Lighten Up Your Recipes: Ingredient Swaps

We all have our favorite family recipes. These foods often bring back fond childhood memories, and they remind us of time spent with our loved ones. Some recipes may have even been passed down for generations.

Oftentimes, family favorites are the recipes loaded with butter, cheese, fatty meats, and refined carbohydrates. They can be very high in calories, unhealthy fats, and carbohydrates. If you and your family are trying to eat healthier, these foods can also present a challenge. But that doesn’t mean you have to give them up.

It's okay to treat yourself to these favorites on occasion. Just serve up smaller portions and try adding some healthy side dishes. There are also some simple substitutions that you can use to make your favorites a bit more nutritious. Try some of the ingredient swaps and tips below.

Incorporate Some Vegetables

  • Add some non-starchy vegetables to your recipe.  These will add bulk to your dish without adding many calories or grams of carbohydrate. So, if you serve up the same portion size as usual, you’ll actually be saving yourself some calories and carbs. Here are just a few examples:
    • Add cooked broccoli to macaroni and cheese or your favorite casserole
    • Add extra carrots, celery, and onions to your beef stew
    • Add cooked zucchini, mushrooms, and carrots to your pasta sauce
  • Serve a healthy veggie side dish alongside your favorite comfort foods.
    (Remember, with diabetes, the goal is to fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables.) Some good ideas are a salad, roasted vegetables, or frozen vegetable medley that has been heated and tossed in some fat-free Italian dressing. Here are some of our favorite vegetable side dish recipes:

Easy Grain Substitutes

When you include grains in your meal plan, try to choose whole grains at least half the time. Here are a few healthy swaps to try when it comes to grains.

  • White Rice - Try a whole grain substitute like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, farro, or whole grain barley for casseroles, stir-fries, soups, and other dishes.
  • White bread or whole grain bread - Try 100% whole wheat bread for sandwiches, paninis, toast, and garlic bread.
  • Regular Pasta - Try whole grain pasta for spaghetti, baked pasta dishes, and pasta salads.

Dairy and Eggs

Dairy products vary a lot in the amount of calories and unhealthy fat. Here are some easy swaps you can make when cooking with dairy and eggs.

  • Eggs - If you are trying to cut back on cholesterol and saturated fat, try using an egg substitute. You could also try substituting all or part of the eggs in a recipe with egg whites. For each whole egg, substitute two egg whites. This works well for egg casseroles, scrambled eggs, omelets, and in some baked goods.
  • Full-fat cheese - Try using less cheese or use reduced-fat cheese for casseroles, pizza, tacos, sandwiches, and salads.
  • Cream cheese - Try using less cream cheese in your recipe or use a combination of fat-free and reduced-fat cream cheese for dips and spreads.
  • Sour Cream - Try non-fat plain Greek yogurt or fat-free sour cream for topping tacos and making dips.
  • Butter - Try trans-free margarine for buttering toast or adding flavor to vegetables. For sautéing or stir-frying veggies or meats, substitute olive oil or another vegetable oil.

Choosing Healthier Meats

  • Ground Beef - Try a lean version (90% lean or more) for tacos, meat sauce, meatballs, chili, and the like. Lean ground turkey breast is also a great choice. 
  • Chicken Legs - We recommend always removing the skin from chicken or turkey. You could also try using white meat from the chicken breast in your recipe, which is the leanest part of the bird.

Prefer Your Recipe the Way it is?

Perhaps you’d rather leave your family favorites alone, which can also work. Just be sure that you fit it into your meal plan, which may mean serving up smaller portions. For meal planning, you might be interested in our online tracking tool MyFoodAdvisor. Use MyFoodAdvisor to track your food intake and for analyzing recipes. Our Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook is another helpful resource, making classic comfort foods more diabetes-friendly and easy to prepare.

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