Healthy Cooking & Recipe Modification

Eating healthy food doesn’t mean giving up your favourite foods. Your favourite recipes can be adapted easily to provide a healthier alternative.
There are many ways to make meals healthier. Limit fats, sugars and salt and include plenty of vegetables, fruit, grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy in your cooking. Here are some great tips and ideas to help adapt recipes and produce nutritious meals.

Add more fibre, fruit and vegetables

Vegetables and fruit are lower in kilojoules than most other foods, so adding more to a recipe (in place of other ingredients) will lower the kilojoule content of the total dish. More fruit and vegetables also means more vitamins, minerals and pytochemicals that are essential for good health. Adding more fibre will also make you feel fuller and more satisfied.

  • Swap some of the meat or chicken for chopped or grated vegetables.
  • Add more vegetables to pasta and rice dishes and extra to soups.
  • Swap white pasta for wholegrain pasta, white rice for brown rice or barley.
  • Use chopped nuts to garnish salads, stuffed vegetables, stir fries, casseroles, crumbles and pasta.
  • Add chopped or grated vegetables or fruit to pikelets, pancakes, scones and muffins.
  • Add legumes to stews, casseroles, soups and bolognaise sauces to increase the fibre and reduce the amount of meat.
  • Leave the skin on fruit (where appropriate).
  • Wholemeal flour can substitute for white flour in baking and adds fibre. Experiment with your favourite recipes and start by replacing a quarter of the white flour with wholemeal. Up to two-thirds of the flour in most recipes could be wholemeal.

Use less saturated fat

Using less saturated fat will be good for heart health and also reduce the kilojoules in the dish.

  • Use smaller amounts of high fat ingredients e.g. use less cheese and swap to a reduced fat stronger parmesan cheese.
  • Use lean cuts of meat and avoid meat that is marbled with fat such as sausages and chops.
  • Take the skin off chicken.
  • Grill or roast meats on a rack, without adding fat. Add water in the bottom of the pan to stop meat drying out.
  • Barbecue meat on a grill so the fat drips away and trim visible fat off before cooking.
  • Reduce meat in bolognaise sauces by adding 50/50 kidney beans and choose lean topside mince.
  • Bake schnitzels in the oven rather than frying – spray with oil spray.
  • Use small amounts of cheese and select reduced fat cheeses (cottage, ricotta, reduced fat tasty cheddar, extra light cream cheese).
  • Use a fat reduced coconut milk / cream and limit the amount used.
  • Use filo pastry rather than high saturated fat pastries such as puff, shortcrust and choux
  • Use only poly or monounsaturated margarines or oils but use them sparingly.
  • Instead of frying or sautéing in oil, use water, stock, wine or juice.
  • Instead of cream on desserts try yoghurt, Fruche or evaporated skim milk that is chilled and whipped.
  • Instead of sour cream try natural yoghurt or butter milk.
  • Keep cream to an occasional treat. Did you know that 1 cup of standard cream contains 4000kJ and 100g of fat?!
  • Use a mix of low-fat cottage cheese, milk and flavoursome herbs in place of béchamel sauce in lasagne and pasta bakes.
  • Baking paper is a healthy kitchen staple. Use it in your sandwich press or health grill, too –you won’t need to use oil
  • Use reduced-fat cream cheese with a little icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice for a smooth icing that is still creamy as a topping.
  • When recipes use Butter, margarine, shortening or oil in cookies, cakes, muffins and quick breads; Try the Following:
    • Replace up to ½ of the fat called for with mashed fruit or vegetables. Pureed pumpkin, apple, squash or sweet potato is a good replacement in items like cookies, carrot cake or banana bread. Pureed prunes are a good replacement for fat in chocolate cake.
    • Reduce the overall fat called for (with no substitution) by 1/4 -1/3; the product quality will unlikely be affected, but keep in mind it may become stale more quickly
    • Apple purée, crushed canned pineapple, pureed canned peaches and mashed banana make useful substitutes for fat in sweet baking recipes. In cakes, trial a half-and-half substitution E.g. if the cake has 200g of butter, reduce this to 100g and add 100g apple, peach purée or mashed bananas.

Use less sugar

Often the sugars in a recipe can be reduced by a third or even by half without affecting the final product. Sometimes it works well to reduce the amount gradually and let taste buds adapt more slowly.

  • Add fruit to a recipe to add sweetness and flavour and reduce the amount of sugar needed.
  • Replace some sugar & fat with grated fruit and vegetables like apple, carrot, courgette and beetroot.
  • It’s important to remember that honey, raw sugar, brown sugar and golden syrup are some of the alternate names for sugar and have similar kilojoules to sugar.
  • Frozen berries make a delicious cake topping. Heat until softened, stir in no-added-sugar jam and heat through. Thicken with cornflour if desired.
  • Add chopped dates or figs (no-added-sugar varieties) to replace some of the sugar in cakes and slices.
  • Icing on cakes can be replaced with a combination of Greek yoghurt and honey, fruit or drinking chocolate.
  • Use unsweetened fruit juice in recipes instead of sugar.
  • Artificial sweeteners can be used instead of sugar in cooking and in recipes. Splenda can be added during cooking where as other sweeteners can go bitter or lose their sweetness when heated.

Use less salt

Taste buds will adapt to less salt added to recipes. Again, by reducing gradually flavour changes should go unnoticed. Most of the salt in a recipe actually comes from the ingredients rather than by adding table salt.

  • Use no added salt products when you can E.g. Choose no added salt tinned tomatoes and tomato paste
  • Check labels to compare products and choose the ingredient with less salt (sodium)
  • Use smaller amounts of high salt ingredients such as sauces, and add more low salt flavours instead, such as herbs, spices, garlic or ginger.
  • Avoid adding salt in cooking and at the table.
  • Use marinades for extra flavour e.g. lemon juice, wine, vinegar, tomato puree.
  • Sea salt, rock salt, chicken salt, MSG, etc should not be substituted for salt.

Healthy Cooking Techniques

To produce great flavour but minimise added oils and fats, try some of the following cooking techniques:

  • Foil Parcels
  • Roasting meats and chicken.
  • Stews and Casseroles
  • Steaming
  • Oven Baking with Spray Oil
  • BBQ or Grill
  • Stir-fry
  • Poaching
  • Microwaving

There are also many websites that provide nutritious free recipes online, some include:

kitchen cooking vegetables