4 of my favourite healthy food swaps

I’m not going to tell you not to eat ice cream. You know already that it’s delicious and sometimes necessary, but that too much can take its toll on your energy, weight, adrenal system… like any sugary thing will do. But there are times we need a little something sweet or crunchy or apparently naughty without wanting to throw caution to the wind completely. Here are my top four food swaps for just those moments. What are yours?

Swap buttery popcorn for . . .

Tangy lime spiced popcorn

Instead of the butter-laden, microwavable variety, homemade popcorn opens a world of crunchy and healthy possibilities for the ultimate snack and treat. Popcorn doesn’t have to disappear completely as the home movie snack-of-choice - just try swapping pre-packaged popcorn for freshly popped kernels sprinkled with spices and grated lime zest.  

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 3 tsp toasted sesame oil

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels

  • 1-2 tbsp shichimi togarashi, or to taste

  • finely grated zest of 1 lime

In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat both oils over a medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, add popcorn kernels, fit lid and hold it down as you shake pan well to coat the kernels. Cook popcorn until all kernels are popped, shaking pan every now and then but not removing lid, about 5 minutes. Transfer popcorn to a serving bowl, removing any burnt or unpopped kernels. Sprinkle with shichimi and about 1 tablespoon sea salt (which is not much for so much popcorn) and lime zest, to taste. Toss together and serve.   

Note: Shichimi togarashi, its full name, is Japanese for “seven flavour chilli pepper”. It literally has seven ingredients and is a tiny bit spicy, but definitely not hot. It’s available from most Asian supermarkets.

Tip: If you can’t get Shichimi, try grinding the following in a mortar and pestle: 1 tsp finely grated orange zest, 1/2 tbsp sesame seeds, 2 pinches cayenne pepper, 2 pinches ground ginger.


Swap chicken nuggets for . . .  

Crunchy chicken bites

The store bought or fast-food version of nuggets is usually heavy in oils and fats, not to mention some may have unidentifiable meats. This homemade version is completely different - a crunchy bite, herby flavours, and real chicken. These are great party food, or tuck into pita bread with some sticks of cucumber for the office or school.

  • 500g chicken mince

  • 2 tsp sesame oil

  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

  • grated zest of 1 lemon

  • 2-3 shallots, roughly chopped

  • ¼ cup water chestnuts, roughly chopped

  • 1/3 bunch coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves whole

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tbsp rice bran oil, for frying

Combine all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a bowl using clean hands. Season with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Divide mixture into 4 balls, then divide each of those into 6 small balls, to make 24 balls. Use wet hands to make balls if the mixture sticks to you. Place balls in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat them all. Place balls in the fridge until you’re ready to cook (up to one day).

In a large frying pan, heat rice bran oil over a medium-high heat. Cook the balls in two or three batches for 8 to 10 minutes each. Drizzle with soy sauce or pack with some of those little fish-shaped soy bottles and an icepack.  

Tip: Freeze these in little snap-lock bags, they thaw just fine.


Swap deep fried takeaway fish for . . .

Lemon fish parcels

This simple, fresh and healthy dish can be served straight onto the plate as little paper parcels full of flavour. Serve with simple steamed potatoes and asparagus, lightly seasoned, or a green leaf salad. The juices run out on the plate, which are delicious mopped up with crusty bread.    

  • 4 x 200g ocean trout fillets or white fish fillets, skinned

  • 8 cherry tomatoes, sliced

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 180C. Lay each fillet of fish on an individual square of baking paper large enough to wrap around it twice, and place on a baking tray.

Divide tomato slices and garlic between the parcels. Drizzle each fillet with a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper and wrap each parcel up, folding them up so the juices can’t escape, open side on the top.

Place in oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, or less if rare is preferred. Serve in paper parcels on plates at the table.


Swap ice cream for . . .

Mango frozen yoghurt 

The post-dinner niggle of needing something sweet doesn’t need to be slammed into oblivion. A piece of fruit aside, there are plenty of healthy dessert options that won’t have you turning to the treats drawer in despair. Ice cream trickery comes into play with this easy frozen yoghurt.   

  • 500g frozen mango flesh

  • 1 x 500g tub natural yoghurt

  • 1 tbsp honey

  • 6-10 mint leaves, torn

  • 150g fresh blueberries, to serve

Place 4 serving glasses in the freezer to get chilled and icy. Place the frozen mango, yoghurt, honey and mint in the food processor and whiz until combined. Divide the fresh blueberries between the four glasses and then dollop the frozen yoghurt over the top in large scoops. Drizzle extra honey over the top, if you like. Serves 4.  

Tip: When mangos are everywhere through summer, and relatively cheap, I like to peel any I won’t get around to eating (literally with a peeler), and then cut the mango cheeks off in two large pieces (discard pip). Wrap them in plastic wrap, slip them into little zip-lock bags, and freeze.

Swap mango for the same weight in frozen berries if you like.