How to Substitute Common Ingredients in Recipes: Vegetables, Protein & More

May 1 2020
When you can't find certain ingredients (and/or don’t want to make a store run), it might seem difficult to follow a recipe or make your favorite dish. Here are some simple ingredient swaps so you can cook with what you have at home!

The Protein...

Meat & Poultry
Skinless chicken breast, lean steak, skinless turkey breast… All great options, and the cook times are fairly similar. Keep a bag of frozen chicken cutlets in the freezer, and you won’t have to worry about frequently restocking the fresh kind.

Seafood
Keep frozen shrimp on hand! It works in so many recipes that call for other proteins. Fish fillets like salmon and cod are also good staples. If you’re using seafood in a recipe that calls for meat or poultry, just keep an eye on it as it cooks, since seafood tends to cook quicker. Pouched tuna works too, especially in salad and other chilled dishes.

Ground Meat
Beef, turkey, chicken… It really doesn’t matter which one you use, as long as it’s lean. Grab whichever one has the lowest fat content. They all cook up the same. Another option is frozen meatless crumbles, like the kind by MorningStar Farms. Those just need to be thawed and heated.

The Veggies...

Leafy Greens
Our favorite lettuce is romaine, but these times call for flexibility. Iceberg, mixed greens, spinach… All pretty interchangeable! If you’re making lettuce wraps or lettuce cups, your best bets are iceberg, romaine, and butter lettuce.

Quick-Cooking Veggies
These veggies have a higher water content than others, so they'll cook faster and release more moisture. No matter which veggies a recipe calls for, you can mix & match from this list. Just stick with the same prep method, whether it’s sliced or chopped. The cook times won’t be identical, but they’ll be close…

mushrooms * zucchini * yellow squash * bell peppers * onions * asparagus

Slow-Cooking Veggies
These generally need extra time and/or extra liquid to cook up nicely. Add some water to the skillet to get them tender without burning. Oven roasting also works. Just like the quick-cooking veggies, keep the sizes consistent…

Brussels sprouts * eggplant * butternut squash * cauliflower * broccoli


Riced Veggies & Veggie Noodles
Can’t find riced cauliflower? Use riced broccoli or another veggie rice -- Green Giant makes a ton! Same goes for spiralized veggies. Other good swaps for veggie noodles: broccoli coleslaw mix, regular coleslaw mix, and spaghetti squash.

Overall, Be Flexible…

When it comes to ingredients like milk, cheese, pasta, and tortillas, you might not be able to find the exact low-calorie/healthy version you’d typically choose. Just do the best you can. No reduced-fat cheddar? Choose regular cheddar. If a recipe calls for whole-wheat pasta but it’s out of stock, use regular this time. You can always compensate by reducing those portions and eating more veggies and protein. Or do what Lisa does… Burn off extra calories by Housewalking!

Chew on this:

It's Friday, May 1st, which means it’s National Chocolate Parfait Day. Make a 4-ingredient parfait with whatever fruit, yogurt, and cereal you have, plus a few chocolate chips!

Help your pals make it work too! Click "Send to a Friend" now.

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SmartPoints® value* not what you expected? We follow the same method as WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) when calculating the value of a recipe: We add up the SmartPoints® values* of the individual ingredients using the Recipe Builder, not the calculator. (Many foods have a value of zero and remain zero in recipes.)

*The SmartPoints® values for these products and/or recipes were calculated by Hungry Girl and are not an endorsement or approval of the product, recipe or its manufacturer or developer by WW International, Inc., the owner of the SmartPoints® trademark.