Monthly Health Message:

Modify a Recipe for Healthy Results

March 2010

Janet Butter, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

By preparing a recipe in a different way or by substituting ingredients, a recipe can be made healthier. Recipes can be altered to reduce or eliminate fat, salt, and unwanted calories in the form of sugar; alternatively, ingredients can be added to increase fiber, thereby making recipes healthier. When modifying a recipe, it is best to make one modification at a time. Reduce or increase the amount of an ingredient to be modified by a small amount at first. You can make an additional adjustment the next time you use the recipe.

Most foods, especially baked goods, require careful adjustments. Every ingredient has an important role in the outcome of a satisfactory meal. Fat provides flavor and richness and improves texture in baked goods and makes foods smooth and creamy. Eggs provide structure, act as thickeners, and add volume to food. Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness, and acts as a preservative in some products. Salt provides flavor, reduces the action of yeast, and also acts as a preservative in some foods.

Below are suggestions for reducing fat, sugar, and salt and increasing fiber in recipes without changing texture, flavor, purpose or structure:

To Reduce Fat:

  • Use fat-free (skim) milk instead of whole milk.
  • Use low-fat sour cream (1%) or fat free plain yogurt in place of sour cream.
  • Use low-fat varieties of cheese instead of full fat cheeses.
  • Use one fourth less of liquid oil or solid fat in most recipes.
  • Use 2 egg whites for every egg or one fourth cup of egg substitute for every egg.
  • Substitute lean ground turkey for all or part of ground beef in recipes.
  • Use half the specified amount of oil to sauté or brown food.
  • Substitute applesauce for one half of the butter or margarine in cookies or cakes.
  • Use cooking methods such as bake, boil, broil, grill, roast or stir-fry instead of cooking foods in fat.
To Reduce Sugar:
  • Use up to one third less sugar in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pie fillings. This includes sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, and molasses.
  • Replace canned fruit packed in syrup with fresh fruit or with canned fruit packed in water.
  • Add cinnamon, vanilla, and almond extract in place of sugar for sweetness.
To Reduce Salt:
  • Omit or reduce one half the amount of salt in most recipes.
  • Replace salt with spices or herbs to add flavor.
  • Use fresh or frozen foods, rather than canned foods, or use low sodium canned foods.
To Add Fiber:
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Use whole grain pasta instead of regular pasta.
  • Substitute up to one half of all purpose flour with 100% whole wheat flour.
  • Add whole oats or chopped fruit to cookies, muffins, waffles, and pancakes.
  • Add beans to soups, casseroles, and salads.
Remember, when modifying a recipe, make one small modification at a time. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun!


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences