Creating healthy recipes
Now that you've decided to make some healthy changes to your menu, it's time to look at your recipes and make them as healthy as they can be.
Not all recipes can be low in fat, salt and sugar – they wouldn’t be the same if they were. These recipes still have a place in a balanced diet (everyone likes to indulge occasionally!), but it is important that they are balanced with some healthy menu items as well.
Often you can make a recipe healthier with a few small changes which focus on these basic suggestions:
- Use more fruits or vegetables
- Use lean cuts of meat
- Use reduced-fat dairy products or less of the full-fat versions
- Change some or all of the grain products in your recipe from highly processed to more wholegrain
- Prepare recipes as much as possible from scratch and reduce the amount of processed ingredients
- Use cooking methods other than frying, especially deep-frying.
Below we go into detail around how to plan, create and modify recipes to make sure they're healthy, delicious, financially viable and achievable.
Let's get started!
This may seem obvious to a chef, but can sometimes be overlooked in favour of the easier option; buying in pre-prepared foods.
Pre-prepared foods almost always cost more than the ingredients that are used to make them, can be higher in salt, sugar and saturated fat than necessary and often don’t taste as good as an equivalent that can be made easily in a commercial kitchen.
Sauces, stocks, spreads, breads and several other foods are commonly found on many commercial kitchens order sheets. This doesn’t need to be the case and in making these from scratch you can save money, create a point of difference from your competitors and provide healthy foods for your customers. Everyone wins. For example if you make tomato ketchup from scratch you will immediately set yourself apart from the vast majority of establishments who buy it in. Often it’s considered too difficult and time consuming to make some of these foods, but this isn’t always the case.
Basically healthier cooking methods are those that use less fat, especially fats containing high levels of saturated fats such as: butter, coconut oil, lard/dripping and palm oil.
Below are a few tips to help you prepare your delicious healthy ingredients in the healthiest way:
- Use silicon sheets or baking paper
- If greasing a dish use oil rather than butter.
- Food is cooked under or over direct heat, with no flames
- Little or no fat is needed for successful grilling so this is a great option for meats.
- Spray the pan with an oil spray before placing the food in the pan
- Choose oils such as canola, cottonseed, olive or rice bran.
- Deep fat frying is not recommended because it produces food which is especially high in energy
- Many products that were traditionally fried can be oven baked for a healthier product
- If you do deep fry please follow the Chip Group guidelines for techniques and approved oils to use.
- Use a rack when roasting meat and lightly spray baking trays with a little oil when roasting vegetables. Dry roasting is the healthiest option.
- Use lite coconut milk in place of coconut cream, use milk in place of cream and use low salt stocks
- Skim the fat from the top regularly.
Creating a healthy recipe from the beginning is relatively easy, as long as you start with healthy ingredients. Generally this means using the least processed ingredients possible, and basing the recipe mainly on vegetables or fruits. Our visual food guide shows you the ingredients to use most and least.
Start with the raw basic ingredients and think of ways to prepare them that involve adding as little sugar, salt and saturated fats as possible. Find ways to bring out the flavour of these ingredients using healthier ingredients such as herbs, spices, vinegars or citrus juices or other exotic ingredients - this is where your highly trained chef's imagination comes into action.
Perhaps the easiest way to create a healthy recipe is to start with an existing recipe, and alter it in a few ways to make it healthier. To begin with ask yourself the following about ingredients that are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar:
- Can it be left out?
- If they can't be left out, can they be reduced?
- Could you trim more fat from meats?
- Are there other healthier ingredients that can be substituted for them?
- Will the dish still be acceptable after these changes?
Here you can download a comprehensive list of ingredient substitutions to help make your recipes healthier:
A large part of modifying recipes for use in foodservices is scaling up the yield. Starting with domestic recipes is common but can create a few problems. To help streamline this process use our recipe adaptation guidelines (PDF)
Have a look at our recipe makeover sheets which show you how we have adapted a few common recipes to make them healthier, tastier, cost neutral or in some cases cheaper:
Select a PDF below
A standardised recipe is one that will produce a known quality and quantity of food for a specific operation, and will help control costs and waste of product.
Standardised recipes are not found in books or provided by manufacturers; they are recipes customised to your operation – cooking times and temperatures and the utensils should be based on the equipment actually available.
Yields should be adjusted to an amount appropriate for your operation. A recipe must be tested repeatedly and adjusted to fit your facility and your needs, before it can be considered standardised. Standardised recipes are a tool for the chef and management. The written forms assist in training cooks, educating staff, and controlling food costs. Accurate recipe costing and menu pricing depends on having, and using standardised recipes.
A standardised recipe will include:
- The menu item
- Yield – (this is the usable amount obtained from the recipe)
- Portion size
- Serving instructions, presentation
- Ingredient list
- Quantity (QTY) of each ingredient
- Cooking time and temperature
- Special equipment needed to produce and serve it
- Person who tested/developed the recipe
- Holding/storage procedure, if applicable
- It can also include information on costing and a photograph of the finished dish
We strongly encourage all food services to use standardised recipes to ensure standards are kept, and also to ensure that healthy changes made to recipes are maintained by all staff working in the kitchen. Below you can download a recipe costing spreadsheet to help you develop your standardised recipes:
- Recipe costing spreadsheet (XLS sheet)
Bread is a dominant part of the Kiwi diet and it’s where we get many of our vital nutrients. However, because we eat so much of it, bread is also a major contributor of salt in our diets.
That’s why the Heart Foundation has been working with large bread manufacturers to help them reduce the sodium content of their products. We’ve set a target of 400mg of sodium per 100g bread, down from the previous target of 450mg per 100g.
Using the baker’s percentage method, 400mg of sodium per 100g bread equates to 1.3% (1.3g salt/100g flour) of salt in the recipe. Research in the UK ('Salt in Craft Baker Bread Guide' PDF) has shown that using this amount of salt is easily achievable, doesn’t affect the overall recipe, and is accepted by consumers.
Research has also shown that you can reduce the level of salt in bread by 25% over six weeks and customers will not notice the difference.
So, why not give it a go?
At the same time, why not add some wholemeal flour or wholegrains to the mix? This will boost flavour, texture and increase nutrients.