So you’ve decided you want to eat healthy, you’ve downloaded a bunch of healthy cookbooks on your e-reader, and you’ve cleared out the junk food from your pantry. You’re ready to go, but then you get hungry. And not hungry for the new Quinoa Veggie Leek Bake recipe that you had scheduled for Day One. So what do you do? 

Have no fear — you don’t have to give up all your old favorites! There are simple ways to modify the oldies to make them goodies, and there are easy substitutions you can make at the grocery store. 

Here are a few basic guidelines:

  1. Replace hydrogenated oils with healthy fats.  
  2. Replace high fructose corn syrup with more natural sweeteners. 
  3. Replace artificial colorings and flavors with natural ones. 
  4. Replace white flours and pastas for whole grain varieties. 
  5. Limit sugar!  Replace sugary treats with naturally-sweetened options and trade out sweet cereals for those containing 5g of sugar or less.

Here’s an example:  If your family tradition is to have pizza every Friday night, and you know you’ll have mutiny on your hands if you serve broccoli stir fry instead, opt for a whole grain pizza crust, pizza sauce without high fructose corn syrup, low fat cheese and lots of veggies!  Finish it off with a fruit sorbet with added greens. It’s simple to make in your blender and tastes just like the sugary ones.

Or, if your children adore their PBJs and will come home from school hungry if you pack them an avocado sandwich, try fruit-sweetened jelly with non-hydrogenated peanut butter on whole grain bread.

For Easter, we are filling our plastic eggs with fruit-sweetened jelly beans that are colored with natural dyes. I make birthday cakes with whole wheat pastry flour and natural food colorings. I have a great recipe for black bean brownies that taste just like their fudgy, sugary counterparts. (If I’ve piqued your interest, you can try it yourself!)

For snacks, try cutting up some fresh fruit. (Introduce healthier snacks by catching the kids when they’re really hungry and less likely to protest.) Start your meals with salad or have a platter of fresh veggies on the table while dinner is being prepared.

Encourage your children to be food detectives — have them go shopping with you and see if they can find a cereal with a lower sugar content or a bread that doesn’t have hydrogenated oils. Remind them that they are doing this to be strong and healthy in order to perform better at their chosen sport or activity or to have better focus in school. 

You might want to start new traditions such as Meatless Mondays, Fish Fridays, Salad & Smoothie Sundays. Making it fun and something you all do together will help smooth the transition to a healthier way of eating.

And remember, you’re on the right track. So even if you end up at a fast food drive-thru one evening or get caught tossing some M&Ms into your cart at the grocery store, don’t be too hard on yourself.  It’s a journey, so don’t worry if you encounter obstacles or setbacks; just head toward health and enjoy the trip!