Most of us want to eat healthier than we do now and in general there are two ways to go about it: the Tortoise and the Hare. The Hare jumps in with both feet: throw out the junk food, learn to cook tofu, and say goodbye to bread, dairy, sugar, fat, and caffeine. The Hare is quick and passionate and her way works well unless you really want to eat bread, dairy, sugar, fat, and caffeine. It’s hard to say goodbye forever. I prefer to say “I need some space! But we can still be friends so don’t leave town.”
The second way to eat healthier is the way of the Tortoise. You take one step at a time towards healthier eating, plodding along with good decision after good decision until one day you look back and see that you’ve moved leaps and bounds. I’m not going to call them baby steps because they can be big steps, just taken one at a time.
Food substitutions are one of those big steps you can take toward better health. Simply substitute a healthy food for an unhealthy food in your diet. Here are some examples to get you going:
-Pure maple syrup for fake syrup: Most pancake syrups are high fructose corn syrup with some flavoring added. Pure maple syrup is just as sweet, but has the added benefits of antioxidants, riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Pure maple syrup is a concentrated form of the sap of maple trees. That sap is the tree’s food so sap—and therefore syrup—has all the good stuff a tree needs to grow.
The taste of real syrup is a little different than the fake stuff. If your kids balk at change, try mixing the real and fake maple syrups. I started with a 50:50 ratio mixed in a squeeze bottle. Each time the mixture bottle ran out of syrup, I filled it with a slightly higher ratio of pure syrup to fake: 60:40, 70:20, etc. until I eventually set out that same bottle with pure maple syrup and my kids didn’t notice. Pure maple syrup is more expensive, but your kids will be pouring minerals and antioxidants on their pancakes; totally worth it. To use less syrup, give each kid a small bowl of syrup and have them dip each bite of pancake into the bowl. No more cries of “my syrup is gone! I need more!” as it soaks into the pancake.
– Whole wheat flour for white flour: white or all purpose flour has most of wheat’s goodness sucked out of it. Add that goodness back into your baked goods by substituting half of the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour.
– Lettuce, chard, or steamed cabbage leaves for tortillas: tortillas are yummy, but they’re also surprisingly high in calories; a medium tortilla has the same calories as two slices of bread. If you’re trying to figure out how to cut a few hundred extra calories per day, tortillas are a good place to experiment.
– Avocado for cheese: I love the texture of gooey cheese on a sandwich or in a salad. Avocado gives me that creamy happy-mouth feeling but with healthy fats.
-Veggies for noodles: noodles are delicious, but most of the time they’re smothered in some sort of sauce and we can’t taste them, so why not smother vegetables instead? Layer sliced eggplant in your lasagna, grate zucchini into your ziti, and sauté some thinly sliced cabbage for spaghetti sauce and meatballs.
-Cauliflower for rice: Food process raw cauliflower until it looks like rice grains and then sauté it for a few minutes. Serve it the same way you serve rice. You can ease your family into the idea by making regular rice and mixing the two. “The rice tastes funny tonight, Mom.” Yes, it does, son. It’s muscle building rice. When you eat it, your muscles grow.
The Hare and the Tortoise both made it to the finish line and that’s important. Don’t despair if you’re not a Hare; Tortoises take longer to get healthy, but we get there nonetheless. Slow and steady wins the race.
“The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” Isaiah 9:10 (NIV)
Please leave a comment below if you have a substitution idea. I want to learn what’s worked for you!