holiday recipes

Simple Tips for Delicious & Nutritious Recipe Makeovers

December 14, 2016

We're in the Holiday season, with Halloween and Thanksgiving behind us, we still have to navigate through the winter holidays.  One way to get through this busy (and fattening) time of year is to learn how to do recipe makeovers that modify higher calorie recipes so they are lower in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.  You can even make them more nutritious!

Simple Tips For Recipe Makeovers

Before you start changing recipes, review them first to see if any ingredients can be changed. Ask yourself, “What function does this ingredient have in the recipe?” If it’s part of the structure (such as in a bread, cake or cookies) changing ingredients might not work. If the ingredient is there to provide moisture, flavor or is used as a thickener, then modifying that ingredient may be easier.

Experiment by changing one ingredient at a time to see how the recipe comes out. Afterward, make a note of what changes worked or did not work. Once you have the recipe modified correctly, write down how you modified that recipe so you can repeat the same changes the next time you make it. Below are some tips to make your holiday favorites more weight loss surgery friendly.

If you'd like to reduce fat:

  • Non-stick cooking sprays instead of oil, butter or margarine
  • Use fruit purees (such as unsweetened applesauce) in place of oil, butter, margarine or shortening in cakes, brownies, quick breads, muffins and some cookies. (This substitution may not work with certain types of cookies.)
  • Plain, non-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or mayonnaise – Greek-style yogurt works great!
  • Turkey bacon, Canadian bacon, smoked turkey, lean prosciutto or lean smoked ham instead of beef or pork bacon
  • 2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute for 1 whole egg
  • 2%, 1% or skim (fat-free/non-fat) milk instead of whole milk
  • Fat-free half and half or light cream instead of heavy cream (to make light cream mix equal parts 1% milk and evaporated skim milk) – use in cream soups, cream sauces and other recipes where cream is called for
  • Flavored vinegars can be used in place of oils and regular salad dressings for marinades
  • Use fat-free or low-fat salad dressings as marinades
  • Broths and stocks are also great for marinating meats and poultry.  You can get fat free and low sodium versions of most broths and stocks.
  • Low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise in place of regular mayonnaise
  • Low-fat cheese in place of full-fat cheeses
  • Low-fat or fat-free cream soups in place of full-fat cream soups
  • Low-fat or fat-free cream cheese in place of full-fat cream cheese
  • Citrus juice, fruit based glazes or low-fat gravies instead of high-fat gravies on meat or poultry.
  • Use beans, peas, lentils or tofu in place of meats in recipes
  • Use lean cuts of meat, lean ground meats/poultry, remove the skin from poultry and trim the fat.
  • Grill, bake, broil, steam, poach or stir fry foods instead of frying or sautéing

If you'd like to reduce sugar:

  • Use less sugar – decrease the sugar by 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount called for in the recipe
  • Use a sugar substitute or baking equivalent
  • Use canned fruits packed in water or juice or use fresh fruit
  • Sugar-free or low sugar syrups can replace regular syrup

If you'd like to limit sodium/salt (some of these suggestions may not decrease calorie level of the recipe, but may be better for those with high blood pressure and/or who retain fluid):

  • Use citrus juice (lemon or lime) or vinegar in place of salt
  • Experiment with other seasonings (herbs, spices, salt-free seasoning mixes, herb blends, etc.)
  • Garlic powder for garlic salt, onion powder for onion salt, etc.
  • Low sodium soups
  • Sweet and sour sauce, hot mustard sauce or low sodium soy sauce in place of regular soy sauce
  • Omit the salt from recipes
  • Use low sodium ingredients (low sodium broth/stock, sodium free baking powder, etc.)
  • Limit use of processed foods
  • Look for” No Added Salt” on food labels

If you'd like to increase nutrition:

  • Rolled oats or crushed bran cereal in place of bread crumbs
  • Whole grain pastas, breads, and cereals in place of the processed or white flour versions
  • Brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, wild rice or pearl barley in place of refined versions or other starches
  • Whole wheat flour for 1/2 of the plain white flour called for in the recipe
  • Dark, rich colored salad greens instead of iceberg lettuce
  • Mashed potato flakes, pureed potatoes, carrots, sweet potato or tofu for thickening agents

Yes, it is possible to make “healthy” holiday foods without sacrificing taste! These tips can be used all year round to make all of your favorite recipes more weight loss surgery friendly!  Please share with us how you have modified your holiday favorites or recipes you use all year round! We would love to hear from you!

lori skurbe


Lori Skurbe, RD, MPH, CDE, is on staff at Sterling Surgicare in Holmdel, NJ, a bariatric and laparoscopic/general surgery practice headed by Ayotunde Adeyeri, MD. She has more than 20 years of experience in weight management, bariatric nutrition and diabetes education. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from Penn State University.

Read more articles by Lori Skurbe!