Changing any habits and behaviours can be a challenge, even if we know that we will feel a benefit. Sweeping changes, especially of the negative variety – such as cutting out all sugar, wheat and alcohol – can be too drastic, and unnecessary, for some people. A gentle way of introducing change to the way we eat is to make small substitutions. Use a food diary to help you pinpoint less healthy choices. To get you started, here are some suggestions of tasty, nutritious alternatives to common foods we all love but maybe shouldn’t eat so often.
Instead of an afternoon biscuit bar or muesli bar, try munching on a little ‘DIY’ pot of mixed seeds, dried fruit and a few dark chocolate chunks. Although roughly the same calories as your bar, the fibre-filled seed mix will keep you fuller for longer, steady your blood sugar (so you aren’t hungry again in an hour) and give you plenty of lovely nutrients to boot. Keep it to 2 heaped tablespoons a serving.
Instead of always using mashed potatoes, top your pies with other roughly mashed vegetables/beans, or combined with potato: swede and potato, potato and butter beans, sweet potato (lovely on fish pie – especially a salmon one). A great way of getting children to eat cauliflower is to cook it and mash with potato. Adding in some freshly shopped herbs adds even more flavour and nutrients.
Make your lunchtime roll healthier by using mashed avocado instead of mayo or butter. It may sound a bit odd but, even if you don’t think you like avocado, it makes a neutral moist spread. Mashed avocado on whole grain toast, topped with sliced tomato and fresh or dried herbs is a great way to start the day. Don’t laugh, it is!
Speaking of breakfast, instead of boring old cereal or toast, make a tasty breakfast parfait: spoon two heaped tablespoons of plain low-fat yogurt into a glass, top with chopped fresh fruit – or fruit and compote – and sprinkle over a little low-sugar granola or muesli. Push the boat out and garnish with a little finely chopped preserved ginger.
Swap your bottled salad dressing (which can have a scary amount of fat and calories) for a quick homemade one: thin 1 tbsp of hummus with enough lemon juice and water to make a single cream consistency; flavour with paprika, mixed herbs – whatever you fancy. If you like oil and vinegar dressings, invest in two oil mister bottles, filling one with extra virgin olive oil and the other with a flavourful vinegar such as balsamic (not the thick kind though) or raspberry. 10 squirts of oil is about 10 calories: 1 tablespoon of oil is 120 calories).
If sugar is in the first three ingredients of your cereal – ditch it or treat it as a dessert. There are plenty of cereals out now which are whole grain and low in added sugar. Add a handful of berries or chopped fruit for natural sweetness and nutrients. Save the sweet stuff for pudding.
If you crave crunchy snacks don’t forget about chopped vegetables and crisp fruit: apples, radishes, pepper strips, carrot sticks, firm plums. Whole grain crispbreads spread with a little low fat soft cheese or topped with thin slices of cheese also really hit the savoury spot.
Trade your crisps and tortilla chips for another munchy, crunchy snack – homemade baked pitta chips. These are so simple to make: Cut a wholemeal pitta bread around its seam to make two thin breads, tear into bite-sized pieces and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle the pieces with a finely ground spice of your choice (cumin is nice) and bake at 180°C for around 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool (they crisp up more,too) before plunging into a beany dip or chunky salsa.
If you can’t have a salad without croutons, instead of buying them preloaded with fat and goodness knows what else, make them yourself. Cube day old bread into small pieces, pop into a bowl and either spray with oil or drizzle over a little olive oil; toss well and season if you like (mixed herbs are good). Pop the bread cubes onto a tray a bake at 180 for 10-12 minutes. Cool and pop into an airtight container.
Try some instant miso soup (a tasty Japanese broth) as a savoury snack. Most large supermarkets will stock miso soup with either their exotic dry goods or in the health aisle. All you do is add hot water and maybe some very finely chopped veg for extra flavour and something to chew. Uber nutritious and surprisingly filling for a broth.
Swap your normal chocolate fix for DIY nutritious chocolate treats. Melt 100g bar of dark quality chocolate and mix in 50g dried fruit (berries are great) and 50g roughly chopped nuts (such as walnuts and pecans). Drop in tablespoons onto a baking paper lined tray and allow to ‘set’. One serving = 2 pieces. These make great after-dinner treats.
Occasionally scoff a frozen fruit ‘smoothie’ bar instead of your usual bowl of ice cream. Almost all frozen desserts will have lots of added sugar – even smoothie bars – so are a good treat rather than everyday food.
For a super healthy cold sweet try freezing grapes, pineapple or melon. Kids might be interested in the strangeness of having a frozen mixed fruit salad, especially if it’s topped with a drizzle of melted chocolate.
Choosing Packaged Snacks:
Everyday healthy choice:
Fat is up to 3 g per 100 g
Sugar is up to 5 g per 100g
Sodium (a part of salt) is up to 0.1 per 100g
Fat is 20 g or more per 100g
Sugar is over 10g per 100g
Sodium is 0.5 g or more per 100g