Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on February 21, 2023
Revamping Your Recipe Box

Revamping Your Recipe Box


Whether it's mac and cheese or meatloaf, some family recipes aren't that healthy. But with a few changes, you can lose some unhealthy fats, add fiber, and cut extra sugar that your family doesn't need -- without killing the taste. Start with small changes at first. Your family will be more likely to stick with them than if you do them all at once.

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken Nuggets


Give your family lean protein with no fillers and less fat with this easy, baked version. 

  • Pulse a couple of slices of toasted whole wheat bread, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and your favorite spices in the food processor. 
  • Dip chicken breast tenders in a beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. 
  • Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350 F until golden brown.
Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese


Cut unhealthy saturated fat from this kid favorite by revamping your cheese sauce. Use low-fat cheese and 1% milk. Concerned about creaminess? Replace half of your shredded cheese with pureed low-fat cottage cheese or butternut squash.

Mix with whole-wheat pasta to make it healthier and more filling. There's also quinoa or brown rice pasta. If your kids aren't fans of whole grains, get them used to it by mixing it with regular pasta.




Trim the fat on this hearty dish by using lean ground beef or lean turkey. Or skip the meat and use a few types of beans and lots of vegetables.

Adding tomatoes, sauteed squash, peppers, and onions adds fiber and nutrition. Cut sodium by rinsing beans and using other seasonings instead of salt. Top it off with low-fat cheese and low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie


This comfort food can be a fat bomb if it's made with cream and a buttery crust. To slim it down, use:

  • Low-fat milk and only half the butter for the sauce
  • White-meat chicken with no skin
  • Lots of vegetables, like peas, carrots, and green beans
  • Only a top crust. Or skip crust altogether and top with mashed sweet potatoes instead.


Burritos and Tacos

Burritos and Tacos


Healthy eating on Mexican night is easy. Try to build burritos or tacos so they're at least half veggies:

  • Use medium whole wheat or corn tortillas or 6-inch shells.
  • Fill with 90% lean meat or fajita-style chicken.
  • Add fat-free refried beans or black or pinto beans for fiber.
  • Layer in veggies like peppers, tomatoes, corn, and shredded lettuce.
  • Top with 1/4 cup or less of low-fat shredded cheese or a few slices of avocado.





A few tweaks to your recipe can make this hearty Italian dish even healthier:

  • Use whole wheat noodles.
  • Use part-skim ricotta and low-fat mozzarella cheeses.
  • Add lots of vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and thawed, drained frozen spinach.
  • If you use meat, make sure it's at least 90% lean.



If meatloaf is a family mainstay, change your ingredients a bit to lower the fat and boost fiber and vitamins. It's still filling and flavorful.

  • Use ground beef, turkey, or chicken that's at least 90% lean.
  • Make your own breadcrumbs using stale whole wheat bread, or replace breadcrumbs with quick-cooking oats.
  • Add chopped spinach, celery,onions, tomatoes, or grated carrots or zucchini to the mix.





Start by experimenting with whole-grain and multigrain pastas. They taste just as light and tender as the standard versions.

Add shredded carrots, zucchini, or chopped spinach to tomato sauce for more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Bake -- don't fry -- golf ball-sized meatballs made with 90% lean ground beef and whole wheat breadcrumbs.

Cookies and Brownies

Cookies and Brownies


Sweet treats are fine every now and then. Try making small brownies and serving them with fruit.

For cookies, sub out 1/3 of the flour with quick-cooking oats. It makes them healthier and adds a good texture.

In brownies replace half the oil with applesauce, yogurt, or fruit puree to reduce the fat and improve the nutrition. Ground flax seed can be used as a substitute for eggs as well as butter. Make smaller cookies. 

Show Sources


  1. JGI/Jamie Grill / Blend Images
  2. FoodCollection
  3. James And James / FoodPix
  4. Cristina Cassinelli / FoodPix
  5. jabiru/ Kalium
  6. Ian O'Leary
  7. Imstepf Studios Llc / Photolibrary
  8. Foodcollection
  9. Rita Maas / FoodPix
  10. Philippe Desenrck / Photolibrary


Karen Ansel, registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Jessica Crandall, registered dietitian, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Monica Reinagel, author, Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet, St. Martin's Griffin, 2011.
Julie Negrin, certified nutritionist; author, Easy Meals to Cook with Kids, AuthorHouse, 2010.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: "Recipe Makeovers: 5 Ways to Create Healthy Recipes."
The Ohio State University: "Make Better Choices for Healthier Chili."