With just a few simple ingredient swaps, you can boost the nutritional content of your favorite snacks and meals.
Convenience foods often make eating a lot more, well ... convenient. With our fast-paced schedules, we're often more apt to grab something that's ready to eat. We get used to using pre-made items in place of fresh cooking—largely out of habit—and we don't think about how simple some of these items are to make ourselves.
Why should we go back to our primal days of more fresh cooking?
Well, most pre-made convenience items at the store have hidden ingredients that can really take a toll on your health. Even the so-called health foods can get us into trouble. These include ingredients such as added sugars, salt, preservatives, processed oils, fillers or artificial ingredients. These offer no nutritional benefit and can negatively affect your health.
The goods news? You can make some simple swaps at home to create family favorites. And many of these can be whipped up in less than five minutes. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Often thought of as a healthy breakfast option, most store-bought granolas have a lot of added sugars and processed oils.
Homemade granolas can come together in a snap with many standard pantry staple foods. Swap for homemade versions with rolled oats, fresh nuts, seeds, dried fruits and spices such as cinnamon. Control the sweeteners by adding small amounts of natural options, such as honey or applesauce.
This is another favorite food marketed as healthy, but it's often loaded with added sugars if you get the store-bought flavored varieties.
Control the ingredients and make your own version by buying plain yogurt and then adding in vanilla extract, fresh fruits and homemade granola.
Instead of sugar-laden sodas, punches or artificially flavored and sweetened waters, you can easily swap for a homemade version. Use water or carbonated water with fresh fruits or herbs. Add a splash of fresh juice to carbonated water for a refreshing drink.
Sauces are another tricky place where added sugars and salt can work their way into your diet. Instead of grabbing ready-made marinara sauces, make a simplified version with sautéed fresh garlic and onions and a can of plain, no-salt added tomato sauce. Add Italian seasonings for added flavor. Your wallet will thank you, too.
Everyone likes a good creamy sauce. But with it comes a hefty amount of unhealthy fats. Try a fun alternative with cashew alfredo sauce. Simply blend soaked cashews with nutritional yeast, garlic and plant-based milk. It's a guilt-free option for pasta lovers.
Salads are the No. 1 go-to for people trying to eat healthier and add more veggies. Often, however, we undo the great benefits of veggies by drowning them in processed dressings. Many dressings use processed oils such as soybean oil, and they often have added sugars, salt and preservatives.
Take two minutes to shake up your own dressing in a mason jar—use heart-healthy olive oil, vinegar, mustard, spice blends and a squirt of honey. It's ready in a minute and you'll never go back to the dressing aisle.
This is another family favorite that comes together in minutes. Most packets of taco seasoning have fillers, excess salt and, sometimes, added sugars.
Most people will have everything they need to make taco seasoning at home. Make a single batch or a large one ready for the next taco night.
Every home movie night needs a crunch. Skip the bags of microwave popcorn, as they have damaging trans fats, artificial flavorings and salt.
Make a fresh batch at home in minutes: Simply take plain popcorn kernels in a small lunch bag with the end folded shut, and then wait for the magic in the microwave. Top it with olive oil and your favorite spice blends.
These days, most people are aware of the dangers of this salty snack. As a fried food heavy in oil, salt and artificial ingredients, chips can be a dangerous addiction.
Homemade versions are not only tasty but easy. Take some corn tortillas and cut into quarters and lay on a baking sheet. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Bake until crisp and enjoy.
Did you know you can make pancakes that aren't from a box? Yes, it can be done—you can keep that Saturday pancake tradition with less guilt.
Homemade pancakes allow you to use whole grain flours while controlling the added sugars and oils.
And these are just a few examples of family favorites where a few ingredient swaps can improve nutritional value. Try to identify your staple convenience items and then look for ways to start making more meals at home—with healthier ingredients.
Every step counts when you're building a healthier lifestyle.
Written by Kristi Veltkamp for Spectrum Health's Health Beat Blog.
This article was republished with permission and originally appeared at Spectrum Health's Health Beat Blog.