Eight easy food swaps for better nutrition (even while entertaining)

Sourdough, wholegrain or wholemeal breads and crackers tend to be healthier than white breads.
Sourdough, wholegrain or wholemeal breads and crackers tend to be healthier than white breads. Photo: William Meppem

Good nutrition is not about perfection. Rather, healthy eating is about balance and consistency, and making healthier choices when you can.

In fact, a closer look at commonly eaten foods will reveal that it is easy to swap many of our staple foods for healthier options, boosting our overall nutritional intake while basically eating the same thing.

So if healthy eating needs to be as easy as possible in your home, here are some of the easiest nutrient-rich food swaps you can make, even when entertaining.

White bread for sourdough

Bread is a staple at many a barbecue or picnic, but easy-to-grab baguettes and flat breads are inevitably made from refined white flour. Unlike wholegrain and wholemeal varieties of bread, white bread is digested relatively quickly, resulting in fluctuating blood glucose levels, and lacking the dietary fibre that will help to keep you full and satisfied after eating. Wholegrain and wholemeal bread, cracker and loaves are much better options nutritionally or if the family prefers white bread, opt for sourdough. The process in which sourdough is made helps to reduce the glycaemic index of the bread, meaning that is helps to keep blood glucose levels much more controlled than traditional white bread.

Danielle Alvarez Christmas recipes.
Smoked salmon rillettes with crudites.
Photography by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)
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Try Danielle Alvarez's smoked salmon rillettes with crudites. Photo: William Meppem

Salami for smoked salmon

Processed meats feature heavily at picnics and entertaining platters but they are also packed with saturated fat and salts and should be consumed sparingly as they are associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer. Smoked salmon is a nutritious alternative rich in omega 3, as unlike processed red meat it is not associated with an increased cancer risk, and you can find salt-reduced varieties if you are looking to lower your sodium intake.

Hummus. Karen Martini MY TUNISIA recipes for Epicure and Good Food. Photographed by Marina Oliphant. Styling by Andrea Geisler. Photographed April 13, 2013.

Karen Martini's hummus recipe. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Dips for hummus

A quick scan of the ingredient list of a commercial dip will likely reveal a product that is based on vegetable oil and contains up to 35 per cent fat. Vegetable-based dips including hummus and tzatziki are much better options nutritionally – especially home-made varieties in which you can control the ingredients and opt for more vegetables, legumes and extra virgin olive oil. 

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Adam Liaw's Fresh and pickled bagna cauda.

Adam Liaw's fresh and pickled vegies with bagna cauda. Photo: William Meppem; Styling: Hannah Meppem,

Crackers for vegie sticks

There is a wide range of crackers and crispbreads in supermarkets and while wholegrain, rye and wafer varieties are all relatively light options to serve with dips and cheese, you can't go past vegetable sticks or crudities as a nutrient-rich alternative to crackers. Free of kilojoules and packed with dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals, you will be surprised how many extra vegetables people eat when they are the default munching option.

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Adam Liaw recipe : Oyster platter with homemade Oyster hot sauce
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions) 

Adam Liaw's oyster platter with homemade hot sauce. Photo: William Meppem

Pastry for seafood

Quiche, sausage rolls, cheese triangles and party pies all feature heavily on menus when entertaining, but with a massive 10g of fat per serve, along with plenty of salt and often trans fats, there are much more nutritious options for your entertaining platter. Sushi is one option, especially if you opt for brown rice varieties. Or fresh seafood is even better – prawns, oysters and calamari. Packed with protein, iodine, zinc and very little fat, it is a fantastic healthy addition to any picnic or party catering if your budget can stretch a little.

Delicious goat cheese on dark grey background. Culinary cheese eating. Goat's cheese
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White soft cheeses such as goat's cheese tend to be healthier than traditional soft cheeses. Photo: iStock

Soft cheese for goat's cheese

With your favourite brie or camembert clocking in at 30-35 per cent fat, it can be easy to overeat rich, flavoursome cheese. On the other hand, the growing range of white, soft cheeses such as marinated feta, goat's cheese and even cottage cheese means there are plenty of lighter, lower energy options. Goat's cheese, for example, contains as little as 15 per cent fat, and portions can be easily contained as it is easy to spread and dip.

Popcorn in a blue bowl on wooden table Healthy late-night snacks
Crudites, vegetable sticks, dips, dip
Popcorn, 
Trail mix
iStock photos

Popcorn has a fraction of the salt, fat and energy of chips. Photo: iStock

Potato chips for popcorn

While potato and corn chips appear to be relatively simple foods made with minimal ingredients – corn or potato, oil and salt – the reality is that refined starch cooked at high temperatures with processed vegetable oil creates a highly processed, carbohydrate-rich food that is digested very quickly. In addition, corn and potato chips generally contain 20-30 per cent fat, and are easy to overeat. Popcorn on the other hand is a fibre-rich wholegrain with a fraction of the salt, fat and energy of corn and potato chips, making it the perfect picnic or party swap when you want something to munch on.

Macaroons on white background Macaron
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Opt for lighter treats such as macarons. Photo: iStock

Cakes for macarons

It is always nice to finish a celebration or meal with something sweet but forget heavy brownies, cakes and pastries that pack in as much energy as a small meal in a single serve. Opting for lighter treats including pretty macarons, biscotti or vegetable-based muffins and cakes such as banana bread slash your fat and kilojoules, and you can even give yourself an extra serve of vegetables in your favourite cake or muffin without even noticing.