7 Simple Ingredient Swaps for Cooking Healthier Meals at Home

It can be easy to fall into a rut when you’re trying to think of healthier meals to prepare at home. This can mean defaulting back to the same standards, even though they might not be the healthiest options for you and your family.

A quick and easy solution is to look for ingredient swaps that make dishes healthier. You’ll open yourself up to a whole world of new recipe ideas, and can feel good about preparing those meals you used to avoid.

Here are seven simple substitutions that allow you to make home-cooked meals just as wholesome as you’d like.

Yogurt for Sour Cream

Yogurt is made from milk, not cream, so the resulting dairy product is just as tangy and delicious. This makes it a great swap if you’re looking for ways to consume less sugar, as it has significantly less fat and about a third of the calories of sour cream. And if you go for fat-free Greek yogurt, you’ll get that same creamy thickness and tart flavor as sour cream. It’s a versatile substitution, as it works as a base in dips, dressings, wraps, and more. If yogurt isn’t sour enough for your liking, you can simply stir in a splash of fresh lemon juice to give it that extra zest.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Anna Shepulova

Quinoa for Rice

Rice bowls and stir fries are a great way to pack lots of nutritious veggies into one meal. Cooking up some quinoa as a base instead of rice adds to the healthy goodness of these simple creations. This deliciously nutty seed is rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and a whole lot more.

Oil and Vinegar for Bottled Salad Dressing

Having ready-made salad dressing on hand is a quick way to dress up your veggies and make a hearty salad. But the store-bought versions tend to contain saturated fats, sugar, salt, and unwanted calories, as well as stabilizers and preservatives. 

Keep the convenience of premade dressing without the mysterious ingredients by mixing oil and vinegar in a canning jar. If you like, add a little honey and mustard for added flavor. Adjust the ratios to taste, and keep the jar in your fridge. Any time you’re making a salad, just let your jar come to room temperature, give it a shake to mix, and pour over the greens just before serving.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / P-fotography

Nuts for Croutons

Every salad can benefit from a little something crunchy. If you usually add croutons, try opting for either unsalted or lightly salted roasted nuts—walnuts, pecans, or slivered almonds are all good options. As they’re packed with fiber and unsaturated fats, nuts are heart healthy and can even lead to lower cholesterol and prevent type 2 diabetes. 

Turkey Bacon for Bacon

Everybody loves the salty, savory goodness of crispy bacon. By switching to turkey bacon, you can keep the best parts, but with less fat and more protein. When you’re looking for the best option for your family, make sure to pick an all-natural turkey bacon made from whole cuts of ethically raised meat, and flavored with real wood smoke—not chemical additives.

Get inspired with these classic recipes that taste better with turkey bacon.

Sparkling Water for Soda

Who doesn’t love a little bubbly drink with their dinner or snack? You can easily make a mocktail at home that both delights your palette and is easy on the wallet. Dress up your beverage and cut back on unwanted sugars, syrups, and caffeine by starting with sparkling water, and adding some tasty mix-ins for a fancy and healthy drink. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Fresh citrus (lemon, lime, or orange)
  • Cucumber slices
  • A small handful of fresh fruit, such as berries

Popcorn for Chips

We’ve said it before—popcorn is an easy, healthy snack that lasts for ages in your pantry and jazzes up any movie night at home. It’s a fiber-rich whole grain with antioxidants, and may help reduce the risk of things like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. With less fat, fewer calories, and more fiber, popcorn is far healthier than potato chips, and just as filling.

Whether you’re looking to change up your usual meal rotation, or find a healthier way to make your favorite dishes, healthier ingredient swaps are a great way to add nutrients to your meal.

For more healthy recipes and meal ideas that everyone in the family will love, be sure to check out the “Meal Ideas” section on our blog, Fresh Takes.

How to Turn a Salad into a Balanced Meal

We’ll just say it: salads can be downright boring. But only if they’re not prepared properly. Here’s some simple ways to make a balanced salad full of flavor and added health benefits.