10 Ways to Make (Almost) Any Recipe Healthier (2024)

You hear it all the time: It’s healthier to cook meals at home. That means, whenever possible, it’s best to avoid getting sucked into the takeout trap, as restaurant food is notorious for serving super-sized portions containing an overload of fat and calories. Meanwhile, you can’t open your social feed without seeing mentions and photos of meal prep, and how this way of eating is heralded by dietitians and nutritionists as the holy grail of healthy living.

That said, not all recipes are created equal. Just because a meal is homemade doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy. (Grandma’s apple pie may be delicious, but it could also call for a whole week’s worth of sugar and butter.) The good thing about doing your own cooking is that you have full control over what goes into—and what you get out of—each meal. By applying some expert-recommended smart substitutions and creative modifications, you can make almost every recipe more conducive to your goals.

1. Save the salt for the end.

To avoid feeling bloated or swollen the day after a meal, registered dietitianIlana Muhlstein tries to cook with as little salt as possible. Instead, she challenges herself to use more spices, herbs and quality ingredients for flavor.

"Many recipes will call for salting the food at almost every step, which results in a very high-sodium dish," she says. "I recommend waiting until the very end, when you can taste the dish to determine how much salt it really needs. Sometimes, even vegetable soups won't need added salt or salted broths to make it flavorful and delicious."

2. Slash the sugar.

It’s time to demote sugar from its typical starring role to an occasional supporting character. Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN and creator of CitNutritionally.com, recommends cutting out or reducing the white stuff whenever possible—not only in your morning cup of coffee, but in any recipe that calls for it.

"Our taste buds adapt over time, so if you gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add to recipes, you won't notice over time," she says, noting that it’s best to start slowly. "At first, reduce the amount of sugar by 25 percent—so if a recipe calls for one cup of sugar, use 3/4 cup. Then, try leaving out a little bit more the next time." (Tip: You can use unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar in many recipes, and flavor coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon.)

3. Throw your recipe a bone.

Sharon Brown, clinical nutritionist and founder ofBonafide Provisions, suggests sneaking bone broth into everything you cook. "From the vegetables you sauté to the meats that you braise, bone broth supports a healthy immune system and strengthens the gut lining," she says.

To also support her brain health, she puts two cups of bone broth in a saucepan, adds chopped mixed veggies and two eggs and boils for about 10 minutes. Brown eats this bowl of gut-healing, nutrient-dense, protein-loaded breakfast every day. It also comes in handy when you’re sick.

4. Trim the fat.

Amer points out that most recipes—if you're not baking—will work and taste just as great if you cut the source of fat in half, which includes any added oil or butter. "Many recipes will overdo it, whether it's buttering a pan or adding an extra drizzle of oil at the end," she says.

And when it’s not possible to cut, try using a smart swap. When the recipe calls for full-fat sour cream, mayonnaise or heavy cream, you can usually use a lighter, healthier swap, like Greek yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese, without much difference in taste. "Another great way I like to make recipes healthier is by using a healthier form of fat," Amer says. For example, she uses avocado in her healthy tuna salad instead of 100 percent mayonnaise.

Muhlstein points out that salad dressings, marinades and dips are also great examples of unnecessary fat content. "Salad dressing recipes typically call for two to three times as much oil than vinegar, and it usually doesn't take that much," she says. "Start making the recipe using half as much oil as the recipe asks for and you will likely discover that it makes for a more flavorful and less greasy salad."

5. Use healthier cooking methods.

It’s not just about what you cook, but how you cook it. By using better-for-you methods, you can improve the nutritional profile of your meals without altering the ingredients.

Here’s your cheat sheet: Not-so-healthy methods include frying in oil, cooking in large amounts of butter and boiling (which can reduce a food’s nutrient content). Some healthier cooking methods are grilling, baking, steaming, roasting, stir-frying and—perhaps surprisingly—microwaving.

6. Trade noodles for zoodles.

It’s not a new or unique idea, but there’s a reason you hear about it so much—it works. Next time you’re craving a pasta dish, use a spiralizer to turn zucchini into thin strips or ribbons, sauté until tender and then add your favorite sauce, veggies and/or proteins. You’ll enjoy almost the same taste and texture of pasta, without the unwanted carbs or calories. (Tip: Spaghetti squash also serves as a healthier pasta stand-in.)

7. Swap in whole grains where you can.

Experts agree thatwhole grains are better for our health. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends including at least three servings of whole grains each day, instead of refined grains, which have had much of their nutrients stripped away.

If a recipe calls for white rice, use brown. Substitute white bread or tortillas for whole-grain versions. Or, instead of all-purpose flour, use white whole wheat flour. "These minor swaps will add extra fiber to your recipes, without much change to the flavor," says Amer.

8. Add veggies to (almost) everything.

Michelle Beckner, certified health coach with Michelle Beckner Family Wellness, recommends adding veggies to almost anything (sweet or savory) by shredding up carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini or whatever you enjoy. For example, she often adds veggies to overnight oats, meatballs or muffins. You can even add some pumpkin or squash puree to spaghetti sauce for some added nutrition and a hint of sweetness.

To get the biggest health benefit, Beckner suggests sticking with in-season produce, as it tends to have a much higher nutrient content. In the winter months, swap out peaches for pears or zucchini for carrots.

