If you’re anything like me, you want to start cooking foods for your family using healthier, but you don’t know where to start.
One very easy way to move to cooking healthy foods is to keep cooking what you’re already cooking.
Wait, what? Doesn’t that go against the point?
See, you can still cook all or most of what you’re already cooking and just start switching over ingredients as you run out of them.
Almost all of these healthy substitutions will be virtually undetectable to you or your kids depending on what you’re making.
However, knowing you’re cooking or baking with better ingredients and your kids are still eating what you make can give you motivation to keep finding healthier swaps for other areas.
Most of the swaps in this list are focusing on baking. However, some of them can also be used in other areas of your cooking, especially the oil and egg alternatives.
Easy, Healthy Swaps You Can Find (Almost) Anywhere
Bleached All-Purpose Flour = Unbleached All-Purpose or Wheat Flour
All-purpose flours have been refined so much that they retain almost none of their original nutrition.
What they do contain when they reach you is found in the synthetic vitamins added to “enrich” the flour, but are actually harder for our bodies to digest.
For more information on the drawbacks of refined, white flour, check out this post.
All that said, a better alternative to white flour is whole wheat flour. While not all of the vitamins make it to you due the flour being ground ahead of time, more of the benefits are left when flour is in a less refined state.
Now, if your kids will turn up their noses at anything made with anything other than white flour, you can still start by getting unbleached, organic white flour that isn’t infiltrated with chemicals.
If you want to, you can use part white flour and part wheat flour and gradually increase the percentage of the latter and you and your family grow accustomed to it.
GMO Sugar = Natural Sweeteners
Most sweeteners that you find on the shelves is derived from genetically modified sugar beets or corn. You can avoid genetically modified sweeteners by sticking to natural, less-processed ones.
Some natural alternatives for sweeteners include:
- Organic Cane Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
Baking Powder = Aluminum Free Baking Powder
Did you know that most baking powders contain aluminum to prevent them from activating until you put them in the oven?
The good news is that most stores tend to carry aluminum-free baking powders as well (just maybe not as much of a variety). They may not be labeled as such on the front, so you’ll have to check the ingredients to make sure it’s aluminum-free.
Vegetable Oil = Coconut Oil (melted)
I go into more detail specifically about hydrogenated oils here, but anything labeled as a “vegetable” oil is not to be trusted.
These oils are not even made with vegetables. They’re made with seeds. Canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and other types of oils are often mixed together and used as oils.
None of these are vegetables, at least in the form they’re in when they’re used to make oil, but the name “vegetable oil” makes it seem a lot healthier than it actually is for you.
Now, for the vegetable oil you have in your kitchen, it’s most likely a canola-based oil.
While the seeds these oils are made from may or may not be bad for us to start with, they are so highly processed to make the oil that they end up rancid and have to have preservatives added to make them palatable to the consumer.
Sounds appetizing, right?
My favorite less-processed oils to use in place of vegetable oil are:
- Melted coconut oil
- Melted bacon grease (for savory dishes)
- Olive oil
Shortening = Coconut Oil or Palm Shortening
Just like the vegetable oil I covered above, shortening is made from highly-processed seed oils.
My favorite healthy substitution is coconut oil. You just use it in its solid form and add the exact same amount as you would for shortening.
Now, if your house is warm or you live in a warm climate, your coconut oil might be liquified. If you need to use if for a liquid application, that’s great. If you want to use it in place of shortening, you might want to stick it in the fridge or freezer for a bit to solidify it again.
Margarine = Real Butter
I’m glad that I grew up in a family who used real butter (and married into a family who uses it as well). To me, there’s nothing better than real butter, especially if it’s homemade with fresh milk.
Margarine is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils and processed to make them semi-solid so they are a similar texture to butter.
If you’re currently using margarine, butter can be an easy substitute, and it’s so much better for you and less processed. While it might be a bit more expensive than margarine (since vegetable oils are so cheap), butter goes on sale multiple times a year and you can stock up then!
Milk = Organic Whole Milk
Milk from the store is often homogenized and pasteurized until almost none of its nutritional benefits remain.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to have access to raw milk. Raw milk is awesome because it retains so much more of the vitamins and minerals in it than ultra-pasteurized milk does.
However, for lots of us, either our state laws don’t allow that or we don’t have someone close enough to get raw milk from.
If you don’t want to go so far as raw milk or you don’t have access to it, organic whole milk is still a really good option for your family! Whole milk contains the milk fats that help our bodies and brains work at their best and if you can get organic milk you won’t be putting growth hormones or other chemicals into your body.
Artificial Vanilla = Real Vanilla
If you look close at the vanilla extract you find find at the grocery store, chances are that most of the bottles are full of artificial extract. This is especially true of the cheaper brands.
Real vanilla is made with actual vanilla beans instead of artificial vanillin.
If you want to make your own vanilla extract, it’s actually super simple! Wait for it…
Here’s what you need.
- One bottle of vodka
- Approx. 3 vanilla beans
Just put the vanilla beans in the bottle of vodka (you don’t even need to split them open!), close the bottle and let it sit for 3-6 months, and voila, you have tons of vanilla extract.
While vanilla beans are more of an investment than a small bottle of extract, the amount of extract you get for the price is so worth it!
I hope this post served as a starting point to help you switch out ingredients in your cooking for healthier, less-processed versions.
Cooking from scratch or with healthier ingredients doesn’t have to be complicated. You can start by finding an alternative for one ingredient and switching it out. Then, next time you run out of an ingredient, you can see if there is a better version you can buy instead.
If you keep doing this, you and your family will be eating healthier foods with little to no pain in the process of switching over!