Cooking is tough. You have to remember numbers, make lists, buy stuff, use fire, and hold knives. Then it all has to taste good, AND be cooked enough to not kill you. With all of these challenges, it can be difficult to add the ever-important task of making sure the thing you cooked is healthy. Here are a few easy swaps you can make in your basic (or very advanced, you fancypants) cooking to make your meal lighter, leaner, and more nutrient dense.
- 0% GREEK YOGURT FOR SOUR CREAM: This one’s easy. They taste exactly the same, react the same way to heat, and are the same consistency. But 0% Greek yogurt has way more protein and less fat. You can also sub it out for mayo in most dips and “salads,” like spinach dip or chicken salad.
- SPAGHETTI SQUASH OR ZUCCHINI FOR PASTA: Sometimes even quinoa can’t fill the pasta void in your heart. Roasting spaghetti squash naturally yields spaghetti-like strands, with a texture just slightly more crisp than al dente pasta. Add some veggies and chicken with olive oil and salt and you’ve got yourself a nice pasta primavera. Or, use a spiraler to turn zucchini into pasta strands, blanch it (boil it real quick and then shock it with cold water so it stops cooking) and you have a more tender veggie pasta. You can even make a healthy mac and cheese with these (recipe later, y’all). You’ll never miss regular ole pasta.
- BANANAS FOR SUGAR: Depending on what you’re making, an overripe banana can provide plenty of sweetness without adding processed refined sugars. They work especially well for desserts. So far I’ve made cupcakes, cookies, crisps, and parfaits without adding any sugar. But it’s also great to add to breakfast yogurt or oatmeal, instead of sugar or jam. Less processed = way mo betta.
- “PARMESAN” FOR PARMESAN: This one is a little more involved. There is a vegan recipe for parmesan cheese that tastes EXACTLY LIKE PARMESAN CHEESE. Add the following things to a food processor: two cups of almonds, one cup of nutritional yeast (don’t be scared, it’s a yeast that’s typically fortified with vitamins, namely B12. It’s real good for you), some garlic powder (like a tablespoon), and salt (the same). Blend it all. Then taste it. You can use it for your fake pasta, coat a chicken breast with it for a badass cheesy but not-cheesy dinner, or sprinkle it on veggies. I always have this around, it’s a great way to add flavor without adding saturated fat.
- LEAFY GREENS FOR EVERYTHING: Not exactly a swap, but as a rule, I add some sort of leafy green (kale, collard greens, spinach, swiss chard, etc) to pretty much everything. In soup, it’s a no brainer, because it doesn’t change the flavor at all, but sneaks in a ton more nutrients (generally Vitamins A, C, K, fiber, manganese, and loads more). If you’re making a big fake pasta dish, toss in some spinach. Making black bean soup? Yeah, you know, put some kale in there. Stuffed sweet potatoes? Kale or swiss chard. Such an easy way to health it up. If you’re eating a meal you made and there is no green anywhere, then you are Lame. As. Hell.
- AVOCADO FOR CREAM: Adding a little avocado to a salad, dip, or anything really can give it a creamy texture without needing the cream. Add some cocoa powder, extra virgin coconut oil, and honey to it and you’ve even got a substitute for chocolate pudding. Maybe you can even use that pudding as frosting for that cupcake you made out of a banana. I don’t know.
- BEANS FOR BROWNIE BATTER: You can use chickpeas as a base for blondies, black beans as a base for brownies, and white beans as a base for pumpkin spice bars. Google around and you’ll find dozens of different ways to make a gooey awesome version of your brownie of choice that’s packed with protein and all natural whole foods ingredients. This is supergood as an afternoon snack — way better than getting some lame ass pastry from Starbucks.
- BLENDED SOUP FOR A THICKENING AGENT: I noted this in the black bean soup recipe, but anytime you’re making a soup, you can blend a portion of it to make it the base thicker and heartier. I just made a chicken fiesta soup (healthy version of chicken tortilla soup) and blended carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes to make an almost-sweet base that’s more substantial than broth.
- SPRAY OILS FOR BOTTLED OILS: It’s way easier to manage your oil intake when you apply it in a light mist as opposed to a steady downpour. It doesn’t have to just be a method for greasing pans; if you’re about to roast veggies, give them a quick spray instead of drizzling olive oil. You’ll end up using way less, and getting pretty much the same results. And don’t just go for the Pam — there are tons of added chemicals that don’t need to end up in your food. If you can (you can), get a mister and just add your oil of choice. No extra ingredients, just the one thing you actually thought you were using anyway.
I’m gonna stop at nine because I’m wildly unconventional (no top 10 clickbait here, folks). This will probably turn into an ongoing series because I am always obsessed with trying to make healthy things that taste like unhealthy things. Try a few of these out, and let me know if you have any other basic swaps you live by when you cook for fitnessing.