What You Need to Know About … Cooking with Fat-Free Dairy Products

Creamy sauces are not a thing of the past. You can reap great texture and flavor from fat-free yogurt, skim ricotta, nonfat evaporated milk and even tofu.
Cooking with Fat-Free Dairy Products

In the world of light cooking, swapping olive oil for butter is one thing; using fat-free cheese instead of regular cheese is another. But creamy, flavorful recipes are not lost on the Plan. Here's how nonfat sour cream, skim milk and fat-free yogurt (to name a few) can help you work wonders in the kitchen.


Fat-Free Ricotta Cheese can be used in both sweet and savory preparations. Beat some with Splenda and ground cinnamon for a lovely fruit dip or fruit compote topping, or substitute skim ricotta for regular ricotta in your favorite (whole-wheat) lasagna recipe. You can purée skim ricotta until smooth and use it as a base for dip recipes, too.

Fat-Free Cheese (American, Cheddar, etc.) does not work well as toppings in baked recipes since it does not melt and bubble like regular – or even low fat – cheese (although broiling does help the cheese to brown a bit). Your best bets are to use fat-free shredded cheese in a baked dish so it's mixed in with other ingredients, or to sprinkle some on top of dishes for a dash of color.

Plain Fat-Free Yogurt is so versatile that it can be used to tenderize meat, add thickness to sauces (instead of heavy cream), replace some mayonnaise and sour cream in dips, and serve as a base for salad dressings and marinades. Try flavoring some with fresh basil, ginger and sugar substitute for a refreshing sauce for grilled fruit. One note: If regular fat-free yogurt is too "runny" for you, try plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt instead which is creamier and has a thicker consistency.

Fat-Free Sour Cream can be used for much more than dip recipes – it can add a little creaminess to your favorite chicken, tuna or potato salad recipes, and smoothness to frittatas. If the consistency of your renovated dish seems a little "off," try cutting back on the sour cream and subbing some for plain fat-free yogurt or fat-free mayonnaise instead.

Fat-Free Mayonnaise is far from the real thing, but if you flavor it with a homemade pesto sauce, fresh dill or even minced red onion, it can be much more than just a passable substitute.

Skim Milk is not a true substitute for heavy cream but it can help add a nice, creamy taste to some puréed soups (like butternut squash) when the milk is added just at the end of cooking. Skim milk mixed with a little fat-free sour cream can add non-fat creaminess to mashed potatoes, too.

Evaporated Skim Milk is canned, unsweetened fat-free milk that has had about 60% of its water removed making it a great substitute for heavy cream in recipes. You can also try swapping whipped, chilled evaporated skim milk for regular whipped cream in some recipes.

Tofu, although not a fat-free dairy product, can be used like one as a cheese or cream alternative: Mash soft tofu and add it to egg dishes for a cheesy texture, purée it in smoothies, or mash and season it for a ricotta substitute in some Italian recipes. You can also purée silken tofu and use it as a mayo substitute in salad dressings and as a cream replacement in some soups and pasta dishes.


Recipes are not doomed without whole milk and cream: "Fat-free dairy products such as milk, yogurt and sour cream work just like their high-fat counterparts," says Robin Vitetta-Miller, MS, nutritionist and cookbook author. "And tofu works great when it's puréed and substituted in dips and smoothies," she says.

"Fat-free cheeses don't always melt well so put them in something forgiving," says Jodie Shield, RD, recipe developer from Chicago. Hide them in a lasagna filling, an omelet or scrambled eggs. Or sprinkle some on a taco – but jazz it up with a dash of cayenne or cumin.

Community User laura281 agrees that fat-free cheese does not melt well and suggests using it in a casserole; not on top.


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