What are healthy food substitutions?

Food substitutions…cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, Greek yogurt (instead of mayo)…we often think of these as dieting tricks. Substitutions to replace a “bad food” with a “good food”. But the truth is, there are no good foods or bad foods. There is no morality attached to food, and eating rice or pasta is not a bad thing! 

So why use food substitutions? I often recommend incorporating these foods into dishes to add different nutrients and variety as an addition rather than a substitution.

healthy food substitutions

National Nutrition Month: Put Your Best Fork Forward

Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics creates a campaign for National Nutrition Month. Their Best Fork Forward campaign included the following ideas for healthy eating:

  1. Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  2. Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  3. How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). RDNs can provide sound, east to follow, personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences, and health-related needs. 

Let’s get back to talking about number 2 on the list: experimenting with “healthier” ingredients. I don’t necessarily agree with the wording here, but I agree with experimenting with different ingredients. I would never say that cauliflower is healthier than rice. Different foods provide us with different nutrients, different amounts of fiber, and serve different purposes. With simple additions, we can add more variety to our favorite dishes! Here are a few additions to try out yourself! 

Healthy Cooking Substitutions


healthy cooking substitutions

Cauliflower is delicious raw or roasted, and can be transformed into mashed “potatoes”, a pizza crust, or even “rice.” Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower add heart fiber to a dish, and can even support liver health! 

  • Fried rice – Substitute riced cauliflower for rice, or mix it right into the rice for an added veggie! 
  • Pizza – Use cauliflower to make the pizza crust, which is a great gluten free pizza option if you can’t tolerate gluten. 
  • Shepherd’s Pie – Use mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes. This is a great option if you need to reduce your potassium intake with CKD. You can also mix mashed potato with mashed cauliflower as a hybrid mashed potato. 


healthy cooking substitutions

Summer squash can easily be incorporated into dishes to increase the fiber. If you’re worried about your blood sugar, zucchini can add fiber and potentially reduce the total carbs in the meal to allow for more stable blood sugars. 

  • Lasagna – Layer thinly sliced zucchini with (or instead of) lasagna noodles. This is a hearty and tasty way to use up those summer veggies! 
  • Spaghetti – Mix spiralized zucchini noodles into your spaghetti noodles for added fiber!
  • Hash browns – Shredded zucchini can be used to make hash browns as a way to add veggies to your brunch menu.
  • Enchiladas – Mix shredded zucchini in with the enchilada filling!

Greek Yogurt

healthy cooking substitutions

Greek yogurt has so many uses. It adds protein and a creamy texture! You can purchase yogurt in a variety of fat contents, depending on your nutrition needs! 

  • Schmears/Spreads – Smear Greek yogurt on toast/bagel. It’s delicious with fruit and nut butter on top! 
  • Dollop it on – Add plain Greek yogurt to chili, baked potatoes, or quesadillas. 
  • Dip it – Use it for a variety of dressings and dips, like this ranch dip or lemon dill dip

Whole Grain Flatbreads

healthy cooking substitutions

Whole grain flatbreads are a great way to incorporate a higher fiber option which can help digestion and feed those good gut bacteria and let them flourish!

  • Quiche – Cut out circles in the flatbread and place in a muffin tin, add egg mixture and bake to create mini quiches! 
  • Pizza – spread tomato sauce, cheese, and your favorite fixings on a flatbread, then bake until melty and delicious. It’s a super easy and quick pizza option!  
  • Chips – Cut flatbread into pieces, spray with cooking spray, and bake until crisp. Dip in hummus or guacamole for a tasty snack. 

Silken Tofu makes great recipe substitutions

healthy cooking substitutions

I love using silken tofu in desserts and smoothies to boost the protein! It blends so smoothly, and you would never know believe you’re eating tofu! Soy is a phytoestrogen which can help support happy hormones! 

  • Smoothies – Use silken tofu as a source of protein in your smoothies. 
  • Chocolate pudding – Use silken tofu to add protein and a creamy texture to your chocolate mousse or pudding! 
  • Chocolate fudge pops – Use the chocolate mousse recipe above and freeze in popsicle molds! You can also add peanut butter for a delicious twist. 

Experimenting in the kitchen can be fun for the whole family! Regardless of what ingredients you use, the important part is to get cooking, and have fun! 

Food Substitutions Cooking Video

For a fun cooking demo video about. how to use food substitutions while cooking, watch our culinary dietitian Kaitlin Williams Eckstein in action.

Looking for more mealtime and recipe inspiration? Check out some of these blogs!

4 Steps to an Easy Meal Prep Sunday

How to Meal Prep for a Stress Free Week

Blended Burger? The Lowdown on Blenditarian and Why It’s So Good

Instapot Recipes for Beginners and Busy People to Make Mealtime a Breeze

-Blog reviewed and updated February 2021.

If you would like help getting back in the kitchen, make an appointment with one of our culinary nutritionists today by clicking here or calling 301-474-2499. 

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