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Want to start cooking healthier food for your family? It’s easier than you think with these 5 small ways to healthify the meals your family loves!
I am a huge fan of taking traditional meals and healthifying them.
Yes, I’ve lost 100 pounds, but I am not one of those women who lives off of wheat grass, boiled chicken breast, and salad. I like real food!
I like casseroles and stir frys and meatballs and a ton of variety in my meal plans.
Restricting yourself to only the meals labeled “healthy” is not a bad thing, but it can feel really restrictive when you are trying to lose weight.
There are so many delicious meals out there and they are not off-limits just because they have a cream sauce!
With a few modifications, that “comfort food” can still fit into your healthy lifestyle.
Usually, I’ll browse Pinterest for meals that look good and then I find ways to healthify them.
Here are just a few of the ways I healthify my meals:
1. Add More Vegetables
This is my favorite tip of all because it is a win-win in every sense. Adding more vegetables gives you more nutrients (which helps you to feel amazing). It is an inexpensive way to fill out your meal so you don’t need as much meat, saving you money on groceries. It also fills you up with lower calorie, higher fiber options, which is fantastic for weight loss.
I throw extra veggies in pretty much everything. Baby spinach is my favorite to use because it doesn’t require any prep and it cooks super fast. You just open the bag and dump as much as you want in, without the peeling, seeding, and chopping.
I like adding shredded carrots to soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce. I add chopped onion and zucchini or spinach into meatloaves and casseroles. If a recipe already calls for vegetables, I often double them.
2. Go For The Whole Grains
You may be used to using white rice and white pasta, but subbing for brown rice and whole wheat pasta is an easy substitution. The texture of brown rice has a bit more bite than white rice. If that’s too big of a leap for you, start by just mixing in a little bit of brown rice into your white rice and slowly add a little bit more and a little bit more.
With whole wheat pasta, sometimes I don’t like the heartier texture either. I’ve found that cooking it just a little bit longer than the instructions recommend does the trick for me. Make sure and taste it along the way so you don’t end up with mushy, overcooked pasta, though! I use whole wheat pasta in this Butternut Mac & Cheese and it is comfort food to the max!
I also like using white whole wheat flour in baked goods. Whole wheat flour is okay and I use it sometimes, but it can make things really dense and heavy. White whole wheat flour is much more similar to all purpose and I often substitute some, if not all, of the all purpose flour with the whole grain version (like in these healthier fluffy pancakes or these morning glory muffins!).
3. Use Sharper Cheese
Tons of casseroles and comfort foods use loads of cheese. I mean, I get it! Melty cheese is delicious! You don’t have to get rid of cheese altogether to have a healthy diet, but you can make your meals healthier by using less of it.
When you use a sharp or extra-sharp cheese, you still get the same punch of flavor when you use a little bit less of it, saving you those extra calories and fat. Finely grated cheese is my favorite to use because, unlike slices of cheese, you can use less of it but still spread it evenly over your dish.
4. Bake It, Don’t Fry It
I know how good fried food tastes (believe me!), but save it for special occasions instead of making that a regular cooking method for your family. You can still use egg washes and breadcrumb mixtures to add a crunch to your chicken (bonus points if you use whole wheat bread crumbs!). I love making homemade baked chicken nuggets. No, they don’t have exactly the same texture as frying them, but they are still delicious and so much healthier!
5. Try Reduced Fat Ingredients
There are so many ingredients where I really can’t taste the difference with less fat. I use Neufchatel cream cheese (that’s 1/3 less fat, fat-free, and it’s incredible in Healthier Jalapeno Popper Dip!), skim or 1% milk, light sour cream (like in Lighter Macaroni Salad), and more regularly and that works well for me. Not everything you use has to be reduced fat. There may be some ingredients you love just the way they are and that’s fine!
Just keep in mind that every healthy swap you make adds up over time.
There are lines here that I won’t cross. I don’t, however, recommend going fat-free. Fat-free cheese? Ick. It just doesn’t melt the same! There are a few more reasons to avoid fat-free, though. Fat isn’t the enemy. First of all, a reasonable amount of healthy fats in your diet is necessary and healthy! It’s just easy to go overboard. Second, you are usually sacrificing quite a bit of flavor when you go fat-free. Because of that, usually companies add more sugar and chemicals in an effort to make it taste good again.
I am also very wary of the words “diet” or “light” on a lot of products. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners whenever I can and often, that “light” salad dressing or yogurt is sweetened with things I don’t want in my body, but that rant is for another post!
And those “calorie-free” foods? I would avoid those too if I were you. It’s not worth it to save the calories just to put an ultra-processed food in your body. Fill your body with nutrients, not processed nothingness.
As always, I just want to remind you that the best way to lose weight is one small change at a time. I make no grand claims that any of these tips will help you to drop 20 pounds in a week. They won’t! What they will do is slowly reinforce healthy habits that WILL make a difference in your weight loss journey. Small, seemingly insignificant things, can make a big difference in your life and in your health.
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