How to Make Healthier Versions of Grandma’s Recipes

Benefits of a Cheat Day

Use smaller plates. Reduce your portion sizes. Use a lower-fat cooking method (e.g., bake instead of fry). Go low fat or fat free. These are all tricks used in the kitchen and dining room to reduce the calories we consume when sitting down for a meal.

But what if you are following a recipe that has been passed down for generations, and you’re unsure of how to make healthy updates to your relatives’ recipes without taking it too far from the original?

Hang onto your heritage, as I help uncover how to make a few simple switches to the ingredients that will make your favorite recipes more healthful, yet still fool your family at Sunday dinner.



Growing up, I can recall my grandmother having a can of lard on her kitchen counter, and it was the primary ingredient in most of her cooking. She lived well into her 80’s and raised 5 amazing children on this type of cooking, all of whom are living proof that there are worse things in this world than cooking with straight up lard.

Now I could take her famous biscuit recipe and tear it to shreds using the latest trending ingredients, such as almond or coconut flour, and also replace the lard with coconut oil; however, that would transform grandma’s famous biscuits into something wholly unrecognizable. So instead, I replaced half of the flour with whole wheat flour, substituted canola oil for lard, and reduced the full-fat buttermilk to either low fat (or you could use nonfat) to cut the calories while leaving the taste virtually the same.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (spoon flour into cup, then level it)
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1⁄4 tsp baking soda
  • 1⁄4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsps white sugar
  • 2⁄3 cup cultured low-fat (1% fat) or non-fat buttermilk
  • 1⁄4 cup canola oil


  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk and oil. Pour over flour mixture and stir until well mixed.
  4. On lightly floured surface, knead dough gently for 15 – 20 strokes. Roll or pat dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with 2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, dipping cutter in flour between cuts. Transfer biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Fun fact: The word biscuit is French for “twice baked,” and it has been said that dunking your biscuit into milk gives you up to 11 times more flavor release than from eating the dry biscuit alone.


Potato Salad

Despite having a recipe for a dozen potato salads, I can never seem to replicate the way they taste when someone else makes them. My Aunt Edith is famous for her potato salad and brings it to every family gathering we have. I hear she makes a mean lasagna, but nobody would know since she has only ever been allowed to bring potato salad as her contribution.

Some hacks call for Greek yogurt in lieu of mayonnaise, and while that is all well and good, I wanted to keep the tangy flavor that mayo brings to the table, so I opted for half reduced fat mayonnaise with half reduced fat yogurt. This is a healthy compromise in my book, as I still get the taste I want with less calories.


  • 1 pound white potatoes, halved
  • 6 Tbsps low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1⁄4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • 2 tsps prepared mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 1⁄4 tsp dry mustard
  • Dash ground black pepper
  • Dash turmeric, optional (for extra yellow color)
  • 1⁄2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 large hard-cooked egg, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley


  1. Steam potatoes over boiling water for 25 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a glass container to cool. Peel skin, if desired.
  2. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt, prepared mustard, dry mustard, black pepper, and turmeric (if using). Cover and refrigerate.
  3. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them.
  4. Place potatoes in a large bowl along with celery, onion, egg, and parsley.
  5. Add mayonnaise dressing and mix gently. Cover and refrigerate a few hours before serving, if time allows.

Fun fact: Cold potatoes offer a number of advantages because they contain resistant starch, a specialized carbohydrate, and they also benefit your health because of their mineral content.


Macaroni and Cheese

The staple comfort food of everyone’s youth. I have always said that a good macaroni and cheese has to have the right ratio of pasta to cheese, and the pasta noodle itself has to be tubular so as to encapsulate more of the cheesy goodness in each bite. My Aunt Mary’s recipe fit that bill; however, when I calculated the macros for her recipe, a measly one cup serving went over and above not only my calories for the day, but pretty much met my fat requirements for an entire week.

This one took a bit longer to revise, as it is very difficult to keep the texture and flavor together when working with a dish you grew up on and are trying to replicate with different ingredients. But I accepted the challenge and was able to pull it off. This is so good, guys.


  • 1 cup dried whole grain or whole grain blend macaroni
  • 3⁄4 cup (3 ounces) grated reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1⁄2 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1⁄3 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1⁄4 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt-free garlic herb seasoning blend (I am partial to FlavorGod® Garlic Lovers)
  • 1⁄2 slice whole wheat bread, toasted crisp
  • 1 tsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1⁄4 tsp salt-free garlic herb seasoning blend


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly oil a 1-quart baking dish or 9-inch x 5-inch x 3-inch glass or ceramic loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and oil. Place in a colander and drain well.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together cheddar cheese, ricotta cheese, sour cream, milk, egg white, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and herb seasoning blend. Stir in the pasta. Spoon into baking dish.
  4. In a small bowl, make bread crumbs with the toasted bread by using fingers to tear toast into very small pieces. Add 1 teaspoon Parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon seasoning blend; mix with a fork or spoon. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the casserole.
  5. Bake, uncovered, for 30 – 35 minutes, or until heated through and golden brown around the edges.

Chef Tip: Look for cheddar cheese labeled “Reduced Fat.” The label might also say what type of milk the cheese is made from. Best choices for limiting saturated fat are those made with fat-free, 1% milk, 1.5% milk, and 2% milk. *If sodium is a concern, check sodium content and choose the lower sodium brand.


Not-So-Fried Chicken

Okay, so there are some things that really shouldn’t be messed with, but what if I were to tell you this baked chicken tastes like you stood over the stove dodging popping grease? I am willing to put my money where my mouth is as far as this recipe is concerned.

In addition to baking instead of frying, I cut down on some of the calories and fat by opting for low-fat buttermilk, whole wheat flour, and removing the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs.

Traditionally, fried chicken can contain in excess of 300 calories and 20 grams of fat per piece. The sodium can sometimes reach 1,000 mg. That is literally off the charts. This version comes in at 250 calories per piece, with only 8 grams of fat. And the sodium has been cut to 400 grams per mouth-watering piece of chicken.


  • 1⁄2 cup 1% low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
  • 1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp hot sauce (I am partial to Frank’s RedHot®)
  • 4 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 6 chicken legs, skin removed
  • 3⁄4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsps dried thyme, or 2 Tbsps fresh thyme
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp sage
  • 1⁄4 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. In a shallow glass baking dish, whisk buttermilk, mustard, garlic, and hot sauce. Add chicken, turning to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 – 6 hours.
  2. When ready to cook chicken, preheat oven to 425° F. Line baking sheet with foil, set a wire rack on the baking sheet, and coat it with cooking spray.
  3. Place remaining ingredients (whole wheat flour through pepper) into a large sealable plastic bag; shake to combine.
  4. Lift one piece of chicken out of marinade and gently shake off any excess marinade. Place piece of chicken into the bag with seasoned flour, close bag, and shake to coat chicken. Open bag and lift chicken out, gently shaking off excess flour. Place chicken onto prepared wire rack. Repeat steps with the remaining chicken pieces. Lightly spray tops of chicken with cooking spray.
  5. Bake chicken in preheated oven until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, about 45 – 55 minutes.

Fun fact: White meat chicken (breast and thigh) tends to be more preferred over darker meat (wings and legs), and it may be due to the higher saturated fat content. While darker meat does tend to fall short of white meat when it comes to protein, carbohydrates, and fats, it does contain Vitamins A, K, B6, B12, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, and minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, and zinc.

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