How do you decrease the calories in your favorite recipes?


Most vegetables are very high in water and fiber, which decreases their “caloric density.”  By mixing veggies with higher calorie foods (rice, pasta, quinoa, meats, starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes) you dilute the calories in the higher calorie foods….

Try some of these ideas:

  • Add a package of shredded veggies intended for coleslaw (3 cups shredded broccoli, carrots and cabbage) to rice or quinoa as you are cooking it–instead of 220 calories per cup of rice, you get about 150 calories–that decreases calories in a 1 cup serving by a third.
    • Of course, you can chop or shred your own raw veggies, or use 3 cups of frozen veggies (broccoli works well).
  • Add 1 cup finely chopped fresh or frozen broccoli, cauliflower or other veggie to each cup potatoes to used make mashed potatoes (1/2 cup plain steamed or mashed potatoes, before you add milk or butter, is about 100 calories, 1 cup high water veggies is about 30 calories).
    • Slice potatoes and put in steamer over pan of boiling water, steam for 15-20 minutes, then add vegetables; continue to steam until potatoes and vegetables are soft.
    • Empty water from pan, put potatoes and veggies in pan; add non or low-fat milk (1/4 to 1/2 cup per cup potatoes) and butter (2 tsp/cup potatoes) and mash with potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste. For a different twist add garlic (fresh, chopped or powder), curry powder, chili powder or whatever spices sound good to you.
    • Calories, approximately 190 per  1 cup serving versus  about 320 for 1 cup mashed potatoes without veggies (in addition to cutting down potatoes, you are using 1/2 as much butter per 1 cup serving in this recipe; each tsp butter adds 35 calories)
  • Spaghetti sauce with lots of veggies, like onions, mushrooms, peppers, grated carrots or zucchini, chopped spinach or kale is thicker and can be mixed with less pasta than a thinner spaghetti sauce. Every 1cup cooked pasta is approximately 200 calories–if you can decrease pasta from 2 cups to 1 cup you have saved yourself 200 calories!
    • Kids don’t like chunks in their sauce? Put tomato puree and veggies in the blender and blend until smooth, then pour over whatever meat you are using for sauce–I have found this a very successful way to get veggies into kids!

By diluting the calories in your favorite foods, you can routinely decrease caloric intake by 25-50%–that goes a long way toward staying within calorie goals when you are trying to lose weight!

For additional ideas, check out  the book by Barbara Rolls PhD, with Mindy Heman RD: The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, Smart, Simple Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off, published by Harper Collins, 2012. Available on or at a bookstore near you.