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I have a little secret to share with you:
There are ways to cook healthier meals for the family, without them even knowing.
It can all be done without using a top-secret kitchen hidden below the house, flicking a magic wand, or selling your soul to a mythological being.
And it can even be accomplished without causing a meal-time rebellion!
Cooking healthier encompasses many elements – it can mean cooking foods with less calories, cholesterol, salt, sugar, or fat.
Cooking healthier meals from scratch can also mean incorporating foods with less processed ingredients and focusing on fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables.
Think stealthily – be an undercover agent in your own kitchen without raising any suspicion.
Think of all the foods your family enjoys eating already. Now, think of some healthier food choices that the family could be eating. If you make the change correctly with the right strategies, they’ll never even know.
With our help, employ any of the following 11 ways to cook healthier meals for the whole family, without getting caught!
11 Stealthy Ways to Cook Healthier Meals
- Cook with Healthier Oils
- Discover Real Cheese
- Offer Good-for-You Appetizers and Snacks
- Reach for Herbs and Spices Instead of More Salt
- Replace Foods in Moderation
- Plan DIY Parties
- Shop Around for Better Shortcuts
- Sneak in More Fruits and Vegetables
- Substitute Some Whole Eggs with Egg Whites
- Swap Processed Meats with More Natural Options
- Use Ground Turkey or Chicken Instead of Beef
1. Cook with Healthier Oils
Rather than throwing in a few pats of butter or a dollop of shortening or lard to melt in your frying pan, switch to heart-healthy alternatives.
Depending on your cooking preparation, you’ll want to buy and use different styles of oils – that way, you can optimize the nutritional profiles and preferred cooking applications of each of them.
Consider purchasing a variety of both natural and refined oils like coconut, avocado, walnut, sesame, and rapeseed oil.
For more thorough details on this particular subject, be sure to review our article on The Wonderful World of Vegetable Oils, in which we explain different varieties, flavors, and uses.
And don’t forget the olive oil! Read all about the different olive oil grades and particular uses in the kitchen.
2. Discover Real Cheese
Look, I understand – nothing is better or easier than a perfectly grilled cheese made with ooey-gooey, pre-sliced, processed American cheese.
But nothing is more disappointing than the mistaken belief of a child – or adult – who thinks cheese only comes in a can or tub, or in its own little plastic wrapper!
Forget the individually wrapped slices that are labeled “cheese food” or “processed cheese food.” Check the packaging – if this or some version of those words is listed on the label, you’ll know that what you are eating or feeding your family is not actually 100% cheese!
According to the FDA’s Title 21 rules in the United States Code of Federal Regulations, processed cheese is food that can be prepared by mixing and heating a variety of cheeses together along with an approved list of emulsifying agents and other ingredients like preservatives and artificial colorings, to create a “homogeneous plastic mass.”
If you are trying to minimize the amount of excessively processed food in your diet, head to a local cheese shop or a respected cheese department at a local grocery store to talk directly with a cheesemonger.
Under their guidance, you’ll be able to buy more natural, and thoughtfully produced, cheese options.
You’ll be delighted to discover that many cheeses – like younger goudas and cheddars, fontina, fontal, raclette, and more – are ideal for melting in your favorite sandwiches.
3. Offer Good-for-You Appetizers and Snacks
When you fill up your family with healthier pre-entree apps and snacks, there will be less room for sugary desserts or salty bags of chips after the meal is over.
Make and serve small portions of hearty soups and stews in the colder months as a hearty first course before dinner.
You can prepare these in bulk, and freeze them in individual portions that you can thaw as necessary throughout the year – you’ll be well-stocked with a reliable source of food!
During the warmer months, have everyone’s favorite 5-ingredient peach popsicles or frozen yogurt blueberry popsicles already prepped and ready to consume in the freezer, and make tasty and vibrant salads for Mom and Dad – as well as the kids! – to enjoy.
You can also set the dinner table with small bowls of baby carrots, apple wedges, berries, celery sticks, or any other crunchy munchies the family likes to nibble on.
4. Reach for Herbs and Spices Instead of More Salt
Instead of reaching for multiple pinches of salt every time you cook, strategize your seasonings by creatively using fresh or dried herbs and spices.
For the ultimate flavor boosters, try a few dashes of salt-free seasonings the next time you’re cooking. No one will ask you to pass the salt!
Spiceology Ultimate Salt-Free Seasonings Variety Pack, available on Amazon
We love experimenting with Spiceology’s Ultimate Salt-Free Seasonings Variety Pack, available now on Amazon.
Among the 12 one-ounce jars, play with big and bold blends like Everything Bagel, Really Ranch, Chile Margarita, and Pink Peppercorn Lemon Thyme.
You can also review our entire lineup of herbs and spices every home kitchen should have in stock. Be prepared to fill in any gaps on your spice rack and in your summer herb garden!
5. Replace Foods in Moderation
One of the biggest tricks to healthy and stealthy cooking is to slowly – not suddenly – replace portions of food with better choices.
By swapping ingredients in moderation, those dining in your household won’t notice the subtle changes as much, if at all.
If you approached this switch with an overly zealous attitude and changed every single part of a meal all at once with healthier choices instead, the entire family might mutiny right there at the dinner table!
Can you imagine the thunderous roars and screams of disgust?!
Avoid this tragic outcome by substituting only a portion at a time, and gradually incorporate more and more of the healthier foods as replacements.
And this technique isn’t reserved just for the kids!
For example, if you and your partner are trying to minimize the amount of meat you consume, start by cooking one vegetarian meal per week, and gradually begin to increase that to two, three, or maybe even four meals a week until you reach your goal.
6. Plan DIY Parties
Hosting events with a food-focused theme is a fun way to teach friends and family members in an educational and entertaining setting to eat more naturally and healthily.