Bonus: When you beef up the veggies, you can cut down on the amount of meat, fish or poultry, which will help to reduce the overall fat and calorie content of the meal.

9. Try a new flour.

Enriched white flour has had a lot of its original nutrients stripped out of it. Fortunately, there are healthier options that don’t mean compromising on taste. Registered dietitian Laura Morton withMorton’s Grove suggests trying various types of flour, including whole wheat, oat, coconut, almond and chickpea. "Different flours definitely change the outcome of a baking recipe and require a little research or experimenting, but the added fiber, protein and vitamins make it worth it," she says.

Beckner typically replaces up to half of the flour in her recipes with buckwheat flour. "This gluten-free flour is packed with protein and adds a deeper flavor," she notes.

10. Cut the cheese.

Although we wouldn’t suggest that you eliminate cheese altogether, it can be reduced for most recipes without altering the taste or texture too much. Tip: Try using bolder cheeses, such as goat cheese, feta or sharp cheddar, so that a little goes a long way in terms of flavor.

By implementing some of these smart swaps and strategies, you can continue to enjoy all of your favorite recipes while cutting fat and calories and boosting your nutrient intake.

10 Ways to Make (Almost) Any Recipe Healthier (2024)


What can I add to my meals to make them healthier? ›

Nuts, seeds, fish, soy, olives and avocado are all healthier options because they include the essential long-chain fatty acids and these fats are accompanied by other good nutrients. If you add fats when cooking, use healthier oils such as olive and canola oil.

How can a recipe be modified to enhance health benefits? ›

Adding more fibre, more fruit and vegetables

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 half of the refined white flour for wholemeal flour. Swap white pasta for wholegrain pasta, white rice for brown rice or barley.

What are three basic guidelines for adapting recipes to make them healthier? ›

Often you can make a recipe healthier with a few small changes which focus on these basic suggestions: Use more fruits or vegetables. Use lean cuts of meat. Use reduced-fat dairy products or less of the full-fat versions.

What are 10 tips for good health? ›

  • Measure and Watch Your Weight. ...
  • Limit Unhealthy Foods and Eat Healthy Meals. ...
  • Take Multivitamin Supplements. ...
  • Drink Water and Stay Hydrated, and Limit Sugared Beverages. ...
  • Exercise Regularly and Be Physically Active. ...
  • Reduce Sitting and Screen Time. ...
  • Get Enough Good Sleep. ...
  • Go Easy on Alcohol and Stay Sober.

What are 20 healthy foods? ›

What are Top 20 best food for good health? The top 20 best foods for good health include spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, blueberries, oranges, almonds, walnuts, avocado, salmon, tuna, eggs, Greek yogurt, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers.

What are the top 10 healthiest dinners? ›

10 Simple Dinner Ideas for Healthy Eating in Real Life
  1. Stuffed sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beneficial nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber ( 1 ). ...
  2. Grain bowls. ...
  3. Veggie loaded frittatas. ...
  4. Dinner salad. ...
  5. Loaded brown rice pasta. ...
  6. One-pot soups. ...
  7. Curry. ...
  8. Burgers.
Jun 30, 2021

How can I eat for a week on $30? ›

Here's how I keep my grocery bill under $30 a week
  1. Breakfast: Cheerios with milk and a banana, plus the free coffee I get from my office.
  2. Mid-morning snack: Granola bar or orange.
  3. Lunch: Whole wheat pasta dressed up with butter and salt.
  4. Dinner: Fried eggs, a side of rice, and a glass of milk.
Jan 13, 2017

How can you improve a recipe? ›

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.

What are 7 benefits of using a standardized recipe? ›

Benefits of using a standardized recipe include:
  • a consistent quality and quantity.
  • standard portion size/cost.
  • assuring nutritional content and addressing dietary concerns, such as special diets or food allergies.
  • helping ensure compliance with “Truth in Menu” requirements.
  • aiding in forecasting and purchasing.

What are the ways to modify meals? ›

Modifying recipes
  1. Add more vegetables.
  2. Add more fibre.
  3. Reduce meat content (or replace with vegetables or meat alternatives)
  4. Use healthier fats.
  5. Reduce saturated fats.
  6. Reduce sugar.
  7. Use less salt (or replace salt with herbs)

What are 6 different healthy cooking methods? ›

Healthy cooking methods
  • Choose healthier cooking methods.
  • Baking.
  • Broiling.
  • Grilling.
  • Poaching.
  • Roasting.
  • Microwaving.
  • Pressure cooking.
Jul 21, 2021

What are six ways to make healthy food choices at home? ›

Healthy food choices
  1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.
  2. Limit highly processed foods. ...
  3. Make water your drink of choice.
  4. Use food labels.
  5. Be aware that food marketing can influence your choices.
Aug 18, 2020

What is the healthiest cooking method? ›

Steaming and boiling, which cook your food using moist heat, are some of the healthiest ways to prepare meat. 3 Both methods require low temperatures, which helps preserve nutrients and protect against harmful fumes and substances.

What makes a dish balanced and healthy? ›

It is generally agreed that a balanced plate consists of one quarter proteins, one quarter carbohydrates and one half vegetables.

What makes a dish unhealthy? ›

'Junk foods' are foods that lack nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and are high in kilojoules (energy), salts, sugars, or fats. Junk food is so called because it doesn't play a role in healthy eating, especially if you eat too much of it.

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