Adapting Recipes For Your Food Plan

I got a fantastic question from Bright Line Eater Rachel Himes today. She writes:

“I was wondering if you have any tips or methods for calculating portions in mixed recipes. I have several recipes that would be appropriate but am not sure how to calculate how much vegetables/protein/fat etc. I am getting per serving since they are all cooked together and sometimes the veggies lose a lot of volume in cooking.”

How have I not addressed this question yet? Thanks Rachel!

First of all, some recipes you’ll have to just give up on and emotionally let go of (like sugar and flour free friendly cake for example). In general, I don’t try to adapt anything with more than a tiny bit of sweetener or flour, it just doesn’t lend itself well to this way of eating. But there are so many healthy and yummy recipes out there (check out my pinterest board for meal inspiration) that are pretty close to compliant but just need a few tweaks and a little math.

When I find a recipe like that and I want to adapt it, here’s what I do:

  • Step 1: Remove any sugar or sweeteners from the ingredients list. 
  • Step 2: Break the ingredients list into your food categories.
  • Step 3: Re-Imagine the Dish and Simplify the Instructions
  • Step 4: Adjust the Quantities

To illustrate this process, I’ll use an example from Minimalist Baker, one of my favorite recipe sites.

Let’s say I wanted to adapt her dreamy looking Curry Roasted Vegetable & Lentil Kale Salad. That’s pretty darn close to compliant, the food categories are even all there.

AMAZING-Curried-Lentil-Salad-with-Kale-Roasted-Veggies-and-a-GREEN-CURRY-dressing-30-minutes-vegan-glutenfree-salad-recipe-healthy-768x1152.jpg

Step 1: Remove any sugar or sweeteners from the ingredients list.

  • This includes dates, agave, honey, fruit juice, stevia, you know the deal. Don’t even try to replace it, just get rid of it. We just don’t need it. I never miss it.
  • Sometimes there might be a small amount of flour in a recipe, but I don’t throw it out until I’ve considered whether it is necessary for binding or texture and whether there’s something else that could work instead.

Step 2: Break the ingredients list into food categories

  • Without messing with any of the quantities, just break it down and see what you are looking at.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.24.08 PM.png

I literally copy and paste ingredients lists from blogs into a document (in my case I do it right in a draft of a blog post) and just copy and paste items into their categories.

Like this:

Veggies:

  • 4 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces (~ 2 cups or 156 g)
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced (~1 1/2 cups or 120 g)
  • 1 small head broccoli, chopped (~2 cups or 180 g)
  • 1 large bundle kale, stems removed, roughly chopped (~4 cups or 268 g)

Fats:

  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) avocado or melted coconut oil, divided
Protein:
  • 3 Tbsp (45 g) tahini
  • 1 cup cooked (198 g) brown or green lentils*

Condiments:

  • Pinch each salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp curry powder (DIY or store-bought), divided
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3-5 Tbsp (45-75 ml) water to thin
  • 2 Tbsp (30 g) green curry paste (DIY or store-bought)
  • 1 lemon, juiced (~30 ml or 2 Tbsp)
  • Pinch each salt and black pepper

Step 3: Re-Imagine the Dish and Simplify the Instructions

I’ve found that the specific, precise instructions in most recipes are unnecessary. What we are really mining for when we look for recipe inspiration are new and interesting flavors, so I always think about what preparation instructions I can simplify to make each component easier to make and measure separately.

I don’t even look at the instructions, I go off of the ingredients list and rely on my knowledge of basic cooking skills (like cooking lentils and sautéeing veggies). If I don’t know how to make something, I google it and find the easiest method.

When I look at this ingredients recipe for example, I see 4 parts:

  • Kale (bed of greens)
  • Roasted Veggies
  • Lentils
  • Dressing

My simplified instructions then would be:

  1. Roast the veggies with a measured amount of oil and spices
  2. Measure & mix the dressing in a small jar
  3. Massage kale w/ a little bit of the dressing, lemon juice, vinegar, & spices
  4. Cook lentils, add spices 
  5. Assemble plate

Step 4: Adjust the Quantities

  • Now that I have a vision of how to make this meal in a simpler way, I tinker with the quantities until they are compliant with my food plan. I adapt it for a single serving, and multiply that if I’m cooking for many. Like so:

Veggies:

  • 10 oz of the following:
    • Carrots
    • Red bell pepper
    • Broccoli
  • 3 oz kale, roughly chopped

Fats:

  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
Protein:
  • 1 tbsp tahini (1/2 protein)
  • 3 oz lentils (1/2 protein)

Then I would add in the condiments and flavorings, scaling down the original and guessing roughly how much to use. This process is pretty forgiving, I never know if it tastes like it is supposed to, but I always end up with delicious meal.

