17 simple swaps to make your meals more nutritious — and still delicious

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

You may have go-to recipes for your on-the-go breakfasts, meal-prepped lunches, midday snacks, weeknight dinners and satisfying desserts, but have considered how to shake them up to add some more nutrition? For a low lift, you can give your favorite foods a major nutritional boost.

Do you usually add mayo to your Caesar salad? Try using avocado instead to infuse the dish with heart-healthy fats. Instead of topping your pancakes with pats of butter and a heavy drizzle of maple syrup, try opting for berries and whipped cream. Boost the nutrition of your chicken salad — and increase its portion size — by mixing in fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Making simple swaps — at the breakfast table, during snack time, even with your desserts — can add up to huge health gains. Here are nine easy ways to score delicious flavor and nutrition upgrades.

The world is your swappable oyster.

1. Store-bought Frappuccino ⟶ Homemade mocha frappé

Need a jolt of java joy? Skip Starbucks (once in a while, that is) and sip on this DIY Frappuccino made with wholesome ingredients and just the right amount of mojo magic. Traditional frappés tend to be high in calories, loaded with sugar and sometimes topped with syrups, whipped cream and caramel drizzles. This better-for-you frappé keeps the good stuff in and bad stuff out. The coffee flavor is prominent (in the best way) with just one shot, but if you’d like a more intense espresso flavor — and double the caffeine! — add an additional shot. This simple recipe will infuse your morning madness and afternoon lulls with just the boost you need to power through.

Mocha Frappé by Joy Bauer

2. Cookie dough Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough

Have you ever found yourself unable to resist the allure of raw cookie dough while baking? Admittedly, I’ve experienced this scenario more than once, and I’m betting you’ve been there, too. Here’s a way to indulge guilt-free in the irresistible deliciousness. It’s an easy cookie dough recipe that not only offers a safe-to-eat raw experience but also embraces the goodness of wholesome ingredients like whole grain oats and walnuts. These key components aren’t just flavorful — they’re champions of heart health, actively working to lower cholesterol levels. And here’s the best part: This recipe is simple to make because everything (except the chips) is added to a food processor and whirled around until the mixture becomes creamy and dreamy.

Joy Bauer's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)

3. Lemonade Frozen Peach Lemonade

Pucker up because this lemonade will leave you speachless! It delivers a dessert-like experience with more fiber, more antioxidants and only a fraction of the sugar of traditional lemonade. And the combination of sweet, juicy peaches with the tang of zesty lemon is quite incredible. Oh, and the lemon-flavored sparkling water is a crafty addition, as it intensifies the lemony taste without the need for excessive amounts of sweetener. Whether you’re enjoying it poolside while savoring the last sips of summer or serving it at your next gathering, it’s a tasty beverage that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Joy Bauer's Frozen Peach Lemonade. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's Frozen Peach Lemonade. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)

4. Corned beef Reuben Turkey Reuben

This classic American sandwich features heaps of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian or Thousand Island dressing nestled between grilled, buttery slices of rye. Are you drooling yet? Well, I certainly am ... but I have a healthier version to share that’s just as tasty and helps you reduce your saturated fat intake. Don’t worry, I’m not going to Reuben a good thing — in fact, most of the ingredients stay exactly the same so you can enjoy the familiar fixings without sacrifice. Here, I toast my bread (hold the butter), and swap out marbled corned beef for sliced turkey. It’s a seamless skip-and-swap situation that takes your sandwich to new health heights. And if you’re looking to cut carbs, leave off the top slice of bread for an open-faced experience.

Joy Bauer's Turkey Reuben. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's Turkey Reuben. (Courtesy Joy Bauer)

5. Chocolate chip cookie ⟶ Giant frozen yogurt 'cookie'

What’s better than an irresistible chocolate chip cookie? Whether you’re team crunchy or team chewy, each bite is filled with sweet, buttery dough and pops of indulgent chocolate bliss. That being said, it takes only a matter of seconds to gobble down two or even three … and then you’re left staring at an empty plate with only a few measly crumbs remaining as evidence. Sigh.

