Some 87% of American adults fall short on therecommended intake of veggies, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 92% of us are missing the mark on whole grains. You still think you eat well? The truth is, most of us could do a lot better. But you don’t need radical meal makeovers to improve your diet—just some subtle, strategic ingredient switcheroos at every meal.
You should try these easy, delicious ideas for breakfast, lunch,dinner, and snacks, plus our favorite carb-smart sides,chain restaurant swaps, and salad bar swaps. You’ll pack in more nutrition—and you just might shrink a few sizes, too.
Try: Veggie avocado omelet with one egg and three egg whites
Instead of: Cheddar omelet with two eggs
Benefits: You’ll pack in more protein—three egg whites have nearly 10 grams of protein, compared to 6.3 grams for a whole egg—while being cholesterol conscious. An omelet is a great way to sneak veggies into breakfast—try spinach, mushroom, and bell pepper. Plus, you get healthy monounsaturated fat from the avocado (which is also high in potassium and a natural de-bloater). Eliminating the cheese saves 115 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat per ounce.
Instead of: Store-bought smoothie
Benefits: Making your own smoothie means more veggies and less fruit—so you’ll get fewer calories and less sugar, along with plenty of filling fiber. The almond butter provides good fat, which makes you feel satisfied, and which you need in order to absorb many of the antioxidants from the fruits and veggies.
Instead of: Chef’s salad with bacon and cheese
Benefits: The word “salad” doesn’t guarantee nutrition. Swap out the bacon and cheese for fish. It provides the same protein—or more—and adds omega-3 fatty acids, which boost mood, help reduce inflammation in the body, and may help with weight loss (and a 2014 analysis found that we don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids in our diets). Second best choice is grilled chicken, another lean protein that will save fat and calories over bacon and cheese.
Try: Meat or cheese sandwich open-faced on whole grain bread with mustard, lettuce, and tomato
Instead of: Meat and cheese sandwich on a roll with mayo
Benefits: Eliminate one source of animal protein to halve your saturated fat. Swapping out half the bread—and choosing whole grain over white—cuts out around 15 grams of carbs and doubles fiber, which can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Dropping mayo for mustard saves saturated fat. If you add hummus instead, you also get more flavor, protein and fiber; add guacamole instead and you get heart-healthy fats and fiber. Lettuce and tomato add phytonutrients plus extra fiber, so you’ll feel fuller longer.
Try: Bean burrito bowl with veggies and salsa
Instead of: Beef burrito on a flour tortilla with sour cream
Benefits: Ditching the flour tortilla saves up to 350 calories and 58 grams of processed carbs. Pick beans and veggies instead of beef to lose the heart-clogging saturated fat in red meat and score a major boost in both filling fiber and vitamins (beans are one of the highest-fiber foods you can eat). With salsa over sour cream, you get extra nutrients for fewer calories and less fat.
Try: Veggie pizza on cauliflower crust
Instead of: Pepperoni pizza on white-flour crust
Benefits: A cauliflower crust replaces white processed carbs with veggies, upping fiber and other nutrients. Cruciferous veggies are also anti-cancer and heart-healthy, protecting the branches of blood vessels against buildup of plaque. Save on saturated fat by skipping meat toppings (or try a vegetarian “pepperoni”—just watch the sodium) and swapping out some of the mozzarella for smaller amounts of a more flavorful cheese like Parmesan.
Try: Zucchini noodles with turkey meatballs (plus oats) and added veggies
Instead of: Spaghetti with beef meatballs
Benefits: Switching from beef to turkey saves saturated fat, as does displacing some of the meat with rolled oats (use them as you would bread crumbs), suggests Lauren Slayton, RD, author of The Little Book of Thin. Make sure to use a low-sugar tomato sauce. “Zoodles” replace carb-heavy pasta with a fresh vegetable that has vitamins, minerals and filling fiber. If you can’t live without real pasta, mix in noodles made with whole wheat, black beans, quinoa, or almond flour, for more fiber and fewer carbs. Top with flavorful veggies of your choice—try bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms.
Try: Chicken dredged in almond or chickpea flour and baked
Instead of: Fried chicken
Benefits: You’ll save mega calories and carbs and get some added nutrients and fiber. Baking instead of frying slashes calories and prevents the formation of certain cancer-causing compounds which may develop when cooking with oil at high temperatures.
Try: Shrimp stir-fry with homemade sauce
Instead of: Pork stir-fry with store-bought sauce
Benefits: Lose the high-fructose corn syrup and sky-high sodium by making your own super-easy stir-fry sauce: 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. orange juice, 1/2 tsp. minced garlic, 1/2 tsp. grated ginger, and 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste). Shrimp has way less fat than pork and boasts inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Use frozen shrimp to make this dish super fast and super cheap!
Instead of: Crackers
Benefits: Popcorn is a whole grain, while crackers—even those made from whole wheat or ancient grains—are a processed food. And because popcorn is filled with air and fiber, it’s very filling, delivering long-lasting crunchy satisfaction. (Use salt sparingly.)