Free to Make It Your Own: Adapting Recipes to Meet Your Health Goals

  • April 1, 2022

Have you ever been inspired to try out a recipe you found online?

I certainly have been! Oftentimes, the recipes I spot online aren’t as healthy as I’d like them to be. I don’t take that as a reason to skip the recipe altogether but as a challenge to try and figure out how I can make the recipe healthier. I use the recipe as guiding inspiration as I work to re-make the dish. I focus on increasing the number of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes while limiting fat, sodium, and added sugars.

Knowing you can adapt any recipe gives you the freedom to get creative and make it your own! If the thought of modifying a recipe is a bit intimidating, here are some tips I’ve picked up along my culinary career that will hopefully boost your recipe re-making confidence!

  • Start with what you already have on hand. Before running to the store to pick up a particular ingredient, check to see if you already have something you can use in its place. Look in your pantry, check the countertops, and search the fridge for similar ingredients. If the recipe calls for a red onion and you only have a yellow one, use it! The final product will come out just fine.

  • Focus on the foods you know that you already like. Nearly every fruit, vegetable, whole grain, or bean in a recipe can easily be swapped out for another in a healthy recipe. Fresh spinach is one of my favorite ingredients, so I am inclined to add it to many of my sautéed vegetables, and soup or stew recipes. Conversely, if a recipe calls for an item I don’t like or that does not agree with me, I simply leave it out of the dish.

  • Think seasonally!  If you’re looking to shake things up with your recipe additives, Seasonal fruits and vegetables are a great place to start! They are at the peak of their ripe flavor and are often more reasonably priced than their out-of-season counterparts. Consider incorporating seasonal ingredients to your next healthy recipe for an easy and inexpensive enhancement.
  • Look for healthier swaps for ingredients in recipes that may not be as healthy as desired. I look to add fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, or legumes to a recipe as often as I can! Similarly, I do my best to exclude fats and oils and avoid including any sodium or sugar. For example, for a southwestern chili recipe, I would consider loading it down with beans, tomatoes, and hearty vegetables like squash or even sweet potatoes instead of the traditional ground beef. To reduce the sodium the original recipe might call for, I’d increase the amount of sodium-free spices called for, often coriander, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano in place of salt or other high sodium spice blends. When a recipe calls for added sugar, I like to use a zero-calorie sweetener like Splenda ®, Stevia ®, or better yet – a tablespoon or two of apple or orange juice concentrate.

It is important to remember that as the cook, you have leeway to tailor any recipe to suit your needs – even an established recipe can be considered fair game. Next time you want to see a delicious-looking but maybe unhealthy recipe online, use the recipe as inspiration to make your own version based on your taste preferences and dietary goals.

Remember, interpreting a recipe should be about creating your own journey, not simply following the recipe as written!

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