanced and fresh diet, and did not resort to feeding her family those early versions of processed, manufactured food that were stripped of nutrients. My sisters and I still follow many of the recipes and healthy tips she taught us growing up.

While my mom was always very health minded, for many families, recipes passed down through the generations are not as good for you as those my mom shared. In days gone by, grandma often cooked with less-healthy ingredients such as lard, bacon fat, and lots and lots of sugar. It can be a challenge to carry a long-loved family recipe forward when you’re wanting to eat healthier.

Here are some ideas for updating a recipe or food choice with a healthier option.

  •       Butter/oil/margarine: For baking, substitute equal amounts of unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, pureed fruit, Greek yogurt, or mashed avocado. For grilling, sautéing, or frying, substitute one-half the amount of extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
  •       Heavy cream: Substitute an equal amount of evaporated milk or unsweetened almond milk.
  •       Cream cheese: Save calories and fat by using Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese in a recipe or as a spread.
  •       Sour cream: Substitute an equal amount of plain yogurt or low-fat Greek yogurt.
  •       Mayonnaise: In recipes, substitute with the equal amount of plain yogurt. On a sandwich, consider using a drizzle of olive oil, a smear of pesto or hummus, or a dab of mustard.
  •       Cheese sauce: Instead of slathering cheese sauce over steamed vegetables, try a few favorite spices to enhance their flavor. Oregano, garlic, parsley, black pepper, or a few pepper flakes are ideal for steamed cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.
  •       Cheese dip and chips: For a low-calorie alternative to cheese dip and chips, substitute a homemade salsa for the dip and celery or other veggie sticks for the chips.
  •       Sugar: Substitute with half the amount of locally sourced honey. For brown sugar, add one tablespoon of pure maple syrup to the honey.
  •       Cake icing: Replace a thick outer layer of icing on a cake with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar (for a beautiful finish, lay a doily atop the cake first, and then remove it after the sugar is sprinkled).
  •       Canned fruit: Whenever possible, use fresh or frozen fruit over canned. When using canned fruit, choose fruit in juice versus heavy syrup.
  •       Meats: Beans or nuts can be high-protein substitutes for meat in some recipes, such as burgers. Portobello mushrooms also have a nutty flavor that work well in veggie burgers.
  •       Rice: Reduce calories and fat of rice cooked in broth by cooking it in water, then adding sprinkling on a few spices. Or switch out rice (over 200 calories per cup) with crumbled cauliflower (25 calories per cup).

It can a little creativity to update one of mom’s or grandma’s recipes. But with a little research—and perhaps some trial-and-error—you can continue to enjoy your favorites with a healthier twist.


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