Q. How do I adjust the quantities of recipe ingredients when I want to serve fewer or more people than the recipe indicates?
A. A few simple rules of thumb allow you to adjust recipes to serve a couple or a couple dozen. If your family is the exact size that corresponds with the number of servings in a recipe, congratulations. All you have to do is follow the recipe directions.
But what if you really don't need eight servings, or you're hosting a party for 20 guests? You either have to find a recipe with the exact number of servings you need, or adjust your recipe to get the right yield. Fortunately, if you keep a few simple rules in mind, it's not hard to "right-size" your recipes.
Multiply or divide by a whole number, if possible. It's a lot easier to double or halve your recipe than it is to increase it by 1 1/2 times, or decrease it by a third. If doubling a recipe yields more servings than you need, either send your guests home with a little "care package" or plan another meal around the leftovers.
If you regularly need to adjust recipes to fit your needs, consider buying a "kitchen calculator." These calculators can multiply fractions, convert teaspoons to cups and vice versa, and even supply English measurements for recipes written in metric weights.
Even with a calculator, it's probably best to avoid multiplying or dividing a recipe by more than four times. In addition, because of the way they're prepared, some recipes -- such as those for soufflés or omelets -- are better prepared in a number of regular batches instead of a scaled-up version.
Write down the new amounts. Even when you can multiply or divide the ingredients in your head, writing down the new numbers ensures you don't forget to adjust any ingredients. In fact, if you regularly increase or decrease recipe amounts, put the new amounts in columns right on your recipe cards, so you don't have to redo the calculations later.
Be careful about adjusting seasonings. When you're scaling up a recipe, don't increase the seasonings by the same factor. Instead, start with less seasoning and smaller amounts of spices, then adjust to taste. If you're doubling a recipe, try adding only 1 1/2 the amount of spices and seasonings. If you're halving a recipe, try a little less than half of the seasonings. You can always add more if necessary.
Also, when scaling up, you don't need to increase the amount of cooking oil by the same factor as the other ingredients. Instead, start with the single-batch amount, and adjust if necessary.
Round up or down when necessary, but make a note of it. For example, it's not easy to figure out how to measure 1 2/3 eggs. Usually, rounding up to 2 eggs is fine. However, you can use 1 whole egg and 1 egg white instead. By keeping track of results, you'll be able to make any necessary changes the next time you need to adjust that recipe.
However, recipes for baked goods need to be more precise. In fact, professional bakers weigh ingredients to make sure that proportions remain the same regardless of batch size. For these recipes, rounding up or rounding down can produce undesirable results.
If you often adjust recipes for baked goods, consider investing in a scale and converting ingredient amounts into weights. You'll be able to multiply the amounts more easily, and your results will be more consistent. Otherwise, make baked goods in separate batches to reach the number of servings you need.
Adjust cooking times and temperatures. Some items may need to cook longer, and other recipes might require you to raise or lower the temperature to cook properly. If your recipe provides doneness tests, such as internal temperatures, be sure to follow those guidelines.
To keep times and temperatures close to the original recipe, choose bigger pots or pans that allow the ingredients to be distributed the same way as a smaller batch.
For example, if you need to sauté a larger amount of food, you'll need a bigger pan so the food has enough room to cook. If you don't have the correct pan, or die food is too crowded to cook properly, you may need to sauté the food in smaller quantities.
If you don't have a large selection of pots and pans, you'll need to watch time and temperature instead. If mixtures are deeper than usual, cooking/baking times will be longer, and you'll need to lower the temperature a bit to ensure even doneness. If the ingredients take up less depth, they cook faster, so decrease the cooking time instead.
Q. I like to snack, and so do my kids. Do you have any healthy snack recipe tips?
A. Snacking can provide a great mid-afternoon energy boost. Snacks should meet the same nutritional guidelines as the rest of your meal plan -- low in fat, high in vitamins and minerals and within your carbohydrate range.
When you're on the move, however, it is all too easy to reach for chips or candy. To keep snacking on a healthful track, convenience is key. Grab one of the following snacks on your way out the door for a quick and nutritious nosh.
- Nonfat sugar-free yogurt
- 1/2 turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
- 1 cup air-popped popcorn tossed with 2 tablespoons diced dried mixed fruit
- Apple wedges with peanut or soy butter for dipping
- 1 ounce cubed reduced-fat Cheddar cheese and 1 cup grapes
- Raw vegetables and low-fat black bean dip
- 1/2 cup large cubes of fresh fruit
- 1/2 pita bread filled with salad fixings and drizzled with low-fat dressing