Clever Cooking: Your guide to adapting recipes

Guess what, it is possible to health-ify your favourite recipes, so you don’t have to give up the foods you love in your quest to shed some extra kilos!

Once you get into the swing of it, making healthy food swaps is easy. This guide will help you adapt your favourite recipes and make better food choices.

Reducing fat

Including fat in your diet is essential for good health. However, too much fat can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and some cancers. On average, Australians consume around 50% more fat than is considered healthy.

When adapting recipes, you can use the same quantity of a low-fat ingredient to replace a high-fat ingredient – saving on calories and fat. You can also prepare and cook foods in ways that reduce fat content.

Ingredient Alternative
Full cream milk Skim milk
Yoghurt Low-fat yoghurt
Cream Skim evaporated milk

Low-fat ricotta cheese blended with skim milk

Coconut milk/cream Low-fat coconut milk

Low-fat evaporated milk with coconut essence

Sour cream Low-fat natural yoghurt


Low-fat ricotta cheese blended with low-fat yoghurt

Cream cheese Low-fat cream cheese

Low-fat ricotta cheese

Cheddar cheese Use low-fat varieties in smaller servings

Use 1 tbsp of parmesan cheese to replace half a cup of full-fat cheddar cheese. (It has a stronger flavour, so you’ll need less.)

Chicken Remove skin

Control portion sizes (100g, uncooked, per person without bones, 200 g with bones)

Meat Trim all visible fat

Choose lean cuts

Control portion sizes (100 g, uncooked, per person)

Bacon Trim off all the fat

Use lean ham or mid-eye bacon instead

Use 97% fat-free varieties

Butter, margarine Choose low-fat spreads

Use apple puree in baking to keep cakes moist

Oil Cooking spray

Use apple puree in baking to keep cakes moist

Mayonnaise Low-fat natural yoghurt

Low-fat or no-fat mayonnaise

Reducing sugar

Australians consume around 40 kg of refined sugar each year, or 22 teaspoons daily. Only 25% of this is added sugar. The rest is hidden in processed food products like soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits, cakes, sauces, canned fruits, ice cream, jelly and breakfast cereals.

On average, sugar adds an extra 440 calories to your food intake each day – which could be the difference between whether you’re a healthy weight or overweight. Reduce sugar in your cooking and save calories – and kilos!

Ingredient Alternative
Sugar – white or raw Artificial sweeteners in a liquid or powder form

Reduce sugar in recipes by half.

Increase fibre

Increasing fibre in your diet is easy – simply substitute whole grains for white or refined grains such as white flour and white rice. As well as containing valuable fibre, whole grains are a nutritious source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Fibre helps you feel fuller for longer and stabilises blood sugar levels, so you can continue making healthier choices throughout the day.

Ingredient Alternative
White flour Wholemeal flour

Half wholemeal, half white flour.

White rice Brown rice
White pasta Wholemeal or vegetable pasta
White bread Wholemeal or wholegrain breads
Breadcrumbs Use wholemeal breadcrumbs or natural bran
Fruits and vegetables Leave the skin on where possible

Alternative cooking methods

Where possible, use cooking methods which result in less fat. Here are some ideas for cutting back on fat when cooking:

Conventional method Alternative methods
Sauté or shallow frying Use a non-stick pan

Use a cooking spray instead

Grill or barbecue instead

Dry-fry on medium heat, stirring continuously

Use stock or water for sautéing, instead of oil

Microwave food first, then crisp it up in the oven or under the grill

Deep frying Bake in the oven on a lightly greased tray

Partly cook in the microwave, then allow to brown in the oven

White sauce Halve amount of butter or margarine you normally use

Thicken with cornflour

Use skim milk

Thickening sauces with flour Boil rapidly to reduce the amount of liquid

Thicken with extra pureed vegetables or tomato paste

Add natural bran

Add 1 tbsp of cooked lentils

Adapting your favourite recipes

Adapting the recipes you love requires minimal effort, and can save you a bunch of calories. Here are some examples of recipes where the high-fat ingredients have been substituted with low-fat alternatives.

Savoury beef rolls – Serves 4

Original recipe: 545 calories per serve

Modified recipe: 250 calories per serve

Saving: 295 calories (1235 kj) per serve

Ingredients Modification
1 kg rump steak Too much meat for four people. Reduce to 500 g.
90 g cream cheese Use low-fat ricotta
1 Tbsp oil Reduce by half
2 Tbsp cream Use low-fat evaporated milk
½ tsp mixed herbs

Flour, salt & pepper

1 tsp soy sauce

½ cup beef stock

2 tsp parsley

Use as stated

Tomato and basil quiche – Serves 6

Original recipe: 485 calories per serve

Modified recipe: 245 calories per serve

Saving: 240 calories (1005 kj) per serve

Ingredient Modification
1 cup plain flour

1 Tbsp lemon juice

Use as stated
90 g butter Reduce by half or replace with low-fat spread
1 egg yolk Omit. Add more water if necessary.
30 g butter Reduce to 5 g (1 teaspoon) or use reduced-fat spread
300 ml cream Use 150 ml skim milk blended with 150 g ricotta
¾ cup grated cheese Use ½ cup of low-fat cheese
2 eggs

1 leek

Salt, pepper

3 small ripe tomatoes

¾ cup basil

½ cup parsley

Use as stated or replace eggs with egg substitute


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