Recipe Modifications

By Kristin Burgess, RD

Recipe Modifications

A guide to making your favorite recipes healthier for the holidays.

With the holidays coming up, we are always looking for ways to make our favorite foods healthier. Nutrition is important no matter what time of the year. Whipping up healthy, yummy meals might be easier than you think. Try some of these modifications next time you go to make your favorite holiday recipe.

Low Sugar Swaps

  • Unsweetened applesauce for sugar: replace applesauce for sugar in a 1:1 ratio of portion size. However, omit 1/4 cup liquid for every 1 cup applesauce used.
  • Seltzer water for soda: seltzer water will still have the carbonation of regular soda and by adding a few slices of fresh fruit, you can have some flavor and sweetness.
  • Cacao nibs for chocolate chips: cacao nibs are chocolate chips without the added sugar and fat.
  • Vanilla for sugar: for every two tablespoons of sugar you cut, add half a teaspoon of vanilla.
  • Seltzer water for tonic water or juice in a mixed drink: cut out your sugar completely by avoiding tonic water and juice.

Healthy Carb Swaps

  • Quinoa for couscous: did you know couscous is actually just a tiny ball of white processed pasta? Choose whole grain, nutrient packed quinoa instead.
  • 100% whole wheat or whole grain pasta for white pasta: it is always better to avoid processed foods and choose whole grains.
  • Rolled oats or crushed bran cereal for bread crumbs: bread crumbs are often highly processed and highly salted.

Healthy Fat Swaps

  • Avocado puree for butter or margarine: the subtle flavor and creaminess of avocado puree tends to allow for a similar texture in baked goods as butter. In general, one cup puree for one cup butter, though some recipes might take some adjusting. This swap is often an easy one but some experimenting might be needed.
  • Applesauce for butter or margarine: if the recipe calls for one cup butter, use half a cup of applesauce and half a cup of olive oil.
  • Olive oil for any oil: olive oil is always the healthiest and can be used in any recipe. Runner up oils would be avocado, coconut, grape-seed and peanut.
  • Natural peanut butter for processed peanut butter: choose natural peanut butter over varieties with added oils, sugar and salt. Be sure to read the ingredient list and stick to one that has just peanuts.

Egg Swaps:

  • Ground flax seed for eggs: for every egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water and whisk with a fork. The biggest challenge is you have to let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before using.
  • Ground chia seeds for eggs: mix one tablespoon chia seeds into one cup water and let it sit for fifteen minutes before substituting for one egg.

Low Sodium Swaps:

  • Homemade salad dressing for store-bought: unless you are specifically reading food labels for low sodium, dressings are generally loaded in sodium. Make your own and limit the added salt yourself.
  • Herbs and powders for salt: choose garlic powder over garlic salt, for example. Flavor your recipes using herbs and avoid salt completely.

Healthy Swaps

  • Dark leafy greens over any other lettuce: the darker, the more antioxidants and the more nutrients.
  • Olive oil spray over bottle of oil: spray bottles are worth it because it allows you to cover a bigger surface area with less oil.
  • Greek yogurt over any other yogurt: Greek yogurt is strained in a way that allows more protein to be retained in the product.
  • Brown rice for white: unless the white rice is 100% whole grain white rice.
  • Whole grain tortilla over white tortilla: choose the whole grain version of any food product.
  • Greek yogurt for sour cream: the products have similar textures and taste but Greek yogurt has more healthy fat and protein.

There are many ways we can make our food healthy. Cooking techniques matter too. Cooking at low temperatures will prevent natural and added fats from turning in to a trans fat. Steaming is likely to retain more nutrients than boiling. Baking is always healthier than pan or deep frying.

For more advice on recipe modifications and healthier eating during the holidays, contact Kristin Burgess, RD.


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