I grew up in Tennessee, and as such, reveled in the traditional Southern diet – rich, delectable, and not always so healthy. After years of enjoying foods bathed in butter and cream, I couldn’t imagine a diet outside these confines. The prevailing thought was that food couldn’t possibly taste good if fat and sugar weren’t involved.

It wasn’t until I adventured beyond these “necessary” ingredients that I discovered a whole new world of wonderful flavors – and ironically, ones that were better for me, too.

To slim and trim down recipes, Southern or otherwise, you have to be willing to explore, taste, test, and even experience a few flops. The experimentation and exploration is well worth the effort, as you’ll soon have delicious, healthy meals for you and your family. And perhaps you will slim and trim down your own figure in the process.

Here are some suggestions for putting your favorite recipes on a diet.

Reduce the Butter.
No one is denying the wonderful taste of butter. But you don’t need an entire stick to flavor a dish. A little yellow love goes a long way, so start off reducing by half and/or substitute it with something else, e.g., olive oil, chicken broth, spices.

Use a Heart Healthy Oil.
Try using oils that are heart healthy, such as those containing monounsaturated fats. Using these oils in place of butter is one way to maintain flavor in dishes while making them healthier to eat.

Use Skim or 1% Milk.
Whenever possible, and specifically when thickening is not a must, swap out your full fat milk for a lower fat dairy product. Or consider using soy, rice, or almond milk in its place.

Reduce the Cream.
Like butter, a little cream greatly enriches the flavor and thickens the consistency of sauces. But it’s probably not be necessary to use an entire cup. Try using less than what the recipes suggests and I’ll bet you will be happy with the results.

6Substitute Yogurt and Buttermilk..
You can use yogurt and buttermilk in place of fatty ingredients like cream and sour cream. This trick is especially effective for dishes like mashed potatoes and/or mac n cheese.

Flavor With Stocks and Broths.
Whether you’re cooking rice or preparing soups, broths and stocks add wonderful flavor with zero fat and calories.

Go Easy on the Cheese.
If using cheeses with a pungent flavor, like Parmesan, Gorgonzola or sharp cheddar, you don’t have to use as much to achieve the desired outcome. Also, softer cheeses like goat and feta have about 1/3 less fat than hard cheeses.

Use Egg Whites.
Replace your whole eggs with egg whites – and if you are making a frittata or omelets, use a mixture of both. It’s hard to tell the difference, and you’ll saved on cholesterol in the process.

Use Whole Wheat Flour.
Particularly for baking cookies, cakes, breads and pancakes, whole wheat is a healthier alternative to white. And there’s a good chance your family won’t even know the difference.

Cut Back on Meat.
Fatty cuts of beef and pork contain saturated fats which bump your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. Using lean cuts of beef, or cooking with chicken or fish, is a healthier way to go. Better yet, substitute high protein beans or vegetables, such as tofu, and you’ll reap the benefits in reduced fat and calories.

Use Less Sugar.
Not only can you consider a sugar substitute or alternative, but you might try to substitute sugar with fruit or applesauce, especially when baking desserts.

Use Avocados
Though fattening, avocados contain monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, which are better than the saturated fats found in cheese. Use it in place of this dairy delicatessen on your sandwiches and salads.

Use Less Bacon.
Bacon imparts a wonderful flavor on a variety of dishes, from Brussels sprouts to a southern favorite, Shrimp ‘n Grits. But you rarely need 1/2” of bacon grease to make your dish a success.

Don’t Deep Fry..
There are plenty of alternatives to deep frying that taste better and are healthier for you. Baked potato “fries” are delicious. Pan-fried fish is fabulous. Even “fake frying” chicken, or vegetables like okra and squash, is great ways to reduce fat and calories but maintain plenty of flavor.

Think Red, Not White.
Could you possibly alter your dish to make it tomato-based rather than cream-based? This may take some imagination but this change is one that will dramatically increase the nutrient make-up of a dish.