Back when I was a little spring chicken of a nutrition student I was hanging out in my mother’s kitchen watching her make a traditional dish for the Jewish new year-Noodle pudding. Her recipe consisted of everything that I was taught to believe was unhealthy- egg noodles, eggs, heavy dairy, and white sugar. I asked my mom if there was any way we could make this a little healthier- and she responded:

“Julie, how many pieces of this are you going to eat and how often do you eat it?”

That shut me up pretty quickly.

Those words run through my head so often when read “eat this, not that” blogs, or pieces on how to make food healthier, and I ask myself:

Is there a way to balance your favorite foods with your nutrition philosophy without comprising the integrity of the original dish?

The simple answer is yes, here is step-by- step cheat sheet:

  1. Narrow down what makes that dish your favorite. If it’s the texture, make sure when you sub out an ingredient, that the texture remains the same.
  2. Define your nutrition goals- are you watching your cholesterol? Your weight? Trying to gain? That will effect how you alter the dish.
  3. If you want it, cook it from scratch. You want an apple pie? Do it up! Anything you cook will be healthier.
  4. Stock up on yogurt. Plain yogurt is a great food to have in your house, as it can be used in baking or creamy dishes that typically call for cream, sour cream, or mayonnaise.
  5. 5. Add fiber. Sub whole grains whenever you can. The carbohydrates will be the same, but you will get the additional fiber.
  6. Switch up the cooking technique: Skip frying, and use the oven. Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly the same, but you can crisp up your food by broiling it towards end of cooking.
  7. Skip the extra cheese. Americans love cheese- and restaurants know that add cheese to almost any dish, and people will smile. When making your favorite dishes, you can sub out Parmesan with one of my favorite kitchen essentials, nutritional yeast (comes in a shaker now)- and is stock full of vitamins.
  8. Fresh is best. If your food is made with fresh ingredients- including herbs and spices, you will be more satisfied, require less added salt, and your food will be more nutritious.
  9. Portion. Portion. Portion. Many times the best way to make a healthy decision with a food favorite is to leave the dish as is, and just watch the portion.
  10. How often do you eat this favorite food? If it were like my mom’s noodle pudding, it would be only three times a year. If it’s a food that you don’t intend on eating often, then you may decide to leave the recipe as is. If it is food that you would like to integrate into your diet, then review the above steps and don’t be afraid to experiment! I think it took me a year to find an edible turkey meatloaf recipe.

Many times when you are eating out, and you see several of your favorite dishes listed on the menu, it can be daunting to figure out how to make that dish healthier.

Relax, and take a breathe- and make the better choice- it may not be the best, but a simple ingredient sub out, or request for dressing/sauce on the side, or a half portion order can make a world of difference. As the nutrition and wellness director of Darrow’s fresh farm takeout, I was give the opportunity to co-design the menu.

The refreshing part of our menu is that there is no need to sub out when it comes to health- the functional plates are nutritionally balanced, and the flavor isn’t compromised. The ingredients are as fresh and local as possible, and we take whole food seriously.

We make our decisions about our food like and dislikes at a very young age; thus our favorite foods have been with us for a long time. Not all of our favorite foods are “bad” for us- but some may not fit into our diets. When you are craving one of your favorites, try going through my cheat-sheet decision making process- and whatever you decide, stay behind your decision, and enjoy.

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