My mother, who left us way too early in 1999, was a wonderful cook. She baked bread, made awesome casseroles, homemade soups and a coffee cake that was amazing. One thing she did with her cooking, though, that we teased her about relentlessly, was substitute healthy ingredients instead of following a standard recipe.
March is National Nutrition Month, and I am happy to share with you some of my mother’s tips and tricks for creating meals that taste good, are filling, and aren’t full of sugar and fat.
Her most “famous trick” was substituting carob chips for chocolate chips. While chocolate does have some nutritional benefits, it contains caffeine and lots of added sugar. Carob has minerals (especially calcium and iron) and B vitamins, and some antioxidants and little fat or sugar. The flavor is not as rich as chocolate, hence us calling it her “famous trick.”
She would also sneak spinach into many recipes, from soup to casseroles. We were all good veggie eaters, but spinach was never a favorite.
We all loved salty snacks and dehydrated kale with sea salt tasted remarkably like a lighter potato chip. Dried apples, pineapple and apricots are all yummy. The store-bought dried fruit typically contains a lot of extra sugar and is more like candy. This food dehydrator, which is USA made, is perfect for making your own healthy snacks.
Instead of heavy cream she would use cottage cheese or low-fat yogurt (half a cup of each instead of one cup of heavy cream). This was one trick we never caught on to!
If your family likes yogurt, you can make your own. This is what one of our customers said about our yogurt maker:
“I love this yogurt maker and use it weekly and want others to know that it is worth every penny. Bought my first one in the 90’s and this one when I lived in Jackson, CA.”
Then you can add your own natural sweetener, like fruit or honey.
Wheat germ was another favorite ingredient of hers. When wheat is refined, the wheat germ is removed, which eliminates most of its nutrients. You can add a whole grain punch to many foods, yet without all the carbs, by using just the wheat germ. By eliminating the starch part of the wheat (endosperm), this grain can be a low calorie, yet nutrient dense food.
My mother put wheat germ into meatloaf as a filler, she used it as a topping instead of bread crumbs, sprinkled it on our yogurt, coated chicken or pork chops with it and used it in place of flour in baking.
She also used applesauce instead of oil, particularly in her brownies. For other baked goods such as cakes, breads and muffins, she used half oil and half applesauce to ensure a nice texture. I do recall a certain “cookie failure” using applesauce instead of oil, though. Consider yourself forewarned.
To be uber healthy, you can make your own applesauce. Instead of adding sugar, she would add berries, like raspberries, which made the applesauce pink, which I just loved as a child.
You likely know this, but any food baked is more healthy than any food that is fried. She would bake sweet potato fries, chips, pretzels, even doughnuts in the oven instead of the deep fryer.
Good luck and happy cooking and baking!
Glenda Lehman Ervin
Great article! Thank you for sharing about your Mother.
My hubby likes sweet potato fries too especially when I make chicken wings! I try to bake with less sugar about half of what recipe calls for and use maple syrup instead, I grew up making this in Finger Lakes area of New York! Colorado has some challenges with high altitude, but I manage! I still make my own baked goods when I have the time like my own sticky buns, rolls, pasta and bread too! I am mostly a from scratch cook and baker just like my grandma Harris did too! This is why we do not eat out, hubby doesn’t like too! My bad he’s too hooked now! Jess