University of Massachusetts Amherst

It's MORE Than A Meal

 

Planning Healthful Meals & Snacks

modifying recipes & menus

Planning menus means more than thinking of foods that taste good together. You must also consider their nutritional value. Be aware that the Dietary Guidelines apply to the overall balance of the daily or weekly diet, rather than to a single meal or food. An occasional high-fat, sugary or salty food can fit into a menu if balanced with other low-fat, low-sugar or low-salt foods. So consider the overall pattern of many meals when determining whether your menus are following the Dietary Guidelines.

This section offers tips to reduce the fat, sodium, and sugar and increase the fiber in foods. It also provides tips to alter menus for people with swallowing difficulties.

When buying foods, compare the Nutrition Facts and ingredient lists on the labels of several brands. Choose brands with the least amount of fat, sodium, and sugar, and the greatest amount of fiber.

When modifying a recipe, start by making just one change at a time. At first, alter an ingredient by a small amount to see how this change affects the quality and taste of the food. Later, you may want to alter the recipe further.

Baked products require more careful adjustments than casseroles or soups. For example, drastically cutting the sugar in a cake or the fat in biscuits may result in unsatisfactory products. If you reduce fat or sugar, you may need to add more liquid to compensate.

How to Use Less Fat

Meat, Poultry, and Fish

  • Choose ground beef that is at least 80% lean (less than 20% fat).
  • Use lean ground turkey in place of all or part of ground beef in recipes.
  • Use lean meat instead of hot dogs, bologna, or other processed meat.
  • Bake, broil, or roast meat rather than frying.
  • Trim off all visible fat from meats.
  • Drain all fat from cooked meats.
  • Remove skin from poultry. Trim off the fat.
  • Garnish fish with lemon juice rather than tarter sauce.
  • Buy water-packed tuna rather than oil-packed tuna.

Milk Products

  • Replace whole-milk cheeses with low-fat and part-skim cheeses.
  • Use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Use skim milk instead of whole milk.
  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of cream.
  • Use ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese.

Oils, Toppings, and Condiments

  • To sauté or brown foods, use half the amount of oil listed in the recipe, or use a non-fat cooking spray.
  • Use low-fat mayonnaise in place of regular mayonnaise.
  • Skip the gravy on meat and potatoes.
  • If you do use gravy, chill it, and then skim off hardened fat before reheating.
  • Top vegetables with spices, herbs, or lemon juice in place of butter.

Soups and Stews

  • Chill soups and stews, and skim off hardened fat before reheating.
  • Limit the use of creamed condensed soups.
  • If you make condensed soups, use skim milk instead of whole milk.

Breads/Grains Products

  • For cookies or cakes, replace half of the butter or margarine with applesauce.
  • Limit the use of high-fat breads such as croissants and some muffins.
  • Replace high-fat crackers with lower-fat crackers.

Amounts of Total Fat in Common Ingredients*

 
Fat
1 Tablespoon of: (grams)
Vegetable oil (corn) 14
Vegetable shortening 13
Butter 11
Margarine 11
Reduced-calorie margarine 5
Mayonnaise 11
Reduced-calorie mayonnaise 3
White sugar 0
Honey 0
1 Cup of:
Whole milk 8
Low-fat milk 5
Skim milk Trace amount
Half-and-half 28
Evaporated skim milk 1
Cream, heavy whipping 88
Sour cream 48
Plain low-fat yogurt 4
Plain nonfat yogurt 0
Eggs and Egg Whites:  
1 whole egg 5
2 egg whites 0

* Values are approximate. Check product labels for nutritional values of specific brands.

Source: Adapted from Updating Food Preparation to Promote Health, by P. Kendall, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Publication number 9.316, 3/00. Reviewed 1/03.

How to Use Less Trans Fat

  • Margarine (in stick form) and vegetable shortening are often high in trans fat. They have been partially hydrogenated, a commercially process make that makes liquid oils more solid. Margarine in tub or liquid form tends to be lower in trans fat.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels. Choose products with 0 grams of trans fat.
  • Read the ingredient list on margarine packages. Look for soft margarines (tub or liquid) that do not contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
  • When using a recipe, experiment with replacing the stick margarine or shortening with soft margarines or vegetable oils (except coconut and palm kernel oils). Be aware that this may change the texture or taste of the food you are preparing.

