What would make eating healthy, real-food meals more enjoyable for most people? Being able to continue eating their favorite foods, with just a few adjustments.
Like most Americans, we tend to rotate through the same staple recipes, so understanding how to give them a healthy makeover has been KEY in our family's real-food success.
When we initially started creating FULLforLife recipes, we were sure to keep this in mind (so there's no real need to modify them). But, if some of your family favorites come from elsewhere, most of these simple swaps can be done without noticing much of a difference in taste and texture.
So, without further ado, here are the top ways to slash excess fat and calories and make you (and your family's) favorite recipes more healthful!
While many baked goods are a huge source of both sugar and fat, desserts can still be enjoyed (in moderation, of course) without feeling like you're going to throw your entire diet off. Some simple swaps:
- Minimize or replace butter with applesauce, a mashed (ripe) banana or pumpkin puree. (Start by cutting the butter in half and using one of these options instead.)
- Use low-fat/fat-free milk instead of whole milk.
- Cut the amount of sugar by 25-35%. You can do this without noticing much of a difference in taste and texture.
- Add dried fruit (with no added oils or sugars) in place of chocolate chips.
- If you're trying to achieve a chocolatey flavor, cut back on baking with chocolate and add a little cacao powder instead.
- Eliminate, or reduce by half, any toppings used for appearance (such as frosting or whipped cream).
- If you eliminate it, try adding a slice of fresh strawberry or a little cacao powder on top instead.
Create healthier versions of your favorites with a few of these easy alternatives:
- Replace cream cheese, sour cream and mayo with Greek yogurt (1:1 ratio).
- If you prefer not to substitute it entirely, use half the amount and substitute the other half with Greek yogurt.
- Reduce the amount of cheese by 25-50%.
- Substitute low-fat/fat-free milk for heavy cream.
- Substitute light coconut milk for full-fat coconut milk.
- Bake, broil, braise, grill, poach, sauté or steam, rather than pan fry.
- Drastically cut back on salt and butter by flavoring your food with herbs and spices. Get creative... this is the BEST way to flavor your food!
- Instead of focusing purely on what can be cut out, focus on nutritious and flavorful ingredients that can be ADDED to your recipe, such as fruits and veggies.
There’s often emphasis on watching what you eat, but what about watching what you drink? Try some of these simple substitutions next time you take your liquid consumption into account.
- Rather than mixing your cocktail with soda, a sugary fruit juice or tonic water, use club soda or seltzer water and squeeze an orange slice (or add a splash of O.J.) for some sweetness.
- Use low-fat or skim milk in place of heavy cream or whole milk (cocktails, coffee, smoothies).
- Reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee by boosting flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice.
- When choosing a snack, take your meals for the day into consideration.
- If you have a healthy high-fat breakfast including peanut butter or avocados, avoid snacking on trail mix and nuts that day.
- If you eat toast for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch, steer clear of high-carb snacks like crackers.
- And if you're a chip person... bake tortillas in the oven to make "chips" or use whole grain rice cake thins to enjoy a chip-like texture without indulging in tortilla chips or fried potato chips.
Toppings, Condiments, Sauces and Dips
Have you ever checked the amount of fat or sugar that's snuck into many of these? Instead:
- Use a smidgen of honey OR mash or boil down berries in place of sugary jellies and jams (get your kids involved, they'll LOVE it).
- Our 3-Ingredient Blueberry Jam is a great example of this!
- Use fresh ingredients (cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sliced apples, fresh or mashed berries) in place of sugary, fatty or calorie-ridden condiments (butter, mayo, jelly, dressings).
- Use non-fat Greek yogurt to dress sandwiches instead of mayo.
- Use Greek yogurt as the base in your dips, rather than mayonnaise or sour cream.
- If you prefer not to substitute it entirely, use half the amount of mayonnaise or sour cream and substitute the other half with Greek yogurt.
- Just like baking, you can cut the amount of sugar by 25-35% in most dressings, without noticing much of a difference in taste and texture.
Some other tips
Go slow and don't make too many swaps at once. The first time you modify a recipe, start by making one change at a time. Change one ingredient and, if it works well, change a second the next time. We've learned this the hard way.
There have been a few times we've tried to change an entire recipe around only to end up with a cake that doesn't set or a mushy meal. Because we swapped so many ingredients, we weren't able to identify the cause.
Try not to mention your swaps to your guests until AFTER they've taken the initial bite. People often correlate "healthy" with "not tasting good." Let them decide how delicious it is BEFORE you spill the beans.
We substitute mayo and sour cream with Greek yogurt in various recipes. For months we did this without anyone in our family noticing a difference in taste. One evening when we served quesadillas, rather than scooping the yogurt into a fancy bowl, we put out a cup of plain yogurt. We initially received resistance from our family until we told them we’d been including Greek yogurt as a topping and in recipes for months without them noticing any difference in taste. Now, even they grab it instead!
Creating a healthy, maintainable lifestyle is all about finding the BALANCE between happy and healthy that works best for you and your family. People often think that cutting calories means eating less or eliminating their favorite foods. But, with these simple tweaks, you can slash calories without having to give up any of your family's favorites!
Pam & Kalie
P.S. We'd LOVE if you shared some of your secret swaps. Just drop them in the comments section below!