Well, here’s a smart swap that lets you sink your teeth into a much larger version that’s packed with both flavor and nutrition to extend your eating experience and boost the health value. My giant fro-yo “cookie” is scrumptious and simple to make — just spread a single-serve yogurt (vanilla, strawberry or mixed berry — anything goes) into a circle shape, crumble a cookie on top and freeze. This superfood trick increases protein and calcium, which is great for muscle and bone health. Plus, it takes longer to eat because it’s super-sized and frozen, letting you savor each piece as you break it apart. That’s the way this cookie crumbles!

Frozen Yogurt Chocolate Chip Cookie (Joy Bauer)
Frozen Yogurt Chocolate Chip Cookie (Joy Bauer)

6. Chicken salad ⟶ Chicken salad + mix-ins

Chicken salad: It’s a healthy lunch we all love (creamy and protein-packed) and you can get it virtually anywhere, whether you’re stopping quickly at the local deli, sitting down at the corner restaurant, popping by a luncheonette, or whipping it up yourself at home. Here’s the easiest way to upgrade the flavor, nutrition and portion size — triple win. Add in extras, like juicy grapes, crisp apples, crunchy jicama and heart-healthy nuts, all of which deliver volume, extra deliciousness and loads of pizzazz — not to mention plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, this salad offers so many incredible textures (juicy, soft, creamy, and crunchy) and tastes (savory, sweet and tart).

Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich by Joy Bauer

7. Avocado toast ⟶ Avocado caprese toast

Avocado toast is already an A+ dish, loaded with fiber, good fat and whole grains, if you opt for a whole-grain bread. Here, I’m showing off a capr-easy way to make your slice extra nice. By adding juicy, lycopene-packed tomato, protein- and calcium-rich mozzarella, fragrant basil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze, you’ve taken a beneficial breakfast and transformed it into a meal to look forward to (cue the drooling!). Plus, you’ve given yourself even more chewing satisfaction, tons more flavor and oodles of extra nutrition. Now this is a toast with the most!

Avocado Caprese Toast by Joy Bauer

8. Rice Rice veggie pilaf

This is one of the easiest hacks ever! Here’s a way to take any type of rice and instantly double the portion and nutrition with relatively no effort. This classic dish gets a quick and tasty lift from the addition of colorful frozen veggies.

Combine equal parts rice with any frozen vegetable medley (I find the smaller veggie blends with corn, peas, carrots, green beans and lima beans work best; you can buy them anywhere). Frozen veggies are convenient, cost-effective, accessible and an easy way to eat more produce. Then season your creation and dig in!

9. Pancakes with butter and syrup  Pancakes with berries and whipped cream

Nothing stacks up quite like pancakes for breakfast, but with the addition of butter and syrup, the classic dish can zap energy and leave you feeling more tired than revved for the day ahead. One of the easiest ways to upgrade your flapjacks is by swapping your topping. Replace traditional butter and syrup with fresh, juicy berries — they lend moisture, natural sweetness, fiber and antioxidants — plus, provide a pretty pop of color, too. Then, amp up the fun factor by adding a few squirts of aerated whipped cream. Thanks to all the infused air, it’s super light in calories yet offers an indulgent and splurge-worthy feel. This clever trade will instantly elevate your stack, while significantly reducing the saturated fat and sugar. It’s a total win in my book, and each bite feels like a delicious treat.

Sheet-Pan Pancake with Berries by Joy Bauer

10. Chicken wrap → Chicken lettuce wrap

With so many people looking to cut back on carbs, swapping a tortilla wrap for a lettuce “wrap” is an easy and super effective trick. It’s also a great way to let the flavorful fillings really shine through. I like to use oversized leaves from a package of romaine hearts, but butter lettuce, red or green leaf, and iceberg lettuce leaves work well, too. It’s almost like these larger lettuce leaves were made for wrapping sandwiches and burgers!

11. Classic fudge cake 2-ingredient fudge cake

You gotta love chocolate fudge cake — rich, gooey, mouthwatering perfection. Here’s a DIY version that offers all the same deliciousness but without any oil or butter … and it’s a simple no-bake recipe, which means you don’t even have to turn on your oven (you’re welcome!). I just mix two simple ingredients together —melted chocolate chips and canned pumpkin puree — then distribute the batter among nine lined muffin tins and let them firm in the fridge. These portion-controlled delights are ideal for when you’re craving a rich, chocolaty treat but don’t want to go overboard.

