Healthy Food Substitutions

Small, Healthy Food Substitutions Can Make Big Difference

mom and daughter cooking

Eating healthier can feel a little overwhelming and many families don’t know where to start. We often recommend that our HealthWorks! families begin by making small changes here and there that can collectively make a big difference.

One way to do that is to substitute some foods for healthier alternatives. Our dietitians have created a handy food substitutions chart, which can take the guess work out of making general food substitutions as well as exchanges in recipes. Try swapping a few of these out throughout the day and see how they add up!

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Egg whites (usually 2 egg whites for every egg) or 1/4 cup of egg substitute.

Whole milk, 2% milk, half & half or evaporated milk

Skim milk, 1% milk, evaporated skim milk, fat-free half & half or plain soymilk fortified with calcium.

Whole fat cheese

Reduced fat or fat-free cheese but add it at the end of the baking time. Can also use part-skim mozzarella cheese but read the label for fat content.

Full-fat cream cheese

Low-fat or nonfat cream cheese. Neufchatel or low-fat cottage cheese pureed until smooth.

Full-fat sour cream, Full-fat cottage cheese, Full-fat ricotta cheese

Nonfat or reduced fat sour cream or fat-free plain yogurt (yogurt is not heat stable). Use 2% or fat-free cottage cheese. Use part-skim ricotta.

Cream, whipping cream

Evaporated skim milk. Non fat whipping topping or cream (pay attention to serving size).

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Iceberg lettuce

To increase fiber: Try romaine lettuce, endive and other leafy lettuces or baby spinach.

Peeled fruits and vegetables

To increase fiber: Add extra fruits and vegetables, such as adding grated carrots to spaghetti sauce, leaving apple peels in apple crisp, zucchini bread, etc. Add extra fruits and vegetables to recipes and include the peel when possible.

Canned or frozen fruits with sugar

Decrease or eliminate sugar when canning or freezing fruits. Buy unsweetened frozen fruit or fruit canned in its own juice, water or light syrup.

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To increase fiber: Use more dried beans and peas. Add legumes and lentils to many different dishes. Try adding lentils to your spaghetti.

Ground beef or ground chuck

Ground round or ground sirloin. Ground lean turkey and chicken can also be used. Be sure to check the label for the fat content.

Fatter cuts of meat – skin on

Leaner cuts of meat or ground meat. Remove skin before cooking.

Canned fish in oil

Water-packed canned fish.

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White rice, enriched grains

To increase fiber: Use whole grain, brown rice, wild rice, whole cornmeal, whole barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous.

All purpose flour

To increase fiber: Substitute whole wheat flour for up to 1/2 of the flour.

Pasta, crackers, cookies, cereals

To increase fiber: Use whole grain pastas, crackers, cookies and cereals.

White bread

To increase fiber: Use 100% whole grain bread and 100% whole wheat bread (look for wheat as first ingredient).

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Shortening, butter, margarine or lard

Using 1/2 less liquid oil or solid fat called for in the recipe. If recipe calls for 1 cup, use 3/4 cup. If recipe uses 1/4 cup shortening, use 3 tablespoons oil. Use equal amounts of oil for melted shortening, margarine or butter.

Shortening, butter or oil for baking

Use applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening or oil. May need to reduce baking time by 25%.

Butter, shortening, margarine or oil to prevent sticking. Fat to sauté or stir-fry

When frying foods, use cooking spray, water, broth or non-stick pans. Try to change cooking method to bake, broil, grill, poach, roast or microwave.

Regular mayonnaise or salad dressing

Use low-fat, reduced or nonfat mayonnaise or salad dressing.

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Reducing sugar by 1/4 to 1/3 in baked good products and desserts. (If recipe calls for 1 cup, use 2/3 cup). Cinnamon, vanilla and almond extract can be added to give impression of sweetness. Use sugar substitutes according to package directions. Some may not work for baking.


Pureed fruit, such as no sugar added applesauce or sugar-free syrup.

Fruit-flavored syrup

Pureed fruit, such as no sugar added applesauce or sugar-free syrup.

Pudding, gelatin and soda pop

Most brands offer a sugar-free variety.

If you’re looking for more ways to promote healthier eating habits at home, visit our website to learn more about our Healthworks! program.

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Shelly Frank, RD, LD

About the Author: Shelly Frank, RD, LD

Shelly Frank, RD, LD is a clinical dietitian with the Center for Better Health and Nutrition and the HealthWorks! programs within Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute. Shelly has been providing pediatric weight management services at Cincinnati Children’s for over 15 years.

Write a comment


  1. mayjo February 22, 15:23
    I love this chart and was wondering if it would be possible to receive a copy of it via email so that I could share it with my clients at the food pantry that I work at. I'd like to be able to print it out somehow.
    • Rachel Camper
      Rachel Camper February 23, 10:05
      Hi Mayjo, Glad you've found it helpful! I will email you directly.
  2. PC March 10, 18:57
    Instead of soda, flavored seltzer water could be introduced or seltzer water mixed with 100% juice to avoid artifical sweetners that young bodies don't need!