10 Simple Food Swaps for Healthier Family Meals

posted by Andrea | 01/9/2019

A few months ago, after I shared my 60-pound weight loss (40 pounds of baby weight plus 20 extra pounds) I got so many questions about what exactly I was eating (or not eating) — specifically if I was making different food for myself or eating along with my family.

The short answer is that I usually eat different foods for breakfast and lunch (tons of veggies, eggs, and salads) and we all eat the same dinner together — although I usually pile on the veggies more than the rest of the family!

This system has worked well for the past year as Dave and I almost always eat breakfast before the kids are even awake — so it’s no big deal to make 2 different breakfasts. And we’ve always allowed the kids to choose their own foods for lunch (within reason) so again, it’s no hardship or extra work for me to put different foods on our plates at lunch time.

When it comes to dinner however, we always (well, probably 99.9% of the time) sit down to eat a large meal together at the table… and there is no way I’m going to make multiple big meals for dinner every single night.

There are times when I might make 2 variations of a meal (salmon and chicken with the same side dishes or less cheese on half the casserole) but for the most part, we all eat the same thing for dinner.

We’re big on side dishes at our house so I always have multiple side dishes for people to choose from. This makes it easy for people to fill up on their favorites while trying a few bites of something they don’t like as much. It’s also a convenient way for me to fill my plate with lots and lots of vegetables, while still enjoying smaller portions of our family’s favorite foods.

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That said, I have also tried really hard to make several “food swaps” for our family meals.

I’m SUPER impressed with how many more nutritious foods I’ve been able to incorporate into our family meals — often without the kids even noticing! In fact, it’s not unusual for them to ask for seconds!

If you’re looking for a few relatively simple ways to swap more nutritious foods into your family meals, I think today’s post will give you a really great place to start!

1. Spaghetti Squash in place of Pasta

We’ve grown spaghetti squash in our garden the past several summers, and our whole family has learned to really love squash!

It’s so easy to cook in a slow cooker, and it’s a super nutritious substitution for traditional noodles in any of your favorite pasta dishes (here’s our favorite pizza pasta made with spaghetti squash).

2. Zucchini Noodles In Place of Pasta

Zucchini Noodles (a.k.a zoodles) are another one of our favorite pasta substitutes — and a fantastic way to get more veggies into your diet.

Zoodles cook up in a matter of minutes (sauté them in a frying pay with a little olive oil and garlic) and taste great with so many different types of sauces, cheeses, side dishes, breads, etc.

Here’s our favorite 10-minute zoodle recipe… and if you want to work EVEN MORE veggies into your meal, try making this simple vegetable marinara sauce. It’s amazing! My kids don’t even realize they are eating vegetables!

3. Cauliflower Rice in place of White Rice

If you’ve never tried cauliflower rice before, you are totally missing out! The difference between cauliflower rice and traditional white or brown rice is almost undetectable in any of our favorite casserole and soups (like this Chicken, Broccoli, “Rice” casserole) and it will save you a bunch of empty calories as well as increase your veggie intake with almost zero effort.

I get my cauliflower rice from the freezer section at Aldi — but you can make your own really quickly by putting a head of cauliflower in a food processor and pulsing the blade several times.

4. Black Beans, Mushrooms, and Lentils in place of Some Meat

I’ve shared this tip before — but substituting cooked black beans, cooked mushrooms, and/or cooked lentils for SOME of our meat saves money on our grocery bill as well as a bunch of calories. Plus, black beans, mushrooms, and lentils all have lots of protein, fiber, and more!

Here’s more info on how I sub these nutrient-rich goodies in place of some of our meat.

5. Sweet Potatoes in place of White Potatoes

Our family LOVES potatoes and we still eat them regularly throughout the week. However, we also love sweet potatoes (especially Clara and me) so I always keep a big bin of roasted veggies (including sweet potatoes) ready to go in the fridge.

We mix them into casseroles, we eat them for breakfast, I put them on salads, etc. etc.

They are packed with vitamins and a good side dish for so many different meals (even Mexican!)

6. Plain Greek Yogurt in place of Sour Cream

Our family used to go through several large tubs of sour cream every month — our kids even ate it plain by the spoonful!

I don’t have anything against sour cream or high-fat dairy products, but after eating plain sour cream and plain Greek yogurt, I realized the yogurt tasted almost exactly like sour cream and was significantly more nutritious!

I honestly don’t even remember the last time I purchased sour cream as we now swap plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for ALL our casseroles, baked goods, dips, dressings, and more!

Of course, Greek Yogurt is more expensive than sour cream, but for now, that’s a price I’m willing to pay!

7. Maple Syrup in place of High Fructose Corn Syrup

This was a bit of an adjustment for us, but our family made the switch to Maple Syrup 2 years ago already and now it tastes “weird” to have Mrs. Butterworth!

