UNC Health Talk

Tips to Make Traditional Recipes More Nutritious & Flavorful

Lauren LeBeau is a dietetic intern at the REX Wellness Centers. She currently attends Meredith College, and will complete her dietetic internship in June 2016. During National Nutrition Month, LeBeau shares useful information and tips that focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing positive eating habits.

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics launches a nutrition education and information campaign called National Nutrition Month® to raise awareness about healthy eating decisions. This year’s theme is ‘Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,’ which emphasizes the importance of taking the time to enjoy food traditions, as well as taking the time to appreciate the flavors, memories, and social experiences associated with food in order to develop an overall healthy eating plan.

Recipes do not have to be full of fat, salt, or sugar to be flavorful. There are several ways to make traditional recipes more nutritious, without compromising flavor.

Here are some general tips on how to reduce the amount of fat, salt, and sugar in recipes:

Fat: Replace half of the butter, shortening, or oil with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, pureed beans, or pureed pumpkin.

Salt: Reduce the amount of salt by half, or even eliminate it. With yeast-leavened baked goods, the quantity of salt may need to be tested several times before in order to determine the correct amount that could be used without the product becoming dense/flat.

Sugar: Reduce the amount of sugar by one-third to half by adding spices, flavorings, and dried fruits instead.

Substituting certain ingredients not only helps reduce the amount of calories, fat, salt, and sugar, but can also improve the nutritional content of the recipe. The following are some examples with common recipe ingredients:

Pasta: Use whole wheat instead of enriched/white.

Milk: Use 1% or skim instead of whole.

Meat: Use fish or poultry instead of red meat; or use beans or a vegetable, if possible.

Depending on the recipe, an ingredient may be able to be reduced or eliminated completely. The following are some examples of how the amounts of ingredients can be scaled back:

Cheese: Reduce the amount by half, and use a sharp cheese instead to maximize flavor with a smaller amount.

Toppings: Eliminate items such as frosting, whipped cream, and the like.

Condiments: Use half or, if possible, eliminate altogether.

Avoid frying and adding excessive amounts of fat/oil, salt, and sugar by using the following preparation methods:

Liquids: Use vinegars, low-sodium broths, and other similar liquids instead of basting with meat drippings or oil.

Cooking: Braising, broiling, grilling, baking, poaching, sautéing, and steaming.

Healthy Ways to Add Flavor to Recipes

Recipes can be packed with flavor without having excessive amounts of calories and other unhealthy ingredients. Season foods with some of the following herbs, spices, and flavorings instead of adding fat, salt, and sugar:

 Garlic  Cumin
 Ginger  Coriander
 Oregano  Turmeric
 Basil  Cinnamon
 Parsley  Allspice
 Thyme  Cloves
 Dill  Nutmeg
 Rosemary  Dried Fruits
 Mint  Citrus juice
 Pepper  Citrus zest
 Red pepper flakes  Onion
 Garlic powder  Paprika
 Mustard powder  Vinegar
 Onion Powder  Vanilla extract


The following are a couple of recipes for salt-free seasoning blends. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, blend, and store in cool, dry place:

Herb Seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons dried dill weed or basil leaves (crumbled)
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Spicy Seasoning:

  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed (crushed)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary