11 Ways to Cook Healthier Meals for the Family Without Getting Caught

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There are ways to cook healthier for the family, without them even knowing. Cooking healthier for the family can be done, without the use of a secret kitchen. This can even be accomplished without causing meal time rebellion.

arrtactive couple with son and daughter in an outside brunch consiting of healty foods; daughter is holding strawberry in the air and parents are laughing

Cooking healthier encompasses many aspects. It can mean cooking foods with less calories, cholesterol, and less fat. Cooking healthier meals from scratch can also mean cooking foods with less salt and or sugar.

It can also mean incorporating more fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables. Healthier cooking also means using fewer processed foods.

Think stealthily. Be an undercover agent in your own kitchen. Think of all the foods your family enjoys eating. Now think of some healthier food choices that the family could be making. If you’re the main cook, it’s okay to make these choices for them. If you do it right, they’ll never know.

1. Offer More Appetizers than Desserts

When you fill up your family on healthier pre-entree foods, there will be less room for desserts. The all-evening snack train might also slow down. Make hearty vegetable and bean filled soups in the cooler months with your slow cooker or when in a hurry with your pressure cooker.

Bob's Read Mill Soup Mix - 13 bean is great for the slow cooker in the winter

Bob’s Red Mill Soup Mix, 13 Bean, 29-Ounce Units (Pack of 4)

 During the warmer months, have fresh salad and fruit salad available. Also set the table with a small bowl of baby carrots, celery, or any other healthy munchables.

2. Replace Foods in Moderation

The trick to cooking healthy and stealthy is to slowly replace portions of food with healthier choices. By changing the meal ingredients in moderation, the meal eaters will not notice the subtle changes as much, if it all. If instead you went in and changed every part of every meal with healthier choices, the entire family, from dad (or mom) to baby would mutiny right there at the dinner table.

Substitute only a portion at a time. Over time, substitute more and more of the healthier foods for the unhealthy foods.

3. Replace Whole Eggs with Egg Whites

When cooking eggs, substitute whole eggs for egg whites, at least in part. One whole egg can be substituted with two egg whites.

When baking, using egg whites and not egg yolks; this may make baked goods not as tender. To compensate for this, add a couple of tablespoons of applesauce or mashed bananas when substituting whole eggs with egg whites during baking.

4. Replace Ground Beef with Ground Turkey

The easiest meal to start changing is dinner. Everyone is hungry, and maybe even a little tired. Any dish that is made with ground beef can be made healthier with ground turkey.

Ground chicken is also available; however, ground chicken has a flavor that cannot be confused for beef.

Ground turkey, on the other hand, has a very subtle flavor of its own, and tends to pick up spices and flavorings quite successfully.

When replacing ground beef with ground turkey for the first time, only replace about 1/3 of the ground beef with the ground turkey. By replacing only a portion, you will not draw attention to the change. It also gives the cook a chance to make any adjustments to recipes that may be needed.

lasagne with ground turkey meat in golden colored backing pan

Ground turkey can replace ground beef in any number of home cooked meals including Italian meatballs, meatloaf, tacos, Swedish meatballs, lasagna as pictured above,  and any other dishes that use ground beef.

5. Reach for Spices Before Salt

Instead of reaching for the salt every time you boil water, or cook, use actual herbs and spices instead. Try Mrs. Dash Salt-free seasonings. The flavors are strong and there are different types for chicken an other dishes. You will not miss the salt.

Also try cooking more with freshly ground pepper, which can enhance foods much more than salt can.

6. Use Lite Salt

Morton Lite Salt, With Half The Sodium Of Table Salt, 11 oz

If your family cannot completely forgo the salt, buy Lite Salt. It replaces about half of the sodium chloride with potassium chloride – an electrolyte that your body needs anyway. The bonus is that, besides replacing the sodium, the potassium also works to counteract the effects of sodium. A win-win. If you can’t find it in your area, Amazon carries it.

7. Cook with Canola Oil Spray

Pam Original No-Stick Cooking Spray 100% natural Canola Oil (2 pack – 12oz each can)

Spray pans with canola oil spray instead of cooking with butter or margarine.

8. Add More Vegetables

Vegetables can be stealthily added to cream soups, stews, and cooked and mashed and added to other dishes like meatloaf. Also cook more vegetables with any slow-roasted meats.