As an example, you could host a pizza party!
But rather than buying greasy pizza from the pizzeria down the street, you can plan a party where the kids make their own individual pizzas using homemade pizza dough.
Choose an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetable toppings to place in bowls on the table. And you can also make your own marinara sauce completely from scratch.
The kids will love a messy, hands-on experience, and all the parents will be reassured that the ingredients featured at the party are very wholesome. It’s the perfect opportunity to get your kids involved in cooking with you!
7. Shop Around for Better Shortcuts
Your grocery store is packed with multiple packaged options for various types of food like pre-made snacks and pantry staples – make sure you are choosing wisely!
Wise choices and simple switches will make a big difference in your diet – without raising any suspicion from your family members!
Rather than buying a sodium-laden broth, switch to vegetable or chicken stock that contains less salt, or no salt at all. This makes it easy to control the amount of salt or other flavorings you add when cooking.
When shopping for fruits and vegetables, skip the canned and jarred options and hunt down the freshly cut varieties or fresh-frozen products in the freezer section.
Consider switching to baked potato chips, pretzels, or minimally seasoned bags of popcorn.
And all those chewy, sugary candies for family members who constantly crave sweet treats? There are so many options made with 100% fruit purees you could try instead.
8. Sneak in More Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables can be stealthily added to many recipes – and it’ll be your little secret!
This puree method will work well with fresh produce like greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, squash, and bananas.
We talk more about this technique and others in our article on getting a picky child to eat healthy – a definite must-read if you live in a food-fussy household.
9. Substitute Some Whole Eggs with Egg Whites
Substituting whole eggs for egg whites when you are preparing breakfast, at least in part, can help to reduce the overall amount of cholesterol, fat, and calories consumed.
A portion of the whole eggs can be replaced with egg whites, while still maintaining the yellow color your family is expecting to see.
And you can still use the family’s favorite fillings like ham and cheese – remember, we’re slowly replacing a few ingredients, not everything all at once.
10. Swap Processed Meats with More Natural Options
If you and your family are meat eaters, there are some nifty changes you can make with some of the items you often purchase.
If you know with absolute certainty that you can’t get rid of hot dogs entirely, and the kiddos won’t give them up, try to replace the hot dogs with more natural options that don’t contain a long list of additives.
Thoroughly read the labels, including the ingredients and nutrition facts – you’ll soon find out that some popular brands of hot dogs contain a long list of surprising ingredients like corn syrup, emulsifying agents, chemical nitrites or nitrates, and other preservatives.
Fork in the Road Foods Honest Dogs, available on Amazon
But Fork in the Road Foods sells Honest Dogs, which are Animal Welfare Certified, pasture-raised, and uncured beef hot dogs with a short ingredient list of assorted seasonings – and no corn syrup in sight! Buy a pack now on Amazon.
And at the deli, choose the most natural sandwich meats available. Hand-cut roast beef or roasted turkey breast options are preferable to brine-laden, pre-packaged cold cuts that are potentially filled with preservatives, sodium, and nitrates.
Other than hot dogs and deli meats, if you tend to buy bagful after bagful of frozen chicken nuggets, experiment one night by making your own homemade version – if you think you can get away with it!
We have an amazing recipe for breaded chicken fingers, coated with flaxseeds and gluten-free breadcrumbs. When dipped in everyone’s favorite condiments, your family might fall in love with this healthier spin on a kid-friendly classic.
11. Use Ground Turkey or Chicken Instead of Beef
Some of the easiest recipes to start changing with more healthful ingredients are those made with ground meat.
Why is that?
The answer is simple: it’s easy to manipulate the ingredients in fun, flavor-packed dishes that mix a bunch of stuff into the ground meat.
Balsamic Turkey Meatloaf – Get the Recipe Now
Any dish that is usually made with ground beef can be made healthier with ground turkey or chicken, with less saturated fat.
Both turkey and chicken have a mild flavor that can be seasoned quite successfully.
When replacing ground beef with ground turkey for the first time, only replace about 1/3 of the beef with poultry. By replacing just a portion, you won’t draw immediate attention to the change.
Ground turkey and chicken can replace ground beef in so many home-cooked meals. As examples, consider updating the following recipes with a little turkey or chicken:
- Baked Ziti
- Chili con carne
- Lettuce wraps
- Shepherd’s pie
There are plenty of opportunities to do this, and you’ll be surprised by how often you’ll be able to make the switch!
Set a Good Example
With any of these 11 methods, and particularly if you opt to use them in combination as time goes by, you can easily replace unhealthy food choices with more wholesome options. And your family may never even know!
But don’t think they have to stay in the dark the whole time… When it comes to making healthy food choices at home, it is always best to lead by example.
While you can quietly make some healthful switches, it’s also an encouraging strategy to openly eat healthy foods, and to be honest about why you are making certain buying and cooking decisions.
You want what is best for your family, and they should know that!
Teach them why you made the switch from butter to olive oil, or why you have homemade popsicles in the freezer, or why you chose to purchase a wedge of gouda instead of a tub of cheese spread.
But keep a few secrets to yourself… no one ever has to know that you have been sneaking some spinach puree into their favorite brownie recipe for months now!
What are your own special ways for cooking healthier meals, without causing a full-blown rebellion at home? We’d love to know! Leave a comment below as soon as you’ve finished making dinner.
Searching for more expert home kitchen advice? We have so many articles to share with you! Grab a healthy snack, sit back, and take a look at the following suggestions next:
- 9 Ways to Be Less Wasteful in the Kitchen
- 15 Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Baking Routine
- How to Approach Unfamiliar Recipes for Stress-Free Results
Photo by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos via Amazon. Originally published on September 28, 2014. Last updated on May 22, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.