20 easy ways to make meals healthier

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Everyone loves a good hack. If there’s a way to make our work, pastime, or chore easier, quicker, easier, or more effective, we’re all ears. Now that we’re all trying to eat healthier, cleaner, and more plant-based, there’s no shortage of homemade hacks to get the most nutrients out of every bite.

Here are some of our favorite ways to make every meal healthier. Keep reading and don’t miss any more Do you want a slim body forever? Adopt these 8 eating habits.

Make a family sized frozen meal healthier.

Family-size frozen meals get a bad rap for being high in sodium. But you can increase their nutritional value to make them much healthier. “My favorite way to add more nutrition to meals while still maintaining the convenience factor is to use family-size frozen meals that include a protein source, veggies and sauce, and only add an extra bag of veggies to the mix when preparing add.” says Registered Dietitian Kiran Campbell, RDN. “This helps dilute the amount of sodium and fat compared to not eating extra veggies. It adds valuable nutrients and most likely an extra serving of veggies to your day.”

RELATED: 10 frozen dinners made with the highest quality ingredients

Combine plant sources of iron with vitamin C.

Iron is under-consumed by adolescent girls and women into middle age. “If you don’t want to eat meat, which is an excellent source of iron, there are plant sources, including fortified breakfast cereals, fortified breads, leafy greens, tofu, beans and lentils,” she says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDCES, creator of the Prediabetes Meal Planning Crash Course. “But plant-based iron is poorly absorbed without vitamin C, so pair fortified muesli with berries, chickpea salad with tomatoes and peppers, and leafy greens with lemon juice.”

Add leftover cold pasta and potatoes to a green salad.

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Make a green garden salad even more nutritious by adding cold pasta or potatoes. When cooked pasta and potatoes are left to cool, they turn into resistant starches. This type of starch acts like soluble fiber; it resists digestion. In turn, it can reduce appetite and lower blood sugar levels, thereby improving insulin sensitivity. Because it is fermented in the colon, resistant starch is a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in the gut and potentially improves immune system health. Read more about resistant starch by checking out the secret breakfast trick for a flat stomach.

Get more nutrients from a carrot by eating eggs at the same time.

The next time you make a garden salad full of raw carrots, orange peppers, and tomatoes, slice up a hard-boiled egg to toss on top. Adding boiled eggs to salads helps your body absorb carotenoids like carotene and lycopene, which are found in raw vegetables with red, orange, and yellow pigments, according to a small study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The phytonutrients in this colorful vegetable are powerful anti-inflammatory. For maximum benefit, be sure to add the yolk, which contains the fats that help your gut absorb these carotenoids.

Chop the garlic then do this.

Garlic has been studied for its role in preventing colon and stomach cancer. Breaking up the garlic activates its natural disease-fighting phytonutrients. Unfortunately, heat immediately deactivates these phytonutrients. To get garlic’s powerful health boosters, do this, says Weisenberger: “Crush it up, then let it sit for about 10 minutes before heating it up. Allowing the chopped or crushed garlic to sit at room temperature for just 10 minutes gives important enzyme time to act and preserve its phytonutrients.”

Substitute oil for pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin puree can be used in place of cooking oil in a variety of baked goods, and you’ll benefit from pumpkin’s nutrients like vitamins A, B1, B6 and C, folic acid, fiber and antihypertensive properties potassium and magnesium. Substitute ¼ cup of squash for ¼ cup of oil in recipes — since squash has a high water content, it contributes a lot of moisture to baked goods, so you can still get a super moist texture with less oil,” says a Registered Dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, RDNOwner of Once Upon A Pumpkin.

Place a bowl of slivers of almonds on the table.

Place slivers or slices of almonds in a sealable container on your kitchen counter for easy access. Spoon over hot or cold granola, yogurt cottage cheese, garden salads, or in smoothies. An ounce of almonds has 6 grams of protein, along with some heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber.

Top off breakfast with mood-boosting blueberries.

Chia Blueberry Pudding
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Adding blueberries to your meals is one of the tastiest ways to increase the nutrients you get and their benefits in every bite. “Research shows that blueberries may increase levels of serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’ in the brain, and reduce inflammation caused by free radicals,” she says Uma Nadu, MDDirector of Nutrition and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of This is your food brain. Nadu’s favorite breakfast is a creamy chia pudding, which she makes the night before with almond milk to ease her morning routine. “In the morning I garnish it with plain yoghurt, crushed hazelnuts and a handful of blueberries.”

Wilt, fill and pour on the vitamins.

