Following a healthy diet doesn’t mean having boring food choices. A lot of foods and recipes include healthy ingredients and are also quite tasty. For your favorite indulgences, it’s often possible to find an alternative food that satisfies your craving for something sweet or savory. If there’s not, a little splurge here and there likely won’t hurt if you’re in good health otherwise. There are also recipes that give instructions on how to make faux versions of favorites that are lower in calories, sugar and bad fat. Here are a few examples of each, listed under the categories of savory and sweet.
- Ingredients: Potatoes, vegetable oil, salt (from good brands)
- Calories: 160 per 1 oz. serving
Healthy Option: Kale Chips
- Ingredients: Kale, olive oil, salt
- Calories: 93 per 1 oz. serving
This substitution doesn’t try to mimic the flavor of potato chips. Instead, it gives you a crunchy, salty alternative that’s full of flavor. You simply wash and pat dry the kale, then separate the leaf from the rib before tearing it into small pieces. It’s baked in the oven on a pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil (the fat helps your body absorb the nutrients from the kale). Besides being lower in calories and non-nutritious fat, kale chips contain more iron than beef and high concentrations of essential vitamins.
- Ingredients: Semolina (wheat) and wheat flour
- Calories: 200 calories per ¾ cup, depending on brand
Healthy Option: Spaghetti Squash
- Ingredients: Squash
- Calories: 45 calories per cup
Spaghetti squash separates into long strands that resemble spaghetti noodles, giving you a convincing pile of faux noodles that retain the starchy goodness of wheat-based pasta. It’s full of vitamins and also a good source of potassium and calcium. All you have to do is bake it in the oven and split the squash in half after it cools. Drag a fork across the flesh inside and you’ll end up with a stringy pile of squash that resembles cooked wheat pasta in form and texture. The taste is mild and slightly sweet, and the squash noodles easily take on the taste of the spaghetti sauce. Just make sure to use a thicker sauce. Watery pasta sauce combined with a watery vegetable – squash retains more moisture than pasta – can yield a messy (if still tasty) dish.
- Ingredients: Potatoes, butter, milk
- Calories: 177 per 6 oz. serving
Healthy Option: Creamed Cauliflower
- Ingredients: Cauliflower, garlic, buttermilk, olive oil
- Calories: 107 per 6 oz. serving
Both of these versions have fat, but the olive oil in the creamed cauliflower is a more nutritious and heart-healthy alternative to butter. The carbohydrate count is also much lower in the mashed cauliflower, even though it has a smooth, creamy consistency like mashed potatoes. Cauliflower is packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals like all cruciferous vegetables, and it’s a versatile vegetable for other recipes. You can coarsely grate it to make a rice substitute in dishes like chicken fried rice. For faux mashed potatoes, boil the cauliflower until it’s soft, then blend together with the other ingredients in a high-powered food processor or blender until smooth. Grocery stores have also started stocking pre-minced and microwaveable cauliflower, saving you a step in preparation.
Root Beer Float
- Ingredients: Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, 12 ounces of root beer.
- Calories: 410
Healthy Option: Mock Root Beer Float
- Ingredients: Two ounces of half-and-half, 12 ounces of diet root beer.
- Calories: 80
Some might object to the healthy version being less thick and creamy or have reservations about the artificial sweetener in the diet root beer. The bottom line here is deciding whether you want all the fat, sugar and cholesterol of the (admittedly superior) original root beer float or a less decadent version that tastes similar. One thing the healthy option has going for it is the delicious taste that rivals the flavor of the original. When you stir the half-and-half into the root beer, you also get a big head of foam that makes it similar to enjoying an ice cream soda. It’s not a perfect sub, but it could curb your craving without ruining your healthy habits.
Flavored, Full-Fat Greek Yogurt (Fage)
- Ingredients: Milk, live yogurt cultures, cherries, 18g cane sugar, water, corn starch, flavoring (depending on brand)
- Calories: 210
Healthy Option: Flavored, Reduced Fat (2%) Greek Yogurt (Fage)
- Ingredients: Milk, live yogurt cultures, cherries, 16g cane sugar, water, corn starch, flavoring
- Calories: 120
Fage was chosen as an example because it’s a true Greek yogurt as well as a good source of protein, calcium and friendly gut bacteria. The good news is that the low-fat version also has those benefits. This is also a food substitution that compares favorably in flavor and consistency to the original. As you can see from the ingredient list, the main difference here is less fat. At 120 calories, it’s an especially healthy alternative since the light version contains no artificial sweeteners – although it does contain a lot of sugar, so if you’re diabetic or worried about sugar content, opt for an unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit instead.
- Ingredients: Fruit juice or flavoring, sugar, water
- Calories: 60
Healthy Option: Frozen Berries or Melon
- Ingredients: Fruit (12 white grapes, 2/3 cup cantaloupe or 1 cup watermelon)
- Calories: 40
Popsicles have no fat and less sugar than ice cream, so that’s a healthy substitution in the first place. But substituting frozen berries or melon for popsicles provides an even greater boost for your health. Of all the fruits, these two types contain the most vitamins, antioxidants and fiber and the least sugar. So you’re getting some important benefits in addition to cutting down on calories. There are only 15 calories in diet popsicles, but they’re just empty calories. The fiber and nutrients from melons and berries are well worth the extra calories in the fruit option. Plus, the sugar is all natural fruit sugar, which still isn’t great for diabetics but fine for most people in moderation.
- Ingredients: Flour, eggs, sugar, milk, baking soda, cream of tartar
- Calories: 190 calories for three pancakes (1 oz. each)
Healthy Option: Banana & Egg Pancakes
- Ingredients: Banana, eggs, coconut flour, vanilla
- Calories: 100 calories for 3 pancakes (1 oz. each)
Extra vitamins and fiber combined with almost half the calories creates a pancake substitute that’s healthy and also gluten-free. Coconut flour is the secret ingredient since you’ll find versions of this recipe that include only banana and egg and others that call for almond flour as the dry ingredient. The eggs give the pancakes enough lift without using baking powder, and the coconut flour absorbs moisture, giving the pancakes a more traditional consistency than either of the other two paleo versions.
Healthy and Delicious Substitutes Abound
Sometimes, just substituting a light version of the same food can make a difference in how healthy it is, as in light yogurt versus the original kind. Other times, you can get creative and come up with another type of food that satisfies the same cravings, such as kale chips or cauliflower rice. The best healthy recipes don’t require a bunch of extra steps in the kitchen, and we’ve tried to round up a few that you can prepare easily and enjoy as part of your regular cooking. We hope they’ll spice up your menu as you work on developing nutritious meals and treats for your family.