How to Lose 100 Lbs Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking the Bank: Part V – Recipe Adaptation

One of the complaints about trying to lose weight is having to eat “diet” food. Well, with the occasional exception of a frozen dinner here and there, I don’t DO “diet” food. I do food. There’s a common idiom I hear often in weight loss circles: eat to live, don’t live to eat. I have a serious problem with this: it implies (much like the phrase “clean eating”) that there is a right way and a wrong way to eat. Why can’t the answer be somewhere in the middle? I have a very good friend to whom food is deserving of worship, deeply tied to emotion and memory. I have an acquaintance who couldn’t care less about food having flavor: baked chicken breasts, brown rice and steamed broccoli would make her happy for months. As is almost always the case with me, I fall in the middle of the spectrum.

Okay, look, if I’m honest, I fall closer to the worship side. There are most decidedly foods worth worship for me: creamy foie gras pate with concord grape reduction, perfectly cooked duck breast with crispy skin (including bits of baguette dipped in the savory juices), duck hearts grilled rare, juicy smoked kielbasa, the corner pizza shop’s chicken parmesan. The list goes on. But if I want to lose or maintain my weight (and maintain my budget), I simply can’t eat those things on a daily basis. However, there’s no reason I can’t have delicious, flavorful foods without blowing my calories, particularly if I’m willing to tweak a recipe. One of the complaints in the reviews of this recipe is that the photo shows potatoes but the recipe contains NO POTATOES!

I have a bit of a problem with recipes. I can spend hours browsing the internet for recipes: and Pinterest is the worst for this. The problem is, most of the recipes I wind up bookmarking might be delicious, but they just aren’t everyday recipes, meaning, the calories are on the high side. So, being fairly confident in the kitchen, I find a recipe I love and tweak it! Several weeks ago I bookmarked a delicious looking Pork and Cider Stew from Food & Wine Magazine. Pork shoulder, bacon, butter, olive oil AND heavy cream make this recipe sound incredibly rich and comforting. I kept going back to the recipe: it just seemed so perfect for chilly February. So, this week, I decided to adapt it. Here’s my method for adapting almost any recipe.

  1. Find a recipe calculator. You won’t be surprised that I use
  2. Enter the ingredients of the recipe AS LISTED. The original recipe for Pork and Cider Stew serves 10 – 12. I plan on making a recipe that serves 4, so I used 12 as my original serving count.
  3. Panic a little. The original recipe is 742 calories per serving?! It doesn’t even include a starch! The photo has potatoes, but there are no potatoes! What can I do?!
  4. Calm down, and adjust. Start by reducing the ingredients to make a recipe the size you want. Now you know the amounts of the ingredients you’ll need, and you can substitute ingredients to get the desired results.
  5. Start substituting ingredients. This recipe has a WHOPPING 58 grams of fat per serving. It’s not surprising, considering the butter, heavy cream, olive oil, fatty pork shoulder and bacon. So we have fat covered. The easiest to replace is the heavy cream. When I want the creaminess of heavy cream in a stew without the fat, I replace it ounce for ounce with evaporated skim milk. That immediately saves you 55 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving. Next up, replacing that fatty pork shoulder with the much leaner pork loin. We’ve got 27 ounces of pork shoulder, which is a huge amount for 4 servings. We’re going to replace 27 ounces of pork shoulder with 16 ounces of pork loin (NOT tenderloin). BAM, we just lost 279 calories and 27 more grams of fat per serving. Crazy, huh? This recipe is now a manageable 414 calories and 24.2 grams of fat per serving. But if you’re like me, and 450 calories is the MAX you want to eat in one serving, you might be a little bothered by this recipe. Why? The only vegetable is onions! I hardly even count onions as vegetables these days, so I want more.
  6. Add in veggies for bulk. Most veggies add no fat but have tons of nutrients. Hmm. Potatoes and carrots? Sounds yum. Let’s do that. Make sure you add them into the instructions as well! I decided to add the potatoes and carrots after the pork had cooked for 15 minutes, so they could get tender but not mushy. Okay, that pushed the calories up to 491 per serving. Pushing it for me. Let’s do a final once over.
  7. Get rid of ingredients you really don’t need. There’s still a LOT of fat in this recipe. Do we really NEED the butter and oil, or can we use the vastly more flavorful bacon fat to brown the pork? Ahem. Please. Goodbye butter and oil! I’m dumping you and starting with browning the bacon so I can use its delicious fat to brown the pork loin. Booyah! Only 440 calories and 18.5 grams of fat per serving. Now this recipe is hearty AND healthy!

Here’s a comparison of the ingredients lists and nutritional information:

Ingredient ComparisonNutrition Comparison

If I could have fit my face in there, I would have licked the bowl.
If I could have fit my face in there, I would have licked the bowl.

