5 Ways to Lighten Up Family Favorites

Got a favorite family recipe you can’t live without? Try these tips for making your classic dishes healthier.

Start with one small change. You probably won’t be able to taste the difference. Slowly try making other changes, one at a time.

1. Reduce fat.

  • Choose low-fat or nonfat versions of mayonnaise and dairy products like milk, cheese, sour cream, and yogurt.
  • Use canola oil in place of half the butter when you bake. For instance, if your recipe calls for ½ cup butter, use ¼ cup each butter and oil. Or, if the recipe calls for the butter to be melted, try using canola oil in place of all of the butter.
  • When pan-cooking, spray the skillet with non-stick cooking spray instead of coating with butter or oil.
  • Bake, broil, or grill instead of frying.
  • Choose full-flavored cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and blue cheese, instead of mild ones. The stronger taste means you can use less and still get big flavor.
  • Toast nuts before adding to a recipe. The bolder flavor means you can use fewer nuts.

2. Cut calories.

  • Use half the amount of ingredients used to decorate or top a recipe, such as frosting, coconut, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, or nuts. Or, don’t use it at all.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar called for by one-third. Chances are you won’t miss it.
  • Use half the amount of “add-in” ingredients when baking, such as nuts, chocolate chips or dried fruit.
  • Always measure your oil. Do not pour it straight from the bottle. Using an extra tablespoon adds 120 calories to your dish.

3. Add fiber.

  • Swap whole wheat flour for white flour. Start by using half white and half whole wheat. Slowly work your way up to all whole wheat flour. If the dough or batter looks a little dry, add 1 Tablespoon more liquid per cup of whole wheat flour.
  • Choose whole wheat pasta or whole grain pasta blends instead of white pasta.
  • Skip the white rice. Serve recipes over brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, bulgur, or polenta instead.
  • Use whole wheat breadcrumbs for breading, on top of casseroles, or to bind ground meat in meatloaf and meatballs.
  • Leave skins on fruits and veggies like apples, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and others when you can.

4. Go lean on protein.

  • In recipes like tacos and chili, swap half the meat for beans. You’ll add fiber and reduce unhealthy fats.
  • Watch your portions. About a pound of meat for every 4 people is a good serving size. Add more filling veggies to the meal.
  • Choose ground meats labeled 90% lean or leaner. Drain fat after cooking.
  • Trim all visible fat and remove skin from meat and poultry before cooking.
  • Use chicken or turkey sausage instead of pork sausage.
  • Choose seafood and non-meat sources of protein at least 2–3 times per week. Check out some of our healthy and budget-friendly seafood dishes like Tuna Melts and Salmon Pasta Bake. Or, try beans, lentils, edamame (soy beans), and tofu.

5. Watch the sodium.

  • Use low-sodium or no-salt-added canned goods or condiments, such as beans, vegetables, tomatoes, broths, soy sauce, and ketchup. Rinse canned beans and veggies before using.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in baked goods to ½ teaspoon per batch.
  • Season with herbs and spices instead of salt. See 10 Tips for Using Herbs and Spices for tips. Or, kick up flavor using orange, lemon, and lime zest or juice.
  • Measure salt before adding to your dish. An extra ¼ teaspoon salt has about 600 mg of sodium, more than a quarter of the recommended daily maximum for an adult!

Check out our Extreme Food Makeover for Mashed Potatoes and Fettuccine Alfredo for more.

En Espanol

More tips and videos

5 Ways to Lighten Up Family Favorites

Got a favorite family recipe you can’t live without? Try these tips for making your classic dishes healthier.

Start with one small change. You probably won’t be able to taste the difference. Slowly try making other changes, one at a time.

1. Reduce fat.

  • Choose low-fat or nonfat versions of mayonnaise and dairy products like milk, cheese, sour cream, and yogurt.
  • Use canola oil in place of half the butter when you bake. For instance, if your recipe calls for ½ cup butter, use ¼ cup each butter and oil. Or, if the recipe calls for the butter to be melted, try using canola oil in place of all of the butter.
  • When pan-cooking, spray the skillet with non-stick cooking spray instead of coating with butter or oil.
  • Bake, broil, or grill instead of frying.
  • Choose full-flavored cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and blue cheese, instead of mild ones. The stronger taste means you can use less and still get big flavor.
  • Toast nuts before adding to a recipe. The bolder flavor means you can use fewer nuts.

2. Cut calories.

  • Use half the amount of ingredients used to decorate or top a recipe, such as frosting, coconut, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, or nuts. Or, don’t use it at all.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar called for by one-third. Chances are you won’t miss it.
  • Use half the amount of “add-in” ingredients when baking, such as nuts, chocolate chips or dried fruit.
  • Always measure your oil. Do not pour it straight from the bottle. Using an extra tablespoon adds 120 calories to your dish.

3. Add fiber.

  • Swap whole wheat flour for white flour. Start by using half white and half whole wheat. Slowly work your way up to all whole wheat flour. If the dough or batter looks a little dry, add 1 Tablespoon more liquid per cup of whole wheat flour.
  • Choose whole wheat pasta or whole grain pasta blends instead of white pasta.
  • Skip the white rice. Serve recipes over brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, bulgur, or polenta instead.
  • Use whole wheat breadcrumbs for breading, on top of casseroles, or to bind ground meat in meatloaf and meatballs.
  • Leave skins on fruits and veggies like apples, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and others when you can.

4. Go lean on protein.

  • In recipes like tacos and chili, swap half the meat for beans. You’ll add fiber and reduce unhealthy fats.
  • Watch your portions. About a pound of meat for every 4 people is a good serving size. Add more filling veggies to the meal.
  • Choose ground meats labeled 90% lean or leaner. Drain fat after cooking.
  • Trim all visible fat and remove skin from meat and poultry before cooking.
  • Use chicken or turkey sausage instead of pork sausage.
  • Choose seafood and non-meat sources of protein at least 2–3 times per week. Check out some of our healthy and budget-friendly seafood dishes like Tuna Melts and Salmon Pasta Bake. Or, try beans, lentils, edamame (soy beans), and tofu.

5. Watch the sodium.

  • Use low-sodium or no-salt-added canned goods or condiments, such as beans, vegetables, tomatoes, broths, soy sauce, and ketchup. Rinse canned beans and veggies before using.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in baked goods to ½ teaspoon per batch.
  • Season with herbs and spices instead of salt. See 10 Tips for Using Herbs and Spices for tips. Or, kick up flavor using orange, lemon, and lime zest or juice.
  • Measure salt before adding to your dish. An extra ¼ teaspoon salt has about 600 mg of sodium, more than a quarter of the recommended daily maximum for an adult!

Check out our Extreme Food Makeover for Mashed Potatoes and Fettuccine Alfredo for more.

En Espanol

More tips and videos

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