9. Replace Cheese Food with Real Cheese

Different types of cheese stacked up on a counter; rustic wooden wall in background.

Nothing is sadder than a child that thinks cheese only comes in a can or in its own little plastic wrapper. Forget the individually wrapped slices of “cheese food.” (Check the label, that’s what it says). Instead, buy real cheese from the deli or from the dairy section. Do not buy cheese food or processed cheese.

10. Replace Processed Meats with Real Meat Products

Replace the family’s hot dogs with all-beef hot dogs, if you know they won’t give them up. You can also replace beef and pork Kielbasa with turkey kielbasa.

slow cooked roast beef sliced on wooden cutting board

At the deli, get the most natural sandwich meats available. Store cooked roast beef or turkey is preferable to water-laden pre-packaged deli meats that are filled with preservatives, sodium and nitrates.

Bread your own chicken nuggets, and skip the processed meat nuggets and chicken strips in the meat aisle.

Consider grilling for most of your meals; if done right, it’s much more healthier than many other cooking techniques.

11. Introduce Healthier Snacks

Okay, this one they will notice, but they will be okay if there is still a choice. For every bag of potato chips you buy, buy a bag of pretzels (or even better yet – make some homemade pretzels). For every gallon of ice cream you buy, buy some colorful yogurt (or make a healthier version).

Snyders Mini Pretzels Tub, 40 Ounce

By replacing unhealthy food choices with healthier options, your family will be healthier. The best part is, they may never even know.

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About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

Looking for suggestions on how to make healthier meals for your family (without a mutiny)? Read these 11 tips and find out how it's possible in your home!

42 thoughts on “11 Ways to Cook Healthier Meals for the Family Without Getting Caught”

  1. My favorite tip is similar to one here – but it’s: eliminate cheese altogether! You wouldn’t believe how much you don’t realize cheese is missing when you take it away. Especially on sandwiches and burgers – if you have enough flavor in other ways, you won’t even notice.

  2. Great tips! I use a couple of them regularly. I try to use ground turkey when I can, lots of times you can’t tell the difference if it’s in a sauce or casserole. I also try not to buy processed meat or cheese. The real thing tastes better to me anyway. I try to only keep healthy snacks around too…I’m a big snacker and if I buy unhealthy ones I will eat them so I skip the temptation all together.

  3. Ah! light bulb effect…for every gallon tub of ice cream i buy, i buy some colorful yoghurt, i’ll forfeit the ice cream for the yoghurt…after all we are preaching about the healthy eating/meals sermon right here 🙂

  4. I’ve been bulking up meat dishes with vegetables and beans for years now with some success, though some veg I have to chop quite small to get them past the food police. Replacing salt with herb and spice based seasoning is more mixed; my husband still sometimes goes and adds salt to his portion. It works for the kids, though; they’ve never had it cooked another way so there’s nothing for them to “miss”. I think that would be my biggest tip for kids – if you can, start them on healthy eating habits as early as possible, and then it’s just normal to them.

  5. Replacing foods in moderation is a great tip. Recently I tried to get my family to start eating healthier and only purchased healthy food at the grocery store. Oh my gosh they were so upset and noticed very quickly that their favoite jink food was not stocked. Now slowly I have been purchasing turkey instead of beef and we are having chicken and fish more than steak and pork. Slow changes are the way to prevent an angry family.

  6. Love the tips.

    Cooking healthy for my family is one of my biggest challenge. I do agree that sometimes to be successful is to do things stealthily. If my husband knows what ingredients I put into the dish, he starts complaining. But when he is unaware that there are added vegetables in his spaghetti sauce or I use less oil when I cooked something, he simply enjoy the food without any problems.

    One tip that you just shared that I would incorporate during meal times is offer more appetizers. Although we eat some fresh cut vegetables as snacks, I just realized that putting it out before a meal is a great idea.

    • Appetizers is a good way to get those healthier options in there too. There is a whole company dedicated to making bite sized portions of healthy foods because studies show that kids are more likely to eat it when it is the bite sized, grab one and go like thing versus on the plate as a side. That said, get some celery sticks and broccoli and other veggies, a little dip, and you are good to go.

  7. I use some of these already and they really make a difference. I think if you start off slow it works easier, because no one suspects all the big changes.

