Here's How to Make Recipes Work for Your Family


By Jessica Caouette, MS, RDN, LDN

With a few simple tips, you can adjust recipes to use up what you have on hand to meet your family’s needs!

Have you ever seen a recipe that you wanted to make, then came across one ingredient or one step that made you skip it? What was it about the ingredient or directions that made you want to disregard the recipe entirely?

Good news! Recipes are simply cooking guides, not always mean to be followed exactly. In fact, knowing how to make small changes to recipes can save you time and money and meet your family’s needs. 

  • Tip #1: If a recipe calls for a food that is too pricey, too hard to find, or that you simply don’t care for, just sub in another. For example, if a recipe calls for fruits or vegetables, use ones that are in season. When seasonal produce is hard to find, try it in its frozen form. Use up fruits in this Peanut Butter and Banana Pocket recipe. No bananas? Try sliced apples, papaya, melon or sprinkle with raisins.

Afraid that your recipe won’t turn out right if you make a substitution? 

  • Tip #2: Don’t worry – and keep practicing. As you develop your cooking confidence, you’ll get better at making simple recipe adjustments. Think about recipes as types: soups, one-pot dishes, salads, wraps, etc. For each one, try substituting out one ingredient. If a soup recipe calls for cooked kale, try collard greens. If a sandwich wrap recipe calls for deli meat, try sliced eggs, mashed black beans or garbanzo beans or leftover meat. Try Veggie Wraps for a quick on-the-go meal.

Not sure what to make for dinner? 

  • Tip #3: It’s ok to start with just a concept or an idea instead of an exact recipe. See what you have on hand, including leftovers, think about what your family’s tastes like, and how much time you might have to get food prepared. In this Spinach Salad with Eggs, you can use any type of lettuce you have on hand in place of the spinach. For meals that take less than 30 minutes to make, visit the Cooking Matters Recipe Finder and filter by “30-minute meals.” 

Not sure how to get everyone to eat the same meal?

  • Tip #4: Try simple meals that allow kids or other picky eaters to choose their own toppings or ingredients. A single meal can be served to allow family members with different needs or tastes to modify at the table. For example, serve sauces or toppings on the side. Or, create an assembly line for wraps, salads, tacos or other make-your-own meals. Try Turkey Tacos tonight.

For more tips on recipe tips, check out the Cooking Matters YouTube Playlist: Rethink Your Recipes.

For even more tips and recipes, visit CookingMatters.org


For healthy, low-cost, family-friendly recipes, text COOK to 274 448. 


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