A photo of different types of grains

Healthy food substitutions

The following ingredients can often be substituted for each other to provide a similar amount of food from the same food groups. This will help you provide enough foods from the five food groups in line with the menu planning guidelines



  • Pasta and grains: rice, pasta, barley, cous cous, noodles, quinoa, semolina, polenta. 
  • Breads and crackers: bread, wraps, rolls, pita, focaccia, pizza bases, wholegrain crackers. 

  • Flour:  

    • If using small amounts (for example to thicken a sauce): corn flour, oat flour, rice flour.  

    • If using large amounts for baking: you could use gluten-free flour (if available) or oat flour (make your own by blending oats in a blender), or try a new recipe that uses a something different, like spelt flour. You could also  mix these products with wheat flour. 

TIP:  You could use potato as a carbohydrate instead of breads or grains in your dishes. 

Think outside the box: If you don’t have lasagne sheets, you could use flat breads. Or if you don’t have rice or noodles, you could serve a stir-fry with toast. 


Meat and alternatives

  • You can generally substitute any meats with another meat to get a similar result. Try minced or diced red meat, chicken breast, chicken thigh (skinless), pork, fish (fresh, frozen, or canned in spring water). 

  • If you have trouble buying meats, or if you want to make a meat-free dish, you can use legumes or tofu as a protein substitute.  

TIP: Eggs are a tasty and affordable protein food too. 


Milk and alternatives

  • Milk: Fresh milk, UHT milk, powdered milk, calcium-fortified milk alternatives such as soy milk, oat, rice, or almond. Make sure they provide at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml of milk. 

  • Instead of using milk when cooking: try using fruit puree (sweet baking), water (sweet or savoury), or stock (savoury cooking). 

TIP:  The children in your service could get their 2 serves of dairy a day from foods like yoghurt or cheese, instead of milk, if needed. 


Fruits and vegetables  

  • Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables are all nutritious options that can usually be substituted with each other quite easily.  

  • Choose canned fruit in natural juice (not syrup), and canned vegetables with no or little added salt. 

  • If you can’t access canned tomatoes and/or passata, try: 

  • buying a reduced salt tomato soup (add water if it’s too thick) 

  • using tomato paste (1/2 the amount of canned tomato/passata you would use) and add some stock and water to create a tomato sauce,  

  • make a white sauce, or pesto, and add some extra vegetables to make up for the missing tomatoes.  

TIP: Legumes can be used as vegetables too! 


Tips compiled with inspiration from NAQ Nutrition, Substitutes for ingredients with limited availability during COVID-19 


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