There’s nothing wrong with saving a special place in your heart for pizza, ice cream or chips. While they might not be kale and quinoa, these tempting foods can still fit into a healthy diet plan.
With a bit of creativity, you can easily replicate the flavors, textures and familiarity of your favorite comfort foods all while adding a nutritious twist. We chatted with three registered dietitians to get their take on realistic — yet still scrumptious — swaps for your favorite “junk foods.”
If You’re Craving Pizza…
Try: Pizza “Croutons”
Now here’s a genius idea from Chicago-based dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, RD: Cut a slice of pizza into “croutons” and add it atop a salad. “You’ll still get that cheesy goodness in each bite, and you’ll get greens into your meal, too,” she tells LIVESTRONG.com. A slice of pizza can go a long way: By eating one piece instead of two, you’ll save half the fat and calories.
Another option is to make a pizza pie at home. You can often buy whole-wheat crust, which will provide more fiber, and top it off with leftover veggies or protein from last week’s meal prep, she says.
Recipes to Try
As if you needed another reason to try your hand at these 7 Healthier Pizza Recipes to Make at Home, these pies pack in the produce and serve up plenty of protein.
If You’re Craving French Fries…
Try: Veggie “Fries”
Spuds aren’t the only veggie worthy of turning into a batch of fries. Try one of the many varieties of squash, carrots, parsnips, turnips, zucchini or asparagus.
“Season them with different herbs and spices and bake them in the oven or air fryer for a healthier alternative,” Michalczyk says. And get this: A small order of McDonald’s fries supplies 230 calories while the same amount of carrots contain just 30 calories — so you’ll be saving an impressive 200 calories by making this smart swap.
You can also try this with avocado by slicing the fruit lengthwise into pieces, dredging in flour and sprinkling with bread crumbs before baking or popping the slices in an air fryer.
Recipes to Try
These 9 Crispy Fries Even Veggie Haters Will Love take all of your favorite veggies and transform them into a crispy snack that satisfies.
If You’re Craving Cookies…
Try: Energy Bites
“You probably still want a bit of chocolate to satisfy that craving for sweets and energy bites are a great alternative,” Melissa Mitri, RD, owner of Melissa Mitri Nutrition in Milford, Connecticut, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Energy bites are usually made with a base of nuts and dried fruit before they’re rolled into a ball. Plus, they can be easily customized however you want (we love adding cacao nibs and coconut flakes!). Buy them in bags from the natural food section at your grocery store or make these quick protein ball recipes at home.
A Brand We Love
Daily Harvest’s superfood bites are akin to cookie dough, except they’re packed with foods like pumpkin, chickpeas, avocado, flax seeds and adaptogens like maca. Try the Cacao Nib + Vanilla if you love chocolate chip cookies. Each Daily Harvest bite packs 80 calories and zero grams of added sugar, compared to a conventional chocolate chip cookie, which contains 150 calories and 10 grams of mostly added sugar.
If You’re Craving Potato Chips…
Try: Crispy Chickpeas or Lentils
“Roasting chickpeas or lentils with different spices is a great way to get your crunch on in healthfully,” says Michalczyk. “Pulses are a more substantial, healthy alternative to chips because they contain protein and fiber.”
In fact, a single-serving bag of potato chips contains less than one gram of fiber while one ounce of crunchy chickpeas or lentils has 6 grams of fiber. You can make your own at home with this crispy roasted chickpeas recipe and toss the with ranch or barbecue seasoning for the same flavors you crave. Or, you can buy them premade.
Brands We Love
Biena Chickpea Snacks come in a variety of sweet and savory flavors while Three Farmers serves up crunchy lentils in potato-chip-inspired seasonings.
If You’re Craving Candy or Chocolate…
Try: Chocolate-Covered Nuts
If you’re looking for something to supply that mid-afternoon pick-me-up, skip sugary candy and enjoy more lasting energy with chocolate-covered almonds or peanuts, says Mitri.
“These are far more filling because nuts offer healthy fats and fiber,” she says. A small serving of chocolate-covered almonds has healthy vitamin E and unsaturated fat while packing significantly less sugar than traditional candy.
A Brand We Love
Go for Skinny Dipped Chocolate-Covered Almonds, which come in flavors including Dark Chocolate Espresso and Dark Chocolate Raspberry and pack in 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.
If You’re Craving Chicken Wings…
Try: Cauliflower Wings
You can pack cauliflower into almost anything including pizza crust and fruit smoothies. And that’s because the cruciferous veggie is so mild in taste that it can easily take on flavors you pair it with. That’s exactly why it makes a worthy substitution for chicken wings, Mia Syn, RDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
A Recipe to Try
Coat the cauli florets in sauce and flour and baking them in the oven, like this recipe for buffalo cauliflower calls for.
The crispy, saucy cauliflower has just 134 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat per serving compared to a serving of buffalo chicken wings, which packs in 170 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat per two pieces.
If You’re Craving Chips and Queso…
Try: Veggies + Hummus or a Nut-Based Dip
It’s so easy to overload on chips and queso, but you can get a similarly crunchy texture and rich flavor with crudites and plant-based dips that come in inventive flavors.
For a cheesy twist, try this recipe for pesto hummus that gets its heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content from tahini and extra-virgin olive oil. Alternatively, try a nut-based dip.
A Brand We Love
Syn likes Fresh Cravings Kickin’ Queso, a dip made from cashews (they take on an extra creamy texture when blended), tahini, chia seeds and a whole lot of spices for big punch of taste.
Dip crunchy veggies like jicama, carrots and taro for more nutrients and filling, satisfying fiber.
If You’re Craving Ice Cream…
Try: DIY Frozen Yogurt or “Nice” Cream
You’ve probably seen “nice” cream pop up on your social media feeds and have been meaning to give it a try. (ICYMI: It’s made by blending frozen bananas in a food processor until smooth.)
But if you want more of the creaminess that you get from traditional ice cream or simply don’t love bananas that much, you can freeze your own Greek or Icelandic yogurt, suggests Mitri.
Either go for lightly sweetened versions (like Siggi’s) or blend plain yogurt with fruit and a bit of honey to taste, add a bit of granola into the base of mini popsicle molds (like these silicone ones from Zoku), pour in the mixture and freeze. You can get more filling protein this way, too: A half-cup of ice cream has 2.5 grams of protein compared to 10 grams in a half-cup of Greek yogurt.
Recipes to Try
Author: Jessica Migala
Source: Live Strong: Genius (and Healthy!) Swaps for 8 of Your Favorite Junk Foods