Some Tips & Tricks for Weighing Mixed Dishes

Weigh veggies raw & add a couple of ounces to account for cooking

For example, if I’m sautéing a bunch of veggies like onions, zucchini, broccoli, and peppers, I might weigh 12 oz raw instead of my normal 10. If I’m batch cooking, I’ll weigh multiple 12 oz bowls of veggies and add them to the pan, counting how many servings it will be when the dish is done.

When batch cooking, do the math ahead of time, know how many servings it will be, and then divide the final dish equally among that many containers. 

To return to Rachel’s question, this is how I divide a large mixed dish into a correct portion size. For example, with this chili, I could weigh and combine 4 servings of beans and 4 servings of veggies together in a pot with spices and condiments, and then when it’s done cooking I just have to divide it into 4 equal sized tupperware containers and I know that each one is a perfectly sized serving of protein and veggies.


Those are all of the tricks and tips I can think of at this moment.

In general, I would say that if a recipe is too difficult to adapt, it’s probably not worth making. Stick with things that are fairly simple and close to the right proportions.

There is definitely a trade off – I’ve found that the more complex a recipe, the more potential it has to mess with my peace because my quantities get messed up and my mental food chatter starts up. There is a happy medium. At one point, I had to put up a bright line about making no more than 3 new recipes per week, because inevitably things can get confusing and mess with my boundaries for quantities.

Hope that helps Rachel!

17 Comments

  1. I weigh most veggies before too. Life is to short for that many dishes.

     
  2. This is so very helpful! Thank you.

     
  3. Your blog is such a great resource! Thank you!!

     
  4. I’d love to find a good vegetable soup recipe that is easy to figure for BLE…..

     
    • When it’s soup season again for me I will definitely be experimenting with that! 😋

       
      • Can pureed soups be used or does that break up the fibers too much? I imagine its harder to measure too. Thanks Katie!

         
      • Many food addiction recovery programs advise against blended soups (same reason as smoothies) but some of us don’t find it to be a problem for us.

         
    • There’s a good veg soup recipe in Bright Lifers. I make it with chicken broth and veggies. When finished and I’m portioning it out to freeze, I strain and measure the veggies separate from the broth, then add back broth and the measured amount of chicken for the protein.

       
  5. Thank you so much Katie! This is very helpful.

     
  6. Good idea on putting up bright lines on new recipes! I am simply overwhelmed sometimes. We’re doing two dinners to stretch for the week, and that is even better than we used to. Simplified meal planning FTW!

    In the beginning, I saw photos from BLErs of sad plates of colourless chicken and raw veg rolling around and thought it looked depressing. Where’s the sauce? Where’s the flavour? I love cooking and it looked all wrong. Now I’m kinda getting why simplicity helps!

    I’d done similar creative maths til my husband joined. (which is great!!) I’m finding it’s easier to do recipes where it’s all 100% veg, and protein separate. For example, a veg curry and keep the protein dealt with separately. Or even some of the protein/fat together, such as in a caesar salad dressing. Then I can supplement what my husband needs, with extra protein. It’s easier to sort out.

     
  7. Catherine

    Thanks Katie. These are very helpful. I’m new to BLE and find your site very helpful for plant based ideas.

     
  8. Victoria Doll-Polanco

    I’m new to your site Katie, but I love it! These are pretty detailed instructions for how to adjust recipes. I really appreciate the time you take with this blog – especially knowing that you are a teacher. I’m a teacher too, so I know how busy you are with your teaching life. Thanks again for all your work on this blog!

     
  9. These instructions are brilliant and the comments are helpful too.

     
  10. Thank you for this timely blog post. I am on week 4 of my BLE journey and was getting frustrated that dealing with recipes was not in Susan’s book. Handling recipes seems like a basic tool to have in a BLE toolbox.

    I’m heading into the kitchen to make your tahini dressing recipe. It sounds tangy and I could use som of that in my life!

    Your blog is wonderful for BLEers, I’ve not been able to find another that is as good.

     
  11. Katie, you ROCK! This is so helpful – I ALWAYS love your blog and recommend it to everyone – even those not (yet) in BLE. I’ve yet to try any of your recipes that my husband and I don’t absolutely love. Huge thanks, once again, for helping me keep my lines shiny and bright.

     
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