Best Cooking Substitutes

Posted on Nov 21 2012 - 6:32pm by Demelza Young

Have you ever found yourself in a bind, where you’re trying to make a recipe but you make the mistake of not checking whether you have all of your ingredients first?  Will your cake survive without an extra egg?  Is it okay to use regular milk instead of buttermilk?  Or maybe you just want to try some different healthy cooking recipes, and you’re intrigued by the idea of healthy cookie dough dip.  Sometimes food substitutions are necessary, but they can change the flavor, texture, and overall result of your recipe.

A good recipe for healthy cooking can seem like a godsend. Most people would agree that it’s awesome to eat something “guilty” (like ice cream or brownies) that doesn’t actually make you feel guilty for eating it.  Websites such as the cook’s thesaurus (organized by food category, such as dairy, baking supplies, and fats and oils) and What’s Cooking America (which includes an alphabetical chart) both help provide easy-to-understand references for most baking dilemmas.

Many people turn to healthy cooking because they wish to reduce the overall fat and calories of their meals and baked goods.  One easy way to do this, which you might not have even considered, is to not grease your pans when baking.  Using butter or oil to grease your pans can add a hefty amount of hidden calories to your foods.  Baking without greasing your pan (or even using a nonstick spray), though, is simple—you can use either parchment paper or silicone bakeware instead.  Parchment paper is both water- and grease-resistant, so moisture won’t stick to it.  In other words, it allows your baked goods to slide right out of (or off of) the pan.  Likewise, silicone bakeware enables you to easily retrieve your baked goods with a simple twist of the pan.  Of course, sometimes it’s best to stabilize a silicone baking sheet or muffin pan with a normal metal cookie sheet beneath it.

Are you an avid coffee drinker?  Do you feel as if you can’t go on without your double-espresso-nonfat-extra whip in the mornings?  There are some easy ways to lighten up your favorite coffee beverage and to save money by whipping your own version up at home.  If you enjoy lattes or frappuccinos, a good way to save calories is to swap out regular milk for nondairy milk such as unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze (40 calories per cup) or light vanilla soymilk (about 70 per cup).  If you like to sweeten your beverages, there are numerous cooking substitutes for sugar including Splenda and Truvia.  While sugar packs 15 calories per teaspoon, sweeteners like those mentioned previously are only about 4 calories per serving (although they boast that they are “calorie-free” on the package).  Sugar-free syrups are another great way to go if you want to add both flavor and sweetness to your beverages.  Both Torani and Da Vinci have an array of fun flavors to choose from—just make sure you order the sugar-free varieties, as the regular syrups pack quite a caloric punch!

If you’re looking for some cost-effective family-friendly meals, you might consider swapping out some or all of the meat in your favorite dishes.  For example, portabello mushrooms are a low-calorie food that still have a meat-like quality to them (in appearance, flavor, and texture).  Even if you swap only half the amount of meat in your recipe for mushrooms, beans, or other vegetables, you’ll save yourself a ton of calories and fat and it will make your dish that much more filling.  After all, vegetables are great at bulking up dishes and increasing satiety because of their fiber and water content.

However, it’s important to remember that excessive use of cooking substitutes can lead to adverse effects in your recipes.  If you replace all of the butter or oil in your baked goods, for example, you might find that they have a gummy taste and texture to them.  It’s generally advised to replace only half of the fat in a baked goods recipe with a fat-free substitute such as applesauce.  If you use a calorie-free sweetener instead of sugar in your recipe or beverages, you might discover that the brand you use leaves a bit of an odd after-taste in your mouth (sometimes you have to try two or three different varieties to figure out what you like and don’t like).  Also realize that you shouldn’t get lost in the belief that every food you eat needs to be “healthy.”  Sometimes you just need a real cookie instead of the “healthified” version, and that’s okay.  If you try to make every meal you cook nutritionally perfect you’ll just end up driving yourself crazy.  Healthy eating is all about balance.


Demelza Young is a recent graduate of Northern Kentucky University. Her current plans are to attend graduate school and to study clinical psychology in the hopes of one day working with eating disordered patients.

11 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Kelly R November 23, 2012 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Wow.. Thank you for this post, it has some great information in it.

  2. Jaime Nicole November 23, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    I only drink Almond Milk now – my daughter has a dairy allergy so it works out nice.  Plus it's better for the environment!

  3. Wendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas November 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    I like to use honey or maple as a sugar substitute because I never use artificial sweetners. Fruit purees work great too!

  4. Sam November 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    I agree that you have to find a balance in your substitutes or things begin to taste a little funny

  5. Melissa S.O.S. Mom November 24, 2012 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Some really fantastic tips! I know I would need to do some switches but habits are hard to break! 

  6. kewkew November 26, 2012 at 2:31 am - Reply

    Some interesting tips I wouldn't have thought of, thank you

  7. Shydub November 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Missing out some of the ingredients is one of the reason i don't like cooking. i love eating, i have no problem with that hehehehe.

  8. Sue InVegas November 29, 2012 at 12:53 am - Reply

    Very Nice write up! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Melinda Dunne November 29, 2012 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Thanks for the fantastic information! I hate it when I get in a bind and need a sustition, now I have a place to look to get one! 

  10. jheylo December 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    great. thanks for sharing this info. i rarely cook. my husband does the cooking most of the time

  11. Malia December 4, 2012 at 3:14 am - Reply

    Thanks for such an informative post!

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