Healthy recipe makeover ideas

Healthy substitutions for regular ingredients that will help you replace empty calories with beneficial nutrients.

As we enter February, basketball gatherings and March Madness planning is on the way. Pot-lucks as well as other gatherings can make eating and cooking healthy challenging, especially for those trying to maintain healthy New Year Resolutions. Chicken wings, snack foods, appetizers, and more – the list can go on and on. We can’t control what our friends and family will bring for these gatherings, but we can control what you will bring. There are small changes that you can make with regular recipes to make them healthier and just as tasty during a celebration – and anytime during the year.

 Below are some ideas from Michigan State University Extension for trimming up your favorite recipes without trimming the taste and texture.

1. Reducing the amount of fat and sugar – sugar within a recipe helps with the structure of the product and making the recipe moist and flavorful. Fat also contributes to the moistness of a recipe as well as light texture in baked goods.

  • Replace half of the fat called for in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana or prune puree.
  • Replace the sugar in a recipe by one-third, and use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and almond extract to enhance the sweetness.
  • You may want to consider alternative sweeteners such as Stevia or Splenda.
  • Use non-fat or low-fat dairy products such as fat-free evaporated milk and incorporate egg substitute or egg whites in place of whole eggs. These are great substitutions for making pumpkin pie. Use whole graham crackers for the crust instead of regular pie crust and bake in a cake pan.

2. Make healthy substitutions to boost fiber, as well as lower sugar and fat content.

  • When making a dish that uses pasta, substitute whole wheat pasta – either partially or fully in place of white pasta.
  • Replace one cup white flour with 3/4 cup whole wheat flour. Whole wheat white flour may be available in stores or health food stores and acts the same as white flour but made from albino wheat grain. You may have to experiment with the flour ratio in your recipe.
  • Choose meats such as lean ground turkey in place of ground beef.
  • You can use alternative seasoning in place of sodium such as garlic powder, onion powder and herbs to lower the amount of sodium in your recipe. You can eliminate the salt in the recipe, unless it has yeast involved. Then salt is necessary for the reaction of the yeast.

3. Change the portion size of what you eat. No matter how healthy you make your recipes by substituting and switching ingredients, if you eat larger than recommended portion sizes, you could still be eating more calories than needed.

  • Reduce portion size and add steamed vegetables or a fruit for dessert to decrease calories and increase nutrients.

The recipe below adds fruit and yogurt into an edible shell with dark chocolate as a topping. It is great for any gathering.

Raspberry-Dark Chocolate Delights

Serves 15


1 package (1.9-ounce) pre-baked mini phyllo shells

1/3 cup Special Dark chocolate chips

1 carton non-fat raspberry Greek yogurt

15 fresh raspberries


1. Melt chocolate chips on high in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until melted. Spoon approximately a 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate in bottom of each phyllo shell, spreading up onto sides of the shell. Chill in the freezer for five to 10 minutes.

2. Spoon raspberry Greek yogurt into phyllo shells. Top each shell with a raspberry.

3. Drizzle melted chocolate on top of raspberry yogurt mixture for garnish.

Variations: Instead of raspberry yogurt, use two percent pineapple Greek yogurt and top with fresh pineapple slices; use non-fat blueberry Greek yogurt and top with fresh blueberries; try non-fat pomegranate Greek yogurt topped with a few pomegranate seeds; or try non-fat honey Greek yogurt topped with walnut or almond pieces.

Visit the MSU Extension at for more information about making healthy lifestyle choices. Have a healthy and enjoyable basketball season!

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