Lighten Up Your Favorite Recipes Article - Allrecipes.com
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Lighten Up Your Favorite Recipes

Shape up your eating habits and still enjoy your favorite foods.




Lightening up your diet doesn't mean saying goodbye to all the things you love. No way! Get creative and you just might surprise yourself with the tempting and well-balanced dishes you create.


Your Ingredients

The most obvious place to start shaping up your recipes is with the ingredients. Replace high-calorie items with lower-fat and lower-sugar versions:

  • Substitute evaporated skim milk or buttermilk in place of cream (for everything except whipping)
  • To thicken soups, gravies, and sauces, use puréed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or a slurry of cornstarch and cold water instead of cream or roux
  • It's a painless sacrifice to use leaner cuts of meat too: skinless chicken breast, pork loin, ground turkey breast, and beef round and flank steak are all tasty, low-fat choices
  • Turn to non-meat sources for some of your protein needs, too: beans come in all kinds of interesting varieties, as do tofu and soy-based meat substitutes
  • Try whole grains in place of refined ones. You might find you prefer the taste and texture of whole wheat bread, brown rice, bulgur, barley, and quinoa over white bread and white rice
  • Use low-fat or nonfat sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, cream cheese, and salad dressing


Your Seasonings

Say it with seasonings. Instead of reaching for the cheese when something needs a flavor boost, explore a wide array of flavorful, low-calorie ingredients:

  • There are dozens of varieties of vinegars to try, not to mention citrus juices and zests
  • Add richness without adding fat by caramelizing your onions and roasting your vegetables at high heat, rather than just steaming them
  • If the spices and herbs you use most are more than a year old, toss them out and start with fresh ones--you'll be amazed at the flavor difference that fresh spices can make
  • While you're at it, coax maximum flavor out of dried spices (not herbs) right before adding them to your recipe by toasting them in a pan over medium heat until fragrant
  • Hint: you can buy dried herbs and spices in bulk at a fraction of the cost of bottled ones in most health food stores and large supermarkets


Proportion Distortion

Most diet no-nos are high in fat and simple carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar) and low in complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and lean protein. The solution? Instead of a big plate of fettuccine Alfredo and a few slices of garlic bread, try starting with a salad, followed by a plate of fettuccine and vegetable Alfredo, with at least half the pasta replaced by steamed fresh vegetables.

Apply the same proportion fix for all kinds of food:

  • In omelets and scrambles, decrease the amount of eggs and make up the volume with veggies
  • Add finely diced vegetables to meatloaf, meatballs, and burger mixtures


Are you baking? Substitute some of the fat with fruit purées and cut the sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. You won't miss it!

  • Add a little extra vanilla or cinnamon to fool your mouth into tasting sweetness
  • Replace up to half of the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour
  • Sneak fruits and veggies into your baking with shredded carrot, zucchini or minced apple, and add frozen berries to pancake batter


Your Techniques

It's easy to add lots of excess fat to a dish with each splash of oil or pat of butter. Try this solution: Use a spray mister to lightly coat the pan with just enough oil to help the food brown, then add small amounts of water, broth or juice to keep the food from sticking to the pan and burning.

Send your favorite fried foods to reform school by "oven-frying" them:

  • Dip food in seasoned flour and shaking off the excess
  • Next, dunk in beaten egg whites, dip in a plateful of breadcrumbs or crushed cereal. (Add flavor to the coating by mixing in salt and freshly ground pepper, chopped herbs, or grated Parmesan cheese)
  • Bake on a nonstick pan at about 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) until the inside is done and the outside is golden and crunchy

Try this with chicken strips, pork chops, seafood, and all kinds of vegetables, especially eggplant, zucchini, onion rings, green tomatoes, and lightly steamed broccoli or potatoes.

Don't forget the dipping sauce! Instead of tartar sauce and salad dressings, try all the wonderful varieties of mustards and salsas out there, or just use reduced calorie versions of your traditional favorites.


Your Cookware

  • If you're ready to shape up your lifestyle for good, invest in some high-quality nonstick pans so you don't need to add extra fat to keep food from sticking
  • Use your broiler pan and roasting rack to let the fat drain off meat while it cooks
  • Use paper towels to blot excess fat off ground beef and pork. Most food actually tastes better when it's cooked this way--since the surface gets nicely browned--instead of boiling in its own juices.

As an alternative to nonstick baking sheets, you can just line the pans with parchment paper. (Parchment is coated on both sides with a thin layer of food-grade silicone to avoid sticking.) Use muffin liners rather than greasing the muffin cups. For best results, cake pans, even nonstick pans, should still be greased or sprayed before using.

    Comments
    Nancy 
    Sep. 9, 2009 7:55 pm
    I always love to slice squash thin, chop up tomatoes, garlic, onions and saute til just under-done! MMMMMMMMM
     
    Stephaniekay 
    Sep. 9, 2009 8:03 pm
    and...by eating healthier, by incorporating more vegatables, we are getting vitamins and nutrients that give us more energy.
     
    Sep. 9, 2009 9:59 pm
    I love veggies and am always looking for ways to add more to my diet!
     
