Child and Adult Care Food Program

Modifying Fat

A high fat diet is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes later in life. The damage caused by a high fat diet begins in childhood. When a taste for lower fat foods is developed in children, they are more likely to follow a lower fat diet throughout their lives.

Health care professionals and federal programs recommend that everyone over two years of age follow a diet that includes no more than 30% of calories as fat. The average American consumes approximately 38% of calories as fat. You can see that a moderate reduction in fat is called for. Lowering fat in the diet is not the same as no fat. If fat intake is too low, health and growth will be impaired. So, although it is important to offer a menu with a moderate level of fat, be careful that you are not overly restrictive with fat.

Fat is found in:

  • Meats, dairy products, cheese, eggs and other animal foods that are naturally high in fat
  • Fats and oils used in cooking foods (margarine, butter, fat back, meat drippings, oils)
  • Fat and oils added to foods (margarine, butter, mayonnaise, salad dressings, sour cream, cream cheese, grated cheese, cheese sauces, dips)
  • Many highly processed foods (luncheon meats, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, store bought muffins, cookies, and cakes)

Small changes in your food purchasing and preparation can help to achieve a lower level of fat in children's diets. One of the most effective ways to lower fat in the day care setting is to serve skim or 1% milk to all children over two years of age. The key to providing a lower fat menu is to remember that your goal is not to restrict all high fat foods, but to balance the higher fat foods with lower fat foods in meals and snacks. Fruits, vegetables, dried beans and grains are naturally low fat foods. Unless these plant foods are prepared with fat, they will help to compensate for the higher fat foods on your menu. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains in meals and snacks. Use the alternatives listed in the table below to help you to achieve this balance on your day care menu.

Lower Fat Menu Choices

Bread and Bread Alternates
Choose More Often:
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Rye bread
  • Pumpernickel bread
  • Pita bread
  • Bagels
  • English muffins
  • Sandwich buns
  • Dinner rolls
  • Rice cakes
  • Low-fat crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Cream of wheat
Choose Less Often:
  • Croissants
  • Biscuits
  • Butter rolls
  • Sweet rolls
  • Doughnuts
  • Pastries
  • Cheese crackers
  • Butter crackers
  • Granola cereal
  • Grits
  • Macaroni
  • Spaghetti
  • Rice
Meat and Meat Alternates
Choose More Often:
  • Roast beef, turkey, chicken and lean ham
  • Tuna packed in water
  • "Loin" or "round" cuts of beef and pork
  • Lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
  • White meat of chicken
  • skinless Fish
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Cheeses labeled with 6 or fewer grams of fat per ounce
  • Low fat cottage cheese
  • Dried beans
  • Dried peas
  • Dried lentils
  • Low fat yogurt
Choose Less Often:
  • Hot dogs, bacon, sausage and lunch meats
  • Tuna packed in oil
  • Fatty cuts of beef and pork like corned beef, ribs
  • Regular ground beef or regular ground turkey
  • Dark meat and skin of chicken
  • High fat cheeses such as Swiss, American, mozzarella, cheddar and Muenster
  • Whole-milk ricotta cheese
Choose More Often:
  • Skim
  • 1% milk
  • Buttermilk
Choose Less Often:
  • Whole milk (except for children under two)
  • 2% milk
Fruits and Vegetables
Choose More Often:
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables
  • Baked, steamed, or boiled vegetables and fruits
Choose Less Often:
  • Fried vegetables
  • Vegetables prepared in butter, cream, or cheese sauce
Sweets and Snacks
Choose More Often:
  • Low fat frozen yogurt
  • Lowfat ice cream
  • Angel food cake
  • Lower fat cookies such as ginger snaps, graham crackers, vanilla wafers
  • Fruit desserts
  • Homemade cakes
  • Cereal mix
Choose Less Often:
  • Regular ice cream
  • Store-bought cakes
  • Pound cake
  • Potato and corn chips
  • Cookies
  • Candy, candy bars
  • Buttered popcorn
Fats and Oils
Choose More Often:
  • Corn oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Margarine made with oils listed above: liquid, tub, stick
  • Mayonnaise and salad dressings made with oils listed above
  • Low-fat dressings
Choose Less Often:
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Palm oil
  • Lard
  • Bacon fat
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Whipping cream

Lower Fat Cooking and Seasoning

Limit the amount of fats and oils used in cooking and seasoning foods to reduce the fat in the foods you serve. There are several ways that you can lower fat when preparing favorite recipes. For example, in recipes that call for fats and oils, you can often decrease the amount of fat by 1/2 or more without changing the quality of the dish. Another strategy is to "saute" onions and other vegetables in water or defatted broth instead of oil. The following table outlines other ways to lower fat in cooking.

