Small food changes lead to big results. Here’s how to start

OSU Extension

Credit: Denise Cathey

Credit: Denise Cathey

Have you ever been in the middle of baking and realized you were out of an ingredient? I can’t tell you the number of times I have traipsed across the street or jumped over a fence to borrow eggs, oil, milk, and flour from a generous neighbor.

I have always been attracted to the section in cookbooks that tell you how you can substitute one ingredient for another (especially to make it healthier). For example, if you find yourself without buttermilk, you can always substitute plain yogurt. Out of cream cheese? Use pureed cottage cheese. And if the recipe calls for one cup brown sugar you can always substitute one cup of white sugar with ¼ cup molasses mixed in. Ok, admittedly, that may not be the healthier option, but you get the idea.

This is a topic in many of our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) classes. We start our series of classes with a simple concept: we do not expect or even encourage huge changes in diet. This can often lead to participants giving up or thinking they can’t do anything to improve their eating habits.

We suggest small changes which are often perceived as being attainable and even fun to try. Instead of suggesting that a parent switch their child’s milk from whole to 1% in one swoop, we suggest they mix the whole milk with 2% milk for a few weeks, then mix the 2% milk with 1% milk, etc. Hopefully, this will lead to healthier milk choices after a period. We often introduce whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grain breads in class.

Many participants automatically assume they will not like these foods but are pleasantly surprised when they do.

One of the best parts of our job is introducing new foods to our classes. We will often look at the recipe used and discuss ways to make it healthier.

A program assistant took muffins into a class that were made with applesauce instead of oil. Another made a healthy ranch dip out of plain yogurt and fresh herbs. The next time you want to make a fruit dip, try low-fat peanut butter and plain yogurt. One of our favorite recipes to make is Black Bean Brownies. These are made without flour. I was a little leery myself, but I can honestly say that they are one of the best brownies I’ve tasted.

Other tips:

  • Try adding shredded or pureed apple, carrot banana and pumpkin to recipes to boost nutrients, flavor and moisture. These ingredients can add extra flavor and replace some of the butter or oil in the recipe.
  • White whole-wheat flour can be substituted one-for-one for all-purpose flour in most recipes. You can also replace up to half the all-purpose flour in a recipe with a whole-grain flour without making any major adjustments to the recipe.
  • Try experiment with recipes using chickpea flour or almond flour. Change is hard, but I heard using these flours can increase the flavor of basic doughs.
  • Use lower fat options of milk, buttermilk and yogurt in baking recipes to contribute protein and calcium. Consider swapping cream cheese frosting, which is high in calories and saturated fat and has minimal nutritional value, for a higher protein frosting made from low-fat Greek yogurt.
  • When modifying a favorite recipe, trade some of the butter for canola oil. Don’t replace all the butter with oil or you will sacrifice texture.
  • You can reduce sugar in a recipe by about 25% without noticeable differences. You may need to experiment. Sometimes reducing sugar will require increasing the liquid in a recipe.

Honey Lime Almond Cookies

Makes 3 dozen.

106 Calories per Cookie


1 cup butter, softened.

½ cup sugar

3 Tablespoons honey

1 large egg yolk

1 Tablespoon grated lime peel

1 teaspoon lime juice

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup slivered almonds finely chopped.

Confectioner’s sugar, optional


  • In a bowl, cream butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in honey, egg yolk, lime peel and lime juice. Gradually beat in flour. Stir in almonds.
  • Divide dough in half; shape each into a 5-inch-long roll. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap and cut dough into ¼-inch slices. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden.
  • Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove to racks to cool completely. If desired, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Interested in free nutrition education classes from OSU Extension? Contact Nancy Lyons at 937-224-9654 or