    My family was appalled when I suggested going to whole wheat pasta. I started to to small increments in the dishes I made. A 1/4 of the full amount the first time, a 1/2 the next, and then added more and more until it was all whole wheat. No one ever noticed a difference. I finally told them one day when they were eating and it wasn’t a big deal. They had already gotten used to it.

    I might have to use that cheese tip. My niece is five and loves the cheese slices that are wrapped in plastic. I might need to try this when she comes to stay with me.

  8. Instead of pretzels, I would rather go with popcorn because they are less salty. I like the tip about offering more appetisers than desserts. Never thought of that!

  9. Great ideas! I’ve already started adding more fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, I puree them so my family won’t know they are in there. I’ve also limit the amount of beef and pork we eat. I cook more turkey and chicken dishes. So, I’m on my way there…

    I love your idea of filling the kids up with snacks and entrees before dessert so that they won’t have much an appetite left for sweets. That’s such a sneaky, but good idea!!! 😉

  10. Appetizers are a great idea. I usually focus so much on the main dish that I don’t think of making a nice soup or salad before it — and I should, it curbs the appetite!

    I also like to be sneaky. But for the egg whites — isn’t it a waste if even in baking you don’t use the yolks? Or do you buy this packaged “egg whites” bottles?

  11. Some great ideas, definitely tough to make healthy changes with the family. It might be worth involving them in the process rather than hiding it from them! Having appetizers is a great idea to take the focus away from the main foods.

  12. I like to sneak extra veg into my meals wherever possible. I will cut back on the amount of ground beef I use and add some extra beans or diced carrot instead. Doing this also helps reduce my grocery bill.

    Cheese food slices are something I refuse to buy. There is a reason for the name, they are prohibited from calling it just “cheese” as it is not cheese at all. There may be a percentage of real cheese in the product but the rest of it is just artificial rubbish.

  13. I love these tips, they are really helpful. I find it hard making changes because my daughter is now vegetarian, so most of our food we cook at different times. I’m starting to find recipes however that are vegetarian but also healthy and tasty for the whole family. I also started cook meals that aren’t vegetarian. I have just started to replace processed meat with real meat products recently and find that has helped my diet.

  14. Getting my husband onto the paleo/whole foods bandwagon wasn’t easy. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about how it’s important to switch foods SLOWLY. While my husband would have freaked to switch his pasta meals for rutabaga and chicken overnight, when I started slowly by adding tasty paleo sidedishes, he eventually began to actually crave whole foods. He still eats some “naughty” foods but he’s getting so much better. I just keep at it, encouraging him to eat small amounts of paleo food every day and it’s really working.

    It may seem like a daunting task to switch your family from regular American diet to paleo but if you give it the time it deserves to make the switch, you’ll find it’s so much easier to adjust everyones taste buds.

  15. These are great tips but I have to admit, I laughed while reading this. Only because I’ve tried some of these with my husband and it didn’t work. I made turkey tacos once and he just knew that it wasn’t ground beef. He literally took one bite, looked me funny and said ‘This is turkey isn’t it.’ I used egg whites in pancakes once and again he knew! He said that it wasn’t fluffy enough and that’s how he knew.

  16. One of the best tips I can give is to pick your battles and try new things. We hate whole wheat pasta. We hate the flavor and texture and we can tell right away. However, we’ve found healthier pasta sauces to use with lots of fresh vegetables that we love, so we don’t feel back not using something we hate. The other is to have one day a week or month to try a bunch of new recipes. Expand your tastebuds and find a few new healthy meals to add to the rotation at the same time.

  17. These tips sound fine, introducing the healthier alternatives gradually.

    Though in the case of replacing whole eggs with egg whites, the yolk is where the bulk of the nutrition is, so I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Perhaps for older folks but for children, eggs are very very nutritious.

    As for replacing butter with canola oil, I’m also not sure that’s the healthiest alternative. The saturated fats in butter isn’t bad for you exactly. Instead opt for grass-fed butter instead of regular butter. And olive oil to replace the canola oil would be ideal.

    Here’s one study shown that eating more fat doesn’t increase the risk of obesity:
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00394-012-0418-1

  18. This are very good ideas. And I hate to say it but when I am alone some evenings I often turn to processed meals because its easier for one person but a terrible habit! Unless there is leftovers. Nights the boyfriend is home though I like having a nice home cooked meal.

