Six Recipe Modification Strategies for a Healthier Diet

Prostock-Studio/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
Prostock-Studio/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Growing up in an Italian family, calories, fat and fiber were not exactly on the forefront of my mother’s brain. I admit that I grew up on sausage, meatballs and white pasta. Pizza, olives and all varieties of cheese were staples in our home. But I give the woman props — she raised five children on my dad’s salary alone. We were a busy family, too, being taxied from band practice to track meets to swim lessons.  But unlike today’s families where a trip through the drive-through is a regular outing, eating out anywhere was a treat back then. My mom made sure we had a hot meal on the table every night.

Fast forward 25 years. With a career as a dietitian, I have paired my love of food with my love of health. And while I only have two children, life is still hectic. I made a promise to my husband that, unlike my mom, I would work out of the home but continue to cook the majority of our meals. And while I’m no chef, I’ve acquired a few simple tricks to make food healthy, while still being yummy. After all, if it doesn’t taste good, who will eat it?  Below are some tips to reduce calories and fat and boost fiber in your meals.

Begin with Vegetables

To lower calories in your meals, start with vegetables. Today’s meals don’t have to be meat-based. Aim to eat at least six servings of vegetables per day. While that sounds like a lot, consider that one cup of spinach cooks down to nothing and can be added to your morning omelet. You can also add salsa to your scrambled eggs or snack on pepper strips, cherry tomatoes or snap peas between meals. At lunch, pack frozen vegetables or a side salad to add fiber and fluid to your meals, which has been found to curb appetite.

Choose Lean Meats

Another way to reduce calories (as well as fat) is to use leaner meat. When buying ground beef or turkey, look for varieties that are 90 percent lean or higher. Ground turkey can contain just as much fat as ground beef if it is 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat. Trim skin off chicken and turkey before cooking, as well as fat around pork and steak. Choose “loin” cuts such as pork tenderloin in place of chops. Grill, bake or broil meat instead of frying. Or go meatless entirely and opt for black beans, brown rice or quinoa for your meal.

Choose Healthy Fats

To limit fat in recipes, choose dairy products made from nonfat, low-fat or reduced-fat milk. Shredded varieties often are made with reduced-fat milk. It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that adults choose more omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other sources, and reduce intake of saturated and trans fats. Butter, oil or other fat can be reduced by one-fourth in baked goods without changing the flavor or texture. Try apple sauce and other pureed fruit in place of butter or oil in quick breads. And sauté vegetables or lean meat in non-stick cooking spray or broth instead of oil to cut the fat content in your recipes. Try it — you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Consider Substitutions

Another sneaky trick when making dips or dressings is to substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream. The tart, tangy taste mimics sour cream and boosts the protein and calcium content of your meal without fat. Don’t even tell your guests you’ve made the switch — it will be your little secret. Try Greek yogurt cream cheese in place of the original. It contains more protein and less fat, with the same great taste.

Go For Fiber

To boost fiber in your diet, make the switch from white, processed grains to whole grains. While the calorie count is the same in white and brown rice, brown rice digests slower than white, which has been found to regulate blood sugar. Whole wheat pasta boasts five to six grams of fiber per serving vs. a wimpy two grams in traditional white pasta. Go for 100 percent whole wheat bread over white bread and bran cereal over corn flakes. Eat whole fruit and reduce intake of fruit juice. Add beans to sauces, salads and soups. These are loaded with appetite-killing fiber and your colon will thank you!

Serve Less

Finally, be conscious of portion sizes. It’s fine to eat lower calorie food, but all calories add up. Use a smaller plate, drink plenty of water and stop eating before you’re stuffed.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Recipe by Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

This recipe was a fluke: I had leftover mashed sweet potatoes and thought, “What can I do with these?” I was tired of quick breads…and then it hit me that the consistency of the potatoes was pretty darned close to mashed bananas. So why not pancakes?


1 medium-sized sweet potato, peeled, boiled and mashed (makes about 1 cup)
1 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil


  1. Combine vinegar and milk and set aside to create “buttermilk.”  Lemon juice can be substituted for vinegar.
  2. In a large bowl, add flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, canola oil and milk together until smooth.  Add the mashed sweet potatoes and blend.  Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir until barely mixed.
  4. Using a cast iron skillet or griddle, grease the surface with non-stick spray.  Pre-heat the griddle to 375 degrees.  Scoop a ¼ cup of pancake batter onto the skillet or griddle.  Let the pancakes cook a few minutes until small bubbles form on the surface.  Flip the pancakes with a spatula and cook the other side for ~1-2 minutes.
  5. Serve with warm maple syrup or almond butter (for a little more protein)!

Nutrition Information
Makes 12 three-inch pancakes
Serving size: 3 pancackes

Calories: 83 calories; Fat: 3g; Carbohydrates: 12g; Protein: 2g, Fiber: 1g; Cholesterol: 14mg; Sodium: 98mg; Potassium: 116mg

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Lisa Andrews
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a consultant dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati, OH. She blogs at Sound Bites Nutrition and is a regular contributor to Food & Health Communications. Follow her on Twitter.