Since I make a hot breakfast every morning, we go through a lot of syrup — so this was a good switch for us health-wise.

It’s a bummer that maple syrup is SO much more expensive, but I buy it at Costco so it’s more reasonably priced.

I’ve also experimented with using maple syrup in place of sugar in some of my baking recipe (like my pancake and waffle recipes). So far, no one seems to notice whenever I use maple syrup instead of sugar.

8. Applesauce in place of Oil for baked goods

This is one of my most favorite calorie-saving, fat-saving baking tips of all time. I’ve been doing this since I was in high school and it works pretty much every time!

Simply sub the exact same amount of UNSWEETENED applesauce for whatever amount of oil is called for in your favorite baked goods, breads, muffins, etc. and you’ll save yourself several hundred calories with almost ZERO taste difference.

Here’s my recipe for homemade applesauce — but of course, store-bought works fine as well. Just make sure it’s unsweetened or your final product will probably turn out much too sweet.

9. Ground Turkey in place of some Ground Beef

I have nothing against beef, and we eat it regularly — however, I know ground turkey is a much leaner protein choice, so I usually try to mix half turkey and half beef (along with the beans, lentils and mushrooms I mentioned above).

I’ve personally had great results using ground turkey, and even turkey sausage (we are not fans of turkey bacon or turkey pepperoni).

I usually cook 3-5 pounds of ground turkey at a time, then divide it up into small bags or storage containers for the freezer. It only takes a few minutes to defrost the meat and it’s nice to have a stash in our freezer most of the time.

10. Whole Grain in place of White Flour

Over the past several months, I’ve read and learned SO much about different types of grains, how flour is made, the benefits of whole grains, etc. etc. — it’s fascinating to me!

I’ve also experimented with many different types of grain… and we’ve founds several new family favorites (more on this next week!)

To my surprise, my children really like Wild Rice, Quinoa, Farro, Spelt, Kamut, and Oats — all of which are much more nutritious than white rice or white flour. These grains are all fairly easy to make (boil them just as you would boil rice or pasta) and offer many more vitamins and nutrients. Most of them can be made in a rice cooker, slow cooker, or insta pot as well!

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Of course, we have not totally abandoned our favorite pastas, rices, potatoes, meats, cheese, or sweet treats — not by a long shot.

You know me — always in favor of “All Things In Moderation”

However, by using many of these substitutions on a regular basis, I can make family-friendly recipes that are less calorie dense, higher in nutrients, packed with more veggies, and have more flavor as well!

The kids have been really great about trying all my new concoctions, and it even turns out that they like several of my newer recipes better than some of the old ones!

Who knows, your family might find a few new favorites too!

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9 comments

  1. Janelle

    03/09/2019

    What is your grocery budget?

    [Reply]

  2. Diana

    01/10/2019

    All of this looks so yummy!! I do a lot of this already, but more ideas and encouragement is always good!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Diana!

    [Reply]

  3. calliope

    01/10/2019

    Hi Andrea!
    I’ve tried the zucchini noodles, as my garden produces A LOT in the summer but whenever I put them in the frying pan with some olive oil, they always produce so much water. I’m I skipping any steps here?
    thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well first of all, I usually use fairly small zucchinis. If you’re using zucchinis from your own garden, I’m guessing they are larger (I always seems to find them after they are giant!) So try using smaller ones to start.
    Also, if you want, you can lightly salt the raw zucchini noodles and let them sit in a colander to “drain” for a bit before frying them. I personally do not do this, but others swear by it.
    Finally, all zoodles WILL be waterier than regular pasta noodles, but if they are super water, it probably means they were cooked a bit too long. You could always drain them after cooking, then add the sauce??

    [Reply]

  4. Jenny

    01/09/2019

    Very inspiring! You are such a good example of moderation, adding more of something vs. feeling deprived (eat more veggies vs. can’t have something) and slow and steady wins the race!
    When is your first book coming out???

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Jenny! I doubt I’ll be writing a book any time soon 🙂 I’ve been asked a few times by different publishers, but it’s SO much work and I’m not really cut out for that right now!

    [Reply]

  5. Kim

    01/09/2019

    Great ideas! I have been meaning to try the spaghetti squash in place of regular spaghetti.
    The photo of the sweet potatoes that is in a Mexican dish looks yummy. Could you tell me if that recipe is on your sight?
    We like sweet potato fries made in the oven. I coat pan and fries with cooking spray and add seasoning salt.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Spaghetti squash obviously has difference, but our kids really do like it and eat it well.
    The Mexican recipe isn’t on my blog — but it’s basically this Mexican mixture dumped on top of an already-baked sweet potato with cheese and additional condiments on top

    [Reply]