If a quick scroll online is any indication, we’ve all been breaking out our inner Jamie Olivers and Martha Stewarts while practicing social distancing – with stores experiencing outages of yeast, flour and sugar, and everyone posting their very best sourdough bread recipes and instagramming their elaborate meals, it’s obvious that we’re all spending tons more time in the kitchen. That’s a great thing! Spending time with family, lovingly preparing delicious foods, is not only a wonderful bonding activity but a real source of comfort and relaxation. Cooking and baking is so fun, and so rewarding – after all, the fruits of your labor are delicious treats for the entire household!
If there’s one downside to this surge in culinary pursuits, it’s that many of us aren’t making the healthiest of options. When we’re dealing with stressful situations, and we’re hunkered down at home with loved ones, we crave those nostalgia foods – comforting dishes and snacks that remind us of our childhoods, of our mothers and grandmothers, of happy times; often those foods aren’t exactly healthy. Candy, sweet treats, salty snacks, fried foods and carb-heavy dishes certainly do offer comfort (not to mention, they’re delicious) but after a while, you may start to feel sluggish, or noticed you’ve gained a little more weight than you’d like.
So how to strike a balance between preparing delicious, healthy meals that are fun to make and tasty, while being a little more healthful? It’s easier than you think! Check out a few ideas below of healthy foods to stock up on and meal subs that will taste incredible.
Dinners and Main Dishes
One way to still get that comfort level from a main dish without relying on too much fat and unhealthy ingredients are to make hearty, rustic dishes like stews. There are so many delicious recipes out there from a variety of cultures, such as African peanut stews, delicious curries, Tuscan stews, Irish stews, and more. When you adapt these with healthy ingredients such as lean meats, nutrient rich vegetables and lighter stocks, they can be as healthy as they are flavorful. Skip the bread or rice on the side and serve with cauliflower mash or spaghetti squash to up the health factor and eliminate carbs and sugar.
Roast dinners are also great meal options that can be super healthy. Forego the usual fatty beef and roast chickens, turkey and other lean meats, using healthy oils and fresh citrus juice and other liquids as a basting liquid instead of butter. Get creative with fresh herbs and other seasonings to create flavorful roasts and don’t skimp on the veggies! Instead of gravy, serve with a splash of fresh citrus juice or a little thickened vegetable stock.
There are some amazingly creative ideas out there if you look. For instance, walnut chorizo in your tacos instead of fatty meats – they are shockingly delicious. Buffalo wings made with cauliflower instead of deep fried chicken? Vegan cheese sauce made from vegetables and roasted cashews? Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in your chili? Who would have thought these substitutions would taste so amazing?
Casseroles laden with cheese, bread crumbs and butter are delicious, but can really pack on the unhealthy fats. Try a stew or a roast dinner for the same feeling of comfort and heartiness but without all the fat, salt and additives.
Too often we fall into the habit of having carbs as a side dish with every meal. There’s nothing wrong with a little pasta, or rice or potatoes with your meal from time to time, but get out of the habit of thinking you need a grain with every single meal. And when you do eat grains, make sure your portions are reasonably sized.
Buying whole grain pastas where you can is a great idea, as is subbing brown rice for white rice. Not only does it taste better, but it’s way more nutritious.
Playing around with vegetables as side dishes is fun and creative. For instance, using spiralizers to create “noodles” out of zucchini or butternut squash can be fun. Salad is a dirty word to many people, and it shouldn’t be – with thousands of different options out there, from caprese salads to bean salads, to pasta salads and more – it can accompany any main and make it into a bright, delicious (and healthy meal).
Instead of thinking of which carb to serve aside your meat dish, think about what vegetables might best compliment your dish and how you can prepare them with creative seasonings and spices to best accent your creation.
A lot of the snacks we reach for that we think are healthy are actually sugar bombs moonlighting as “health foods”. Granola bars and yogurts are one of the worst culprits. While touted as healthy options, they’re often full of sugar and additives like corn syrup and flavorings. Another one is vegetable chips – while a healthier option than greasy potato crisps, veggie chips are still often fried in oil and have a lot of salt.
One option is to make your own chips at home using an air fryer or even baking them in an oven. This way, you can control the type and amount of oil and how much salt and seasonings you use. They also taste so much fresher. You can make your own granola bars, too, using all natural honey and fruits (and even chocolate).
Generally speaking, snacks made at home, even the ones that have a little “treat” like chocolate or brown sugar – are so much healthier than prepackaged snacks that are full of additives, unnatural flavorings, salt and sugar. Don’t be fooled as items that are artfully packaged or placed in the “healthy” section of the store. These are still only to be eaten in moderation.
Snacking on fresh fruits with peanut butter, vegetables with hummus, some homemade trail mix or even cheese and crackers prepared at home is always going to be healthier than anything that comes out of a wrapper. Not to mention, these items are often so expensive when compared with making your own snacks at home.
If dessert is your favorite meal, you’re not alone. Nobody wants to skip dessert! And you don’t have to. There are plenty of ways to adapt and create sweet treats that are a little healthier and don’t overload your diet with unhealthy ingredients.
A simple affogato after dinner with home-brewed coffee and some non-dairy gelato is a delicious nightcap that is surprisingly low-cal and low-sugar. You can make your own vegan ice cream with just some frozen bananas and peanut butter! Cobblers with fresh fruit and limited amounts of sugar can provide the entire family with a rich dessert that doesn’t skimp on taste (use coconut oil instead of butter and make your own pie filling to avoid additives like corn syrup).
Even the most decadent of desserts, like cheesecake, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and rich chocolate cake can be made healthier by simply subbing in organic, antioxidant rich dark chocolate, using low-fat cream cheese, or gluten free flours. Find the best ways to adapt the recipes you love by subbing in ingredients that you feel good about, that taste good and fit into your lifestyle.
Water, water, water. You should primarily be drinking water, only having other drinks such as coffee, tea, or alcohol sparingly. Use honey in place of sugar. Avoiding sugar-and-additive filled creamers is key: better to use nut milks, or low-fat milk. If you drink soda, it’s actually a misconception that diet soda is better for you – the chemicals in diet drinks are very bad for your health and some studies show they can actually hinder weight loss. Better to have a small amount of real-sugar soda in moderation than an entire bottle of diet soda.
When it comes to alcohol, there’s nothing wrong with the odd glass of red wine (it has antioxidants, too!), or even the odd cocktail with clear liquor, but avoid sugary boozy drinks like wine coolers and ciders that will fill your body with needless calories and cause you to wake up with a headache. And of course, if you find yourself using alcohol as a crutch or feel that you’re drinking too much, cutting back or stopping entirely might be a good idea.
These are all easy to adapt ways to prepare meals, sides, snacks, desserts and even drinks without relying on a diet so heavy on sugar, salt, and processed ingredients/additives. You don’t have to sacrifice taste or flavor (or even fat) to make healthier meals that are delicious and fun to make. Since you have a little extra time in the kitchen, why not work to find recipes that make your family happy and taste amazing while utilizing nutritious and healthy ingredients? There are so many cookbooks and food blogs out there that offer some truly amazing “hacks” and food ideas that will wow your tastebuds and help you live a healthier lifestyle.