10 ways of making your favorite foods healthier

I simply love this topic as this has been our goal all year long.

As I've moved along writing my bento blog, I've slowly but surely switched over a lot of options for healthier choices, including more fresh foods. By taking baby steps along the way, we're eating a lot more healthier choices with little notice or complaints from Shaun or F&B. Faith even has gotten in the habit of reading ingredient lists in the grocery to see if it is food we want to eat.

1. Switch slowly to better breads. I went step-by-step with this one. First, we switched over to Nature's Own White-Wheat because it was the most similar to regular store white-bread without HFCS. From there, we went to Nature's Own Honey Wheat, then to Nature's Own 7 Grain Honey Wheat. Since I love 7-grain bread, I think I may keep this one for awhile. We also switched to Nature's Own Sandwich Rounds in lieu of hamburger buns. (And no, I'm not on the Nature's Own payroll! I seriously just love their bread. Now if they wanted to pay me, including in bread, I probably would not object!)

2. Buy whole fruits & prepare them in advance. At any given point in time, I have 3-4 containers in my fridge filled with already sliced/diced/washed fruits & veggies so they are ready to go for snacks. This week, I have a full containers of diced pineapple, honeydew & cantaloupe in bite sized pieces for the kids, plus a full container of baby carrots and another of celery sticks that they can grab with the container of hummus for more snacks. I've found that if it's ready to eat, it gets eaten.

3. Freeze that fruit! Frozen fruit tastes amazing and it's a great way to save money in the winter. I buy fresh berries when they are on sale in the summer and freeze them. Ben snacks on them directly out of the freezer and they are ready for winter snacks or baking when you can't find good fresh fruits. We've also made our own granita with watermelon--one whole watermelon and a bit of sugar, it tastes like sorbet without being high calorie or fat.

4. Bake your own goodies. It's pretty much guaranteed that most homemade items are less in calorie, fat, and chemical than their store bought counterparts. There are awesome ideas online for homemade baked goods that taste wonderful and aren't laden with questionable ingredients. Homemade granola bars taste wonderful and you can fill them with your choice of healthier ingredients, including using real oats & whole wheat flour.

5. Substitute applesauce for oil in baking. I just tried this with our chocolate zucchini muffins and they turned out perfectly. You can't eliminate all the oil in a recipe, but I went from 1 cup of oil to 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce without sacrificing taste at all. The muffins are being gobbled up by the whole family, and I promise that mine won't eat anything that doesn't taste right.

6. Bake with fruits & veggies! We've made the aforementioned chocolate zucchini muffins, sweet potato cupcakes, zucchini raisin cookies, blueberry banana bread, and tons of other ideas. If you can make a healthiER baked good that is still yummy, why not? And it ups your veggie/fruit content for the day.

7. Rinse & drain! The best lean ground beef is, in all honesty, ridiculously expensive. A friend suggested rinsing and draining regular ground beef. After browning, drain, rinse, drain & rinse again. A lot of the fat can be removed that way. A perfect solution? Maybe not, but $4+/lb isn't exactly perfect either. ;o)

8. Tea, tea & more tea. I love my iced tea maker. It is seriously high up on my list of favorite kitchen gadgets. Tea, in & of itself, is 0 calories, so I make a pot every few days with regular black tea and throw in 1-2 fruit or herbal tea bags for flavor. No sweetener needed (imho) and it helps get in plenty of extra water, something I usually struggle with.

9. Skim milk, low fat cheese, yogurt & sour cream. Dairy is my downfall, especially cheese. I cook with it, I am more than happy to eat it by itself, and we usually have 4-5 varieties of it in the house at any given point in time. I try to buy cheese made with lower fat or skim milk. I'm going to eat it, skipping it is just not an option, so lower fat is the way to go. So far, no one's noticed and the food still tastes good.

10. Precook! I've been making extras of some of our favorite meals and sticking them in the freezer. Why? Because if I have extra food that is ready to go, I'll stick it in the oven on a busy night. If not? Well, I can tell you the location of three nearby pizza places that deliver. So, doubling up a few meals while I'm already cooking and/or repurposing leftovers means we don't eat out as much. I've got chicken & turkey pot pies, a couple of Mexican bakes (enchiladas, tacos, etc) ready, this other roast beef casserole with potatoes, etc. We had a pot pie the other night. Much yummier and healthier than the takeout pizza I was considering.

Any other suggestions you'd like to share?

I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and WeightWatchers SmartOnes blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.