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Nutrition is Not All or Nothing: How to Use Unhealthy Food to Make a Healthy Meal

Most areas of life do not require perfection. Nutrition and eating is no different. We can get very caught up in all or nothing thinking with food and nutrition: Either a meal is very unhealthy or it is healthy. But what if there was more room for flexibility? What if we started with some food of imperfect nutrition and added what was missing to make it a reasonably balanced meal? Read on to learn how to use unhealthy food to make a healthy meal.

On objective measures, some foods have more nutritional quality than others. We will start with a food that is a food that is of poorer nutrition quality than a perfectly nutritious food and show what can be done to improve the quality. The goal is not nutrition perfection. The goal is better nutrition than the original default. Here is what that can look like.

Here are a few tips or points to remember when trying this exercise on your own to use unhealthy food to make a healthy meal. First, be open to untraditional combinations. Think: foods that don't typically go at the same meal, but in fact, there is nothing objective holding you back from eating them at the same time. Second, be open to foods you don't usually eat. Sometimes that can be a food chosen to take care of a specific missing food group in your meal. Third, the best you can do is the best you can do. In a given circumstance, with the food choices available to you, you can choose the best options from there. At the same time, remember not to discount any of your available options: remember to check your fridge, freezer, and cabinets for ideas. Keep these tips in mind as you read these examples.

instant ramen in a bowl

How to Make a Healthy Meal with Unhealthy foods

  • Pizza: When ordering in pizza delivery, check if you have any frozen vegetables in your freezer. You can heat those in the microwave or on the stovetop to eat on the side and have a meal that includes vegetables.

  • Instant ramen noodle soup: Those cups that come with five dehydrated pieces of corn, carrot, or peas... what if you pulled from the freezer a bag of mixed vegetables to up the vegetable concentration of your soup. To add protein to your meal, you can poach an egg directly into your ramen if you heat it over the stove, or just have a boiled egg on the side.

  • Frozen waffles: Can you top your waffles with a generous dallop of yogurt? This will add protein to your meal and make it more filling. Maybe you can slice a banana on top of your waffles or top with defrosted frozen berries for fiber to help you stay full.

  • Breakfast sausage or bacon: What this meal is missing is some fiber. Consider putting your sausage patty or bacon on whole wheat bread rather than white bread. Have a piece of fruit on the side for some vitamin bonus.

  • Tortilla chips: Chips alone as a meal lacks nutrients that will keep you full. Dipping them into hummus or guacamole gives you healthy and filling fats to turn this snack into an opportunity to yet nutrients in a yummy way.

  • Frozen burrito: Depending on which you choose, these might be fairly balanced, if not somewhat high in sodium. Don't worry about what you can't change. You can add some plain fresh vegetables on the side such as baby carrots or cherry tomatoes to get in the vegetables this meal is missing.

The ideas here are only a small portion of the possibilities. We are all presented with non-ideal food situations often enough. You can use these ideas and turn unhealthy food into a healthy meal.

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1 Comment

Nov 19, 2023

Love these tips, Brendel! Thank you! -Y


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