Tips for Modifying Your Favorite Recipes

Author: Heather K. Mackie, MS, RD, LD

Modifying Recipes

Houston weight loss surgeryEveryone has their favorite recipe that they thoroughly enjoyed prior to weight loss surgery.  But, just because you had weight loss surgery doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your old favorites.  By modifying your favorite recipes, you can ensure that you will continue to enjoy them and continue on your path to wellness.

Modifying recipes is not an exact science and sometimes takes a couple test runs, but it can be fun!  There are a couple things that will help you as you embark on modifying your family favorite:

  • Basic modifications include substituting, reducing, or eliminating ingredients.
  • Start with 1-2 changes to a recipe and then attempt additional changes if you are pleased with the first outcome.
  • Lastly, write down the modifications you have made so you can replicate them in the future or make further modifications.

Ways to Modify Recipes. The first thing you can consider is the cooking technique used.  Making an item healthier doesn’t always mean changing the ingredients.  Consider using some of the below low-fat methods:

  • Baking – to cook in the oven with dry heat
  • Braising – to brown meat over high heat, then cover and cook slowly over low heat in a small amount of liquid
  • Broiling – to cook with intense heat either on a grill or under the broiler
  • Grilling – to cook on a rack over very hot coals (charcoal) or on a gas grill
  • Poaching – to cook food immersed in liquid which is barely simmering
  • Roasting – to cook uncovered in the oven with dry heat, with the addition of a small amount of liquid
  • Searing – to quickly brown the surface of meat under the broiler or in a pan over high heat on top of the stove in order to seal in the juices
  • Steaming – to cook food, covered, over a small amount of boiling water
  • Stewing – to slowly cook meats and vegetables in a covered pan, either in the oven or on top of the stove

Houston weight loss surgerySautéing More Healthfully. You can still sauté in a healthy way.  Recipes typically call for two tablespoons of fat and types of fats that aren’t healthy, like butter.  You can reduce the amount and types of fat you use.  First start with a non-stick skillet.  By using non-stick skillets, some foods may not require additional fat, such as scrambling eggs.  However, you can use vegetable sprays to coat the pan without adding too much fat.  Try using canola oil or olive oil as your main types of sprays.  You can also use a pastry brush to distribute oil on your foods, such as vegetables, helping to control the amount of fat in your food.

Consider using items other than fat for sautéing.  Items like broth, table wine, water, or lemon juice make great substitutes.  Also, you can microwave your vegetables like onions and mushrooms instead of sautéing.  You can then add the items to the rest of your meal, such as an omelet or pasta dish.

Modifiying Salad Dressings. Try making your own salad dressing to reduce fat and sodium.  Dressings that incorporate balsamic vinegar are good options because vinegar is low in calories and contains virtually no sodium or fat.  Use minimal oil to maintain the healthiness in your own salad dressing.

What About Nuts. Should you keep nuts in a recipe?  Nuts contribute quite a significant amount of fat and calories to the recipe.  It is recommended to use them sparingly.  However, the good news is that most nuts contain heart healthy fats and some protein.  If you decide to use nuts, you may want to use ¼ to 1/3 the amount that the recipe calls for originally.  Consider roasting the nuts for a more intense flavor.  Roast nuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 350oF.  Or you can dry roast them in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until browned.  The more intense flavor of a roasted nut allows you to use fewer nuts in your recipe.

Varying Dairy Products. Many recipes incorporate cheese in recipes.  Cheese can add a significant amount of calories and fat to a dish.  When slashing calories from your eating plan, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate cheese completely.  Considering modifying the recipe instead.  Considering mixing non-fat cheeses with reduced-fat cheeses to decrease the fat without compromising the flavor.  You can also consider using soy cheese to cut down on the amount of saturated fat (bad fat) you consume.  Another strategy is to use shredded cheese, which melts quicker and can allow you to use less cheese.  Also, using stronger flavored cheeses in place of mild cheeses allows you to use less cheese as well.

Houston weight loss surgeryConsider using yogurt cheese, which has 10 calories per tablespoon when using non-fat yogurt.  You can make yogurt cheese at home by straining the whey out of the yogurt to make a “soft” cheese.  Avoid using yogurts that contain thickeners like gelatin, modified food starch, or vegetable gums (usually found in light yogurts), which don’t allow the release of whey.  Line a colander or sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and place in/over a bowl.  Pour in the low-fat or non-fat yogurt and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to drain for at least 12 hours.  Transfer the new “soft cheese” to a separate container and use as a base for savory appetizers, spreads for breads, or substitute for sour cream or whipped cream desserts.

