Creative Combinations: integrating new and healthy foods into meals you already make

by Corinne Easterling of Meals to Heal


Try substituting your cereal with something lower in sugar and topping it off with fruit and nuts for flavor.

Making nutritious meals can be challenging and especially when trying to devise a new, untested recipe that is satisfying and flavorful.  We have some easy ways to improve your old favorites by using simple ingredient swaps or additions.  The next time you’re at the supermarket, toss some of these healthy options in your cart to have on hand the next time you cook.  Our simple tips will help you to modify your favorite recipes and make the move toward better health easier and less stressful.

Boost Healthy Fats

Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, fiber, and healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.  They also make a great addition to pretty much anything!  Try sprinkling them into your oatmeal, over salads, blended into smoothies, mixed into baked goods – the possibilities are endless!  Chia seeds are also hydrophilic, meaning they draw in water and become gelatinous and can be used to naturally thicken soups, gravy, and sauces.

Get More Fruits and veggies

Most any fruit can be added to your breakfast cereal or favorite yogurt for an antioxidant boost.  If you have toast in the morning, try topping it with nut butter and fiber-rich bananas instead of butter or try low-fat ricotta cheese with fresh berries.  For lunch, avocado can be a healthier alternative to mayonnaise on your sandwiches and sure to add plenty of leafy greens as well.  For dinner, chopped vegetables can lighten up most any recipe, but if you didn’t grow up a veggie-lover, you can lessen their taste by pureeing and stirring into sauces and soups.  Chopped or pureed mushrooms can replace a portion or all of the meat in a recipe without lessening the hearty taste.

Opt for Whole grains

Choose whole-wheat products for its ample fiber and B vitamins and don’t forget to look at the label to be sure that whole wheat is the first ingredient.  Also try substituting all or a portion of your usual all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour.  Ground oatmeal can also be mixed into ground meat or substituted for all-purpose flour.

Increase Fiber

Beans, peas, and lentils are abundant in fiber and protein and can conveniently be added to any soup or stew.  Lentils can be used as a substitute for meat and peas are great mixed in with mashed potatoes.  Did you also know you could even puree beans and use in place of butter in cookies, cakes and brownies?  You may need to refer to a recipe in order to know how much butter could be exchanged for bean puree, but this substitution could help lower your cholesterol by preventing excess saturated fat intake and contributing to the excretion of cholesterol from the body as it becomes trapped in indigestible fiber.

Lower Saturated Fat

In addition to the might substitution and alterations listed above, you can lower your saturated fat intake simply by selecting leaner cuts of meat.  Lower fat ground turkey or chicken can be used in place of ground beef and there are also healthier versions of sausage and bacon made from poultry rather than pork.  Sirloins and round steaks of beef generally have less marbling and therefore less artery-clogging saturated fats; porterhouse, T-bone, rib-eye, filet mignon, and strip steaks are the fattier cuts that you should limit as much as possible. No matter the cut, trim as much excess fat away as possible.

When preparing meat, oven frying can drastically reduce the fat typically associated with deep frying.  Try to use olive oil instead of butter to simultaneous cut back on saturated fats and increase your healthy, unsaturated fat intake.  Baking, grilling, roasting, sautéing, and poaching are also tasty, lean options of preparing meats and poultry.

If appropriate, you may also want to consider substituting seafood.  Fish are very high in protein and rich in healthy, anti-inflammatory fats.  Fish is delicious used in seafood, pasta, salad and even on burgers and sandwiches!

Select lower fat dairy options – instead of buying whole milk, opt for 2%, 1% or skim and look out for low or non-fat yogurts and cheeses.

Cut Back on Salt

The easiest way to reduce your sodium intake is by avoiding processed foods.  Processed foods can be a tremendous source of sodium and added sugar in your diet and so should be eaten in moderation.  Consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.   Look for low sodium sauces and seasonings when possible and experiment with adding lemon juice, different herbs and spices, onions, garlic, vinegar, or hot peppers to add flavor without sodium.  Lemon juice is a rich source of Vitamin C while onions and garlic boast a wide variety of healthy benefits.

Reduce Added Sugars

Select the healthier versions of your favorite cereal if possible and add fresh fruit to sweeten.  Select unflavored yogurt and add in your own fruit or drizzle in honey so you know how much sweetened is in it.  Try fresh squeezed or look for “No Sugar Added” labels on the juices in your local grocery.

Creative yet simple substitutions and swaps can take your favorite recipe from indulgence to nutritious meal.  Get creative and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Corinne Easterling is a Project Manager at Meals to Heal. She is a graduate in Nutrition and Food Studies, with a concentration in Nutrition and Dietetics. She started at Meals to Heal as an intern while receiving her Bachelor’s degree from New York University.  She continues to assist the Meals to Heal team in maintaining the website and other day-to-day activities, as well as volunteering part-time.  She will be continuing her education to become a Registered Dietitian at Leeds Metropolitan University in the Fall.

Written by Savor Health
Savor Health offers a comprehensive range of nutrition services for people with cancer and their loved ones. Using the latest technology and research, Savor provides individually personalized nutrition solutions that meet each patient’s unique needs from prevention to survivorship. Services include individually curated information and resources, one on one nutrition counseling with oncology-credentialed registered dietitians and home delivery of meals tailored to individual needs and tastes. Savor is in the business of nourishing the body, mind and spirit of people with cancer. Cancer starves the body of nutrition. Savor Health uses nutrition to fight cancer.

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