    Dec. 7, 2009 6:48 am
    I just lost a large amount of weight and want to keep it off. Does anyone put sugar substitute in recipes. I have a great bran muffin recipe but it calls for 2 cups sugar. I would like to replace most of sugar. Ideas please. I want low carb, low fat, increased protein
     
    Dee 
    Jan. 24, 2010 2:47 pm
    I have been modifying my recipes with sugar in them and I am using Sommersweet. It is fantastic with no aftertaste like splenda has. And so far all my recipes have turned out great!
     
    poohbear 
    Jun. 11, 2010 9:05 am
    where in saskatchewan do you buy sommersweet? Regina?
     
    marj 
    Oct. 23, 2010 10:25 am
    As a diabetic I need to be able to substitute for brown sugar and molasses. Any ideas? Marj
     
    Dee 
    Dec. 15, 2010 6:16 am
    Do they sell Sommersweet in Canada?
     
    dena 
    Jan. 21, 2011 6:26 pm
    looking for recipe for browning flour in over to make a roux
     
    michcam27 
    Feb. 15, 2011 9:15 am
    @ Marj, Splenda makes a brown sugar substitute now, too, although I've never tried it personally..
     
    chuckymangos 
    Feb. 16, 2011 3:06 am
    I use agave nectar as a sweetener substitute. It's natural and does a great job!
     
    mimi 
    Feb. 16, 2011 4:22 pm
    Looking for low or no sodium recipes. Can only have 900 mg. a day
     
    Mar. 22, 2011 7:20 pm
    Try using TruVia to sweeten foods rather than Splenda. TruVia comes from the Stevia plant. You can also find Stevia in its natural form (dried) in some health food stores. I've found that there's no aftertaste and it's great in hot tea especially.
     
    Joy 
    Mar. 28, 2011 6:42 pm
    This is to RNCOOK - I am diabetic and replace all sugar in baked goods with Splenda. It works great and the kids can't even tell the difference. I also replace at least 1/2 of the white flour for whole wheat. Wonderful!!!
     
    Doreen12 
    May 1, 2011 9:07 am
    Does anyone use oil in baked goods instead of margarine or butter? If so, what's the proportion of oil to fat? Thanks!
     
    KatieDavidson 
    May 4, 2011 7:31 am
    I really want to start eating healthier this summer and this simple recipe to help every meal is awesome!
     
    May 23, 2011 5:36 am
    @Doreen12 You can cut more fat in baked goods by using apple sauce instead of butter or oil.
     
    Thinfoody 
    Sep. 23, 2011 4:56 pm
    Use cucumber or green pepper slices for tuna salad dip or salsa. Try googling cottage cheese oatmeal pancakes for lower carb high protein high fiber pancakes. Top pancakes with sauteed blueberries and or sugar free jam. Cauliflower pizza and cauliflower mashed potatoes can be made sodium free.
     
    Thinfoody 
    Sep. 23, 2011 5:01 pm
    Use cucumber or green pepper slices for tuna salad dip or salsa. Try googling cottage cheese oatmeal pancakes for lower carb high protein high fiber pancakes. Top pancakes with sauteed blueberries and or sugar free jam. Cauliflower pizza and cauliflower mashed potatoes can be made sodium free. Brownies can be made with just the box mix and one can of diet soda. Fat frees hot dogs are goot sauteed with onion with diet soda as the oil or liquid. Also ther is a yummy brownie recipe that uses black beans for oil.
     
    Thinfoody 
    Sep. 23, 2011 5:05 pm
    Use cucumber or green pepper slices for tuna salad dip or salsa. Try googling cottage cheese oatmeal pancakes for lower carb high protein high fiber pancakes. Top pancakes with sauteed blueberries and or sugar free jam. Cauliflower pizza and cauliflower mashed potatoes can be made sodium free. Brownies can be made with just the box mix and one can of diet soda. Fat frees hot dogs are goot sauteed with onion with diet soda as the oil or liquid. Also ther is a yummy brownie recipe that uses black beans for oil.
     
    Thinfoody 
    Sep. 23, 2011 5:09 pm
    I am not sure how that posted three times. Sorry. The pancakes are good warm or cold and can be used as "bread" for a pbj or jelly sand wich for a snack lunch. Premade and frozen makes for quick mornings!
     
    Aryn McNay 
    Sep. 28, 2011 9:10 pm
    instead of coating your "oven fried foods" with flour use dehydrated onion flakes. Tastier and crunchy but way less carbs
     
    QTPie 
    Sep. 29, 2011 6:54 am
    Tast of Home has a fudge recipe made with pinto beans...no one can believe it when they taste the fudge. It does have a short shelve life, so you have to share it or it defeats the purpose!
     
    Nicole 
    Sep. 29, 2011 9:51 pm
    I think the best one I have seen and done lately is used a box devils food cake mix and a regular can of pumpkin (15oz I think) and bake. Batter will be very thick. You can bake them in cupcake papers and they are amazing. No one will know! My kids love them and they are about 180 cal a piece.
     
    Ruthie 
    Nov. 20, 2012 10:18 pm
    Honey is a great healthy substitute for sugar. Also adding finely-chopped walnuts is a good way to sneak in more protein.
     
    C_Antoinette 
    Nov. 21, 2012 3:48 am
    Substitute half of the fat required in a baked recipe with sour cream, works wonderfully and as already recommended applesauce (sugar free) is also a very good fat substitute. Thanks for all the good tips!
     
    Kelly 
    Nov. 21, 2012 7:03 am
    I find that stevia is a great natural sweetener. In baking, I use 1/2 stevia and 1/2 unbleached sugar or 1/2 (applesauce which also prevents any dryness).
     
    I'mabakernotacook 
    Nov. 21, 2012 10:36 am
    I've discovered an unfortunate fact of life. Generally speaking, you can either eat inexpensively, or you can eat healthily, but you cannot do both! Fruits and veggies are ridiculously expensive. Sure! I'll gladly eat more of them -- AFTER I HIT THE LOTTERY! It's not that I don't LIKE fruits and veggies, it's just that I can't AFFORD them. One thing I do when I make wheat bread, though, is to use half whole wheat flour and half spelt flour. I've found that the spelt lightens up the heavy flavor of the whole wheat and adds a very nice, pleasant nutty-ish flavor of its own.
     
     
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