By Madeleine Kates
For those with special diets, or resolutions to eat healthier in 2022, it can be daunting to get into a new mealtime routine, especially if you are cooking for others. Learning to make healthier versions of meals for family, I started with serving a recognizable favorite, vegan mac and cheese. It looked identical to the original, down to the elbow-shaped noodles. Everyone enjoyed it, but said it did not resemble what they were thinking of as mac and cheese.
A month later, experimenting on that same group, I used the identical recipe, swapping in bow-tie pasta for elbows, and presented it as pasta with a creamy garlic alfredo-style sauce. This time, it was a hit all around, illustrating an interesting phenomenon of how important mindset is when it comes to what we eat. Serving meals using alternative ingredients, while challenging, can still be hugely successful. Here are some tips I’ve discovered along the way:
Presentation matters: When serving food to yourself or others, level expectations. A new dish or healthier alternative to an old favorite may be delicious, but not appear remotely close to what is expected. Think about what makes the dish unique, instead of trying to turn it into something it’s not. Let’s be honest, traditional meat loaf is not created using lentils and walnuts, but that’s ok!
Use favorite flavors: To have the best chance of creating a favorite, use comforting and recognizable flavors or presentations. Everyone loves a brownie, but some may need to avoid dairy, so an avocado brownie is a friendly place to start. A Portobello mushroom is in no way a burger, but marinating and roasting one makes it a flavorful and meaty alternative. You may be more likely to enjoy something new if it resembles something you already like.
Take ingredients at face value: Each ingredient is unique, and some work better than others for certain jobs. All flours are not created equal, and the same is true for oils or grains. An ingredient may not swap in perfectly the first time, so don’t give up! The fix may be as simple as using a different alternative, or creating a blend to get the right texture or taste. Oat flour might create a dense, rich texture for one recipe, or create a brick for another.
When in doubt, hide it: Eating all those servings of fruits and vegetables every day is hard, especially when starting a new way of eating. Fortunately, it’s still winter, which is the perfect time to learn to make hearty soups that can include a lot of vegetables and seasonings. Or, try smoothies where ingredients can be blended and the predominant flavor is still a favorite fruit, instead of tasting like a glass of salad.
The colder months are a great time to try new recipes. When using alternative ingredients, make sure to maintain a good sense of humor, and always remember that when trying something new, mindset matters.
Madeleine Kates is a Senior at Niagara University studying Life Sciences, Psychology, and Environmental Science.