Housewife MacGyver: Better to Best - Easy Substitutions

Happy Memorial Day! Keira is here again today to share some simple ways to make your menu just a little bit healthier, taking food from the good options you use now and giving you ideas for some better options and the best (health-wise) options:

Hello again! It’s Keira, a frequent guest-writer at just Lu, you can find some samples here. I’m honored that Lu has thought enough of my food skills to have me post here about food substitutions. I know that you are all busy women (and men) and want to eat better, but do not want to be dragged into making some granola-meal-that-takes-five-hours-to-bake. I understand. :)

So, under the structure of the “Good, Better, Best” idea, let’s get started. The “Good” title is what you all are doing now—you are doing what is good for yourself and your children/families, plus you are reading this article to improve! That’s pretty good in MY book! :)

Let's get started!


Good (in other words, what you do now): Using mayo (or miracle whip) as a dressing for sandwiches. We all need fat in our diet (especially children for their growing brains), and when we add a bit of turkey, a very low-fat meat, to that sandwich, mayo is all the fat we’ve got!

Better: Using oil as a dressing. Some people love olive oil, some swear by coconut oil. Whatever you choose, you will still get the fats you need, but they will be unsaturated. If that’s a little too technical for you, use this rule of thumb: fats that are liquid at room temperature are unsaturated, and therefore better (overall) for you. Fats that are solid at room temperature (such as Crisco, butter, mayo) are saturated fats, and can raise cholesterol levels.

Best: A very low-fat alternative (not recommend for young children) is using hummus as your dressing. I know it seems real technical and/or hippie-esque, but it’s very easy to make a batch or even buy some at the store! Hummus usually has an olive base, which is a great source of fat, but is made up of blended beans. This gives you a little fat and lots of fiber and protein! Plus, you can season hummus anyway you like to give an extra zing to your sandwiches. Here is my Black Bean Hummus recipe.


Good (current choice): You are bored of trail mix, but you eat it.

Better: Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? I had no idea until I took my nutrition class. Could have fooled me! It uses the entire kernel, so you actually get some fiber in your diet, without needing to eat more thick-dry bread or higher-fat nuts.

Best: Mix up your trail mix and add something other than your boring peanuts:
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Dried fruit (such as banana chips, mango, apple chips/crisps, raisins (or chocolate-covered raisins if you hate them like I do!), Crasins
  • Try some new nuts! Especially if they are raw. New nuts can include: cashews, honey-roasted peanuts, almonds (either salted OR sugar-coated), walnuts (which are easy to eat raw), hazelnuts, macademia nuts
  • Add a different sweet: white chocolate chips, peanut butter M & M’s, Reese’s pieces, caramel bits, coated nuts

Hide Your Veggies

Good: You convinced your child to eat their spaghetti dinner. :)

Better: When making your sauce, sneak a jar or two of baby food carrots into your spaghetti sauce. They’ll never know it was there, and the sauce will taste sweeter anyway!

Best: Besides using some pureed carrots, try to grate other vegetables in the sauce, since the redness of the tomato hides so many colors. I grate yellow squash, carrots, zucchini, onions, red peppers, butternut squash, and any seasonings I can sneak in as well (such as fresh bay leaves or oregano). Any vegetable you can sneak in is a victory!

The Skinny on the Butter and Margarine Battle

Good (or at least okay): Using margarine RARELY--the kinds that have NO trans-fat.
Better: Using butter RARELY.
Best: Using oil or applesauce to replace butter.

Let’s face it. We now all know that margarine is worse for us than butter, considering the trans fats and the fact that Margarine is one molecule short of being plastic. But that does not mean you should be running back to butter, either. Although they are naturally-occurring, butter has trans-fat as well. It is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol. We have to use it with care. Quite a bit of foods are good for us in small amounts, and butter is one of them. Butter is a lipid, and will bring out flavors in food better than any other substance, that’s why we crave fats on our meals. Butter is saturated and holds our baking together well when cooked at high heat. Butter keeps things moist or lubricated. But we all know we could use a little less.

Oils are always a good replacement. Make it a restaurant style meal and dip your bread in oil and vinegar instead of butter. Usually recipes can hold up to substituting butter for oil. For the ones that can’t, try halving the butter and adding oil, or better yet, using applesauce, which is a great way to get the moisture that you need in your baking. I have heard from some of my favorite chefs that baking or cooking in coconut oil is actually BETTER than butter—especially in things like cookies, bringing a flavor and sweetness to the confection.

Other Substitutions

Instead of a regular potato, make it a sweet potato. They take about the same amount of time to cook and are packed with better vitamins than a traditional potato—most prominently, iron. Add a little bit of butter and cinnamon, or applesauce in place of the butter.

Blend yogurt with carrot juice, bananas, honey (not for children under one, and optional anyway), and another fruit like strawberries or raspberries for breakfast. Don’t worry—this has less sugar than a frosted cereal, and is much more fulfilling.

Instead of adding salt, add lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or dill.

I hope these substitutions were helpful and informative. I hope you all will still enjoy your meals while taking care of your bodies. Food is such a large part of our lives, we should definitely take the time to make it well and enjoy it right. :)

Thanks for hosting me, Lu!

Thanks, Keira! Doesn't she have some impressive dietary know-how? You can get more over at her blog, like in her recent post about iron deficiency and her seriously yummy crepes.  Plus, she'll be back next month as we MacGyver our kitchen skills. Unless she's sick of me by then ;)

This post is part of the Housewife MacGyver series on just Lu. Read more about Housewife MacGyver and see all the posts in the series here.


Debra said...

I think my one massive frustration is how EXPENSIVE coconut oil is. At least where I live, it is ridiculous. I am willing to go the applesauce route though, except I already replace the eggs in my cupcakes, so I am afraid if I start replacing the butter too that they will turn out wonky.

Rochelle @Home Sweet Homebodies said...

Good suggestions. I enjoy substituting applesauce for oil in my baking, and now I am going to try using hummus for dressing- love it, but just never think of it. I also like the idea of adding veggies to spaghetti.

Gwen @ Gwenny Penny said...

Great tips. I am a vegetable hater, and it is a constant battle to get myself to eat them. I need to start hiding them in more meals. Well, I guess I can't "hide" them since I'm making said meals, but I need to put them in there :)

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