Your Healthy Grocery Makeover

Make what's in your bags (and your meals) a whole lot healthier with these 12 simple substitutions.

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12 Easy Ways to Eat Healthier


Who among us hasn't sped down the grocery aisle tossing in items right and left in our rush to get home and make dinner? These simple substitutions will get you out of the store just as quickly—but with much healthier options in your bags.

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Instead of: Plain Bagels


Get: Whole grain bagels
Most of us know by now that "whole grains are much better than white flour," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, the wellness manager and dietician for Lifestyle 180, a wellness program at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland that helps reverse effects of chronic conditions. "It's higher in fiber so it's digested slower. And you won't be hungry an hour later because of a rapid fall in blood sugar." Another smart move: Buy bagels the size of hockey pucks, not those that are as big as hubcaps. Or try the new "thinner" bagels.

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Instead of: Cream Cheese


Get: Peanut butter
Peanut butter packs protein and a healthy plant fat, unlike the saturated fat in cream cheese. "Pick peanut butter that is 100 percent peanuts," dietician Kirkpatrick says, nixing brands with sugar and hydrogenated (read "trans fat") oils.

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Instead of: Jelly


Get: Strawberries or bananas
Add sliced strawberries or bananas to a peanut butter sandwich, and you slip in a whole fruit instead of jelly, which is loaded with sugar, Kirkpatrick says.

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Instead of: Chicken Nuggets


Get: Chicken-on-a-stick
If your tweens still love the ease and familiarity of chicken nuggets, give them what they want—but better. Buy ready-made chicken kabobs (or make your own from boneless chicken breasts); sprinkle them with sesame seeds, smoked paprika, or five-spice powder; and pop them on an indoor or outdoor grill. You're serving a healthy dose of protein instead of breading and fat, says Gaye Lynn Hicks, RD, LD, a dietitian specialist at the Methodist Weight Management Center at Methodist Hospital in Houston: "Protein helps us keep lean body mass and essential amino acids help our metabolism function," Hicks says.And besides, your older kids will probably think chicken-on-a-stick is much cooler than nuggets.

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Instead of: Plain Eggs


Get: Eggs fortified with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
DHA is a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. "People who consume ample amounts of omega-3s, especially DHA, have a much lower incidence of depression, aggressiveness, and hostility," says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. "Look for eggs fortified with sustainable, algae-based DHA. Products fortified with flax, which contains a different omega-3, won't give you the same boost."

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Instead of: Canned Vegetables


Get: Fresh or frozen
Angela Mackey, a stay-at-home mother of three in Fort Smith, Arkansas, shuns canned veggies and syrupy fruit for fresh. Wise move, says dietician Hicks: Fresh and frozen beat canned because canned foods often have added sugar and sodium, she says.

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Instead of: Mayonnaise


Get: Salsa
"Salsa has absolutely no fat, lots of flavor, and very few calories," says Bethanne Weiss, founder of Funiq Fitness and a stepmom to three in Lake Mary, Florida. Weiss uses salsa to dress salads, on baked potatoes, in tuna fish, and on sandwiches. The tomatoes in salsa have lots of lycopene, which reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Another option: Use guacamole or avocado slices instead of mayonnaise, says dietician Kirkpatrick: "Avocado is high in vitamin E, which helps brain function."

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Instead of: Processed Deli Meats


Get: Nitrate-free deli meats
"I don't even look at the regular meat section anymore," says Jennifer Bright Reich, the cofounder and editorial director of Mommy MD Guides and mother of two in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She was right to make the switch to preservative-free meats, says Kirkpatrick. "Processed deli meats and hot dogs have nitrates, which have been linked to certain cancers." They also have a lot of sodium, only a boon if you're after high blood pressure.

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Instead of: Sugary Cereal


Get: Whole grain cereals
"The first ingredient on the cereal box should be whole grain," says nutrition expert Somer. "Look for ones with at least 3-5 grams of fiber and less than 4 grams, or 1 teaspoon, of sugar per serving." Peggy Frezon, a writer with two children in Rensselaer, New York, switched from fruit-and-cream oatmeal packets—which have almost 11 grams of sugar per serving—to plain oatmeal. Because of that and a wholesale change to whole grains and low-fat dairy, she's lost 30 pounds, her husband had lost 40, and her teenage son has dropped his cholesterol by 30 points.

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Instead of: Blue Yogurt


Get: Plain low-fat yogurt
Blend your own fresh blueberries or strawberries, and a little honey into plain yogurt, and your kids will have blue or pink yogurt just like the other kids—except without the dye and sugar, says Kirkpatrick: "There's no benefit to dyes," she says. "And although the evidence is weak, animal studies show some links between dyes and ADHD and cancer."

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Instead of: Jarred Pasta Sauce


Get: No-sodium or low-sodium canned crushed tomatoes
"The jarred versions of red sauce have sugar," says Kirkpatrick. "Add basil and pepper to crushed tomatoes, and then ladle it on whole grain pasta. It tastes yummy."

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Instead of: Fruit Snacks


Get: Whole fruit
"Many fruit snacks are just like sugar—it's no better than eating Gummy Bears," Hicks says. "They have no nutritive value. Instead, buy fresh fruit. Grapes and apples are both great afternoon snacks and are easy to sneak into lunch bags. Don't be tempted by the canned fruit. Most is swimming in syrup," Hicks says.