Homemade and healthier | health beat

If you cut out the sugar, homemade granola is generally a healthier alternative to store-bought varieties. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Convenience foods often make eating much more, well…convenient.

With our hectic schedules, we’re often more inclined to grab something that’s ready to eat. We’re getting used to using pre-made items in place of fresh cooking – largely out of habit – and we don’t think about how easy some of these items are to make ourselves.

Why should we go back to our earlier days of fresher cooking?

Well, most of the premade convenience items at the store contain hidden ingredients that can really harm your health.

Even so-called diet foods can get us into trouble. These include ingredients such as added sugars, salt, preservatives, processed oils, fillers, or artificial ingredients. These offer no nutritional benefit and can negatively affect your health.

The good news ? You can make a few simple swaps at home to create family favorites. And many of them can be prepared in less than five minutes.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Granola

Often considered a healthy breakfast option, most store-bought granola contains lots of added sugars and processed oils.

Homemade granolas can be combined in a snap with many standard pantry staples. Swap for homemade versions with rolled oats, fresh nuts, seeds, dried fruits and spices like cinnamon. Control sweeteners by adding small amounts of natural options, such as honey or applesauce.

Flavored yogurt

This is another favorite marketed as healthy, but it’s often loaded with added sugars if you get the store-bought flavored varieties.

Control the ingredients and make your own version by buying plain yogurt, then adding vanilla extract, fresh fruit and homemade granola.

flavored water

Instead of sugar-laden sodas, punches, or artificially flavored and sweetened waters, you can easily swap for a homemade version. Use water or sparkling water with fresh fruit or herbs. Add a splash of fresh juice to sparkling water for a refreshing drink.

marinara sauce

Sauces are another tricky place where added sugars and salt can find their way into your diet. Instead of grabbing ready-made marinara sauces, make a simplified version with sautéed garlic and fresh onions and a can of plain no-salt-added tomato sauce. Add Italian seasonings for extra flavor. Your wallet will thank you too.

alfredo willow

Everyone loves a good creamy sauce. But this comes with a considerable amount of unhealthy fats.

Try a fun alternative with cashew alfredo sauce. Simply mix soaked cashews with nutritional yeast, garlic, and plant milk. It’s a guilt-free option for pasta lovers.

Dressings

Salads are the #1 choice for people trying to eat healthier and add more vegetables. Often, however, we negate the great benefits of vegetables by drowning them in processed salad dressings.

Many salad dressings use processed oils such as soybean oil, and they often contain added sugars, salt, and preservatives.

Take two minutes to shake your own dressing in a mason jar – use heart-healthy olive oil, vinegar, mustard, spice blends and a splash of honey. It’s ready in a minute and you’ll never go back down the dressing aisle.

taco seasoning

This is another family favorite that comes together in minutes. Most taco seasoning packets contain fillers, excess salt, and sometimes added sugars.

Most people will have everything they need to make taco seasoning at home. Prepare a single batch or a large batch for the next taco night.

microwave popcorn

Every home movie night needs a crunch. Avoid bags of microwave popcorn, as they contain harmful trans fats, artificial flavors and salt.

Whip up a new batch at home in minutes: just grab plain popcorn kernels in a small lunch bag with the folded end closed, then wait for the magic in the microwave. Top it with olive oil and your favorite spice blends.

Fleas

These days, most people are aware of the dangers of this salty snack. As a fried food high in oil, salt and artificial ingredients, french fries can be a dangerous addiction.

Homemade versions are not only tasty but easy. Take corn tortillas and cut them into wedges and place them on a baking sheet. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Cook until crispy and enjoy.

Crepes

Did you know you could make pancakes that didn’t come out of a box? Yes, it can be done – you can keep that Saturday pancake tradition going with less guilt.

Homemade pancakes allow you to use whole grain flours while controlling added sugars and oils.

And these are just a few examples of family favorites where a few ingredient swaps can improve nutritional value. Try to identify your basic convenience items, then look for ways to start making more meals at home, with healthier ingredients.

Every step counts when building a healthier lifestyle.

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