Ah… unhealthy food. Most of us love it, even if we’re not willing to admit it. From French fries to chocolate brownies, most folks have both a sweet tooth and a general junk tooth. But while you shouldn’t deny yourself treats all the time, trying to eat healthy most of the time is a worthwhile pursuit.
Food is supposed to nourish us and helps us stay healthy and strong. Unfortunately, unhealthy and comfort foods have a way of calling our name, especially in the winter time. Maybe it’s an evolutionary need to store up fat for the winter; maybe it’s just that we’ve gotten used to eating junk when the weather outside isn’t great. Whatever it might be; if we completely give in to all the comfort food cravings, our health will probably go downhill. But never fear: there are simple ways to make unhealthy foods healthy again, and still enjoy that comfort taste. And don’t forget those “health foods” that aren’t really all that healthy – like energy bars. But we can change those too, and make this winter the one in which we still eat healthy, even while satisfying those comfort cravings.
16 Sweeten Your Energy Bars With Dates Instead Of Sugar
It’s pretty common to find energy bars in the health food section of most stores. But if you read those labels, you’ll find out that many of those bars are laden with sugar and other unnecessary additives. The solution many folks have embraced is to make their own bars, and there are plenty of recipes on the Internet. Unfortunately, most of these recipes also call for enough sugar to put these bars in the treat category rather than the health food one. An easy way to make these too-sweet snacks healthy again is to use dates instead of sugar to sweeten them. Whereas dates have a lot of sugar as well, they also come with the added benefit of iron and fiber, whereas sugar gives you calories and no nutrients. You’ll probably still need to use some liquid sugar to hold the bars together, but adding dates will ensure that you can significantly cut down on how much you use.
15 Bake Your Fries
Whereas we need some fat in our diets, fried and deep fried foods come with too much fat to still make the healthy list. A solution to this is to choose baking over frying. French fries can actually taste super delicious baked, if you cut them thin enough to ensure they remain crispy. Whether you buy pre-cut potatoes from the freezer section or cut up your own, you can make French fries healthier by cutting down on how much oil you use to prepare them. Baking them is a sure way to do that. To make them even healthier, choose colorful potatoes instead of the white variety. Colorful potatoes such as yellow-fleshed or even red-flesh potatoes come with more cancer-protecting properties (carotenoids and flavonoids) than the white variety. If you want to make them even healthier, keep the skin on to retain all the fiber a potato can provide.
14 Use Avocados Instead Of Mayonnaise In Your Tuna Sandwich
Tuna sandwiches are a go-to lunch for a lot of people. They’re easily portable, delicious, and easy to make. Unfortunately, all that mayonnaise in your sandwich is giving you a lot of fat and calories for not a lot of nutrients. Instead of mayonnaise, mix up your tuna with mashed avocado. Whereas avocados also provide a lot of fat, they are filled with nutrients not found in mayonnaise, such as a whopping 25% of your daily intake of Vitamin C. Avocado-tuna sandwiches taste pretty great, too. Cut up some green onions for some crunch, use homemade bread, and you’ve got a unique, healthy, and delicious take on a previously not-so-healthy sandwich.
13 Make Your Own Bread – It’s Easier Than You Think
Store-bought bread usually comes with so many unneeded additives it’s hard to keep it in the healthy foods category – even if it’s whole wheat. But making homemade bread is easier than you think, and you get the advantage of knowing exactly what goes into it. It’s cheaper than store-bought, too! Here’s a recipe for making your own no-knead bread. All it takes from you is about 2 minutes of work:
3 cups flour (use whole wheat to get even healthier bread!)
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon yeast (I’ve used bread machine or dry yeast and both work)
1.5 cups of water.
Mix everything in a bowl, cover with a cloth, and forget about it for 4-5 hours.
Pre-heat your oven to 450 F. Put an oven-safe pot with lid (a dutch oven works well) into the oven, empty, for 20 minutes. Take the pot out, put your bread mix in it (try to handle as little as possible), and bake for 30 minutes. Delicious, homemade bread with minimal effort – and a healthier diet to boot.
12 Use Your "Garbage" To Make Your Own Vegetable Broth
Vegetable broth might sound healthy, but the store-bought variety usually comes with far too much salt, and if you’ve tried the low-salt varieties, you know that the flavor suffers significantly. But you can make broth much healthier by making it yourself – and all it takes is keeping your garbage.
To make veggie broth, save all skins and tops of vegetables that you cut up for other meals. Keep your wilted greens as well. Keep them in a large freezer bag in your freezer, and continue adding to the bag as you peel other veggies. When you’ve got about a gallon-bag full of vegetable “garbage,” drop the contents into a large stock pot, add water, and any spices that you enjoy. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the liquid out and discard the veggies. You can use the broth immediately or freeze it for later use. Delicious, healthy vegetable broth that’s easy to make, healthy, and best of all – it’s free.
11 Hide Beans In Your Brownies
Brownies are one of those comfort foods that us chocolate lovers just can’t swear off. So, if we’re going to have our brownies and eat them too, but we still want to ensure we’re eating a little more healthily, black beans are our friends. Filled with fiber, iron, and calcium, black beans easily mix with brownies because of their color and texture once they’re processed or blended. Adding black beans to your brownies turns a really unhealthy treat into a snack filled with good nutrition. You can find plenty of black bean brownie recipes on the Internet. Here’s one of my favorites.
10 Make Your Own Smoothies
Even in winter, I love my smoothies. Unfortunately, most store-bought smoothies are made with juice from concentrate rather than fresh juice, often don’t include any real fruit, and are laden with unnecessary additives, such as far too much sugar.
