Giving your meals a healthy makeover is no sad tale of deprivation. Here are more than 45 simple ways to adapt all your favourite meals so you continue to eat what you want while eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Step 1. Getting started
How many times have you told yourself you're going to change the way you eat – either to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or just to feel healthier? And how many times have you given up? The problem is that we start out full of good intentions – and a fridge full of tofu and carrot sticks - but all too easily lapse back into bad habits; maybe because we've had a bad day, are yearning for some comfort food, or because the kids are refusing to eat anything but spaghetti bolognese.
No matter how dedicated you are, any regimen that deprives you (and the kids!) of their favourite meals is ultimately doomed to failure. Instead of banishing your favourite meals, the key is to make them more healthy. Nobody's perfect, but if you commit to simple changes (such as using spray oil and adding more vegetables to your meals) you can overhaul virtually any dish.
The following information shows you how you can transform your favourites.
Make simple healthy switches
Reduce your kilojoule intake by using reduced-fat products.
Cut the salt by making use of reduced-salt options.
Increase the fibre in your diet by always choosing wholemeal and wholegrain options.
Add healthy ingredients to boost nutrition value
Add more vegies than listed in your recipe to fill up your plate and help hit the recommended five serves a day.
Add vegies or legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) to meat dishes to boost fibre.
Add oat bran to rissoles and meat dishes – it boosts fibre, too.
Modify your method
Skip the salt and oil when you're cooking in water.
Use cooking oil spray when you stir-fry, or sauté in water or stock.
Make the most of non-stick pans and trays.
Give deep-frying a miss, and roast or stir-fry instead.
10 simple switches
Boiled and poached eggs are better than fried.
Use egg whites in place of some of the whole eggs when cooking scrambled eggs and omelettes.
Eat bacon short cuts instead of rashers – the long, fatty parts are removed.
Stir fresh fruit through low-fat plain yoghurt instead of eating flavoured yoghurt.
Spread wholegrain sandwiches with avocado instead of butter or margarine.
Fill sandwiches with a small portion of lean protein (tuna, chicken, turkey) and a large portion of salad.
Cook a little extra dinner each night and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day instead of buying an unhealthy option.
Replace potato chips with rice crackers or pita crisps.
Instead of snacking on dip with biscuits, try humus served with vegetable sticks.
To make a piece of fruit more satisfying, eat half a handful of almonds at the same time.
Step 2. Choose healthy cooking methods
This is a great way to cook because you add no fat and it minimises any loss of nutrients. A great way to cook vegetables, chicken and fish.
HFG tip: Resist the temptation to cook vegies too long. Perfect steamed vegies are brightly coloured and tender-crisp, rather than mushy.
Grilling and barbecuing
The quick way to cook meat and vegies. It's healthier if you use a grooved or slotted tray or barbecue plate so that fat drips away from the food. Use a small spray of cooking oil to avoid the stick factor.
HFG tip: Lightly spray the food with oil, rather than the barbecue plate or grill. This will prevent it from smoking.
This is one of the fastest ways to cook and, contrary to popular belief, maintains the nutrients in food.
HFG tip: Don't microwave using ice-cream and margarine containers – they're high in PVC and may pass plastic molecules into your food when they're heated. Use containers designed for microwave use, such as treated plastic, glass, ceramic or paper.
This simple, low-maintenance way to cook is made even healthier when you use racks that fit in your roasting pan, so that any fat drips away as you cook.
HFG tip: Roasting is a great way to cook vegies and homemade chips. Line a tray with baking paper, spray your vegies with a little oil, then roast until golden and tender.
Gently simmering ingredients in water or broth means you don't need to add fat and also makes meat more tender.
HFG tip: Use salt-reduced stock or half stock/half water to avoid a salt overload when you poach meat in particular.
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.
HFG tip: A bag of frozen 'stir-fry mix' vegetables is a great stand-by for nights when you haven't had time to shop or couldn't be bothered cooking. Simply stir-fry and serve with meat and noodles or rice.
Step 3. Replace ingredients and use our expert tips
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 wholegrain 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 and fettuccine carbonara
Replace 1 cup pouring cream with 1 cup light & creamy evaporated milk, combined with 1 tablespoon cornflour.
Whole-egg frittatas, quiches and omelettes
Replace some of the whole eggs with egg whites. For example, if a recipe calls for four eggs, use two eggs and four egg whites instead.
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.
Halve the amount of butter and replace any cream in the recipe with light & creamy evaporated milk or extra-light sour cream.
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.
Replace pasta with half as much wholemeal pasta and make up the rest of the quantity with a mix of vegetables. Top with wholegrain breadcrumbs mixed with 1 cup reduced-fat cheddar and a sprinkling of parmesan.
If you're snacking on chocolate, buy dark instead of milk chocolate. Not only does it contain antioxidants, but it's richer so you'll eat less.
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.
Make a crumble instead - you won't need any pastry and it's much quicker.
