All of us are familiar with the phenomenon of broken New Year’s resolutions. A person may have ambitious goals for large-scale life changes. But the day-to-day reality can quickly become overwhelming, and some people get discouraged and give up on the goal entirely.  

When it comes to eating a healthier diet, it’s easy to fall into this trap. For some people, immediate and drastic changes are necessary, but for most of us they’re just not sustainable. That’s why so many of the more extreme diets out there typically don’t last.

If you want to make long-term changes in the way you eat, commit to making small, realistic changes over time. Small changes to regular habits go a long way toward making changes that stick!

One easy way to do this is to swap a couple of items on your typical menu for more healthful ones. Here are a handful of small healthy food swaps that you might start with:

Sweet potato fries instead of regular fries

Here’s a simple one to begin the list. Instead of picking up a bag of regular fries in the frozen section of the grocery store, reach to the next shelf and get the sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes pack a whole lot more nutrients than their white-potato counterparts, and they’ve got a delicious sweet flavor that makes the regular kind seem just bland.

French fries of any kind are typically covered in oil, so these are not completely healthy, but it’s a great swap to start out with. Be sure to get the sweet potato fries that you bake in the oven instead of the ones you deep fry—they’ll be healthier and also easier to clean up after.

Better yet, you can make your own. Slice up whole sweet potatoes (with the skins on), toss them in heart-healthy olive oil and maybe some black pepper and rosemary, and bake at 400 degrees.

Avocado instead of cream cheese on your toast

Instead high-fat cream cheese, start your morning off with ripe avocado. Slice or mash avocado onto your toast or bagel, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and you’ll have a savory, satisfying breakfast.

Like cream cheese, avocado is creamy and high in fat—but the difference is that it’s heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats. And unlike cream cheese, avocados are high in fiber and protein, keeping you fuller throughout the morning.

Plus, avocados have zero cholesterol, with some studies showing they can actually lower your cholesterol levels!

Ground turkey instead of ground beef

For dishes like tacos or lasagna, you can reduce the calorie count simply by swapping ground beef for lean ground turkey. Ground turkey tends to be lower in fat, particularly in saturated fats. (Some blends have more fat than others, though—be careful to read the label!) And in something as heavily seasoned as taco meat, you may not even be able to tell the difference.

A slightly larger jump would be substituting turkey for beef in burgers. Turkey does have a milder taste than beef, so you may want to experiment with your burger toppings to find something that better compliments the flavor. (For example, instead of classic mustard and ketchup, you might try experimenting with pesto, feta cheese, avocado, Dijon mustard or chipotle seasoning.)

Or if you just love the taste of beef too much to substitute it entirely, you can mix your ground beef with mushroom. This blend not only cuts down fat and adds nutrition, but may actually enhance the beef flavor. Here’s one recipe for combining beef and mushroom.

Hummus instead of traditional dip

Hummus is a traditional Middle Eastern spread that’s growing in popularity in the US. The basic recipe calls for chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon, and olive oil. After that the sky’s the limit in terms of flavors that can be added in—including spicy pepper, black bean, sun-dried tomato, or even Buffalo sauce.

Hummus is great with warm pita bread, tortilla chips, and veggies such as carrots and sliced bell peppers. Not only is it more savory than traditional ranch- or cream-based dips, but the chickpeas provide healthy proteins that will leave you feeling more satisfied and full afterward.

Hummus is relatively easy to make if you have a food processor or blender, but many grocery stores carry several varieties—making it an even more convenient swap.

Plain yogurt with add-ins instead of sugary yogurt

Instead of snacking on an over-sweetened commercial yogurt, start with plain yogurt and mix in natural flavoring such as honey and berries.

You can read more about the benefits of plain yogurt with add-ins in our post about healthy office snacks.



Other swaps

Other relatively easy swaps include:

These are all relatively small steps—but it’s the small steps over time that make the greatest difference.

And if you’re serious about making more healthful food choices in 2014, talk to Dr. Robert Fiss or Dr. Ryan Fiss at your next appointment. We’d be happy to help you find long-term solutions to better health!