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Recipe makeovers

Imagination and experimentation are all part of the fun when it comes to recipe makeovers. Here are some simple tips to help you transform that favourite Christmas recipe into a healthier version.

Simple tips to help you put a healthy spin on many of your favourite Christmas recipe classics.

That summer time feeling is in the air, with the days getting longer and warmer. At this time of year, we make any excuse to get together with friends and family. Not only do we find ourselves surrounded by great company, but also great food with potluck dinners, work functions, Christmas lunch or classic Kiwi barbeques. This is a perfect opportunity to experiment with new recipes, cookbooks and culinary techniques.

As we spend more time gathered around the table, it can be tempting to overindulge on festive food and Christmas treats. Although you can’t control what other people bring to social functions, you can make an effort to contribute healthier options.

Let’s face it, ingredients are expensive and unless you’re a food scientist, meddling with Nana’s Christmas pudding recipe can be risky business. But in many cases, adding, reducing, substituting or eliminating ingredients can help transform a recipe into a healthier version. This can also be done without compromising the taste, texture or enjoyment factor.

Imagination and experimentation are all part of the fun when it comes to recipe makeovers. Here are some simple tips to help get you started.

Start with the ingredients list

Vegetables and fruit:

  • Add more vegetables, wherever you can. Fresh, frozen or canned varieties are all good choices. Opt for seasonal produce to help keep costs down.
  • When choosing canned foods like vegetables, legumes or fruit, check the nutritional label and compare the ‘per 100g’ column of similar products. Healthier options are those lower in fat, sugar and/or sodium.
  • Fruit is naturally sweet and packed with nutritional goodness. When it comes to healthier baking, there are many recipes that use apple purée or mashed banana to help cut down the sugar and fat. A colourful fruit salad is always a refreshing way to end a meal.


  • Boost fibre content by swapping refined white flour, rice, pasta and noodles for whole grain or wholemeal alternatives.
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice make a healthy base for summer salads.


  • Cut back on saturated fat by using lean meat or poultry, or removing the fat/skin. You can also scale back the meat and poultry, and add extra veggies or legumes. This is an easy way to make recipes go further when feeding a crowd.
  • Recipes containing meat can easily be transformed into plant-based versions. Replace the meat with another source of protein (e.g. cheese, eggs or tofu) or hearty vegetables like mushrooms or aubergine. Canned lentils and beans make a versatile substitute for meat in curries, salads or Mexican-inspired meals.

Milk and milk products:

  • Swapping full-fat milk and milk products with low- or reduced fat alternatives is an easy way to lower saturated fat. Low-fat Greek yoghurt is a handy alternative to cream or sour cream.  
  • Cheese is an essential ingredient for many traditional recipes. Try scaling down the quantity or using reduced-fat varieties like Edam or cottage cheese. Otherwise, try a strong-tasting cheese like parmesan. That way, you still get loads of flavour but won’t need as much.

Healthy fats

  • Poly- and mono-unsaturated fats are the types of fats that have heart health benefits. Avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish are rich sources of healthy fats. Toss together with seasonal veggies to make a healthy salad. 

Adding flavour

  • Use fresh or dried herbs, spices and cracked pepper instead of salt.
  • Make your own salad dressings using healthy oils, citrus and vinegar.
  • Choose salt-reduced sauces or stocks.

Look at the cooking method

  • Changing how you prepare and cook food is an easy way to make recipes healthier.
  • When cooking, limit fats and oils high in saturated fat like butter and coconut oil. Choose olive, canola, or rice bran oil for shallow frying or barbequing. Only use sunflower oil for salad dressing or in spreads - don’t heat it.
  • Opt for healthier cooking methods like boiling, steaming, stir-frying, grilling, baking and roasting, rather than frying or deep-frying.

Put it into context

Remember, Christmas is a time to celebrate and enjoy. If you’re not prepared to experiment with your favourite recipes, there are many other ways to make healthy food choices. Eat mindfully and keep an eye on your portion sizes. Watch your beverage intake, as both alcoholic and soft drinks can be high in energy without offering other nutritional benefits. Keep active and stick to your exercise regime as much as possible. That will make it a lot easier to get started again in the New Year.

For a healthy spin on many Christmas classics:


Browse the Heart Foundation recipe collection