Modifying recipes and menus to meet the Dietary Guidelines

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Modifying recipes and menus to meet the Dietary Guidelines

By carefully purchasing foods, preparing foods in different ways or substituting ingredients, diets can be made healthier. Here are some suggestions for reducing the fat, sodium and sugar, and increasing the amount of fiber in recipes. Remember, diets of children less than two years of age should not be restrictive. Fats, sodium and sugar are important elements of healthy diets when consumed in moderation.

When purchasing foods, compare the ingredient lists and nutrition panels on labels of several brands of a food product. Select the brand that contains the least amount of fat, sodium and sugar and the greatest amount of fiber.

When modifying recipes, it is best to make one modification in a recipe at a time. Reduce or increase the amount of the ingredient to be modified by a small amount at first. Try additional modifications in the recipe later.

Baked products require more careful adjustments than casseroles or soups. For example, drastically reducing the amount of sugar in a cake or fat in biscuits may result in unsatisfactory products. A reduction in fat or sugar may require a slight increase in the amount of liquid used.

Every ingredient has an important role in the production of a satisfactory final product


Fat provides flavor and richness, improves texture and tenderness in baked goods, promotes flakiness and lightness in baked goods and makes foods smooth and creamy.

Suggestions for reducing fat

  • Use low-fat (2% or 1%) or skim milk rather than whole milk.
  • Replace sour cream with low-fat yogurt. Add one tablespoon of cornstarch to every one cup of yogurt to present separation when heating.
  • Blend mayonnaise with low-fat cottage cheese for a low-fat mayonnaise substitute or purchase commercial low-fat mayonnaise.
  • Purchase water-packed tuna rather than oil-packed tuna.
  • Use low-fat varieties of cheese such as part-skim mozzarella, farmer cheese, muenster, provolone or reduced-fat cheddar or American cheese.
  • Choose ground beef that is at least 80% lean (less than 20% fat).
  • Substitute lean ground turkey for all or part of ground beef in recipes.
  • Remove skin from poultry and trim off fat
  • Chill soups, gravies and stews. Skim off hardened fat before reheating to serve.
  • Trim off all visible fat from meats.
  • Drain all fat from cooked meats.
  • Serve meat and potatoes without gravy.
  • Use spices, herbs and/or lemon juice rather than butter on vegetables.
  • Substitute two egg whites for each whole egg in most muffin, cookie or pudding recipes.
  • Limit the use of condensed soups.
  • Use buttermilk or milk instead of egg to bind breading on chicken.
  • Use half the specified amount of oil to sauté or brown foods.
  • Substitute applesauce for one-half of the butter or margarine in cookies or cakes.
  • Use no more than one egg per one cup of flour in pancakes.
  • Bake, broil or roast meat rather than frying it.
  • Replace frankfurters, bologna or other processed meat with lean meat, poultry or fish.
  • Limit the use of pan-fried or deep-fat-friend foods.
  • Limit the use of high-fat crackers and breads such as croissants and some muffins and specialty breads.
  • Garnish fish with lemon juice rather than tartar sauce.


Eggs provide structure, act as thickeners and emulsifiers (help mix fat and water), and add volume to foods when beaten.


Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness and browning in baked goods, acts as a preservative in jams, jellies and pickles and helps yeast products rise.

Suggestions for reducing sugar

  • Use up to 1/3 less sugar in traditional recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pie fillings. This includes sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey and molasses.
  • Replace canned fruits packed in heavy syrup with fresh fruits or canned fruits packed in natural juices or water.
  • Limit the use of jams, jellies or flavored gelatins.
  • Serve quick breads rather than high sugar cakes or cookies. Try banana, carrot cranberry, pumpkin or zucchini bread.
  • Serve seasonal fresh fruits for dessert rather than cakes, cookies or pies.


Salt provides flavor, slows or reduces the action of yeast in yeast breads and acts as a preservative in canned goods and some dried foods.

Suggestions for reducing sodium

  • Omit or reduce by one-half the amount of table salt in recipes.
  • Include a variety of spices, seasonings, herbs and vegetables in recipes rather than table salt. For example, try chives, dill, garlic or vinegar on cucumbers; serve green beans with lemon juice or sautéed onions; top potatoes with parsley; tray bay leaf, fresh mushrooms, onion or thyme on beef; season poultry with lemon juice, marjoram, fresh mushrooms, paprika, parsley, sage or thyme, or season fish with bay leaf, curry powder, lemon juice, fresh mushrooms or paprika.
  • Decrease the use of celery salt, seasoned salt, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate (msg), Worcestershire sauce or bouillon cubes.
  • Use garlic or onion powder in place of garlic or onion salt.
  • Use fresh or frozen foods rather than canned foods.
  • Serve processed meats only occasionally.

Suggestions for increasing fiber

  • Substitute whole wheat flour for up to one-half of the all purpose flour in your favorite bread recipes.
  • Substitute beans (kidney, pinto or black beans) for up to one half o f the meat in entrees such as chili or tacos
  • Prepare potatoes with skins, rather than peeled. Encourage the consumption of potato skins which are high in fiber.
  • Add fruits such as chopped apples with skin, raisins or copped prunes to oatmeal, cookies, cakes and breads.
  • Use oatmeal rather than white bread crumbs as an extender in meat loaf or meatballs.
  • Serve raw vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery for snacks.
  • Top cereals with fresh or frozen fruits such as blue berries, bananas or peaches.

Source: What’s in a Meal? , U.S. Department of Agriculture

Updated December 20, 2019 12:38pm