Healthy Swaps Cooking Guide

Young women's version of this guide

People don’t always want to ditch their favorite recipes, but want ways of making some swaps to increase how healthy a meal is. While it’s still ok to eat the normal versions of favorite foods, below are some tips that you can use to help make dishes more nutritious. Remember, healthier doesn’t necessarily mean lower in calorie, but generally means higher in fiber with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and lower in saturated fat.

  • When in doubt, add vegetables. Is there a way to add some chopped up vegetables to the dish? If not can you add a side dish of vegetables or salad that will complement the ? Roasted broccoli or steamed green beans with a little olive oil are classic sides that go with many different main dishes.
  • Focus on whole grains. Any time you can swap a refined grain for a whole grain, you are automatically increasing the amount of fiber in the meal which is healthier for your digestive system and better for your blood sugar.
  • Find an alternative to deep frying. Are you able to bake it in the oven or use an air fryer rather than deep frying it in oil?
  • Change from saturated to unsaturated fats. Swap the butter for heart-healthy olive oil, swap the meat for a plant-based protein source such as beans or tofu.
  • Use naturally occurring sources of sweetener. Is there a fruit-based source of sweetener you could use in place of sugar such as no-sugar-added apple sauce?
  • Swap sugary drinks for water. Add in fresh fruits like strawberries, cucumbers, lemons, and limes to your water to give it something extra! Missing the carbonation of soda? Try naturally flavored seltzer waters for a little fizz!
Instead of …Try…
Sour creamPlain yogurt or plain greek yogurt
Ground beefTextured vegetable protein (TVP), ground turkey, chopped up mushroom, or lentils (or combine a few of these options)
White riceBrown rice, quinoa, wild rice, and/or white rice with riced cauliflower mixed in
White bread, bread crumbsWhole wheat bread, whole wheat bread crumbs
Sugar in bakingApplesauce in baking
Fried chickenBreading in whole wheat crumbs and baking in the oven
ButterOil such as olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil
Jarred pasta sauceCanned tomato sauce mixed with pureed vegetables and beans
Boxed macaroni and cheeseWhole wheat or chickpea-based boxed macaroni and cheese mixed with broccoli and black beans
Ramen or instant cup noodlesRamen noodles with half seasoning packet; add fresh spinach, mushrooms, and hardboiled egg
Heavy cream2% milk
Potato chips or crackers made from white flourChips or crackers made from lentils, beans, chickpeas, or nuts
Cream-based dipHummus, avocado, or yogurt-based dip
Salad dressingSalsa, cottage cheese, yogurt-based dressing, oil and vinegar
White potato, French friesSweet potato, baked sweet potato sticks or wedges, or eggplant sticks baked and served with marinara sauce
Pasta/noodles made from refined (“white”) flourWhole wheat pasta, bean-based pasta, and/or with zucchini or sweet potato “zoodles” or spaghetti squash added in
Flavored yogurtPlain yogurt with added fresh or frozen fruit
Chips for dippingCarrots sliced into chip shape, peppers for scooping
Flavored instant oatmeal packetsSteel-cut oats cooked with milk or dairy free milk, added nuts, seeds, nut butter, and/or fruit
Making the choice to eat healthier shouldn’t mean a complete change in your eating. Finding small ways to make foods that you love healthier will help make the changes feel more sustainable.