If you’re anything like me, keeping up with the latest health advice can feel a bit tedious at times. Most of us want to be mindful of the food we put into our bodies, and we want to maintain our health, but few of us are willing to jump through flaming hoops in order to do it. And, why should we have to? The best changes are the small ones, the ones that are easy to make, and the ones that won’t leave us frazzled and perplexed come dinner time.
Here are 5 easy ways to up the health factor in your favorite foods without going completely bonkers:
1. Make it a burger night…with a twist.
Everyone craves a good burger now and then, so have one. Make a juicy burger with all the fixings, but try cutting out a quarter of the ground beef and instead mixing in some finely diced Portabello Mushrooms before you start shaping your patties. Portabellos mimic the consistency of meat and pick up all of the flavors inside your burger while packing a nutritional punch most dinner guests won’t even notice.
If you’re feeling really bold, you can even skip the beef altogether and just grill up some hearty Portobello caps to use in place of hamburger patties.
2. Sweeten desserts with maple syrup or honey.
Sugar might be the devil. Or, it might not. Either way, we could all stand to eat less of it, and to make sure that what little we do eat comes from wholesome sources. Maple Syrup is a great natural sweetener, as is honey, and if you’re able to source them locally, then you have the added bonus of supporting businesses in your area.
Next time you’re craving something sweet, try baking a simple fruit cobbler using apples, peaches, or berries, and sweeten it with a drop of pure maple syrup. You won’t miss the granulated white stuff one bit, I promise.
3. Bake those fries. And while you’re at it, why not opt for sweet potatoes instead?
Americans consume 117 million pounds of potatoes each year, and the vast majority of those are fried and served as either fries or chips. Both fries and chips can easily be made at home in your oven using only sliced potatoes, a little bit of olive oil, and some salt. By choosing to bake your own chips or fries instead of frying them, you can lighten your caloric load significantly.
Looking for an even bigger improvement? Opt for a sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are the ultimate in nutritional switch-ups. In addition to being used for baked chips and fries, they can also be baked and smothered in veggie chili for a hearty and comforting meal or even lathered in a little bit of honey and cinnamon to become a rich dessert. Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than traditional white potatoes and are higher in vitamins and antioxidants, so eat up!
4. Shred your own cheese.
Have you ever noticed how the shredded cheese they sell at the grocery store doesn’t stick together in the bag? That’s because it contains sawdust! Listed as cellulose on the ingredients list, sawdust keeps the cheese from sticking together and repels excess moisture. The FDA says cellulose is perfectly safe for consumption, but does it not seem disturbingly unnatural to eat sawdust in your dairy products?
The average package of pre-shredded cheese contains many, many more ingredients than a simple block of cheese, and who needs all of that? Cut the strange additives where you can, and shred your own cheese. Yes, it requires slightly more effort on your part, but it’s worth it. Plus, you’ll get a much creamier, yummier consistency without having to use as much cheese, meaning you save on calories and on your grocery bill.
5. Make your own soup.
Most canned soups are high in sodium, contain preservatives, and who knows how long they’ve been sitting on that grocery store shelf? You can make a huge pot of delicious soup at home with fresh ingredients for very little money and without using too much of your valuable time.
Start with some onions, some garlic, and a simple stock. Add your favorite vegetables and seasonings, perhaps some meat or beans if you feel so inclined, and let it all simmer for 20-30 minutes.
You can make your soup on a free evening or on the weekend, and enjoy it as a quickly, healthy lunch throughout the rest of the week. Most homemade soups will keep for about 7 days if stored properly (airtight container in the refrigerator), and they freeze beautifully.