The Healthy Evolution of Recipes

Many of my recipes are the result of taking inspiration from a few cookbooks and evolving the recipes further over time. 

image source: microsoft clip art
Image source: Microsoft Clipart
This is so important for anyone who likes to cook food that isn't the standard tiny 'diet' food in the middle of a big plate (Yes celery and asparagus, I'm looking at you!)The trouble with the cookbooks that provide recipes for the popular family meals such as Pizza, Shepherd's pie, Lasagne, Bolognese and Meatballs to name a small few, is that these are all very high in calories and saturate fats. 

I believe that the true essence of home style cooking is being able to take a recipe and make it your own. In my case, that required me to drastically reduce the number of calories each of my favourite recipes had, as well as reduce the high saturate fat content that is associated with meat dishes (without turning them vegetarian, though this too is possible) and boost some of their properties, such as fibre content. 

Below I will demonstrate a few of the ways I have evolved my recipes by using the most popular recipe on my blog, LasagneMy lasagne recipe originally started out from a cookbook at 1,192 calories a portion and with a whopping 34g of  saturated fat. Over time I discovered tricks to reducing the saturated fat and calories as well as boosting the fibre content and eventually it evolved into having just 687 calories and 9g of saturated fat. 

Here's what my original recipe looked like: (prepare to cringe in horror at the nutritional values) 

Yes, I warned you it was bad! These nutritional values are similar to what you would find in a pub version. As you can imagine, I couldn't eat this meal very often and still lose weight so I had to evolve it. 

Where to start? Well I decided to start with the part of the recipe with the most calories, which was the mince beef. I originally used a whole 450g container of fresh mince beef (can you imagine that for just two people!). I then discovered frozen mince beef, making it easier to weigh out 300g of frozen mince rather than use a whole 450g container of fresh. This took the calories per portion down to 936 and sat fat down to 25g! Already a good saving, but that was just the start. 

A few weeks later, I noticed that in the supermarket there were smaller bags of frozen mince with 'lean' written on them. I decided I'd try these to see if the tasted different to regular high fat meat. For the record, it didn't and actually made cooking easier as there wasn't loads of excess fat to drain off the meat. So I started to use 300g of frozen lean mince. This then took the calories down to 840 and sat fat down to 15g. I was pretty happy with this for a few weeks until I grew tired of spending a large percentage of my day's allotted calories on one meal, so I set about further evolution. 

By now I had discovered a lower calorie cheese, from Weight Watchers. I used this instead of regular mozzarella and swapped the full fat milk in my cheese sauce to semi skimmed. I still couldn't taste a difference between the recipes but now the nutritional values stood at 783 calories a portion and 11g of sat fat. A week later I then had the brainwave of reducing the number of layers to cut down on the pasta calories. Instead of using 6 sheets, I used 4 and removed an entire layer of cheese sauce in the middle. It still didn't taste different and still is very filling. This stage left the portion at 699 calories. 

Eventually, I then swapped from white pasta sheets to wholegrain so that the fibre content went from 4g to 9g, this didn't save on calories, in fact it increased them but I didn't mind as I had reduced the number of sheets and I cared a lot about getting the fibre in.  So I had to make further alterations and decided to further reduce the amount of meat to 250g. All of these changes has now left me with today's recipe that you can see below:

It's still pretty high calorie, though I can manage with that as I work out frequently. This recipe has nevertheless, greatly evolved from the original recipe and I'm sure I'll keep finding ways to further evolve it. It tastes completely the same as the original recipe despite reducing it by a total of 505 calories and a reduction of 25g of sat fat. 

I hope that by showing you this, I have inspired you to take a look at your favourite recipes and see how you can reduce them further. 

Your turn: Have you evolved a recipe? How would you go about evolving this lasagne recipe further? 

Note: The recipe builder I have used above is part of My Fitness Pal


  1. Out of interest, is the weight watchers cheese full of flavour? Do you need volume for the cheese, or would a thinner but stronger flavour layer be useful? e.g. 20 g of Cathedral's extra mature cheddar would be 83 kcals and probably more pungent than the reduced fat cheese, but less in quantity. So unless you need a volume of cheese, maybe that would help?

    P.S. I know you wouldn't usually put cheddar in lasagne but I couldn't think of a suitably strong cheese!

    1. Hmm.. it would certainly be worth a cooking experiment! The weight watchers cheese I use more for it's creamy consistency rather than for it's flavour (it's very mild). I could have a go with the Cathedral's though!


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