Do you frequently look for new recipes or do you stick with the same recipes you always use? Could some of your favourite recipes do with a makeover?

There are lots of things you can do to make a favourite recipe healthier without changing its overall appeal.

What should you look for when you ‘judge’ a recipe? The fat content of some recipes can be high, or it may use a fat that is not so healthy. Sometimes the sugar or salt content can be high. There are many ways to boost the fibre content of a recipe too.

Some of the tips below may help you to modify a family favourite without changing its appeal factor.

Sometimes the amount of meat, chicken or fish recommended may be more than is required per serving. The uncooked meat portion should be no larger than the palm of your hand and approximately the same thickness of your hand when viewed from the little finger side. This visual way of looking at meat, fish or chicken will help ensure that you buy appropriately for every family member.

To make the meat go even further you can add dried beans as an alternative source of protein. For convenience you can use tinned beans such as cannelini, kidney beans or chickpeas. Adding beans will also help to increase the fibre content of the meal.

If the recipe says to brown the meat in oil in a pan consider baking or grilling the meat instead. Purchasing a good non-stick pan is a great piece of equipment to have in the kitchen. Cooking paper is another alternative if you don’t want to buy a non-stick pan, it is great for putting in the bottom of pans to stop food from sticking. Another option is to use an oil spray as less oil tends to be used compared to tipping oil from a bottle.

When using mince try to buy lean mince. If this is not possible then drain off as much fat as possible during cooking. You will not need to add fat to the pan, but use a good non-stick pan.

Try to avoid animal-based fats such as butter when cooking. Use small amounts of olive, avocado or canola oils – but remember that these are still fats, so don’t use liberally.

When roasting vegetables cook them in a separate dish to the meat so they don’t cook in the meat fat. Partially cook the vegetables in the microwave and heat a dish in the oven. Place the par-cooked vegetables in plastic bag and add a drizzle of oil, then give them a good shake before tipping them into the hot dish.

If the vegetables need to be stir fried in oil you could try using a little bit of stock instead, or use a good non-stick pan and spray with oil.

Instead of using “normal” pastry use filo pastry brushed with milk. Filo pastry is easy to use – but a good tip is to keep it covered with a clean tea towel while working with it, otherwise it can dry out too quickly and then crumble or tear when you pick up a sheet.

In place of sour cream, you can use non-fat yoghurt or low-fat sour cream in cold dishes, and low-fat cottage cheese blended in a blender can be substituted in cooked dishes.

Cheese can be replaced by a lower fat cheese or, to ensure you still get a good cheese flavour, use a stronger flavoured full-fat cheese but use a smaller amount. Adding a little bit of mustard can help bring out the cheese flavour.

Often curries call for coconut cream or milk. Yoghurt can be used as a substitute – but don’t add until just at the end of cooking, and only heat gently once you have added the yoghurt. Light and creamy vanilla-flavoured evaporated milk is also an excellent low fat substitute for curries. Low fat coconut milks are also available.

Instead of cream use yoghurt – either a fruit-based one, or choose a vanilla flavoured one. You can also ’dilute’ whipped cream by folding in yoghurt.

To help increase the fibre content of a recipe add extra vegetables where possible – for instance, add grated vegetables into patties, bolognaise or even lasagne-type dishes.

Wholemeal flours can be combined with white flours in baking. Fruit can also be added for fibre and for a natural source of sugar.


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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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