How to be healthier? Eat healthy versions of your favorite recipes! Here are examples of processed foods with a healthy makeover.
How to be healthier? One way is to eat a lot of “healthy” food like salads and smoothies–which is a great way to start! But what if you could eat healthier versions of your favorite recipes? Here are our top 8 examples of processed foods with a healthy, real food makeover. From a fancy homemade version of a hot pocket to crispy baked fries to vegan nacho cheese, there’s something for everyone.
Rule #39 in Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules says that you can eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself. He figures that with the effort required to make it, you’ll indulge only occasionally. This is just how Alex and I feel about our old nostalgic processed foods. After working to minimize the processed foods in our diet, we’ve begun to make many of the foods we used to buy. Ready for our favorite recipes?
Love tater tots but not processed foods? Try these homemade tater tots, made simply with potatoes and olive oil and baked until crispy. It’s a bit of a process: you peel and parboil the potatoes until they are slightly tender but not mushy. Then you grate them, mix them with a bit of flour and spices, and form them into nuggets. After brushing the tater tots with olive oil, they’re roasted in a very hot oven, turning occasionally until they’re crispy. Baking them in this manner results in tater tots that are a bit flatter than the traditional fried cylinder, but the flavor is just as good. And honestly, they’re not too terrible for you either, since they’re made simply with potatoes and olive oil!
Tip: Try our homemade baked tater tots as Loaded Tater Tot Nachos — Totchos (shown above).
Another in our favorite recipes for examples of processed foods made healthier: this Greek yogurt dip is a ranch dip! Made with a few real food ingredients, this healthy snack comes together in just 5 minutes. Alex and I grew up eating that ranch dip that was made of a packet of ranch seasonings (and lots of other preservatives, no doubt) mixed into sour cream. What if ranch dip could be made with real food ingredients and spices from the pantry? This ranch Greek yogurt dip recipe is made with Greek yogurt and spices you’ll likely have in your spice cabinet: no random preservatives here! We love to serve it as a game day snack or kid food to eat with veggies and pretzels. The flavor is fresh and delicious, like a heightened version of the traditional processed stuff!
Want to make sweet potato fries in the oven–without using that bag of frozen processed fries? These crispy sweet potato fries require very little oil to brown in the oven. Our secret? We use a little cornstarch to get a perfectly crunchy fry. You’ll also need to bake these sweet potato fries at a high temperature and keep them from touching each other as much as possible while cooking. If you like dipping your fries in something, might we recommend this homemade honey mustard? The combination of sweet potatoes and tangy honey mustard is hard to beat!
Did you know that before Alex and I learned to cook, I subsisted on Hot Pockets? Yes, back in my college days it was microwaved hot pockets for dinner, most nights! Luckily, there’s a real food version of this that’s way tastier: a calzone! This easy calzone recipe is another in our favorite recipes for examples of processed foods made healthier! It features a homemade pizza dough and a spinach, mushroom, and two-cheese filling. Calzones originated in Naples, Italy (where all the best food comes from) and are essentially a giant pizza pocket. This recipe is made with our Easy Homemade Pizza Sauce, and there’s extra leftover for dipping! You can make your own pizza dough, or substitute purchased dough for a time shortcut.
These crispy baked fries are oven baked and taste just like restaurant french fries! These french fries take a bit of time to chop and roast, but the hot oven takes a russet potato and makes crispy baked fries that rival any restaurant fryer. One of our “secrets” to these crispy baked fries is using powdered mustard as a seasoning with salt and pepper. It brings a savory quality to the french fries that’s just right. Eat with ketchup, or our garlic rosemary aioli sauce!
You know that plastic looking jar of yellow goo labeled nacho cheese in the grocery? Want to make a healthier version of nacho cheese sauce at home? Our vegan nacho cheese (or vegan queso) is another in our favorite recipes for examples of processed foods made healthier. It’s a cashew cheese sauce recipe that’s ultra simple and delicious. Here, we’ve combined soaked cashews with traditional Mexican flavors. The special ingredient is a can of green chiles, which you should be able to find in most international grocery aisles. The other ingredients you likely have in your pantry and refrigerator: chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, and yellow mustard. Blend together, and you’ll have a delicious nacho cheese sauce that’s like none other.
This creamy mac and cheese with Greek yogurt is a healthy take on comfort food! With spinach and Parmesan cheese, it’s pure delicious in under 30 minutes. We’ve taken this kid-friendly comfort food and infused it with some immunity-boosting foods. Greek yogurt is stirred in at the end, to give a creamy texture and provide a shot of live and active cultures and protein. Fresh spinach is gently wilted in for all the added nutrients, and turmeric gives a tiny immunity boost and some extra color. The flavor is nuanced with a bit of Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic, which makes the creamy mac and cheese taste a bit more grown up–but still tasty enough for kids!
And rounding out our list of favorite recipes for examples of processed foods made healthier: homemade salad dressing! Homemade salad dressing is simple to make and comes together in minutes. It tastes delicious and helps to avoid preservatives in store-bought dressings. Making homemade salad dressing is one of the first things Alex and I learned as new cooks. Nothing but a little olive oil and vinegar, and we could have dressing for days. Plus, we could avoid random preservatives and additives and get rid of the age-old crusty bottles of ranch in our refrigerator. Sold! Here’s our best simple vinaigrette recipe.
About the Authors
Cookbook Author and writer
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Cookbook Author and photographer
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.