Cooking Light and Healthy: Easy Ways to Make Your Recipes Lighter, Healthier and Lower in Fat and Sugar

Cooking light and healthy can be easier than you think.

Did you know that you can make small changes to your favorite recipes to make them healthier while retaining their great taste?

Have you ever heard Devin Alexander from The Biggest Loser say, “Twenty minutes in your kitchen can save you three hours on the treadmill?”

It’s true!

And that’s the power of cooking light and healthy!

Making minor tweaks to the foods you already eat – reducing fat, calories, sugar and sodium in your everyday cooking can help you lose weight and feel better easily and effortlessly.

Cooking light and healthy can be fun, once you get the hang of it.

Cooking Light and Healthy

Cooking Light and Healthy

Here are some general guidelines to help you lighten up almost any recipe so you can cut fat and calories without sacrificing taste.

Cooking Light and Healthy Strategy #1: Reduce Fat

Begin by choosing leaner cuts of meat, removing the skin from poultry, and reducing the amount of meat in your recipe. Use 1/2 or 3/4 of a pound of ground turkey breast instead of a full pound when making your favorite chili. Shrink your burgers from 5 ounces to 4.

Choose healthier cooking methods such as baking, broiling, grilling or steaming instead of frying. If your recipe calls for frying ingredients in oil or butter, try using a nonstick pan or spraying your pan with nonstick cooking spray instead.

When baking cakes or quick breads,  replace some of the fat with applesauce or another fruit puree.  Fat helps to hold in moisture, tenderize, and cause browning in baked goods, and the fiber and natural sugars in fruit purees perform many of same functions.

Begin by substituting applesauce, mashed bananas or pumpkin puree for half of the oil, butter, margarine, or shortening in a recipe. For example, if your recipe calls for one cup of oil, use half a cup of oil and half a cup of applesauce. Mix the batter, and if it seems too dry, add a little more applesauce. If you like the results, try replacing even more fat the next time you make it. Continue reducing the fat until you’ve found the lowest amount that still gives you results that please you.

Cookies can be more challenging because it’s the fat in the butter, margarine, or shortening and  the sugar that gives them their appealing texture and taste. It’s usually possible to reduce the sugar and fat called for in a cookie recipe by 25% and still get good results, but beyond that you usually end up with cookies that are much more “cake-like.”

Another way to reduce the fat when baking is to substitute two egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute for each whole egg. But, be careful because low fat baked goods made with egg whites can sometimes be rubbery.

Substitute reduced fat dairy products for all or some of the full fat versions called for in your favorite recipes. For example try making your favorite vegetable dip with a combination of non-fat Greek yogurt and reduced fat mayonnaise instead of sour cream and full fat mayo. Use part skim mozzarella and ricotta cheese instead of full fat in your lasagna.

Cooking Light and Healthy Strategy #1: Choose Healthier Fats

You may have been told to reduce the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet because of the effects these fats can have on your blood cholesterol levels.

Foods that are high in saturated fat include fatty red meats, butter, full fat cheese, cream, whole milk, and coconut oil. Foods high in trans fat include most margarines and shortening. Other sources of trans fat include most commercially prepared baked goods, including crackers, cookies, cakes and pastries, and commercially fried foods, such as French fries and donuts.

When cooking at home, try replacing butter, margarine and shortening with olive oil or canola oil. Use oil instead of butter when sautéing vegetables or meats.  However, when baking it’s usually better to use recipes that have been designed to use oil instead of trying to make the substitution.

Cooking Light and Healthy Strategy #3: Reduce Sugar

Sugar can contribute a lot of empty calories and carbohydrates to your diet. You can usually reduce the amount of sugar called for by 1/4 to 1/3 in most recipes for baked goods. So, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you can reduce that amount to 3/4 cup or 2/3 cup. When you use less sugar in a recipe, you can enhance the sweet taste with spices and flavorings such as cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla and other extracts.

Cooking Light and Healthy

Cooking Light and Healthy Strategy #4: Increase Fiber

Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet and has been shown to help lower blood glucose, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. It also helps promotes weight management since high-fiber foods cause you to feel fuller with fewer calories.

Many high-fiber foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with other healthy nutrients, too. You can add fiber to your recipes by using ingredients such as whole wheat pasta, high-fiber cereals, whole wheat flour, fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, nuts, and seeds.

To add fiber to homemade breads, cakes, pancakes, or cookies, try substituting 1/4 to 1/2 all-purpose flour called for in the recipe with whole whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, white wheat flour or another whole grain flour.

Add fiber to casseroles and soups by increasing the amount and variety of vegetables or beans and by replacing refined grains such as white rice or pasta with less refined grains such as brown rice, wild rice, whole grain pasta or quinoa. You can even replace bread crumbs with high-fiber cereal crumbs or rolled oats.

Cooking Light and Healthy Strategy #5: Reduce Portion Sizes

Some special recipes are best left alone, even if they do contain a lot of sugar or fat, because tinkering with them will change the texture and flavor too much. Using the light butter resulted in cookies without the desired texture and flavor.

But there are still ways you can avoid overeating these special dishes.

One way is to reduce your portion size.

For example, if your cheesy scalloped potato recipe gives the serving size as 1 cup, you can reduce your serving to 1/2 cup and save half the calories and fat.

I’ve found it’s helpful to serve reduced portions in smaller dishes so they don’t look skimpy.

The next time you’re cooking up one of your favorite dishes think about what you can do to lighten it up and make it healthier.

Can you bake you eggplant parmesan instead of frying it? Use less ground beef in your meatloaf? Try evaporated skim milk and reduced fat cheddar in your macaroni and cheese?

Do you have favorite strategies for making your recipes lighter and healthier? I’d love to hear what they are!

If you liked reading about cooking light and healthy, you might also like:

The Benefits of Home Cooking
My Year of Crock Pot Cooking Kick-Off
The Essential Cooking Tools for Slim and Healthy Weight Loss
Three Ways to Make Recipes Weight Watchers Friendly

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