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7 Healthy Swaps for Your Favorite Junk Foods

We have all had cravings, right? And they usually aren’t for vegetables. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that “junk food” (I hate that term BTW) just tastes good. Oftentimes, too good! Cravings can be significantly minimized by following my PF3® nutrition guidelines, practicing mindful eating, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and exercising. But let’s face it, we aren’t perfect and sometimes cravings will hit.  


I am a firm believer in intuitive and, mindful eating and completely understand that sometimes substitutions just don’t cut it. Often, if we just allow ourselves to eat the real thing “guilt free” (that’s the key), we feel satisfied and just move on with our day. But sometimes a healthy substitution will work just fine—that’s up to your intuitive side to figure out. 

For the times when we do want to eat the real thing, while remaining in tune to what our body wants and needs intuitively to feel its best, check out my Delay and Distract but Don’t Deprive ™ technique. 

hamburger replacement, junk food replacement, curb your cravings

1. Pizza

Choose pizza with a whole grain crust with cheese and/or veggies on top. Then instead of making that your meal, have only a small-medium slice or 2 and pair it with a salad that has eggs or grilled chicken on top for some additional fiber and protein. You can also make your own pizza on a whole grain flat bread. 


2. French Fries

Make your own baked fries with regular or sweet potatoes. Toss them in olive oil and add a pinch of salt or seasoning blend before baking to keep it interesting and flavorful.  If you have an air fryer, even better!


3. Ice Cream

Swap ice cream for frozen fruit like bananas. You can put them through a yonanas® machine or blend them in a food processor for a creamy frozen dessert. You can even swirl in some peanut butter and drizzle a touch of chocolate syrup on top.  My daughter recently asked me to make this when she had a friend sleepover. Her friend asked, “What is yonanas®?”. My daughter said, “It’s like ice cream but it tastes better and it’s healthier.” I had no idea she liked it so much, but, I do agree it’s pretty good. Frozen cherries and chocolate syrup is also super yummy. 


4. Potato Chips or Something Crunchy

Swap your crunchy craving for homemade popcorn popped on the stove with coconut or olive oil, seasoned with light salt, garlic and/or chili powder. You can even add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for a little extra nutrition and an umami punch.


5. Cheeseburgers

Grill your own hamburgers at home with lean beef or turkey. Opt for a whole grain bun and top with plenty of veggies. Take it up a health notch by swapping the mayo for smashed avocado. Pair it with grilled veggies or baked fries.  


6. Chocolate 

In my humble opinion, the only substitution for chocolate is chocolate. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Chocolate – enjoy the real thing following my Delay and Distract but Don’t Deprive  
  • Pudding pops- freeze chocolate pudding in popsicle molds and freeze
  • 100% whole wheat toast with Nutella on top
  • Chocolate covered strawberries
  • CLICK HERE for 100 Calorie Chocolate Desserts 


7. Soda

When looking for a healthy soda swap the first question to ask yourself is, “What do I really enjoy about the soda?”  If it’s the caffeine, you might opt for an iced tea or coffee.  If it’s the sweetness, you could certainly add some stevia to that coffee or tea.  If that just won’t cut it, a diluted juice might do the trick.  If it’s the carbonation you need, try sipping on a sparkling water or club soda.  For more delicious drink ideas check out this post: Eat Your Juice.


When Substitutions Just Don’t Cut it

As I said before, sometimes a substitution just doesn’t cut it. You have done your best to eat healthy, control blood sugars, reduce stress, sleep well, manage stress, etc., but you just want to eat [fill in the blank]. For optimal health, the driving force behind “why” we eat should be hunger. Meaning, if you are hungry then eat, if you’re not hungry you probably don’t “need” to eat. However, food is really so much more for us than nourishment, and it’s okay if everything you do and eat isn’t health focused. 

Food is social, cultural, comforting, and yes, meant to be enjoyed. So, sometimes you just want to eat fries or a cookie, and that’s okay. As an ex-binge eater, I used to avoid junk food out of fear, and I would end up binging. I would eat “healthier” alternatives to what I really wanted, but then I would overeat due to not being truly satisfied. Sometimes the substitution was, and currently is enough. That is where it is up to you to intuitively decide what you really want or need at that moment (hint: sometimes you’ll find it isn’t even food). 

eating, social eat, swaps for cravings

Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

If you’re like me and tend to overdo it once you get started eating something yummy, try out my Delay and Distract but Don’t Deprive™ technique. This was the first step I took to reduce the severity of my binge eating episodes.  

Main takeaway: Eating intuitively, often means allowing yourself to eat what you actually want, guilt-free. Removing the restriction from foods can lessen the likelihood of binge eating over time. However, It’s okay to look for healthier substitutions since they may help to keep you more satisfied and energized so long as they don’t leave you feeling deprived.


Dina Garcia, RD, LDN
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