When life is busy, sometimes making healthy food choices for you and/or your family sits squarely on the 'way too difficult' pile. But here's a thought - it's often the little things that we do every day that have the biggest impact, so perhaps making a few easy healthy food swaps in your weekly choices will deliver the gains without you needing to feel the pain. No hunting around obscure shops to find healthy ingredients that you can't even pronounce. No slaving for hours in the kitchen. Just some smart swaps. Worth at least a thought?
1 Make your own breakfast cereal.
When we were doing our No Sugar Challenge, it became clear that the vast majority of shop-bought breakfast cereals contain loads of refined sugar (even our old family faves Bran Flakes and Weetabix). If you make your own, you know exactly what's in it and you can sneak in plenty of nutrient-packed goodies to give you a great, healthy start to the day. And don't be put off by thinking that making your own is going to take ages and be a real faff ... this Everyday Healthy Cereal doesn't even need any cooking - just chop, mix and go. And a batch will last for 2 or 3 weeks in an airtight container. So choose a time when you're in the mood ... select some tunes and get chopping. Just watch your fingers.
2 Swap sugar-packed snacks for a healthier option.
We're loving these No Bake Energy Bites, especially because there's no cooking involved and they taste like the bee's knees. They're also filled with wholesome, nutritious ingredients to give you plenty of slow-releasing energy. AND they'll keep for up to a week in the fridge too, so they'll always be on hand when the hunger monster strikes.
3 Replace white pasta with wholewheat pasta.
There was a time when wholewheat pasta tasted like it was good for you ... if you know what I mean. It was all about chore and certainly not much pleasure. But things have moved on in the pasta world and now you'd barely notice the difference. Wholewheat pasta offers a much higher nutrient value and will provide longer-lasting energy than its white neighbour ... so make a straight swap. I'm not sure that anyone will even notice - especially with something tasty like this Homemade Pesto to smother it with.
4 Swap white rice for brown rice.
When you strip brown rice of all the goodness, what do you get? You get white rice. Yes, I know - it takes SO much longer to cook brown rice than it does white rice - but here's a suggestion ... When you've got half an hour to spare, cook up a whole bag of brown rice (I like to cook mine in vegetable stock - it gives the rice a subtle, delicious, savoury flavour). When it's ready, chill it quickly, separate what you need immediately and freeze the rest in portions (individual / doubles / family-sized). Frozen rice defrosts very quickly if you pop it in a colander and run it under the tap. Just make sure you heat it thoroughly before you serve it with one of your family favourites. Mine is this Thai Chicken Satay Rice Bowl (the observant amongst you will notice that this photo shows white rice - that was in the olden days!), but you could also try this Lamb, Tomato & Coconut Curry.
5 Swap unhealthy fats for good fats.
Cook with olive oil or coconut oil rather than any of the bad fats - your heart will thank you for it. Or try swapping your regular milk for coconut milk (the drinking variety) or almond milk - even just every now and then. As well as giving you a dose of the good fats, these milks are also lactose-free which is no bad thing for most of us. Oh, and they taste great too, especially in this Creamy Coconut Porridge.
6 Sometimes the only way is chips.
Swap deep-fried chips or the frozen oven variety for these healthy Easy Oven Chips. They're only potatoes and olive oil (+ whatever seasoning or spices you fancy) so they'll do a sterling job of satisfying the craving while leaving you feeling 'oh so virtuous'. Just add ketchup.
7 Replace a meat dinner with a fish dinner - or a veggie dinner.
It doesn't have to be Meatless Monday - it can be any day of the week. Less is more when it comes to meat (particularly the processed variety) and you'll feel better and lighter for it. This Super Healthy Sicilian Fish Stew is a bit of a winner, but you might also enjoy this Easy Mackerel Kedgeree or this Roasted Vegetable Lasagne. All three are delicious healthy food swaps.
8 Swap some carbs for an extra portion of vegetables.
Some studies now believe that we should be eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, doubling the five-a-day official advice. It's easy to be sceptical when you can read something different every day but one thing we can be sure of is that it won't do us any harm to be sneaking in a few more vegetables. This brightly coloured, 'throw it all together' Everyday Stir Fry Vegetables is a good place to start. Or try this Sweetcorn and Lime Salsa with your next BBQ, or maybe this Roasted Curried Cauliflower Salad. Being healthy never tasted so good.
9 Swap a takeaway for an easy freezer dinner.
I know for me, the takeaway temptation comes tapping on my shoulder when I'm just not in the mood to cook. But more often than not, the idea is a whole load more appetising than the reality. The next time that you make a freezer-friendly dish like Thai Green Chicken Curry or Chilli Con Carne, make a double quantity and freeze some extra portions for an ideal takeaway alternative. It'll be healthier without a doubt and kinder on your wallet too. Keep some portions of cooked brown rice in the freezer too and you're ready to go.
10 Swap a dessert for a healthy (but equally yummy) option.
It doesn't always have to be 'fruit or yoghurt' for a healthy dessert (that was always the mantra when I was growing up.). Mix it up with this Super Healthy Ice Cream. You can play around with the flavours - make them your own. Or even introduce this as a dessert for breakfast. Surely it doesn't get any better than this healthy food swap?
So what will you be trying first?