Making your own smoothies at home solves this problem. A fancy blender isn’t required, but makes all the difference if you want to have store-bought texture at home. A Vitamix or BlendTec blender are your friends if you are planning on making smoothies a daily addition to your healthy diet. Using these high-end blenders means you can blend whole fruits, peel and all, and even add some vegetables to ensure your smoothies are as healthy as can be. Sweeten your smoothies with super-ripe bananas or dates to get rid of sugar that brings too many calories and no nutrients.
9 Make Your Own Ice Cream
Having a high-end blender also means you can make your own, delicious (and healthy!) soft-serve ice cream at home, often using 3 ingredients or less. Turning unhealthy ice cream into a healthy food is as easy as throwing your favorite frozen fruit combinations with a bit of water into a high end blender (or even a food processor). If you want your ice cream a bit sweeter, add super-ripe bananas or dates to the mix. Making ice cream this way gives you all the nutrients that fruits can bring, with none of the unnecessary calories that plain sugar provides.
8 Hide Cauliflower Or Butternut Squash In Your Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes aren’t the bad guys they’ve been made up to be. The problem is in how we prepare them. We usually add all kinds of fatty foods when preparing baked, mashed, or fried potatoes. But raw potatoes, or potatoes cooked without the addition of high fat dairy, are actually a very healthy food – providing 121% of your daily Vitamin C intake, 16% of your iron intake, and 4% calcium.
To make your mashed potatoes even healthier, prepare them by severely cutting down on how much butter you use. Mashing blended cauliflower or butternut squash into your mashed potatoes can help you do that. You can also use skim milk or almond milk in minimal quantities to ensure the potatoes are still creamy, but not laden with fat.
7 Eat Your Cake Raw
Cake can be the ultimate comfort food… and unfortunately, the ultimate unhealthy one as well. Most cake is laden with far too much fat and sugar, and not enough vitamins or minerals to be considered healthy. If you love cake, but want to eat healthily, making raw desserts should become part of your skill set. Raw desserts are delicious and quite often very nutritious. Here’s a recipe for a delicious raw chocolate fudge cake that will leave you wondering if it could be really healthy for you.
6 Take The Meat Out Of Your Meatballs
Ground beef that’s reasonably priced tends to be laden with far too much saturated fat to be healthy. Whereas you do need fat in your diet, most North Americans eat much more saturated fat than they should. Too much saturated fat in the diet has been linked to all kinds of health problems, including heart disease. Switching to extra lean ground beef can help cut down on some of that saturated fat; however, the price tends to be much higher.
If you want an alternative, lentil “meatballs” make a great addition to your meatless Monday, and are super easy to make. Cook your lentils in a 2:1 water to lentil ratio on the stove top over medium heat until all the water has been absorbed. Throw your lentils into a food processor with some garlic and any other spices of your choice. Dump the lentils into a bowl and add some cut up onions. Make the lentils into balls with your hands, and you’ve got delicious and nutritious “meatballs” with zero saturated fat, 16 grams of fiber and 37% of your daily iron intake.
5 Make Your Own Juice Instead Of Drinking Fruit Drinks
Fruit drinks might sound healthy, but these wannabe fruit juices aren’t actually juice at all. They’re often sugar with a tiny little bit of fruit added in (sometimes). Many fruit drinks are actually just artificial flavors made to taste like fruit, and offer nothing more than a load of sugar with barely any nutrients at all.
If you still love your flavored drinks, switch to 100% real fruit juice, or better yet, make your own. A fresh squeezed orange tastes so much better than anything you can buy at a store. An old-fashioned, manual citrus juicer does the job just fine, and is usually pretty inexpensive.
If you have a good blender, you can make all kinds of juices by simply blending fresh or frozen fruits with water. If you need it a bit sweeter, add dates or super-ripe bananas.
4 Use Olive Oil, Vinegar, And Salt Instead Of Commercial Salad Dressing
Most commercial salad dressings are “calorie-dense,” meaning they provide a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrients. Pouring a bit of olive oil and salt onto your salad makes it taste delicious, and isn’t as fatty as most dressings you can find at a store. Get creative with your salad dressings – experiment with different oils and vinegars, and add some herbs and spices, too.
3 Use Lentils Instead Of Ground Beef For A Unique Take On Sloppy Joe's
Sloppy Joe’s are delicious sandwiches that do justice to their title – if there isn’t stuff oozing out of the bun, it’s not a Sloppy Joe. Ground beef isn’t always the healthiest choice when it comes to meats. Using lentils instead of ground beef in your sloppy joes makes them delicious and much more nutritious, too. Not only are lentils extra healthy – they have a ton of fiber and iron – they’re also super cheap, too. Buy the dry variety – it’s easy to cook, healthy, and easy on the wallet.
2 Add Vegetables To Your Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti and sauce is the ultimate comfort food. Unfortunately, spaghetti and marinara sauce alone don’t give you a lot of vitamins or minerals. Add vegetables to your sauce to make this comfort dish a little healthier. You can add all kinds of veggies to you sauce, so let your creativity run wild. Some veggies that work well in sauce include: frozen peas, corn, diced carrots, and even cubed squash. If you add lentil “meatballs,” you’ll get even more bang for your nutritional buck.
1 Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is actually a healthy food – except when it comes in a microwavable package. Laden with unhealthy, fatty oils, microwave popcorn turns a healthy food into an unhealthy one. Reverse the damage by popping your own corn at home – not only is it healthier, it’s much cheaper, too. You can do the stove method or the air popping method, but here’s a method that allows you the convenience of microwave popcorn without all the unnecessary oil and fat: grab a paper bag and pour ¼ cup dry corn kernels in it. Fold the top of the bag over twice. Stick it in the microwave for 2.5 minutes, and stay close by. Once there’s more than two seconds between pops, take the bag out. Add a bit of salt or any flavoring of your choice, and you’ve got a high-fiber snack with only about 30 calories per cup.