Written by Kathryn Standing
Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics
So you have a meal plan, you made the trek to the grocery store, and it’s dinner time. Recipe on the counter, you begin to organize, suddenly you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients. Discouraged, you consider reaching for the frozen dinner. Don’t give up so easily. Chances are you can make the dish without your family ever knowing you made a change. Substituting something you already have on hand could save the day. Substitutions can be easy and the results just as good.
I am a former chef, making seamless substitutions was an important part of my job. Whether I was cooking for people who couldn’t eat certain items, or I was trying to make the dishes more nutritious, the meal still had to be delicious.
I focus on keeping the balance of the dish. By balance I mean you want to keep the moisture levels, the fat content and the flavor as close to the original as possible. It’s best to substitute similar items for each other; vegetables for vegetables, tomato products for other tomato products, fat can replace other fat, etc.
A note on baking: Baking is an area where caution in amount and type of ingredient is most important. When making substitutions in baking consider only making a partial substitution if possible to allow for a more consistent product.
There are lots of good online resources, one of my personal favorites provides the essentials: Recipe Basics — Measure Accurately, Substitute Wisely, Adjust Carefully by ISU Extension and Outreach. From proper measurement (which is the foundation of being a good cook) to a detailed list of common substitutions, you can find everything you need to get started on your cooking journey.