Understanding these common recipe substitutions will allow you to really customize recipes and meal plans for your unique family. Whether you're looking for a fish similar to halibut, gluten free alternatives or a substitute for eggplant, I've got you covered!
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Have you ever skipped a recipe because it calls for mushrooms and your kids hate them? Or passed on a tasty looking dish because it calls for halibut and that's simply not in your budget? What about missing out on a great looking recipe because it has walnuts and you're allergic?
One thing I'm always glad I learned in culinary school is how to look at a recipe and adapt it to suit my family's tastes, my personal budget for the week and any food restrictions or allergies of guests at our home.
The good news is you don't have to become a chef to learn these little tricks!
Next time you see a recipe that looks good but you don't like, can't afford or are allergic to one of the ingredients, don't give up so easily! Take a moment and consider whether the recipe could be easily adapted. In some cases, this might simply mean omitting a garnish or a spice. Other times though, you'll want to substitute a different ingredient.
With time, this becomes second nature, but I know it can seem intimidating at first. That's why I've put together this simple Recipe Substitutions Guide to help you get started!
Below you'll find ingredient substitution suggestions for proteins, produce and pantry items. Just remember to use common sense…while you could totally sub cacao nibs in my Paleo Chocolate Pecan Bars, that clearly wouldn't work in my Pomegranate Dark Chocolate Bark recipe. While you could easily sub ground flaxseed for eggs in my Chai Spiced Zucchini Muffins, there's no sub for eggs in a frittata. You get the idea…think about the role the ingredient plays in a recipe when choosing an ingredient substitute and you should do just fine!
(Psst! Looking to substitute for dairy? Check out my post on Tips for a Dairy Free Meal Plan!)
Recipe Substitutions for Proteins
Okay, let's get to the details! Through years of helping Prep Dish subscribers customize their meal plans to best fit their families, I've seen a few common trends with substituting for proteins:
- Budget – This is a big one. I always consider budget when crafting our weekly meal plans and I know proteins, in particular, can add up. This is especially true if you're trying to stick to organic or grass-fed. Everyone's grocery budget is so different though. I always encourage you to chat with the knowledgeable folks behind the butcher and seafood counter if you're looking for a more budget-friendly swap for a certain cut of meat. If you don't have time though (or if you've fallen in love with online grocery shopping this past year…) I've got you covered in the Ingredient Substitution Chart below!
- Limited Grocery Options – I live in a small town so I totally get this one. Not everyone has access to every type of fish or cut of meat. You may live by a grocery store that only has the basics, and that's totally fine! Meals don't have to be fancy to be totally delicious. (As a side note to my fellow small-towners, I highly recommend Butcher Box and Vital Choice Seafood for accessing a variety of high-quality meat and seafood! That's what we do in my family.)
- Allergies / Food Restrictions – We have many Prep Dish subscribers who simply don't eat seafood or pass on pork. Whether for allergies, religious reasons or simply personal taste, you can totally work around this. Most recipes are quite flexible There's no reason to miss out on my maple mustard marinade just because it's on pork – it works just as well on chicken!
*Substituting eggs with carbonated water or flax works best in muffins or quick breads. Using egg substitutes in recipes like cookies can change the texture.
Ingredient Substitutions for Produce
Just like with protein, there are several reasons you may want to substitute various produce items in a recipe. Here are a few things to consider:
- Seasonality – Did you stumble onto a recipe calling for asparagus but it's not in season? Or are you a meal plan subscriber but you live somewhere really cold and strawberries come in season later there than most of the country? No problem! I'm a huge proponent of eating locally and seasonally whenever possible. Don't be afraid to choose an alternate fruit or vegetable based on what you can find in season in your area.
- Organic vs. Conventional – If you try to only buy organic produce, what you select may be somewhat dictated by which organic options are available at your grocery store. Perhaps they don't have organic pears and you need to choose apples instead. Or maybe organic raspberries are super expensive but organic blueberries are on sale. I'm all about having an organized grocery list, but it should work for you, not the other way around! Don't forget to consider what looks best at the market.
- Taste – Whether you have a picky kid or you simply don't like certain veggies yourself, you should always feel empowered to adjust a recipe to fit what you like. Don't feel the need to skip every recipe that calls for mushrooms or eggplant! You can almost always adjust a recipe using foods your family loves.
To learn more about how to use, store and substitute herbs, check out my article here!
Recipe Substitutions for Pantry Items
Last but not least, there are plenty of easy substitutions you can make for pantry items. Just refer to the list below and don't forget these keys to success:
- Gluten Free / Paleo Swaps: I remember when I first heard about the Paleo lifestyle, it sounded so limiting! As I learned more about it though and started eating “Paleo-ish” myself, I realized it's really quite flexible. You don't need to only look at gluten free or Paleo recipes if that's how you like to eat. You can easily sub gluten free pasta for regular, omit some cheese or use cauli rice instead of regular rice. Don't limit yourself!
- Proceed Cautiously with Baking: The one area where substitutions can be a bit tricky is baking. Baking is just so much more exact than most cooking. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to adapt a recipe to suit your taste, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't turn out perfectly. I encourage you to take notes on what you changed and how the results were. That way you can make your culinary experiments even more delicious with time!
**You can find Coconut Wraps here!
***Get the full recipe for adobo sauce here.
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