How to Cook for Your Family to Prevent High Cholesterol

The American Heart Association recommends a diet low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol (such as the "Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes" diet, or TLC diet) to reduce harmful levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. Preparing meals at home is one of the best ways to get your whole family behind such a plan, because you control portion sizes and the ingredients in your food.

Part of your high cholesterol risk profile depends on factors you can't change, like gender, ethnicity, and family history. But part of it — namely your diet — is largely within your control.

Time to get cooking!

Choose Lean Meats, and Eat Them Sparingly

To reduce the amount of cholesterol-causing saturated fat in your diet, limit yourself and each family member to six ounces (about the size of two decks of playing cards) of cooked meat, poultry, or seafood a day. Shop for lean or extra lean cuts of meat and pork — such as round, chuck, sirloin, or loin — and trim all visible fat off the meat before cooking. Buy chicken and turkey rather than higher-fat goose and duck, and remove the skin before cooking or eating.

When preparing meat, poultry, or seafood, use cooking techniques that don't require a lot of oil or butter: Broiling, baking, and roasting, for example, are generally healthier than pan-frying, deep-frying, and sautéing — especially if you use a rack to drain off excess fat.

You can also cook items like stews, boiled meats, or soup stocks a day ahead of time and refrigerate. The fat will separate and harden at the top, and you can remove it before reheating and serving.

Add Heart-Healthy Seafood and Vegetarian Dishes

Serving fish twice a week will add healthy fats and proteins (but less saturated fat) to your diet. Shellfish like shrimp and crawfish have less saturated fat than most meats and poultry, as well, although they’re higher in cholesterol than fish. With seafood as well, stay away from breaded and fried preparations.

Start to think of meat as a condiment or side dish rather than an entree. Try some vegetarian recipes, and get your family accustomed to eating meals without meat. Adopt the "Meatless Monday" movement, which encourages families to go vegetarian one day a week. Use vegetables, beans, or tofu to stand in for meat in popular dishes like lasagna, burritos, chili, and sandwiches.

Instead of drowning veggies in butter or cheese to make them more palatable to picky tastebuds, sautée them lightly in oil and season them with herbs and spices to make them heart-healthier.

Low-Fat Cooking Techniques and Food Swaps

There are other ways you can limit saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, as well; keep these food substitutions in mind when you’re cooking and baking.

  • Instead of whole eggs, use egg whites: Eggs are high in cholesterol, but it’s all in the inner yellow part, the yolk.
  • Instead of oil in baking recipes, use pureed fruits or vegetables: Applesauce, bananas, and zuchinni are popular substitutes in muffins, cookies, brownies, and breads.
  • Instead of whole milk or half-and-half, use 1% or skim milk. You can also use low-fat or part-skim cheeses in most recipes.
  • Instead of white breadcrumbs or croutons, make your own by toasting and crushing or cubing whole-wheat bread. You can also replace breadcrumbs in some recipes, like meatloaf, with uncooked oatmeal.
  • Instead of white grains, use brown rice and whole-grain bread and pasta.
  • Instead of adding butter or margerine to a baked potato, add salsa or low-fat yogurt.
  • Instead of using a cream-based salad dressing, use olive oil and vinegar, or a reduced-fat oil-based dressing.

Plan your family's meals ahead of time to avoid the need for last-minute fast food, and get your kids interested by involving them in the preparation, if possible. And no matter what’s on the table, try to sit down and eat together whenever possible: A 2011 review of 17 studies found that children who ate three or more meals a week with their families were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods, 20% less likely to eat foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and 12% less likely to be overweight.

By: Amanda MacMillan


American Heart Association. Cooking for Lower Cholesterol. Available at: Accessed: June 4, 2011.

Hammons, Amber and Fiese, Barbara. "Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Adolescents and Children?" Pediatrics. 2011; peds.2010-1440.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment in Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report." NIH Publication, 1998. pp. 153-158. Available at Accessed: June 4, 2011.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know. Available at: Accessed: June 4, 2011.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. We Can! Parent Tips. Available at: Accessed: June 4, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 15 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 21 Jan 2015