How to Use Less Sodium

Table Salt and Other Salt Products

  • Omit table salt in recipes, or use ½ the amount listed in the recipe.
  • Avoid seasoned salts such as celery, garlic, or onion salt. Instead, use unsalted powders such as garlic or onion powder.
  • Use low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular soy sauce.
  • Use low-sodium Worcestershire sauce instead of regular Worcestershire sauce.
  • Use low-sodium bouillon instead of regular bouillon.
  • Avoid using monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Food Products

  • Buy fresh or frozen foods rather than canned foods.
  • If you buy canned foods, choose lower sodium versions. For example, choose low-sodium soups and broths, soy sauce, canned vegetables, and tomato products.
  • Buy processed meats only occasionally.

Soup Stock

  • Make soup stock from turkey, chicken or beef bones. Use low-sodium bouillon cubes or powder.

Alternative Flavors

  • Replace most of the salt in a recipe with herbs, spices, seasonings, and vegetables. Try these ideas:
    • Cucumbers with chives, dill, garlic, or vinegar
    • Green beans with lemon juice or sautéed onions
    • Potatoes topped with parsley
    • Beef with bay leaf, fresh mushrooms, onion, or thyme
    • Poultry with lemon juice, marjoram, paprika, parsley, sage, or thyme
    • Fish with bay leaf, curry powder, lemon juice, or paprika
Sodium Levels in Common Ingredients
1 Tablespoon of: Sodium (milligrams)
Salt 2,130 mg
Garlic salt 1,900 mg
Onion salt 1,700 mg
Baking soda 1,260 mg
Baking powder 490 mg
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) 490 mg
Soy sauce 340 mg
Garlic powder 1 mg
Onion powder 1 mg

*Source: Revitalize Your Recipes for Better Health. FN-432 (Revised), 2004, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University

Try the following low-sodium seasoning blend recipes.

Recipes for Low-Sodium Seasoning Blends

All-Purpose Seasoning
All-purpose seasoning for meats, vegetables, and tomato-based foods

  • 2 Tbsp. dry mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp. paprika 
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. black or white pepper
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • ½ tsp. ground basil

Blend spices thoroughly. Store in a tightly covered container.
Yield: about ½ cup


Italian Seasoning
For pasta sauces or Italian dishes

  • 4 Tbsp. dried parsley, crushed
  • 4 tsp. dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp. ground oregano 
  • 2 tsp. dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp. ground thyme or marjoram
  • 2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper

Blend spices thoroughly. Store in a tightly covered container.
Yield: about ½ cup

Source of Recipes: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Midwest Region. What’s in a Meal? A Resource Manual for Providing Nutritious Meals in the Child and Adult Food Care Program, Fourth Edition, 2003. Reproduced by the National Food Service Management Institute.

How to Use Less Sugar

Fruits

  • Use frozen fruit that is unsweetened, without added sugars.
  • Use fruit canned in juice or water, rather than in syrup.
  • Use fresh fruit, which has no added sugars.

Fruit Juices

  • Serve full-strength (100%) fruit juice. This is pure juice without added water, sweeteners, spices, or flavorings. Examples are apple, grape, grapefruit, orange, pineapple, prune, tangerine, and any combination of full-strength juices.
  • Avoid serving fruit drink or punch. These are made from juice with added water. They may also contain added sweeteners (such as corn syrup), spices, flavorings, or other ingredients. Examples are nectars, lemonade, or cranberry juice cocktail. These contain less than 50% full-strength juice.

Snacks

  • Serve plain yogurt combined with fresh fruit, rather than commercially packaged fruit yogurt that contains added sugars (such as corn syrup).

Condiments

  • Limit the use of jams, jellies, or flavored gelatins.

Baked Goods and Desserts

  • Use up to 1/3 less sugar in traditional recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, puddings, and pie fillings. This includes sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, and molasses. Do not cut back on sugar in plain yeast breads because it provides food for the yeast and promotes rising.
  • Serve quick breads rather than high-sugar cakes or cookies. Try banana, carrot, cranberry, pumpkin, or zucchini bread.
  • Add more cinnamon or vanilla to enhance the impression of sweetness.
  • Serve seasonal fresh fruits for dessert.

Added Sugars

  • Limit the amount of added sugars used in other recipes and products. These include brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, and sucrose.

Non-Sugar Sweeteners

  • Non-sugar sweeteners can be used in moderation. However, some of these sweeteners don’t work well in cooked or baked foods. Others may leave a bitter aftertaste. Choose recipes already tested for use with non-sugar sweeteners. Or you can simply use less sugar in your traditional recipes, without needing to substitute non-sugar sweeteners.

How to Add More Fiber

Meals

  • Use oatmeal or whole grain bread crumbs in meatloaf or meatballs.
  • Add vegetables to quiche and casseroles.
  • Prepare potatoes with skins, rather than peeled.
  • Use whole grains such as barley or brown rice.
  • Use rolled oats as breading for baked chicken or fish.