Instead of cooking more veggies, add them to the foods you’re already eating, Weisenberger suggests: “Fill a sandwich like a salad between two slices of bread. Pour salsa from the jar over your eggs. Fill spaghetti sauce with mushrooms, onions, and carrots. Fill the potato salad with broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes and red onions. Wilt fresh baby spinach just before serving in soups.”

Bake with almond flour instead of wheat flour.

“One of my favorite ways to make baked goods more nutritious with incredible texture is to use almond flour,” says Michalczyk. “Almond flour is naturally gluten-free and contains a unique combination of plant-based protein, fiber, and fats.” Almonds also provide about 50% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps keep skin looking healthy, says Michalczyk.

Build a better grilled cheese sandwich.

You can adult a classic grilled cheese sandwich by adding some healthier ingredients between the cheese and bread before grilling. Add apple slices, broccoli florets, tomato slices, or spinach leaves for more fiber and vitamins A and C. Add avocado slices for healthy fats.

Only cut fruit and vegetables at the last second.

When you cut fruits and vegetables, you expose more surface area to air, which reduces nutrient content by the minute through oxidation, Campbell says. It is better to wait until the last second before slicing fruits and vegetables to prevent the loss of vitamins (especially vitamin C) and minerals. “To avoid nutrient loss in vegetables during cooking, use quick-cooking methods like frying or even microwave steaming,” says Campbell. “I often cook my broccoli in the microwave with a little water so it retains most of the nutrients.”

Steam a more nutritious meal.

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How you cook can often be just as important as what you cook when it comes to getting the best nutrients for your buck. For example, steaming your vegetables retains more nutrients than boiling, since boiling tends to result in more vitamin losses, says the registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Justin Chan, R.DOwner of YourDiabetesDietitian.com.

Hide good stuff in spaghetti sauce.

Even regular pasta that doesn’t contain fiber can be made healthier by adding fiber to the sauce you put on top. Add chopped veggies to your jarred or at-home sauce to introduce a healthy dose of fiber. And also add lentils, kidney beans or kidney beans. Just half a cup adds 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein to the dish.

Choose sweets instead of white once a week.

If you often eat potatoes as a side dish, try swapping out white potatoes for sweet potatoes. A large sweet potato provides about 4 grams of satiety-boosting protein, 25 percent of the day’s belly-filling fiber, and 11 times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. In addition, sweet potatoes contain about 50 fewer calories than white potatoes of the same size. For more information, see One Important Effect of Eating Sweet Potatoes, Says Nutritionist.

Use your noodle, choose Zoodles.

Spiralized zucchini noodles
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Swapping pasta for zoodles (aka zucchini noodles) cuts out empty carbs and adds vitamins and fiber. While two cups of pasta contain 480 calories, 90 grams of carbohydrates, and two grams of fiber, two cups of zucchini pasta contain only 66 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates while fiber is upped to four grams.

Skip the sour cream.

You increase the nutritional value of your meal when you use high-protein plain yogurt instead of sour cream, says Weisenberger. Use the yoghurt on chili, baked potatoes and in bean dishes. It’s also a good source of calcium and probiotics.

Add oats to ground turkey.

Get the heart-healthy, diabetes-busting benefits of whole grain oats by making Turkey Oat Meatballs. Add ¾ cup of quick-cooking rolled oats to 11/2 pounds of ground lean turkey. Add ½ cup chopped onion, 1 egg and ½ cup tomato sauce. Roll into meatballs and bake in a pan at 400F for 20 minutes. Serve with tomato sauce.

Give your PB&J super powers.

Begin by adding ground flaxseed allsays Caitlin Carr, MS, RD, a Registered Dietitian in Portland, Oregon. Flaxseed is a great source of fiber, healthy omega-3 fats, and B vitamins. “Sprinkle on oatmeal, or in a smoothie, or add to a salad, coleslaw, or even dessert.” To up the nutritional value of a brown bag lunch, mix a tablespoon of flaxseeds with natural peanut butter and spread on a slice of whole-wheat bread. Next, mix a tablespoon of chia seeds into the jam, jelly, or marmalade and spread on the other disc. “Now you have a high-fiber, healthy-fat PB&J sandwich.”

Invite herbs to dinner.

“Spices and herbs not only add flavor to your dishes, they also add nutrients and antioxidants,” he says Lisa Hugh, RD, a Registered Dietitian in private practice. Stock up on fresh cilantro, chopped green onions, fresh hot peppers and fresh parsley to add a nutritional boost to your meals.

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