Lowering Fat in Cooking Foods
Instead of:
  1. frying
  2. leaving fat and skin on meat and poultry
  3. seasoning with fatback, bacon drippings, or margarine
  4. baking high fat cakes, quick breads and muffins
  5. using whole milk or regular evaporated milk in baking
  6. using mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese
  7. cooking vegetables in fatback or meat drippings
  8. cooking with solid shortening or lard
  9. using stock or broth immediately after cooking
  10. browning ground beef in oil
  11. adding the specified amount of oil or margarine to stuffing and rice mixes
  12. using the specified amount of meat in mixed dishes
  1. bake, roast or broil
  2. trim fat from meats and remove skin from chicken or turkey
  3. season with herbs, bouillon, onions or lemon
  4. reduce the fat in baked goods by substituting applesauce for all or part of the oil or shortening
  5. use skim milk or evaporated skim milk in baking
  6. use part or all reduced-calorie mayonnaise, lowfat or nonfat yogurt, or lowfat cottage cheese
  7. cook vegetables in bouillon
  8. cook with a small amount of liquid oils
  9. make stocks and broths ahead and chill so that you can skim off the hardened fat
  10. brown ground beef without oil, drain and rinse with hot water
  11. reduce oil or margarine by half when preparing stuffing and rice mixes
  12. replace meat with beans in recipes such as soups and chili
Modifying a Recipe to Reduce Fat

Small changes in the ingredients and cooking methods can transform a recipe to a low fat dish. In this chili recipe, the fat is found mainly in the beef and the oil used to brown the beef. Because beans are a meat alternate, they can replace some of the beef used in the recipe and help to lower the fat content of the dish. Additionally, the beef is browned without oil, then rinsed with very hot water after draining to remove more of the fat. The meat is returned to the stove immediately after rinsing to maintain a high temperature. The temperature of the meat must be kept above 140 degrees to prevent food borne illness.

Chili-Original Recipe

  • 2 T oil
  • 1/2 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper
  • 2 clove garlic - chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 cans tomatoes - chopped
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 2 T chili powder

Saute onion, garlic and green peppers in oil. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain and add remaining ingredients. Simmer for one hour. The amount of chili powder may be altered to suit taste.

Low-Fat Chili

  • 1 t oil
  • 1/2 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper
  • 2 clove garlic - chopped
  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 2 cans tomatoes - chopped
  • 3 cans kidney beans
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 2 T chili powder

Heat oil in large pot. Stir in onions, garlic and green pepper and cover. Cook until soft. In another pan, cook ground beef until browned. Place in a colander; drain and rinse with very hot water. Add ground beef and remaining ingredients to cooked vegetables. Simmer for one hour. The amount of chili powder may be altered to suit taste.

Modifying Boxed Mixes to Reduce Fat

When using muffin, cornbread, or cake mixes, there are several changes you can make to decrease the fat of the final product. Always spray pans with vegetable oil cooking spray instead greasing them with shortening or butter. The amount of oil or other fats called for in mixes can be decreased by at least half with no change in the final product. Remember also that applesauce can replace some or all of the fat, and skim milk can be used instead of whole or 2% milk.

Sample STEPs to Moderate Fat Intake

Strategy: Choose one meal component on your menu and review the menu to determine ways to decrease fat in purchasing and/or preparation of that component. For example, if you choose bread and bread alternates, you would highlight all of these meal components and consider where changes could be made. To lower the fat in bread and bread alternates, you might:

  • decrease the oil by 1/2 and substitute applesauce in a quick bread recipe
  • replace croissants with English muffins
  • compare the fat content on food labels in purchased foods such as muffins, frozen waffles, french toast sticks or biscuits and choose those with less fat
  • replace whole milk with skim milk in pancake or french toast recipe
  • replace doughnuts, toaster pastries or sweet rolls with toast and jam
  • use soft tortillas instead of hard fried tortillas for tacos
  • replace some of the higher fat cookies with lower fat choices such as graham crackers, vanilla wafers or gingersnaps

After implementing the changes in bread and bread alternates, consider choosing another meal component to target. Be sure to include the cooking staff in this process.

Teaching children: It is helpful for children to begin to understand where foods come from. This understanding will help them make food choices in later years. Sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" with the children and talk about the foods that we eat which are animals raised on a farm. At another time, arrange to take the class on a visit to a farmer's market. If a field trip is not feasible, pictures of fruits, vegetables, beans and grains can begin a discussion of foods from plants. This will enable children to distinguish between foods that come from animals and those that come from plants.

Educate families: After developing a policy of serving skim milk to all children over the age of two, share it with families and provide them with information to support your policy. (Refer to the section of this manual on Food Policies.)

Planning for change: Provide support to the cooking staff for making lower fat changes to recipes and menus. Look for opportunities for providing them with training on low fat cooking skills. Cooperative Extension, County Health Departments, Day Care Councils, and local hospital wellness programs may provide such a training. (You may want to invite parents and teachers to these learning opportunities as well.)