My favourite trick is to use a griddle to chargrill meat. All the fat runs away and the meat looks great with its chargrill stripes. Samantha Dunn, editor
When preparing dinner, I fill half the plate with vegetables, add lean protein (meat, fish, chicken, etc) to one quarter of the plate and a starchy carb (pasta, rice or potato) to the remaining quarter. This gives a healthy, balanced dinner. Catherine Saxelby, nutrition director
Instead of using bought salad dressings, which can contain a lot of fat and salt, I add flavour with fresh herbs combined with fresh lemon, lime or orange juice. It is easy to grow your own herbs in a pot and they are there for immediate use. Dixie Elliott, recipe writer
My favourite new trick is to use low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat cream cheese with pasta instead of pure cream. When both cheeses melt, the sauce becomes wet, coats the pasta and has a really yummy flavour. I add green peas and baby spinach leaves at the end. Clara Luboff, recipe writer
I love to use spices (especially for marinating meats and vegies) and fresh herbs when cooking, as they add so much flavour without having to add extra fat. Chrissy Freer, recipe writer
I pay particular attention to portion sizes. If I'm feeling really hungry, I fill up on vegetables, salad or a big bowl of vegie soup before eating dinner. Caitlin Reid, dietitian
Step 4. Put it to the test
These three families put five HFG classic recipe makeovers to the test:
Tom and Corrine
Fettuccine carbonara Corrine loved it. "It was creamy and delicious." Tom said it didn't taste like a healthy version. "And I'm used to full-fat food!"
Thai green curry Could you tell this was a healthy recipe? "Not at all," says Tom. "It was delicious!" Corrine thought this was one of the best curries she's ever eaten.
Beef stroganoff "A fantastic meal for a cold night. I couldn't tell it was healthy - though I didn't like the onions," says Corrine. "It was creamy and surprisingly rich," says Tom.
Sweet and sour pork Tom didn't think it had healthy written all over it and said it would have been almost perfect if it was a touch sweeter. Corrine enjoyed this but would have preferred it a little sweeter.
Chocolate brownies "They're foolproof!" says Corrine. "Honestly, they were perfect." Tom thought they were full of flavour and virtually guilt-free to boot!
Frank, Maria, Billy and Kosta
Fettuccine carbonara Maria said it was delicious, and quick and easy to make. Frank really enjoyed it, although he could tell it didn't use cream. As for the kids, Billy thought it was yummy, although he didn't love the "green trees". Kosta wanted to know if he could have it for breakfast!
Thai green curry Frank and Maria aren't usually big curry fans. Despite this, Frank found it quite tasty and enjoyed the combination of garlic and coriander. Billy would eat this again. Kosta just stuck with the rice on this one.
Beef stroganoff Kosta pronounced the beef stroganoff, "very good, Mummy" and gave it a five out of five. Maria loved this dish. "It was easy to cook and filling, with a smooth and tasty sauce." Frank was a fan too.
Sweet and sour pork Billy thought this was delicious and asked for more. Kosta wanted to pick out the carrots... Frank found this sweet and easy to eat. Maria thought it was a sweet and light meal.
Chocolate brownies Frank thought they were rich and moreish. Maria loved the walnuts. The boys thought they were great. Kosta in particular was full of praise. "Good job, Mummy. Can I have more?"
Paul, Emma and Ted
Fettuccine carbonara "It was tasty, but didn't have the full flavour and richness of our normal carbonara." "We love our traditional version, so we could tell this one wasn't made with cream and eggs."
Thai green curry "We loved this! We added some low-fat natural Greek yoghurt to Ted's so it wasn't too hot for him." "We couldn't tell this was a healthy version, it was just like our normal recipe. It was really, really good. And it was great the next day, too!"
Beef stroganoff "We really enjoyed the sauce," says Emma. "The meat was a little bit tough, although I think it was my cooking, not the recipe!" Paul, Emma and Ted thought this one didn't seem like a healthy version - the flavour was strong and delicious.
Sweet and sour pork Paul, Emma and Ted didn't like this as much as the other recipes – "Probably because it's not something we'd normally eat." "This isn't something we eat often, so it didn't taste like a healthy version to us."
Chocolate brownie "We loved them. We all ate far too many!" says Emma. The brownies didn't taste super healthy. "They were rich and dark and very tasty! And they stayed moist and delicious for ages."
Layer 4 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.
If you're making a stir-fry, freeze the meat for 20 minutes first – it's easier to keep your slices nice and thin.
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.
Find healthy recipes for muffins and cakes that use puréed fruit in place of butter, then experiment with adding your favourite flavours.
Allow soups, stews and casseroles to cool completely once they're cooked. Then skim any fat off the top before reheating and serving.
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!
Mountain bread has half the kilojoules of other flatbreads, so is great for salad wraps. Or oven bake it to make your own low-joule crispbread.
If you're trying to reduce your sodium intake, Lite Salt has only half the sodium of regular salt.