Substitute the Sour Cream. Sour cream is a smooth, dense product.  However, it will increase your calories and fat dramatically.  One cup of sour cream has about 490 calories and 48 grams of fat!  Try substituting with low-fat yogurt, non-fat yogurt, or fat-free sour cream.  You can also use non-fat greek yogurt, which makes a fantastic substitute for sour cream.

Healthier Milk. Instead of whole milk, use skim milk to save about 60 calories and 8 grams of fat, which is mostly saturated fat.  You can also get evaporated skim milk instead of evaporated whole milk saving 140 calories and 20 grams of fat.  To make a creamy sauce, mix 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch or evaporated skim milk creating a “thick” cream; add to one cup of heated skim milk to make a creamy sauce.  Season to taste with herbs and/or a small amount of grated cheese.

Baking More Healthfully. Fat, which is often in baked goods, adds a dramatic amount of calories and are often the saturated fats.  You can make slight modifications to lower the fat and not destroy the recipe.  First consider reducing the amount of shortening, margarine, or butter by a third or even a half.  You can also try using light butter instead of other types of fats.  In recipes that call for oil, you can use half the amount of oil and your recipe will most likely will taste the same.  You can also decrease the fat in baked goods, by replacing the fat eliminated with the same amount of the following:

  • Applesauce
  • Cranberries
  • Crushed pineapples
  • Grated carrots, zucchini, or apples
  • Mashed bananas
  • Mashed or cooked pumpkin, squash, or yams
  • Nonfat buttermilk
  • Nonfat sour cream or yogurt
  • Prune puree or prune butter

When using some of the above to replace some of the fat in the recipe, use a lower oven temperature for baking.  This will help to preserve the moisture.

Houston weight loss surgeryExciting Eggs. You can reduce the amount of fat, cholesterol, and calories in recipes by using egg whites or egg substitutes for the whole egg.  Use two egg whites for the first whole egg in baking and one egg white for each additional egg.  Consider using an egg substitute product; the container will tell you the exact conversion.

Baking Chocolate. One ounce of baking chocolate adds 140 calories and 15 grams of fat.  Consider replacing with 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of oil.  This combination has less saturated fat, but the calories and total fat are about the same.  Another option is to use 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder with 2 teaspoons of water.  This substitution works for cakes, brownies, and puddings.  Another option is they now make sugar-free chocolate chips that can be used in recipes.

Houston weight loss surgeryLowering Sugar Content. Using less sugar requires some experimentation since this ingredient helps retain proper texture and appealing flavor.  You may need to try the recipe several times before perfecting it.  Start by reducing the sugar by 1/3 to ½ the amount.  If you cut the sugar by half, then decrease the liquid by ¼ cup.  You can replace the sugar that has been eliminated by adding non-fat dry milk powder in cookie, bar, and cake recipes.  Try using fruits for natural sweetness in cookies, cakes, and quick breads.  Good fruit choices include raisins, dried apricots, dates, apples, and bananas.  Another option is to use fruit juice instead of sugar and liquids (e.g., milk).  If it is an acidic juice, add ½ teaspoon baking soda per cup of liquid.  To reduce calories significantly, consider baking with sugar substitutes.  Some options might include Splenda and stevia products.  Also, enhance the recipe calorie-free, by spicing with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, etc.  Extracts also work well (vanilla, lemon, almond, and chocolate).

Decrease Sodium and Salt. Many dishes do not require a lot of salt to make them taste good.  If your recipe calls for salt, but you are trying to keep your sodium intake low, consider making these alterations.  Start by using half of what it is called for in the recipe.  Continue to reduce the amount until you find the minimal amount needed to season the recipe.  Replace the salt with lemon or lime juice, flavored vinegar, fresh onion or garlic, onion or garlic powder, pepper, chili powder or ginger.  Please note your taste for salt will diminish as you gradually decrease the amount you use.

Try to be creative and experimental in the kitchen so that you are able to strike a balance between healthful and exciting recipes.  If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up, make another modification and try again.  Just remember to write down the modifications as you do them, so you will remember for the next attempt.

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Disclaimer: Please note that there's no guarantee of getting the same results as each of these patients. Specific results vary by individual patient.