Healthy Swaps Cooking Guide

  • Young men's version of this guide

Healthy cooking doesn’t mean you have to ditch your favorite recipes, there are many ways you can increase the nutrient-density of your meal by just making some swaps. Here 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 meal? 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 great for your digestive system and helps to regulate 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, and swap the meat for a leaner cut or maybe try 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!
  • Utilize spices or herbs. Instead of relying on the salt shaker for flavor, try adding some spices (like cumin, paprika, coriander) or fresh/dried herbs (like parsley, rosemary, basil and thyme).
  • Make your own! At home, you have control over what goes into your food. Try making homemade granola bars or energy balls, frozen yogurt, oven-baked French-fries and more!
Instead of … Try…
Sour cream Plain yogurt or plain greek yogurt
Ground beef Textured vegetable protein (TVP), ground turkey, chopped up mushroom, or lentils (or combine a few of these options)
White rice Brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, and/or white rice with riced cauliflower mixed in
White bread, bread crumbs Whole wheat bread, whole wheat bread crumbs
Sugar in baking Applesauce in baking
Fried chicken Breading in whole wheat crumbs and baking in the oven
Butter Oil such as olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil
Jarred pasta sauce Canned tomato sauce mixed with pureed vegetables and beans
Boxed macaroni and cheese Whole wheat or chickpea-based boxed macaroni and cheese mixed with broccoli
Ramen or instant cup noodles Ramen noodles with half seasoning packet; add fresh spinach, mushrooms, and hardboiled egg
Heavy cream 2% milk
Potato chips or crackers made from white flour Chips or crackers made from whole wheat, lentils, beans, chickpeas, or nuts
Cream-based dip Hummus, avocado, or yogurt-based dip
Salad dressing Salsa, cottage cheese, yogurt-based dressing, olive oil and vinegar
White potato, French fries Sweet potato, baked sweet potato sticks or wedges, or eggplant sticks baked and served with marinara sauce
Pasta/noodles made from refined (“white”) flour Whole wheat pasta, bean/lentil-based pasta, and/or with zucchini or sweet potato “zoodles” or spaghetti squash added in
Flavored yogurt Plain yogurt with added fresh or frozen fruit
Chips for dipping Carrots sliced into chip shape, peppers for scooping
Flavored instant oatmeal packets Steel-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. Remember, all foods fit, and it’s okay to have the foods that you enjoy. These swaps are just ideas to inspire you when thinking about increasing the nutrient-density of your meals and snacks. Finding small ways to make recipes that you love higher in nutrients will help make changes feel more sustainable.