Soups, Salads, and Side Dishes

  • Make soups with dried beans, split peas, or lentils.
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Add cooked vegetables to spaghetti sauce.
  • Add extra fruits and vegetables to dishes.

Snacks

  • Make smoothies by blending milk or yogurt with fruits.
  • Top cereals with sliced bananas or peaches.
  • Serve fresh fruits or vegetables as a snack.

Breads and Other Baked Goods

  • Buy whole grain breads, such as whole wheat bread.
  • Replace half of the white flour in recipes with whole-wheat or oat flour.
  • Add raisins or chopped prunes to recipes.

Amount of Fiber in Foods

Dried beansServingFiber (grams)
Black beans, cooked ½ cup 7 g
Kidney beans, cooked ½ cup 6 g
Baked beans, canned, with pork & sauce ½ cup 5 g
Vegetables Serving Fiber (grams)
Potato, baked, with skin1 potato 4 g
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked½ cup2 g
Carrots, frozen, cooked½ cup2 g
Green beans, cooked½ cup2 g
Fruits Serving Fiber (grams)
Apple, raw, with skin1 apple3 g
Banana, raw1 banana3 g
Orange, raw1 orange3 g
Cereals, Grains, and Breads Serving Fiber (grams)
Cereal, raisin bran1 cup5 g
Cereal, oatmeal, cooked1 cup4 g
Bread, whole wheat1 slice2 g
Cereal, shredded mini-wheats1 cup2 g
Rice, brown, long grain, cooked½ cup2 g

Source of Data: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18.

How to Add More Fruits

Tips for Choosing Fruits

  • Buy fruits that are fresh, dried, frozen, or canned (in water or juice).
  • Fresh fruits in season may be less costly and at their peak flavor.
  • Buy pre-cut packages of fruit for a healthy snack in seconds.

For the Best Nutritional Value

  • Vary your fruit choices. Fruits differ in nutrient content.
  • Select fruit canned in 100% fruit juice or water rather then in syrup.
  • Choose fruit rather than juice, for the benefit of fiber.

Fruits at Meals

  • Top cereal with fresh fruit, or add blueberries to pancakes.
  • Add oranges or grapes to a tossed salad.
  • Try meat dishes with fruit, such as chicken with apricots.
  • For dessert, serve baked apples, pears, or a fruit salad.

Fruits as Snacks:

  • Serve cut-up fruit as a snack.
  • Mix fruit with low-fat yogurt.
  • Top frozen yogurt with berries.
  • Try frozen juice bars (100% juice) as a low-fat snack.
  • Make a fruit smoothie. Blend milk or yogurt with fresh or frozen fruits.

How to Add More Vegetables

For the Best Nutritional Value

  • Vary your vegetable choices. Vegetables differ in nutrient content.
  • Reduce sodium intake by choosing fresh or frozen vegetables, or by buying canned vegetables labeled “no salt added.”
  • Watch out for sauces or seasonings that can add calories, fat, and sodium.

Add Vegetables to Meals

  • Plan some meals around a vegetable main dish such as a stir-fry or soup.
  • Try a main dish salad for lunch. Use a low-fat salad dressing.
  • Add shredded carrots or zucchini to meatloaf, casseroles, and quick breads.
  • Include chopped vegetables in pasta sauce or lasagna.
  • Use cooked potatoes to thicken stews, soups and gravies.

Make Vegetables More Appealing

  • Many vegetables taste great with a low-fat dip or dressing.
  • Add color to salads by adding carrots, red cabbage, or spinach leaves.
  • Include cooked dry beans or peas in flavorful mixed dishes and soups.

Modifying Menus to Make them More Healthful

A few simple changes can make a lunch or dinner more healthful. Here is an example.

NOTE: Servings listed on this menu may not be equal to servings of food used for crediting purposes. See the Crediting Foods section for CACFP Meal Pattern Requirements.

Menu Calories Grams of Fat
Chicken breast, boneless, fried, with skin (½ breast = equivalent of 3 oz. chicken)
220
9
French fries, deep fried (1 small serving)
225
12
Tomato catsup (1 Tbsp)
15
0
Italian bread (1 slice)
80
1
Stick margarine (1 tsp)
35
4
Peaches in heavy syrup (½ cup)
95
0
Milk, whole (1 cup)
145
8
Total
815
34 g fat *

*38% of the calories in this meal are from fat

Menu Make-Over Calories Grams of Fat
Chicken breast, boneless, baked, no skin (½ breast = 3 oz. chicken)
140
3
Baked potato (medium)
160
0
Sour cream, reduced fat (1 Tbsp)
20
2
Whole wheat bread (1 slice)
70
1
Margarine spread (60% fat) (1 tsp.)
25
3
Peaches, canned in juice (½ cup)
55
0
Milk, skim (1 cup)
85
0
Total
555
9 g fat *