  19. I actually have no problem substituting my beef and pork with turkey. It’s pretty tasty if you look at it by it’s own merit. The problem is that people always compare the turkey substitute to the original, which is unfair. How can you compare bacon to turkey bacon? The two have different tastes. It’s not that regular bacon tastes better. It’s just that people don’t get that these two are different.

    • That’s so true, Tommy. I started replacing bacon with turkey bacon a long time ago. Of course, they aren’t going to taste the same, but turkey bacon really does taste good. It’s obviously better for you. I really like turkey bacon now, and i can get my crew to eat it most of the time. Occasionally, they push for regular bacon, but it’s rare to find it in my fridge now days.

      I haven’t had quite as much luck with ground turkey instead of ground beef. It works in some recipes, but in others, they turn up their noses.

      Great title (and article), Lynn. “Without getting caught,” is the key!

  20. As a kid, the only change I would notice would be a change in my snacks. I used to love snacking whenever I could, which was clearly bad. Other than that, I would have never noticed a change in spices, beef, or anything else of that nature. I suggest you make this change while your children are young, or else they will start to catch on.

    • That is actually a really good tip, Orgrichboi. Starting kids off early with good eating habits makes a huge difference. Better yet, starting them young on all healthy stuff and only allowing those “bad snacks” to be a very rare treat, helps them acquire a taste for good foods instead of bad ones.

      I wish I had done a better job doing so earlier. I mean, I did try, but I was just winging it at the time. There are so many great ideas to work with now.

  21. Bless you for these tips! My husband is terrified that eating healthy will cause him excrutiating pain. Until I met him the healthiest food in his diet was cream style corn with lots a butter and sugar cooked in. he has an insanely high metabolism so he doesnt have the consequences smacking him in the face. Out of sight, out of mind i guess. I have made some progress but not nearly enough. I am goin to start incorporating some of these tips into our dinner, starting tonight!

  22. Love the tips. I have been using the turkey instead of beef one for about a year now and get rave reviews from everyone. My wife loves fish, so switching from red meat to fish is a great one that has helped me out a lot. One of the biggest changes we have had in our diet in the past few years was no processed meats. Not only is it healthier but the taste can’t even be compared.

  23. These are great tips. I already substitute ground turkey for ground beef for most meals, and it is cheaper than ground beef too. One of my new favorites was making a creamy cauliflower sauce as a substitute for alfredo sauce. I love alfredo, but this sauce was delicious, and I would be content to eat it instead of real alfredo sauce most of the time. My kids liked it just as well as alfredo, and my husband said it tasted pretty good too.

  24. My understanding was that the egg yolk:egg white myth had now been debunked and that there was no issues with eating egg yolks because they actually contain cholesterol that has little influence on the serum cholesterol levels (research from 1999 with the original warnings of staying away from egg yolks dating back to 1973 from the American Heart Association) and you also miss out on eating most the vitamins and minerals which are found in egg yolks such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Potassium, Selenium and Omega 3.

    One other tip I can give is to switch the evening snack away from things such as pringles and crisps over to microwave popcorn because the microwave popcorn can be purchased in sizes where 3 generous servings have only 80 calories per serving and because popcorn is actually made from maize (sweetcorn) it is actually considered to be 1 of your 5 a day in fruit and veg!

  25. The title of this article made me giggle because it is such an uphill battle. These are very good tips, we all prefer all beef hot dogs in this house anyway, though I actually don’t buy hot dogs often at all. The ground turkey has always been more of a diet thing for us unless I’m making them a meatloaf, then it’s half and half, but I think I will start making it more of a regular thing. If seasoned right, it’s not that big of a deal. Very good tips, and my baby is 7 so these are all easy transitions since we don’t necessarily eat unhealthy on a regular basis anyway. Well, I do but she doesn’t. lol

  26. Great suggestions. I wasn’t aware of the Lite Salt, so will check into that when I go to the store. Another suggestion is substituting some of the potato in mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower. If you start when they’re young, or have children who like vegetables, you can also mash in carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnip. One of my favorite side dishes is half mashed carrots and half mashed turnip.

  27. Does ground turkey taste the same as ground beef? It’s hard for me because my kids are so picky and they know if something is different from the norm.

  28. I’ve got another tip for the “Add more vegetables” part. If your meal consists of meat, like a barbecue or a baked chicken, etc, use more salad than anything in your servings, that way you’ll get full by eating less meat and more vegetables.
    Thanks for your tips. I totally agree with using less salt, you can start doing it progressively.