So how does it TASTE? Because I mean, really, what’s the point of cooking healthy food if it tastes awful and you don’t want to eat it, right?

I mean, uh, it’s pretty awful, I should just eat it all myself. Save you the trouble. *cough*

Just kidding, it was DELICIOUS! Seriously: it was rich, creamy, smoky, salty and the pork was so incredibly tender you barely had to chew. The only change The Hubs and I will make for this recipe in the future is to leave out the sage. We found it too strong and a bit overpowering. Maybe thyme would be a good substitute? I personally think it would be fine without any fresh herbs at all. And seriously? You do not need heavy cream in this recipe at all. The little bit of evaporated skim milk plus the cornstarch gave it a velvety mouth feel that was just divine. You can find MY lightened version of this recipe, ready to print, HERE, if you have a SparkPeople account. If you don’t, you can click the image below.


Convincing Your Significant Other to Eat Healthier
I don’t WANNA eat salad!
How can anyone turn their nose up at this delicious stuff?!

I do most of the cooking at home. Okay, I do pretty much all of the cooking at home. That’s my choice: my husband CAN cook, but his repertoire is limited. I love sausage and potatoes, but not every day, and deep fried things are special occasion items only. Now, I admit, The Hubs makes an amazing chili LOADED with veggies. If he wants to make chili, I am totally cool with that. But most of the time, I’m in the kitchen cooking. And that’s fine: it gives me the control I need to eat healthy. On A Measured Life’s Facebook Page, I’ve gotten a few questions about how I convinced The Hubs to eat healthy. Well, for starters, I give him 3 options: eat what I cook, cook your own food, or starve for all I care. I’m not a short order cook, and I’m sure as hell not going to cook two separate meals just because you turn your nose up. (There *are* a few exceptions to this, but it’s rare.)

To be fair, I do ask him if a recipe sounds like something he’d eat before I decide to make it, and after being together so long, I have a pretty good idea of what he will and won’t eat (even if I sometimes slip in something here or there that’s “off-limits”). I also occasionally ask him to send me recipes he might like to try, and if it’s relatively healthy, that’s great! Less work for me. If it isn’t, I tweak it to make it healthier. (Side note: I don’t usually disclose the substitutions I make. Sometimes full disclosure works against you. If you don’t SAY the recipe is healthy and it tastes good, do they really need to know?)

I also sneak extra veggies into recipes when I can. Does your SO love mashed potatoes? There are a couple things you can
Or cook it yourself.

tweak here. Blend in mashed cauliflower or celery root to lighten it without messing up the flavor too much. Switch out heavy cream or whole milk for skim, and reduce the butter slightly. Sneak a cup of cooked sweet potato, butternut or acorn squash into baked mac and cheese. Making meat sauce at home? Finely dice onions, carrots and celery and cook down with the meat (reduce meat by ¼) to bulk up the sauce and add great flavor without it tasting like veggies. Finely shredded zucchini can be well hidden here, too! Add pumpkin puree to plain pasta sauce or even chili to add fiber. Bulk up your burgers or meatloaf with chopped mushrooms. Substitute half the ground beef in sloppy joes with cooked lentils (okay, you CAN taste these, but I happen to like it like that).

When it comes to vegetables, if your significant other doesn’t like some veggies much, you can avoid them altogether, or you can experiment with preparing the veggies different ways. My dad grew up hating asparagus. Why? Because he only ever ate it from a can. Yuck! I only recently learned that beets don’t suck when eaten just rinsed straight out of a can or roasted whole in the oven. But Swiss chard or arugula? Pass. I’m also not personally a fan of avocado, but I’m sure prepared correctly I would love it. So feel free to experiment, and involve the one you love!

The Hubs and I both love comfort food, particularly on these cold and dark days. The great part is that things like this are easily adjusted (and portion controlled) to be lighter and healthier. Try a few of these examples here:

Foods That Don’t Taste Healthy But Can Be

  • Homemade Pizza (use fresh veggies, part-skim mozzarella and go light on the meat) – Eating Well’s Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
  • Stew (use leaner meats, more veg, and less fat)
  • Nachos (bake your own from corn tortillas, use leaner meats, skip the sour cream and guac)
  • Chicken & Dumplings (go a little lighter on the dumplings, use split chicken breast)
  • Meatloaf (use ground chicken breast or ground turkey) – Chicken Taco Meatloaf
  • Soup (again, load up on veggies, you can even pretend it’s a cream soup by blending the veggies smooth)
  • Stir Fries (go light on the oil and serve with steamed rice instead of fried)
  • Tacos (do them fresco style with pico de gallo – hold the cheese and sour cream)
  • Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers
  • Chili (hide veggies IN the chili)
  • Hash (go light on the oil and meat, bulk the potatoes and onions) – Chourico Hash
Uh, The Hubs favorite healthy recipe if Ethiopian Lentil Stew. I think I lucked out.