*15% of the calories in this meal are from fat

Source: Examples of foods in the menus are adapted from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Midwest Region. What’s in a Meal? A Resource Manual for Providing Nutritious Meals in the Child and Adult Food Care Program, Fourth Edition, 2003. Reproduced by the National Food Service Management Institute. Foods have been analyzed for their nutrient content using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18. Calories have been rounded to the nearest multiple of 5. Grams of fat have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

Adapting Menus for People with Swallowing Difficulties

  • Chop foods into small pieces.
  • Avoid dry, chunky foods. Choose foods with a smooth texture.
  • Add broth, gravy, milk, or oil to foods to moisten them and make them easier to swallow.
  • To minimize the risk of choking, avoid hard-cooked eggs, chunks of meat, nuts, whole grapes, orange halves, popcorn, and hard candy. Remove any pits, peels, or bones from foods. Dilute peanut butter with applesauce.

Sample Menu for Regular and Modified Diets

(Low Salt, Low Fat/Cholesterol, and Swallowing Difficulties)*

Below is a sample 5-day lunch menu. The menu includes possible modifications for a low sodium diet, a low-fat diet, a low-cholesterol diet, or a diet for people with swallowing difficulties.

*The items in the last column are based on general recommendations for modified diets. Please see your consultant dietitian for specific instructions for modifying diets.

NOTE: Servings listed on this menu may not always be equal to servings of food used for crediting purposes. See the Crediting Foods section for CACFP Meal Pattern Requirements.

Day 1

Portion Size Foods for a Regular Diet (2 g Sodium) Low Fat and Cholesterol Modifications for Swallowing Difficulties
1 cup Spaghetti, cooked      
½ cup Meat sauce Low sodium meat sauce   No chunks
1 oz Parmesan cheese Omit   Omit
½ cup Peas   Plain Blend
1 slice French bread     Blend with a small amount of the milk
1 tsp Margarine/butter   Liquid margarine  
½ cup Mandarin oranges     Blend
1 cup Milk, whole   Milk, skim  

Day 2

Portion Size Foods for a Regular Diet (2 g Sodium) Low Fat and Cholesterol Modifications for Swallowing Difficulties
3 oz Chicken thigh     Grind
2 oz Gravy      
½ cup Whipped potatoes      
½ cup Asparagus   Plain Blend
1 Dinner roll     Blend with a small amount of the milk
1 tsp Margarine/butter   Liquid margarine  
½ cup Crushed pineapple     Blend
1 cup Milk, whole   Milk, skim  

Day 3

Portion Size Foods for a Regular Diet (2 g Sodium) Low Fat and Cholesterol Modifications for Swallowing Difficulties
3 oz Fish nuggets Baked fish Baked fish Baked fish
4 oz Tater tots Whipped potatoes Whipped potatoes Whipped potatoes
½ cup Spinach   Plain Blend
1 slice Wheat bread     Blend with a small amount of the milk
1 tsp Margarine/butter   Liquid margarine  
½ cup Apricots     Blend
1 cup Milk, whole   Milk, skim  

Day 4

Portion Size Foods for a Regular Diet (2 g Sodium) Low Fat and Cholesterol Modifications for Swallowing Difficulties
1 cup Turkey noodle soup Low-sodium soup   Blend with bread
1 pkg. Crackers Salt-free   Omit
2 oz Sliced ham   Baked chicken Grind
2 slices Rye bread     Remove crust
Blend with soup
½ cup Mixed vegetables   Plain Blend
½ cup Fresh fruit     Blend, or use banana
1 cup Milk, whole   Milk, skim  

Day 5

Portion Size Foods for a Regular Diet (2 g Sodium) Low Fat and Cholesterol Modifications for Swallowing Difficulties
3 oz Hamburger meat     Grind with gravy
1 Bun     Blend with vegetable
½ cup Potato salad Use less salt Potato salad with fat-free mayonnaise Blend the potato salad
½ cup Cole slaw Use less salt Cole slaw with fat-free mayonnaise Replace with blended peas
1 Sundae cup   Fat-free ice cream  
1 cup Milk, whole   Milk, skim  

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Developed for the Massachusetts Department of Education Child and Adult Care Food Program by the University of Massachusetts Extension Nutrition Education Program. Permission is hereby granted by the Massachusetts Department of Education to copy any or all parts of this document for non-commercial educational purposes. The Massachusetts Department of Education, an Affirmative Action employer, is committed to ensuring that all of its programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the public. We do not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

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