USDA Calorie Cutting Tips

Recipe Modification

You'll be surprised at how many calories you can save by making simple changes in your recipes, without sacrificing flavor or texture. Fat and sugar are usually the ingredients that contribute the most calories, so this section will give you techniques for cutting back on both of them.

To decrease sugar in a recipe:

  • In baking, reduce sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. There's no need for any substitutions. (However, don't reduce sugar in bread made with yeast, because the sugar is "food" for the yeast, which makes the bread rise.)
  • Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to your baking, fruit, or even to vegetable preparations to give the impression of sweetness.
  • Instead of frosting, lightly dust baked goods with a bit of powdered sugar.
  • Use frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate as a mild sweetener. Try it in tea or plain sparkling water.
  • Serve sweet foods warm -- it makes them taste sweeter even if they have less sugar in them.
  • Add fruit and decrease the sugar content. For instance, add raisins to rhubarb-apple crisp so you can get by with less sugar.
  • Replace chocolate chips with raisins or chopped dried fruit.

To decrease fat:

  • Begin by using low-fat versions of ingredients, such as mayonnaise, milk, and cheese. Use caution with nonfat products that normally have a high fat content (such as cheese and mayonnaise). When all of the fat is removed from such products, they often do not produce the flavor or texture you expect. If you try a nonfat item and don't like the results -- don't give up! Try another brand or use a low-fat version of the ingredient.
  • Replace whole milk in recipes with low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Use evaporated skim milk to replace cream in soups and other dishes.
  • Replace sour cream with nonfat yogurt. If using yogurt in a heated dish, add 1 tablespoon cornstarch to each cup of yogurt to prevent separation.
  • Use smaller amounts of strongly flavored full-fat cheeses instead of a large amount of a mildly flavored cheese.
  • In baking, decrease the fat by one-quarter for cakes and by half for many quick breads, muffins, and soft cookies.
  • Use unsweetened applesauce in place of fat in baked goods. In homemade goods, replace about half the fat with applesauce. For boxed mixes, replace all the fat called for with applesauce because fat is already in the dried mix.
  • Reduce the number of egg yolks, since it's the yolk of the egg that contains fat. Use two egg whites in place of one egg. Baked goods made from scratch will probably still need at least one egg yolk, because eggs help provide structure, tenderness, and leavening.
  • Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To do so, use about one-fourth less than the recipe calls for. For cakes and pie crusts, use a recipe designed for oil, because sugar proportions are different and mixing techniques may vary.
  • Use only one part oil to two parts water and/or vinegar when making homemade salad dressings.
  • Cook with little or no added fat. Use nonstick pans, cooking spray, vegetable broth, water, or wine to sautee; or brown foods.
  • Chill soups, stews, and gravies, so the fat rises to the top and hardens. Skim off the fat before reheating.
  • To thicken soups, stir in instant mashed potatoes.
  • To thicken sauces and gravies, use cornstarch or flour stirred into a small amount of cold water. Stir this mixture slowly into your sauce or gravy, and return to a boil to thicken.
  • Use instant mashed potatoes to replace all or some of the egg yolks in deviled eggs.
  • Use a low-fat cooking method such as baking, broiling, steaming, or grilling.

Now that you know the basics, take a look at your recipes. Identify the high-calorie ingredients. Gradually adjust quantities of major ingredients. Be sure to write down your modifications so you can either repeat them or continue modifying your recipe.