Did it ever occur to you that anyone, and yes, I mean anyone, can write “healthy” on a graphic of a droolworthy food photo, and put that photo on Pinterest or Instagram to tempt you? Most of these creators, surely, have the public’s best interest at heart, but when I see a “healthy mac and cheese” with loads of butter, cheese, and pasta … that just happens to have a sprinkling of green peas, or a “healthy cookie” with tons of flour, oil, and sugar … that just happens to be coconut sugar … well, I shudder a little bit.
Let me remind you … I’m all about balance. So if you want that mac and cheese every once in a while, and you enjoy it intentionally, and you work it into your week in a way that still helps you reach your goals … I’m all about it. But if you are eating it because you think it will make you lose weight or give you healthy superpowers, well, I’m sorry, but it won’t.
Still, my clients continue to turn to Pinterest for recipes (even when I offer to send them dozens of options to take the work out of it!). There’s just something about the hunt that is gratifying and fun, and I get it. We all want to find the recipes that look good to us.
So today, I want to help you do that. Find whatever recipes you want, then follow these 10 tips to make any recipe healthier. Pinterest “healthy” labels aside, you can feel confident that what you put into your body truly is fueling you well!
- Add veggies. Of course this will be my #1 tip, because it’s so very powerful! It’s easy to add veggies to any Add cauliflower rice to a rice-based dish, cut the pasta in half and add in zucchini noodles, add zucchini and shredded carrots to chili, load up on any veggies in a soup. You name it, adding veggies to it will make it healthier and more filling!
- Cut the oil and sub chicken broth. Healthy fats are just that – healthy. But they’re healthy in moderation, and if you’re looking to manage weight or cut back on the density of your meals, adding excessive oil really packs a punch. I’ve seen some paleo recipes online that have up to 6 tablespoons of oil per serving – that clocks in at 720 calories for the oil alone! For most meals, I use a maximum of 1 tablespoon of oil per serving (see this post to determine which oil to use), or if there are other sources of fat in the dish (like olives, egg yolks, nuts, seeds, coconut, or fattier cuts of meat), I’ll cut it to ½ tablespoon per serving. If I need more liquid as I’m sautéing, I’ll add chicken broth, which imparts great flavor and works just as well.
- Swap almond flour or other non-grain flour for regular flour. I could go on and on about baking substitutions alone, but the white flour is one of the biggest culprits. In brownies, believe it or not, black bean puree is a great substitute (1 can of black beans, drained, rinsed, and pureed for 1 cup of flour!), but in most recipes, other non-grain flours will be easier options. This conversion chart will come in handy as you’re switching to less inflammatory flours!
- Base portion sizes on quantity of meat used. A standard serving of meat is 4 ounces, yet many recipes call for double that. I like to base my serving size around 4 ounces of meat, and if the dish looks small, I bulk it up with plenty of other veggies. For more on whether meat is a healthy part of any recipe at all, see this response to the recent documentary, Game Changers.
- Swap plain, fat-free Greek yogurt for full-fat sour cream. In most recipes, you won’t even notice the taste change. Even topping things like fajita bowls or chili with plain Greek yogurt yields the creamy taste we’re often going for. And this swap saves 330 calories and 48g of fat per cup! Need a dairy-free alternative? 1 cup of full fat coconut milk plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice works well, and is less inflammatory overall, but won’t save you the calories or fat that Greek yogurt will. Or, this cashew based Forager sour cream is a great option if you can find it, saving you about half the calories and fat from traditional sour cream.
- Reduce cheese quantities. I know, I know … let the complaining begin. But despite being the darling of keto recipes everywhere, cheese in excess just is not And once we start with cheese, it’s hard to stop! (This article explains how our brain’s reward center is activated when we eat cheese, which explains why it’s so addictive). So, I suggest reducing the cheese quantity in most recipes, especially when it’s calling for more than ¼ cup per serving. In most recipes, you’ll be fine just cutting it down (insert ‘cut the cheese’ joke here); if you find you need more of a binder, try using egg (this recipe for spaghetti squash pie does this ingeniously!) or Greek yogurt.
- Use the base of the sauce, not the actual sauce. Sauces are one of the biggest culprits for hidden added sugar. Instead of marinara sauce, I usually use plain canned tomato sauce or diced tomatoes; instead of teriyaki sauce, I use coconut aminos; instead of alfredo sauce, I use Greek yogurt and nutritional yeast. See if you can strip down the sauce called for into as basic an ingredient as possible – it will almost always be healthier!
- Choose leaner cuts of meat. You’re already portion controlling your meat per tip #4, but now it’s time to choose a leaner cut of meat all together. Do you ever wonder why I make my breakfast hash with 99% lean ground turkey instead of turkey sausage? Lean ground turkey is almost pure protein, but turkey sausage adds 20g fat and doubles the calories. I prefer to use the leaner cut of meat and add in seasonings to amplify flavor.
- Increase spices and herbs. Speaking of seasonings, I love using spices and herbs! Fresh or dried, they add tons of nutrients and antioxidants, not to mention the burst of flavor! I often buy new spice combinations when I travel or explore a new grocery store, and I load up on basics on Amazon (for me, this means organic cumin, organic oregano, organic Ceylon cinnamon, and pink Himalayan sea salt, at minimum!)
- Don’t worry about perfection. The beauty of cooking is that you get better and more natural as you go. If some of this stuff seems foreign at first, that’s OK! What’s the worst that happens if a dish isn’t your favorite meal ever? Nothing – you eat it, you learn how to make it better next time, and you move on. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Have fun!
Now it’s your turn … What’s your favorite healthy recipe change? Which one of the above are you most excited to try?