Eating healthier doesn't have to mean sacrificing your favorite dishes and desserts. Simple food substitutions and additions can improve the health and nutritional value of your meals while maintaining delicious flavor, said registered dietitian Stacey Antine, founder of HealthBarn USA, an organization that teaches families about nutrition literacy.
Greek Yogurt Instead of Sour Cream
The sour cream in any recipe that calls for it can be replaced with Greek yogurt, Antine said. "Greek yogurt has less fat and gives you so much protein and live cultures that you aren't getting from sour cream," she said. The thick texture makes it perfect for baked potatoes, dips and salad dressings. Mix in some scallions and onion powder to make a veggie dip or mash it with avocado as a mayonnaise substitute. Antine loves using Greek yogurt in her sweet pumpkin pie dip with fresh fruit.
Tofu in Meatballs
Create a healthy meatball by cutting the ground meat in your favorite recipe in half and mashing in firm tofu instead. "It's an excellent way to cut the saturated fat and no one will even know the difference because tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it's with," Antine said. You could even try it in meatloaf, but you may need cheese cloth to get out excess water after mixing the tofu and meat since tofu retains more liquid than meat, Antine said.
Applesauce Instead of Butter or Oil
Replacing butter with applesauce in baked goods is an old trick, but there's a reason for the tradition: It works so well. Antine loves to make a banana chocolate-chip mini muffin with no oil or butter. Her recipe calls for whole wheat flour, mashed bananas, applesauce and egg whites. "No one believes these don't have oil or butter," Antine said.
Make Your Own Stock
Store-bought chicken or beef broth is often loaded with sodium -- even those labeled low-sodium. The best kind of low-salt stock is one you make yourself by stewing meat or vegetables. Find your favorite stock recipe and make a big batch. Freeze it to use later in soups, sauces and to flavor rice or quinoa. "The best thing about homemade stock is that you know what's in it. Some store-bought stock even have transfats and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is totally unnecessary," Antine said.
Antine adds ground flax seeds to dishes like granola, soup, pancakes and baked goods. Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. To get the best nutritional boost from flax seeds, buy them ground but remember to use them within a few months. "As soon as you grind flax, it starts to break down and oxidize," Antine said.
Instant Milk Instead of Protein Powder
You don't need to buy expensive protein powders, which could contain other additives, to make shakes and smoothies. Antine suggested using powdered milk instead. "Instant milk is cheap. All you need to do is add water and you have a great source of protein for smoothies," Antine said. She also suggested adding the instant milk to baked goods to increase protein.
Silken Tofu Instead of Ice Cream
The texture of silken, or soft, tofu makes it blend easily in your favorite dessert. Mix it with milk and melted chocolate to make a mousse or pudding, or create a chocolate dip that is perfect with fruit. "You get the creaminess of chocolate without a lot of saturated fat," Antine said.
Make Chicken Fishy
You can make a healthier chicken or beef cutlet by using fish instead, Antine said. Tilapia fish is an affordable option; it's a good source of protein and has lower saturated fat than other meats. "Tilapia is easy to get and it's not overly farmed," Antine said. She also suggested serving homemade fish sticks to kids in place of processed chicken nuggets.