Joy Bauer's 2-ingredient Fudge Cakes. (Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's 2-ingredient Fudge Cakes. (Joy Bauer)

12. Chips & salsa → Jicama sticks, sugar snap peas & salsa

Full disclosure: I love chips. But once I get started, it’s tough to stop, and I’m betting I’m not alone here (I joke with my kids, one chip is really 1,000 chips). And while I’m never giving up my chips, I try to go for vegetable dippers most of the time. Baby carrots, celery sticks and bell pepper sticks are all great options, but don’t forget about two underdogs that make outstanding options: sliced jicama and sugar snap peas. These veggies provide great crunch, deliver wonderful flavor and are incredibly satisfying. Not to mention they’re filled with fiber and nutrition. Serve ‘em with lycopene-rich salsa, hummus, guac or any other dip you prefer. Snap to it and enjoy!

Pineapple-Avocado Salsa by Joy Bauer

13. Mayo  Mashed avocado

Avocados offer creamy-dreamy goodness with a hefty dose of fiber, heart-healthy fats and potassium. The green-hued fruit has undeniable star power that shines through in just about any dish. As if you needed more proof than guac, there are salads with avocado and avocado toast … I could go on and on. So, I will! Mashed avocado makes for a scrumptious spread for sammies and wraps. One important note: It has to be ripe so it’s creamy enough to spread. (If you find it’s too stiff, you may need to mash it in a bowl with a fork before spreading.) I use about 1/4 to 1/3 avocado per wrap, and you can slather it right down the center or around the entire perimeter. If you choose to use it on a sandwich, you may want to toast your bread first so the bread doesn’t break apart. And don’t tell anyone: I even use avocado instead of mayo in my Caesar Dressing.

Caprese Caesar Wrap by Joy Bauer

14. Croutons  Toasted pecans

Crunch! Crunch! That’s the sound of crispy satisfaction coming straight from your salad bowl. No, they’re not croutons, they’re toasted pecans, which offer a similar texture and feel but with heart-healthy fats and antioxidants. And the flavor? Buttery, nutty and gently sweet. Note that toasting pecans intensifies the flavor and crunch, so it’s a must. Here's the easiest way to make toasted pecans.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad by Joy Bauer

15. Brown rice  Farro

Brown rice is an obvious winner. The whole grain delivers vitamins, minerals and some fiber, and it’s versatile enough to complement to just about any meal. While brown rice has earned a regular spot in many homes, farro is an ancient grain worth getting to know. That’s because it provides more than double the amount of fiber and protein compared to brown rice and is just as easy to make. It has a lighter flavor than brown rice, slightly nutty and a bit sweet (some even say with subtle hints of cinnamon). I love its texture — it’s chewy and puffy, so it’s quite filling and satisfying. It’s an ideal side to meat, chicken and fish, but it’s also great chilled and added to any sort of cold salad. In fact, I make a Farro Pilaf with various aromatics and tasty mix-ins like pistachios and dried cranberries that’s always a crowd-pleaser.

Joy Bauer's Farro Pilaf. (Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's Farro Pilaf. (Joy Bauer)

16. Sour cream  Greek yogurt

Sour cream is the topping of choice for baked potatoes, chilis, tacos and nachos. But I personally have a thing for Greek yogurt when my dish needs a dollop of deliciousness. Unlike regular yogurt, Greek yogurt is strained, making it thicker, tangier and more similar to sour cream in texture and taste, with the added perk of extra protein. Add a spoonful or two to these Loaded Sweet Potatoes or this Butternut Squash Chili, and dig in!

Baked Feta Spinach-Artichoke Dip by Joy Bauer

17. Canned tuna → Canned salmon

If you’re going to go fish, why not try canned salmon? All canned fish are packed with protein and are a budget-friendly way to hit your weekly fish quota. And of course, there’s no need for canned tuna to be canned for good, but swapping to salmon offers a number of benefits, including more heart-healthy omega-3 fats and bone-strengthening vitamin D. Now that’s the reel deal! Try this Wild Salmon and Chickpea Salad for a scrumptious fix.

Joy Bauer's Wild Salmon and Chickpea Salad. (Joy Bauer)
Joy Bauer's Wild Salmon and Chickpea Salad. (Joy Bauer)

This article was originally published on TODAY.com