Modifying Holiday Recipes

December 22, 2021

Christine Patrick, County Extension Agent

Enjoy a healthful guilt-free holiday by modifying the recipes for some of your favorite holiday foods to reduce the fat, sugar, and salt and to add fiber. These guidelines explain how to change certain ingredients and by how much.


You save about 120 calories for every tablespoon of oil you omit. Generally, the total fat in recipes can be reduced by one-third. In recipes for baked breads, cakes, and brownies that call for 1 cup of oil, you can replace ½ cup of the oil with ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce. Make sure you include 2 tablespoons of fat for every cup of flour in cakes and quick breads (e.g. muffins, biscuits, and pancakes). Quick bread batters are leavened with baking powder or soda instead of yeast. Reduce saturated fat in creamy dressing by mixing in nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt. These lower-fat ingredients can be substituted for higher fat ingredients:

  • Yogurt or cottage cheese for sour cream
  • Low-fat cheese for high-fat cheese
  • Skim, 1% or 2% milk for whole milk
  • Evaporated milk or whipped non-fat dry milk for whipping cream
  • Light cream (18-20% fat), half-and-half or evaporated skim milk for heavy cream (36-40% fat)
  • Lean or extra-lean meats for regular fat meats
  • Applesauce or fruit puree for butter and margarine

Consider using a reduced-fat or fat-free product. However, be aware that the liquid in a recipe must be reduced when using a product like reduced-fat margarine, which has water added to it. Keep your total fat intake between 20 and 35% of daily calories (with less than 10% of calories from saturated fats), and keep trans fat consumption as low as possible.


Reducing sugar by up to one-third usually yields good results, especially when vanilla, cinnamon, or other appropriate flavoring is added to enhance the flavor. One tablespoon of sugar is needed for each cup of flour in recipes for quick breads and muffins. Use ½ cup of sugar for every cup of flour in cakes and cookies.


Most Americans consume about twice the amount of salt that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends per day. On average, the higher a person’s salt intake, the higher their blood pressure. Eat more fresh foods and less processed items. Remove all salt from recipes if possible. Add special pizzazz to a recipe by replacing salt with citrus juices, vinegar, herbs, or salt-free spice blends. Sprinkle food with vinegar or citrus juice at the last minute so the flavor is at its strongest. If wine is used as a flavor enhancer, choose table wine rather than cooking wine, which has added sodium. Although salt can be omitted from quick breads, baked goods containing yeast need it for leavening. The salt in main dishes, soups, salads, and many other recipes can be omitted or reduced by one-half. Gradually reduce the salt each time the recipe is prepared, and the taste change will not be noticed. Use low-sodium versions of canned soups, bouillon cubes, and commercial condiments.


The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we make half our grain choices whole grains. Try replacing one-fourth to one-half the white flour with whole grain or bran flour in recipes. Oat bran flour can replace one-fourth of the flour in a recipe. You can make your own by grinding oatmeal in a blender to a flour consistency. Although these changes don’t save calories, they do add fiber and nutrient value.

For more information, visit the HGIC website or refer to the following fact sheets: Fat in Your Diet, FiberLimit Sugar, and Halt Salt!.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.



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