Choosing Healthy and Healthifying Recipes

— Written By and last updated by

Eating healthy can be difficult, especially when you are not just feeding yourself. Recipes are really helpful in finding meals that can fit everyone’s taste buds and help to feed your family something a little different. One great thing about information today is: it is fairly easy to access if you have a computer. Say you have some ingredients in your fridge that you are not sure what to do with, you can simply type in those ingredients and “recipe” in your search engine and you are likely to get hundreds of recipe options. However, they’re not all going to be healthy options. I wanted to share a few tips on what to look for in recipes to decide if it is a healthy dish or only a once-in-a-while dish.

When I am searching for recipes, I always look for dishes with limited ingredients or ingredients that I already have at home. This helps me to weed out a lot of the recipe results that come up when searching online. Also, I make sure the ingredients are accessible ingredients. With healthy dishes there are sometimes ingredients that you can only find at a health food store. If I’m looking for a recipe to use fairly soon, such as that night, I’d rather only stop by one store instead of multiple.

Next I check for a few ingredients and determine if I would consider it “healthy”.  If there is a large amount of oil used, say for frying, I typically nix the dish or see if it is something I could bake instead. I also check to see if high-fat ingredients are used, like ranch dressing or mayonnaise. You can substitute greek yogurt for many recipes to cut the fat. There are also low-fat options, but make sure to check the sodium, sugar, and ingredients list. If the recipe calls for white flour or pasta, use whole wheat options instead. Try to avoid creamy sauces or soups like alfredo and if the recipe calls for “cream of mushroom” or “cream of chicken” choose a low-fat version and watch the sodium.

Always opt for dishes that have a lot of vegetables! The average amount of recommended vegetables per day is 2 ½ to 3 cups depending on age and sex. It is easy to add a lot of vegetables to a dish, and can make it very colorful, meaning added vitamins and nutrients. Opt for a more colorful dish by adding spinach, mushrooms, bell peppers, or corn. The options are endless. If you have a rice or pasta dish, try to add more vegetables than the pasta or rice. You can buy fresh, frozen, or canned. I love buying the steamable frozen vegetables because they are easy to throw in anything!

There are a few websites that have healthier recipe options. USDA Mixing bowl is a great resource and you can even use filters to narrow the recipes down to what you’re looking for. Visit whatscooking.fns.usda.gov for more information. NC State University specialists have developed a website with healthy recipes that align with the Mediterranean diet. They are still adding to the website, but they have a lot of tasty recipes currently accessible. You can visit their website at MedInsteadofMeds.com.

Here is a Simple Stir Fry recipe from Med Instead of Meds that is delicious and easy. You can add shrimp or chicken to add extra protein, but try to keep the same amount of vegetables to up your veggie intake!

Serves: 2, Serving size: 1 cup grain and 1 ½ cups vegetables, Prep Time: 15 minutes, Cook Time: 15 minutes, Total Time: 30 minutes.

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon oil, 3 cups vegetables cut into 1 inch pieces (good combinations are broccoli, carrots, onions, cauliflower, summer squash, and mushrooms), 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger, 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, and 2 cups brown rice or whole-wheat spaghetti.

Directions: 1. Add oil to a hot stir-fry pan or large skillet.

  1. Add the vegetables in order of firmness, harder foods first. Cook each vegetable for a minute or so before adding the next vegetable. For example, add carrots and cook for a minute or two, then broccoli and cauliflower and cook for a minute or two, ending with mushrooms (adapt this sequence based on your vegetables).
  2. Continually toss the vegetables to prevent sticking.
  3. Add the grated ginger. Cook until tender but still crisp.
  4. Add the soy sauce and stir.
  5. Serve with the rice or whole-wheat spaghetti.

** Editor’s Note: Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161.

Written By

Photo of Sydney JohnsonSydney JohnsonArea Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences (910) 296-2143 (Office) sydney_johnson@ncsu.eduDuplin County, North Carolina
Updated on Jan 13, 2017
Was the information on this page helpful? Yes check No close
This page can also be accessed from: go.ncsu.edu/readext?442222