When it comes to eating better, an easy place to start is to cut back on the amount of highly processed foods you’ve been noshing on. Are you bummed at the thought of overhauling your diet … yet again? Well, you can officially relax, because replacing a few go-to convenience foods (“potato” chips in a cardboard tube, we’re looking at you!) with simple, homemade alternatives every so often is a way to do this with less freak-out potential. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are 10 nonintimidating real-food swaps for some common convenience foods to help you get started:
1. Instead of fruit-flavored yogurt, make your own fresh, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Skip the added sugar and modified food starch by simply dicing your favorite fruit and combining with plain yogurt. Pack a couple of single-serving containers for yourself, and store in the fridge until hunger hits. Add a sprinkle of homemade granola for a touch more sweetness, if desired.
2. Instead of frozen or fast-food breakfast sandwiches, whip up some of these simple egg sandwiches. Store-bought kinds are packed with preservatives, hydrogenated oils, added sugars and who knows what else. If you like the convenience factor, make a double batch and freeze leftovers for a quick, reheatable breakfast go-to.
3. Instead of instant oatmeal packets, throw together some make-ahead instant oatmeal jars. By purchasing oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts in bulk, you can make your own version of instant oatmeal without all of those added sugars and save money at the same time. Use adorable mason jars to portion out your meal, or some light ziplock bags will also do the trick.
4. Instead of 100-calorie cookie packs, enjoy two satisfying oatmeal chocolate chip breakfast cookies instead. All you need are ripe bananas, old-fashioned oats and some chocolate chips. Make a batch, and portion into plastic bags to satisfy your sweet tooth at work all week long.
5. Instead of cheesy-flavored chips, opt for cheesy popcorn. If your favorite chips come with a long list of ingredients, consider switching to good ol’ stove-popped popcorn which is packed with antioxidants and fiber. Pop kernels in a little high-heat oil (i.e., canola, avocado or grape seed) over medium-high heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and shredded Parmesan cheese, or shake on your spice blend of choice. Divide the batch into several single-serving bags for a healthy, portable snack.
If you need a chip fix in a pinch, choose a bag with a short ingredient list, avoiding varieties with hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors.
6. Instead of a chewy granola bar, make these easy, no-bake granola bars. The mix of dates and seeds gives these bars more than double the amount of fiber in most store-bought brands, and with far fewer ingredients.
7. Instead of fruit juice, eat the actual fruit (and drink water instead)! Yes, even if you’re drinking homemade, organic 100% juice. The downfall to fruit juice is that most have little to no fiber, which is separated in the extraction process. This essentially leaves you with a glass of concentrated sugars plus whatever vitamins are not destroyed from processing. Eating fruit rather than drinking it will provide more fiber and those important vitamins and minerals for far fewer calories. Many whole fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, pears and kiwi are perfectly portion-size and portable.
8. Instead of jarred tomato sauce, make a simple 10-minute marinara. For a more filling and nutritious sauce, toss in whatever veggies you have hiding in the fridge. Diced onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and summer squash cook fast. When the veggies are tender, your sauce is done. Most jarred tomato sauces contain a surprising amount of added sugar, and some even have preservatives.
9. Instead of margarine, sauté using plant-based cooking oil. Vegetable oils are the main ingredient in most margarines but are usually accompanied by preservatives, artificial flavors and not-so-natural thickeners and emulsifiers. You’re better off just using the real thing! Check out our guide to cooking oils to find out which ones are best for the type of cooking you’re doing.
10. Instead of bottled salad dressing, whisk together a simple vinaigrette. Most bottled dressings come with superlong ingredient lists and use highly refined oils that are stripped of flavor and nutrients. To make up for the lack of flavor, most contain added sugar and artificial flavors, in addition to preservatives that extend shelf life. Making your own dressing takes just a few minutes and uses ingredients you likely already have on hand. Check out this simple salad dressing formula from Cook Smarts for some satisfying ways to dress your salad with real ingredients.