  29. There are some solid tips here. Adding more vegetables, replacing ice-cream with, non-sugary, yogurt, and replacing processed meats with unprocessed, home cooked, meat are all good swaps. I would’t advise trading whole eggs with egg whites, although. Egg yolks are quite nutritious and filling, while egg whites don’t have much nutritional value and won’t keep you full for very long. Trying to replace egg yolks in baking would just be a disaster, in my opinion. Pretzels, although marginally better than fried chips, aren’t a healthy choice. They have pretty much no nutritional value and possibly quite a bit of salt. A better option may be a whole grain nut & seed bread or cracker with a nice nut butter or cheese on top. Even better, fresh fruits and veggies.

  30. I like some of these tips. The cook would surely not “get caught” 😀 However, I’m not sure about following some tips though (e.g. replacing beef with turkey -turkey’s expensive in my country :P).

  31. I absolutely love this article, and the timing couldn’t have been better. With the new year here I decided its time to make a change and really start making healthier meals for my family. My husband and four year old daughter are extremely picky and not a big fan of “change” so switching up the meals has been hard however, after I read this article I made pasta for dinner and used ground turkey instead of beef and my daughter didn’t even notice. I think this article nailed it, small changes slowly once at a time and no one will notice so that’s what I’m going to do.

  32. These are some really good tips. Substituting your ingredients for even healthier ones that tastes just as good. It’s worth the try.

  33. Excellent ideas here! I already do some of them and others I need to try. 😀 I made a 16-Bean Soup last night. It was actually a 16- Bean, Ham, and Kale soup… but I knew how that would go over here!

    Bottom line, hubby is not picky at all and is very good about eating whatever I make, but he *does* have a problem with many greens, and kale is at the top of the list.

    Anyhow, I put the kale into the food processor and made it very tiny… not the size pieces that were supposed to be in the recipe. It worked perfectly and after we ate, I asked if he even tasted the kale. “Nope, not at all… that was a great idea!” 😀

  34. When deciding on my home cooked meals, I always think of ways of incorporating healthy choices. My girls are much easier to convince than my husband. However, some of the tips listed above can be easily incorporated without him noticing. I love making “ice cream” with yogurt and definitely try scrambled up egg whites as oppose to whole eggs, but I do love a delicious sunny side egg too.

    I have read many things about processed meats and avoid them at all costs, besides their flavor is really awful.

  35. Great article, especially the stealthy methods that you included to entice a healthier lifestyle upon our families. I have a couple of tips that I would like to add. The first is to model your appetizers to your children. Most kids learn to eat what their parents eat, and many times that’s also where they get their bad habits from. If you can remember, set your plate of pretzels with some carrots and celery, allowing your taste buds to gradually get used to the salt and teaching your children moderation.

    The other tip is to add in mushrooms when using ground beef or turkey in recipes. Mushrooms do not have the same fat content or Cholesterol found in meats today, yet they do have the protein necessary to maintain our healthy diets, and not only can you save your diet with this addition you can also save your wallet a bit.

  36. Instead of ground meat a lot of the times I will make bean tacos or get tvp(which is dehydrated meat replacement) and we will eat that instead, it taste just like taco meat once you add the seasoning and it’s so much more healthy. We also make vegan pizza, instead of cheese we pile on vegetables that the kids love like spinach, olives, tomatoes of different colors as well fresh oregano and garlic.

  37. I love this article. Because of my diabetes I try to find ways to come up with healthy alternative meals that I can get teenagers to eat that is delicious. I recently figured out how to get them to eat more fresh vegetables by creating eggplant pizzas with broccoli and cauliflower for toppings. Surprising enough, they love it and even ask for it. If you can pass the “kid” test with a recipe… then you know you got it made. I do the same with stuff like Spaghetti by adding fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and squash or zucchini. Sometimes I will even substitute certain ingredients in recipes to make them healthier without anyone knowing… like using a half and half mixture of flour and either chia seeds or flax seed flour when making gravies.

  38. These are great ideas and can be implemented slowly so that no-one really notices. I think the family will be happy as long as their food is tasty. I don’t know about the egg yolk though. I am not sure my family will fall for that and I don’t think I want to either. We love our eggs and eat quite a few of them.

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