Nutrition//

Try These Creative Food Swaps to Help You Make Healthier Choices

From crispy butternut squash chips to baked veggie fries, these swaps will help take the stress and complication out of healthy eating.

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Shutterstock

Science shows that making smart dietary choices and prioritizing unprocessed foods can prompt meaningful changes in our mood, energy, and performance at work. But with so many fad diets and nutrition trends out there, deciding what to eat can often feel daunting and confusing. To take the stress and overwhelm out of healthy eating, it can be helpful to start by incorporating simple swaps into your diet — like trading in a high-sugar soda for an herbal tea, or forgoing a bag of chips for some fresh veggies.

We asked our Thrive community to share their favorite healthy food swaps, and their suggestions are inspiring us to be more mindful about what we eat. Which of these ideas are you excited to try?

Instead of a regular pizza crust, try a veggie-based pizza crust

“I make a great gluten-free pizza substitute with spaghetti squash or vegetable pizza crust from a mixture of riced cauliflower, carrots, and celery for my gluten-free daughter.”

—Jamie Feit, M.S., R.D., nutritionist, Westchester, NY

Instead of chips, try butternut squash crisps

“I find that crispy foods help me feel satisfied, so for a healthier take, I buy butternut squash and slice it thinly into half circles. I toss it in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, some kosher salt, and a sprinkle or two of cayenne pepper, and bake it in the oven. The squash comes out crispy, and the combination of salt, spice, and sweet is heaven.”

—Jackie Ghedine, life and business coach, Bellmore, NY

Instead of regular rice, try cauliflower rice

“I swear by cauliflower rice. It’s low in calories and high in volume, which is great because I like a full plate! As the mom of four kids under the age of six, I appreciate that it picks up the flavor of whatever seasonings or sauces I add. Sometimes it’s the only way these little ones get their vegetables!”

—Suzy Goodwin, podcast host, Fayetteville, NC

Instead of a PB&J with jam, try a PB&J with fresh berries

“I switched out store-bought jelly for actual berries. Now, I will have a slice or two of Dave’s Killer Bread (21 Whole Grains and Seeds) with natural peanut butter, and then I will add sliced bananas, fresh blueberries, or strawberries, and a little drizzle of honey.  It fills me up for a longer period of time than when I eat oatmeal!”

—Yasmin Alberto, project manager, Sicklerville, NJ

Instead of wine, try kombucha

“Last winter, we renovated our backyard to include a hot tub. At first, it was incredibly relaxing having a glass of wine in the hot tub to decompress. But then I realized that even with just one glass of wine, I was not as clear headed the next day. I started buying organic kombucha and pouring that in a wine glass. Just the act of sipping something fruity and bubbly was enough! I now prefer it over wine, unless it’s a big celebration that calls for something special!

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist, Ancaster, ON, Canada

Instead of sweetened coffee, try homemade chai tea

“To keep myself from purchasing coffee with unhealthy flavoring added, I have been making homemade chai tea. I love the flavor. The ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are thought to have healing properties, and making tea at home allows me to limit the amount of sugar added to the drink. I make a big batch on the weekend and drink it for several days. I love that it is healthy and saves me money!”

 —Kristine Gentry, Ph.D., organizational anthropologist, Houston TX

Instead of French fries, try baked vegetable fries

“My favorite healthy swap is to make baked vegetable fries. I have teenagers that love to see what I come up with. I have used celery root, turnips, and rutabaga but I think the parsnip fries are their favorite!”

—Jamie Feit, M.S., R.D., nutritionist, Westchester, NY

Instead of mindlessly snacking, try lemon water

“Working from home means it’s too easy to snack all day on all the wrong things. I’ve started to fill up a large water bottle and keep that on my desk to ward off any cravings. It’s been surprising how much it actually helps and makes my body feel better. Some days I even add lemon or cucumbers to make it fun and fancy.”

 —Mallika Malhotra, brand expert and photographer, Short Hills, NJ

Instead of a side of rice with dinner, try a quinoa bowl

“My family enjoys having some rice as a base under a saucy meal. We recently switched to quinoa, and sometimes cauliflower rice — which gives us more vitamins and protein with each bite. It’s filling, and the taste complements meals like seafood stir fry, soups, chicken chow mein, and stroganoff. The swap has made a world of difference in my family’s healthy choices.”

—Scott Miller, marketing director, Wilmington, DE

Instead of wine, try sparkling water

“It’s easy to get into the habit of having a glass of wine – or three – to unwind at the end of the day, but other than the obvious repercussions of regularly drinking, the calories do really add up. Instead, I pour soda water into a wine glass, so it still feels rewarding and a little bit decadent. You can flavor it with cucumber slices and mint, lemon and berries, grapefruit and rosemary, or watermelon and basil!”

—Jill Lister-Martin, health coach, Wellington, New Zealand

Instead of a candy bar, try a date with peanut butter and sea salt

“Whenever I need a pick-me-up, which is usually mid-day, I grab a large date, slice it down the middle, remove the pit, stuff it with peanut butter, and sprinkle a little pink Himalayan sea salt on top. For anyone who loves candy bars, this will become their go-to swap, as it tastes just like a Snickers bar. You can also add crunchy peanut butter, sprinkle some coconut flakes, or drizzle melted dark chocolate and freeze them. Dates are digested slowly by our bodies, keeping energy levels even throughout the day. Also, the combination of dates and nuts contains enough mood-boosting ingredients to help pick you up, and tastes just like a candy bar!”

—Mandy Antoniacci, author and founder of upps, New York, NY

Instead of an afternoon coffee, try herbal tea

“I used to drink multiple cups of coffee each day. I love an afternoon pick-me-up, but after realizing that my afternoon coffees were impacting my ability to fall asleep at night, I swapped them out for tea in the afternoons. I choose herbal or fruity teas with very little caffeine. Since switching, I’ve started sleeping better, and no longer experience energy crashes in the afternoon.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Instead of cooking with refined sugar and vegetable oil, try coconut sugar and coconut oil

“When I realized the negative effects of processed and packaged foods, I made some healthy swaps, like choosing coconut sugar instead of refined sugar, and cooking in ghee and coconut oil instead of vegetable oils. I have also cut down on unhealthy snacks, instead keeping fruits, sprouts, and homemade dips on hand to meet cravings.” 

—Supriya Kumar, marketing consultant, Manila, Philippines 

Instead of a bagel breakfast, try a smoothie

“In 2019, I decided to eat healthier. I cut back on processed food, refined carbs, and red meat. But the best food swap was ditching my morning bagel and cream cheese for a morning shake. Starting off with a healthy blend of yogurt, fruit, and veggies sets the tone for the rest of my day.”

—Annette Richmond, executive resume writer, Norwalk, CT

 Do you have a go-to food swap that helps you feel great and stay on track? Share it with us in the comments!

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