Healthy secrets to make over any meal

Healthy secrets to make over any meal

Here are more than 50 simple ways to give all your favourite meals a healthy makeover – no, you don't need to give them up!

Shopping tips

1. Remember to spend most time in the outside aisles of the supermarket; starting with fresh, whole foods will give you a head start on making every meal healthy.

2. If there's a reduced-fat or reduced-salt version of a product that suits your budget, choose it.

3. Turn packaging over and read the backs of packets. Marketing claims on packaging can be confusing, so use the 'per 100g' column to compare products.

4. When choosing cheese, some varieties are naturally lower in fat than others. Edam and reduced-fat cheddar are lower in fat than standard cheddar, feta is lower again and cottage cheese is very low.

5. When choosing mince, look for 'prime' or 'premium' for a lower-fat product. It costs a bit more, but is healthier.

6. When choosing chicken, go for skinless thighs and breasts, or remove the skin yourself at home.

7. When choosing red meat, look for lean cuts with very little visible white fat.

Cooking tips

Cheesy sauces and bakes

8. Use low-fat spread instead of butter when making white or cheese sauce. Pick one with 50-60% fat.

9. Use trim milk for white or cheese sauce. No-one will notice the difference and you'll cut the fat.

10. Use a small amount of highly-flavoured cheese like parmesan to give a cheesy flavour to sauce, instead of lots of mild-flavoured cheese.

11. Use a mix of low-fat cottage cheese, milk and flavoursome herbs in place of béchamel sauce in lasagne and pasta bakes.

12. Make your own breadcrumbs from whole grain bread to top baked dishes. Combine with fresh parsley and garlic for extra flavour.

13. For cheese on toast and other dishes with melted or grilled cheese, use grated cheese instead of slices; you'll use less.

Meat dishes

14. Choose lean meat wherever possible, and remove visible fat before cooking.

15. Choose a healthy oil for browning meat, and try using spray oil in a non-stick pan. Olive and canola oils are good for this.

16. In dishes like meat loaf and sausage rolls, replace sausage meat with oats and breadcrumbs and use lean beef mince. This will drastically cut the fat.

17. Add vegetables (the same volume as the amount of meat) to stews and casseroles. This bulks out the dish and adds essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, pumpkin, kumara and tomatoes add taste, colour, texture and goodness.

18. For roast beef: fillet, rib-eye, sirloin and standing rib are leaner options, which can be roasted at high temperatures – 190-200ºC.

19. Pork tenderloin is a healthier pork option. It's delicious seasoned with ginger, herbs and garlic.

20. Add beans, lentils or chickpeas to bolognese sauce, stews and casseroles. These extend meat, add taste and texture and provide protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. For 500g meat, use about 3/4 cup lentils or beans.

21. When a recipe includes cream, try thick plain yoghurt mixed with a little plain flour and added at the last minute, or light sour cream.

22. Boost the flavour of meat dishes by using well-flavoured stock and flavour enhancers like tomato paste, mustard, chilli sauce, soy sauce, Marmite or Vegemite, Worcestershire sauce and spices.

23. Use a fine olive oil spray to season roast meat before cooking. This helps you use less oil.

24. When making roast lamb, try small, tender cuts such as a rack of lamb or lamb cutlets, which cook really quickly. Mini pan roasts are a lean cut of lamb rump worth trying for a small family roast.

25. Make gravy using only a small amount of meat juices combined with lean stock. A gravy separator jug is a useful tool to help get rid of fat from meat juices.

26. For healthy roast vegetables, blanch in boiling water and drain. Spray with olive oil, toss in a roasting dish and roast until tender and crispy-skinned.

Vegetable dishes and salads

27. Instead of cheese sauces on cauliflower and broccoli, sprinkle with grated parmesan and grill for a few minutes. Same flavour combination, less fat.

28. Watch creamy dressings on salads: some like Caesar or Ranch can make your side salad more fatty than a whole meal. Use a small amount of vinaigrette-style dressing, or try using just good-quality balsamic vinegar.

