We all want to eat healthier. But let’s face it, making the transition from convenient packaged foods to natural, whole foods can be tough.
But there’s a trick to it, and it works like a charm. Don’t make the transition all at once. Start with just a few simple swaps and once they’ve become a part of your new routine you can add in a few more.
Following are four simple swaps you can make for packaged foods to get you started on the right path.
1. Salad dressing:
Most store bought salad dressings aren’t worth the cost. You can make far tastier and healthier homemade dressings with things you already have on hand. And don’t worry, it really couldn’t be simpler.
Supermarket salad dressings are typically made with inflammatory vegetable oils such as soybean or canola, and many contain hidden sugars. The typical Western diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids like you find in vegetable oils. And too low in omega-3s. And this imbalance is linked to heart disease, diabetes arthritis and more.
Make your own dressings at home instead. Your most basic recipe requires a healthy oil such as olive oil (around six tablespoons) or avocado oil and an acid such as white wine vinegar (around three tablespoons).
Then add seasonings to taste, such as…
- Salt and pepper (1/8 teaspoon each)
- Minced garlic (two cloves)
- Oregano (1/2 teaspoon fresh)
- Lemon juice (swap for one tablespoon of the vinegar)
- Parsley (one teaspoon chopped fresh)
- Basil (one teaspoon chopped fresh)
- Parmesan cheese (two teaspoons grated)
Creamier dressings such as ranch are easy to make too. Simply drop the oil and add in around 2/3 of a cup each of sour cream, mayonnaise and whole milk.
2. Snack or breakfast bars:
If you’re in the habit of grabbing a breakfast bar on the way out the door, or heading to the vending machine for a granola bar when you hit the 2 o’clock slump, you’re not alone. The convenience and quick jolt of energy can seem hard to beat.
But the truth is that snack bar high doesn’t last long, and it’s usually followed by a huge crash. And that’s because carb-loaded snack bars tend to be weighed down with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or other sugary sweeteners.
Even the healthier snack bars which avoid HFCS can be sugar bombs. For example a KIND Plus Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate bar has 9 grams of sugar and 17 grams of carbohydrates, and a package of Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey bars weigh in at 11 grams of sugar and 29 grams of carbohydrates.
Drop the sugary bars and opt for some real peanut butter spread on apple slices or celery instead. Still convenient, but so much healthier. Packed with protein and fiber this snack will fill you up longer, and with a slower sugar release you’re far less likely to experience a crash later.
Just make sure the peanut butter you choose isn’t full of added sugars and oils. The less ingredients the better. Choose a brand that contains just ground peanuts and salt if possible. And if you’re not a peanut butter fan, or have allergies, almond, sunflower or cashew butters work too.
3. Cookies, snack cakes and candy bars:
If you’ve got a sweet tooth packaged cookies, candies and cakes can be like your Kryptonite, nearly impossible to resist. The key is to plan ahead so when the snack attack hits you have your healthier alternative ready and waiting.
When you’re craving something sweet but want to avoid the junk fruit is a natural choice. But hey, I get it, sometimes plain old fruit can seem blah in comparison to that package of cookies. Try frozen fruit instead.
Buy some of your favorite fresh fruits—grapes, blueberries and strawberries are great, but citrus and kiwi slices work surprisingly well too—and pop them into the freezer in a freezer bag. You can even divide them up into mini bags to have easy to grab single servings if you prefer. Then the next time your sweet tooth starts aching you’ll be prepared.
4. Potato chips, corn chips and other crunchy snacks:
It goes without saying that potato chips, corn chips and various other crunch crunchy greasy snack foods don’t have much to offer in the way of nutrition. They’re essentially empty calories loaded up with junk salt. But those of us who crave the crunch can have a hard time giving it up.
The good news is you don’t have to. Homemade kale chips can satisfy the craving and deliver a punch of nutrition at the same time. And they are so easy to make they’re bound to become your go to snack. My husband and I are absolutely addicted to them, and we don’t miss the chips at all.
Fill a cookie sheet with bite size pieces of kale (pull the leaves off of the heavier ribs). Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with a dash of sea salt and your favorite spice mix such as ranch or barbecue (about a tablespoon or so) and toss. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and toast kale for around eight minutes or until the edges start to turn a bit brown and crispy. Eat right away.
Don’t give up on your goal to get rid of the packaged foods in your diet, just don’t try to do it all at once. Start slow with these easy food swaps first.