Change won’t happen overnight. There may be some fussing. But if you involve your significant other in the process, and try to adapt recipes you know they love into lighter, healthier versions, the transition might be a little easier. And if not? It’s your responsibility to take care of your own body. If the person you want to eat healthy just isn’t interested, you can’t force them. He or she is an adult and is going to make his or her own choices. You can only lead by example, and hope you create a large enough wake to drag them along behind you.

What the *BLEEP* Are MACROS?!
Spinach is totally a weird choice for carbohydrates.

Okay, if you use a website or app to track your food, or you hang out with low-carbers or weight lifters, like you do, you’ve probably heard the word “macros” tossed around once or twice. (As you play this weight-loss game/journey to health you’ll find your vocabulary changes. I suddenly know the names of a lot more body parts than I used to. Now I need to figure out how to use “clavicle” in a game of Scrabble!) So what the *BLEEP* are MACROS, anyway?!

Macronutrients, or Macros for short, are nutrients that provide calories or energy for the body to burn. Depending on the source, there are either 3 or 4 types of macronutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates and, occasionally, alcohol. For the purpose of diet (and I mean diet as in the food you need to survive, not a diet, as in cutting calories), I’m going to skip alcohol, as it isn’t necessary for the human body to live. Protein, fat and carbohydrates are all vital to the normal, everyday functioning of the human body.

Protein might be the only of the three macronutrients that doesn’t get a lot of negative press. I mean, they sell giant jars of PROTEIN POWDER. (One has been sitting on top of my fridge for almost a year now.) People are encouraged to increase protein intake on a regular basis. Protein is the “cool” macronutrient. Protein is essential for growth: our bodies convert protein to amino acids which (if you recall from high school biology) are the building blocks of life.
Thousands of vegetarians and vegans are crying out in terror right now.

Protein also helps our bodies produce hormones, repair tissue (really important for strength training), bolster the immune system, and preserve lean muscle mass. Animal sources of protein are complete proteins, containing all the required amino acids, while vegetarian sources of protein are incomplete proteins, so vegans and vegetarians usually require additional supplements to account for the missing amino acids. The USDA recommends 10-35% of daily calorie intake should come from protein, and protein is 4 calories per gram.

Fat is by far the most maligned of the macronutrient family, but it’s only specific fats that are considered detrimental to our health. Saturated and Trans Fats (perhaps you’ve heard of this scamp being removed from foods around the United States) increase your risk for heart disease, but unsaturated fats can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Fat is the most dense source of energy, contributes to satiety, helps maintain cell membranes, provides cushioning to internal organs, and helps the body absorb certain vitamins. Plus, as chefs say, fat is flavor! The USDA recommends 20-35% of daily calorie intake
Healthy fats! (Yes butter is acceptable in moderation, dang it!)

should come from fat, and fat is 9 calories per gram.

Carbohydrates often get a bad rep, like fat. There are a lot of buzz words floating around lately: low-carb, slow-carb, net carbs. Despite what proponents of low carb dieting might want you to believe, carbohydrates are the macronutrients the body requires most. According to the USDA, 45-65% of daily calorie intake should come from carbs. Carbs are easily converted to glucose by the body, which is the main source of fuel. Without carbs, our kidneys, brain, muscles (heart included) and the central nervous system would all cease to function. Carbs are important for a whole host of other reasons, but the long and short of it is that we need them. Carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram.

So now that we know what macros are, what do we DO with them? Well, how you tweak your macro ratios is highly individual. I personally have been using 20/30/50 protein/fat/carb ratio. Why? Well, to be totally honest, it’s what’s recommended on and that’s where I track my food. I don’t do low carb, and it seems to work for me. It assures me that I’m getting enough protein to support my weight training, and that I’m keeping my carbs and
Almost everyone’s nemesis: delicious, delicious carbs!

fat in check. The quality of your carbs and fat is, ultimately, up to you. If you’re low-carb, you’re going to be eating more fat and protein compared to carbs. Human beings are pretty flexible, so as long as you stay within the numbers recommended by the USDA, you should get all the vital nutrients you need for good health, barring any medical conditions that might inhibit nutrient absorption.

Just as always, you need to do what works for you. If you prefer low-carb or paleo, do that. If you prefer to just eat real food and not worry about excluding things, do that. Pick a set of ratios and try it out, but feel free to tweak slightly. The truth is, there is no one answer. (Sorry!) I personally try to cook from scratch several nights per week, but I don’t cut out processed food for snacks if that’s what I want. I generally eat homemade food 80% of the time and other foods 20% of the time, and so far, it’s worked for me, because life isn’t perfection. Nobody’s perfect, and you shouldn’t try to *be* perfect, because this sets you up for failure.

Go out there, be good, and do what works for you!

Want more info? Check out the USDA and McKinley Health Center.