29. Take care with extras like croutons and bacon in salads. A little bit can add tasty flavour; too much can add loads of fat and energy.

30. Instead of chips, make wedges, and bake them in the oven instead of frying.

31. Mashed potato can be much healthier and taste great with the addition of trim milk, a little garlic, a small amount of olive oil and salt and pepper. Ditch the butter and cream.

32. Try using other veges instead of – or combined with – potatoes for interesting mash. Pumpkin, kumara, parsnip and cauliflower all make tasty and healthy mash.

33. White beans – cannellini or butter beans – make a delicious and high-fibre alternative to mashed potato. Blend or mash with olive oil, parsley and rosemary and gently heat.

Cakes and baking

34. Wholemeal flour can substitute for white flour in baking and adds fibre. Experiment with your favourite recipes: start by replacing a quarter of the white flour with wholemeal. Up to two-thirds of the flour in most recipes could be wholemeal.

35. Reduced-fat spread will work instead of butter in most cakes and slices. Use spread with 60% fat or more; the very low-fat spreads are not suitable for baking.

36. Grated fruit and vegetables like apple, carrot, courgette and beetroot can replace some of the sugar and fat in baking recipes.

37. Apple purée and crushed, canned pineapple also make useful substitutes for fat in sweet baking recipes. If making a sponge-style cake, try replacing half of the fat with the same weight in apple purée.

38. Use puréed canned peaches or mashed bananas in the same way as puréed apples. In cakes, a half-and-half substitution for fat works well, e.g. if the cake has 200g of butter, reduce this to 100g of low-fat spread and add 100g apple or peach purée or mashed bananas.

39. Icing on cakes can be replaced with a combination of Greek yoghurt and honey, fruit or drinking chocolate.

40. Add chopped dates or figs (no-added-sugar varieties) to replace some of the sugar in cakes and slices. These add a chewy texture and extra fibre.

41. Use reduced-fat cream cheese with a little icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice for a smooth icing that is still creamy as a topping.

42. Frozen berries make a delicious cake topping. Heat until softened, stir in no-added-sugar jam and heat through. Thicken with cornflour if desired.


43. Use low-fat spread when making pastry. Stick to one with 60% fat – any lower and the texture of your pastry may be affected.

44. Use filo pastry instead of puff pastry in pies and desserts. It's much lower in fat and still gives a crispy, crunchy result.

45. If you're using flaky pastry, try using it as a topping only. You'll get the effect without some of the fat.

46. When using ready-rolled bought pastry, roll it out a bit thinner with a rolling pin. It'll go further and you'll use a bit less.

Pudding and dessert treats

47. Love whipped cream? Try diluting it half-and-half with low-fat vanilla yoghurt for a delicious topping with less fat.

48. When making custard, always use trim milk. You won't notice it in the final product.

49. Base desserts on fruit: crumbles and baked fruit with honey are a great way to have a sweet treat without too much fat or sugar.

50. Plain yoghurt is delicious when served with something sweeter like stewed fruit. Add a little grated, dark chocolate for an extra touch.

10 simple switches


  • Boiled and poached eggs are better than fried because you use no fat in these cooking methods.
  • Try using the microwave to scramble eggs. A minute on high, a quick stir, then another minute is all it takes.
  • Smoothies are a good breakfast option in a hurry: include fruit, yoghurt, milk and oats for a complete breakfast in a drink.
  • Stir fresh fruit through low-fat plain yoghurt instead of using sweetened yoghurt on cereal.


  • Spread whole grain sandwiches with avocado or hummus instead of butter or margarine: this adds flavour and cuts the fat.
  • Vegetable soup and whole grain toast makes a warming, hearty lunch. Share a 'serves 2' pouch with a workmate to cut cost and waste.
  • Keep a pouch of ready-cooked rice and a small tin of tuna in your desk drawer, so you'll always have the makings of a healthy salad.Just add greens, tomato and dressing.


  • Replace potato chips with rice crackers or pita crisps.
  • Instead of dip with crackers, try hummus served with vegetable sticks.
  • Keep a small container of nuts in your desk drawer for a simple, instant snack.

