You don’t have to buy the latest health food cookbook to serve your family high-quality foods. Transforming your own favorite recipes to make them as nourishing as possible (without compromising on taste) is an adventurous kitchen challenge.
Practically any recipe can be make more healthy just by reducing the sugar, using higher quality ingredients, adding hidden vegetables, and making your own staples.
Decrease the Sugar & Increase the Flavor
If a recipe was created in America, chances are it calls for too much sugar. As a culture we’re addicted to the stuff. Sugar (or corn syrup) makes it onto the grocery store shelves in all sorts of hidden ways and helps mask cheap ingredients.
If you want to healthify a regular recipe, begin by decreasing the sugar/sweetener by a fourth and adding more flavor.
So if your pumpkin muffin recipe calls for two cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin, reduce the sugar to 1 1/2 cups and add extra pumpkin puree or a nice dash of homemade vanilla extract.
[This pumpkin muffin recipe is pre-healthified, just for you!]
Each time you make the recipe, gradually reduce the sugar even more until you find the perfect balance of flavor and sweetness. I usually end up decreasing the sweetener by a third to a half.
The goal is delicious, rich flavor and not just sugar overload.
Substitute Better Ingredients
One of the simplest ways to “healthify” any recipe is to swap out the standard ingredients for higher quality ones. Many times there is no affect at all on the taste, but better ingredients often cost more. To avoid budget-overload, pick one or two items at a time to “upgrade” and find the things that seem most worthwhile for your family.
A few weeks into our marriage, I arrived home from shopping with a pound of margarine. When Joshua got home, he asked, “Where did you get that stuff babe?!” I read the label and agreed with him that we’d be a butter-only family from then on.
Depending on what I have in the pantry or fridge, sometimes my substitutions get pretty crazy. When a recipe calls for canola oil, I might substitute part homemade yogurt, part olive oil, and part coconut oil.
To keep it simple, here are a few very basic substitutes:
Salt —————-> Sea Salt
Cornstarch ————> arrowroot powder
White sugar —————-> raw sugar, honey, or even ripe bananas (like in these mocha muffins)
Vegetable oil —————> olive oil or coconut oil or part yogurt
Margarine ——————–> butter
Bleached white flour ————-> unbleached flour and/or freshly ground wheat flour
Part of the fun of homemaking is getting to experiment and find what works in your kitchen. There’s a substitute for practically every food under the sun!
(Of course, what qualifies as the healthiest food one generation often gets demoted in the next. Which is just one more reason to use wisdom and humility when making food choices.)
Add Hidden Vegetables
Camouflaged vegetables are a great way to “healthify” recipes and get more nutrients into your family.
The key is to start small.
- Add a half cup of pureed vegetables to your cream sauces, soups, and smoothies.
- Use fresh garlic and onions to increase the flavor in your favorite savory foods. (Read more ideas here)
- Toss a teaspoon of chia seeds into smoothies, energy bites, or cookies.
If your family likes vegetables, openly add them in small quantities to your favorite meals. Turn Chicken Alfredo into Chicken & Spinach Alfredo or toss a small handful of spinach into your lasagna.
Make Your Own Staples
Staples like cream soups, seasoning mixes, and condensed milk make their way into many recipes. The trouble is, the prepackaged variety often includes unwanted ingredients too.
Start with just one or two base ingredients that you normally by pre-packaged and try making your own. Many are super simple and can be made in huge batches for later. (Here’s a Pinterest board of ideas.)
Just remember to start small. Even if most ideas aren’t worth the added effort, chances are you’ll find one or two items that are easy and enjoyable to make yourself.
Make ANY Recipe More Healthy
I’d be lying if I told you my cupboard is free of junk food. Nutella has a prominent (and permanent) place in my kitchen. I firmly believe you can serve your family Twinkies and still be a wonderful mother.
But trying to tweak your family’s recipes to make them as nutritious as possible is a fun and worthwhile challenge.
Thankfully, it’s pretty simple. You can make almost any recipe more healthy if you just reduce the sweetener (and increase the flavor!), use high-quality ingredients, sneak more vegetables in, and make your own base staples.
What are your favorite ways to make meals more nutritious? (And are you a fellow Nutella fan?)
[Full disclosure: links to products in this post contain my referral links.]