Healthy cooking methods

Steaming: This is a great way to cook because it uses no fat and minimises any loss of nutrients. Great for veges, chicken and fish.

Roasting: This simple, low-maintenance way to cook is made even healthier with racks that fit in your roasting pan so that fat drips away as you cook.

Grilling and barbecuing: The quick way to cook meat and veges. It's healthier if you use a grooved or slotted tray or barbecue plate so that fat drips away from the food.

Poaching: Gently simmering ingredients in water or broth means you don't need to add fat and also makes meat tender.

Microwaving: This is one of the fastest ways to cook and maintains the nutrients in food.

Stir-frying: Fast cooking means more nutrients. Simply spray a hot wok with oil then add your ingredients, or stir-fry using a little liquid stock or water.

Easy, healthy substitutions

Old option New healthy choice
Not reading labels when you go shopping


  • Buy reduced-fat versions of dairy products, meat and prepared meals. Look for salt-reduced or no-added-salt products.
  • Buy whole grain or brown versions of bread, pasta and rice.
Gravy made with pan juices
  • Replace pan juices with reduced-salt stock to reduce fat.
Creamy sauces, e.g. fettuccine carbonara


  • Replace 1 cup cream with 1 cup light & creamy evaporated milk, combined with 1 tablespoon cornflour.
Thai curries


  • Use coconut-flavoured evaporated milk instead of coconut milk.
Stroganoff and casseroles


  • Replace sour cream with low-fat plain yoghurt blended with a little flour.
Indian curries


  • Replace the butter with oil, reducing the amount used and replace any cream in the recipe with light & creamy evaporated milk or extra-light sour cream.
Meat pies


  • Make individual pies in ramekins; you won't need a pastry case and can just top each pie with a circle of filo pastry.
Casseroles, shepherd's pie or bolognese sauce
  • Replace half the meat with 1/2 cup lentils or 1 can beans.
Fish and chips


  • Grill or oven-bake the fish and make chips by spraying cut potatoes with cooking oil spray before baking in the oven until golden.
Pasta bakes


  • Replace pasta with wholemeal pasta and add extra vegetables. Top with whole grain breadcrumbs mixed with 1 cup reduced-fat cheddar and a sprinkling of parmesan.
Muffins and cakes


  • Replace 1/2 cup butter in most muffin and cake recipes with 3 well-mashed ripe bananas, 1/2 cup apple purée or 1/2 cup prune purée to reduce fat.
  • The remaining amount of butter can be replaced with a reduced-fat spread (look for one with around 60% fat).
Sweet pies


  • Make a crumble instead – you won't need any pastry and it's much quicker.

HFG favourites

  • Layer four pieces of filo pastry, top with sliced fruit (apples, pears, stone fruit) and bake for 20-30 minutes. Serve with natural yoghurt sweetened with a little honey.
  • Light evaporated milk is a great substitute for cream and coconut milk in curries, pasta dishes and soups.
  • Philadelphia Light Cream Cheese spread is an excellent butter substitute on toast, sandwiches and fruit bread; it's low in fat and tastes great.
  • Instead of sour cream, use natural yoghurt in soups and curries, as a topping for tacos and nachos, and as
    a dressing for potato salad.
  • One spoonful of pesto will give a flavour boost to pasta, soup and vegetables, or stir a little through low-fat natural yoghurt for a healthy, tasty mayonnaise substitute.
  • Baking paper is a healthy kitchen staple. Use it in your sandwich press or health grill, too – you won't need to use oil and there's no washing up.
  • Wraps have fewer kilojoules than other flatbreads, so they're great for salad wraps. Or oven bake them to make your own low-kilojoule crispbread.
  • If you're trying to reduce your sodium intake, Lo Salt has only half the sodium of regular salt. 

Recipe makeovers

Search our website under Recipe types/Makeovers for healthy versions of your favourite meals.


Author: admin

Healthy Food Guide

First published: Jun 2008

2017-04-03 17:19:24

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