The best way to ensure we’re eating healthy, balanced meals is to plan ahead. Making a weekly meal plan and shopping for the relevant ingredients helps us to be in control of what we’re eating.
However, sometimes life gets in the way. It might be that supermarkets don’t have what we need in stock, we might not feel well enough to go to the shops, or we might want to use up other ingredients we already have at home.
In that case, it’s important to remember that many ingredients in different meals and recipes can easily be swapped for alternatives. The simplest way to make swaps is to choose foods from the same food group, e.g. protein for protein or vegetables for vegetables. Keep in mind you can also swap fresh for frozen ingredients if those are more readily available – frozen is just as nutritious as fresh!
The dietitians here at Second Nature have provided our top tips for food swaps, picked out our six most popular recipes as examples of easy ingredient swaps, and added some general food-swapping advice. There are a number of possible food swaps for all foods, but these are just a couple of examples.
On the Second Nature programme, your digital health coach can help you make food swaps with any ingredients you have at home if you’re unsure.
Top tips for making food swaps
1) Swap like-for-like
Where possible, make swaps within the same food groups. This will mean we keep our meals balanced, for example, by swapping protein for protein, veg for veg, or healthy fat for healthy fat.
2) Use up fresh ingredients you already have
To minimise food waste and unnecessary spending, try to make swaps based around the foods you already have in your fridge.
3) Swap to suit your needs
Remember that swaps can be made for all recipes and meals to become vegan or vegetarian, or to include meat. The same applies for any ingredients we don’t like!
4) Keep your freezer stocked
Try to regularly top up your freezer with mixed veg, protein (chicken, fish, meat, or tofu), healthy fats (chopped avocados, salmon), and carb options (rye bread, sweet potato chunks) as you use them. This will provide more options for swaps.
5) Pay attention to your pantry
Aim to have a variety of herbs and spices (e.g. oregano, cumin, turmeric) and pantry staples (e.g. rice, stock, tinned legumes, and lentils) at home. At the very least, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried mixed herbs are extremely versatile!
Recipes: how to food swap
1) Chicken fajita bake
Tinned black beans/kidney beans
Frozen/fresh green beans
|Chilli powder||Chopped fresh chilli (red or green)
Dried Chilli flakes
|Cheddar cheese||Any hard cheese
|Sour cream||Natural, full-fat yoghurt + lemon juice
|Fresh coriander garnish||Fresh parsley
2) Cheesy aubergines
|Red onion||White onion
Frozen, chopped onion
1 tsp dried onion
|Dried red lentils||2 x tin lentils
2 x tin chickpeas
|Chopped tomatoes||Tomato passata
Tinned plum tomatoes
Fresh/frozen green beans
|Cheddar cheese||Any hard cheese
|Fresh parsley garnish||Fresh basil
3) Cajun salmon
|Salmon fillets||Any fish fillets
Frozen fish fillets
1 x tin black beans/kidney beans
1 x tin chickpeas/lentils
|Fresh coriander garnish||Fresh basil
4) Morrocan butternut stew
|Dried red lentils||Diced chicken pieces
|Tinned chickpeas||Tinned black beans
Tinned Kidney beans
Tinned butter beans
|Tomato passata||Chopped tomatoes
Tinned plum tomatoes
|Fresh coriander||Dried coriander|
|Fresh parsley||Dried parsley|
|Vegetable stock||Chicken stock
|Bay leaves||Dried thyme
5) Lentil bolognese
|Green pepper||Red pepper
|Tinned lentils||Dried puy lentils
Dried red lentils
Tinned black beans
Tinned kidney beans
Tinned plum tomatoes
|Fresh basil||Fresh parsley
|Vegetarian hard cheese||Vegan cheese
Any hard cheese
|Wholewheat pasta||Brown rice
6) Medittereanean quinoa
|Vegetable stock||Chicken stock
|Quinoa||Cooked quinoa packet
Frozen/fresh sweet potato
|Red onion||White onion
frozen, chopped onion
Tinned plum tomatoes
2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp tomato paste
|Fresh basil garnish||Fresh parsley|
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General food swaps
To help inspire some ideas, below are categories with food items that can be used interchangeably in a number of different recipes and meals, depending on what dish we’re making and our preferences.
Now we’re spending more time than usual at home, it could be a good opportunity to experiment with different ingredients and flavours to see what we like!
Protein is needed to help our body grow, maintain, and repair itself; it’s what helps us to build muscle and stay strong. When you eat protein, your body digests it into smaller components called amino acids.
Eating a variety of protein is important as it ensures that our body is getting a wide range of essential and non-essential amino acids. Eating protein with your meals also has the benefit of helping you to feel full, as it takes longer to digest.
- White meat (chicken, duck, turkey)
- Red meat (beef, lamb, veal, venison)
- White fish (basa, cod, haddock, halibut, plaice)
- Oily fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout) Shellfish (crab, lobster, prawns)
- Molluscs (clams, mussels, oysters)
- Beans (soy, black, kidney, cannellini, borlotti beans)
- Chickpeas (including hummus)
- Milk (whole, semi-skimmed, or skimmed)
- Natural yoghurt
- Unsweetened dairy alternatives
Vegetables contain a large number of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which keeps us feeling fuller for longer. The list below includes non-starchy vegetables, as starchy vegetables are relatively high in carbohydrate (these are included in the ‘Carbohydrates’ section below).
- Salad (pepper, cucumber, tomato, celery, lettuce, salad leaves, radish)
- Root vegetables (beetroot, carrot, celeriac, daikon, parsnip, swede, turnip)
- Courgette, aubergine, marrow, pumpkin, squash, butternut squash
- Leafy greens (spinach, pak choi, swiss chard, kale)
- Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, brussels sprouts
- Corn, green / broad / runner beans, peas, mangetout
- Onion, leek, garlic, fennel
- Bamboo shoots and bean sprouts
Fat is used in our body for a wide range of processes, such as building the walls of our cells, allowing our brain and nervous system to function, and producing a wide range of hormones.
Similarly to protein, there are a number of ‘essential’ dietary fats needed for survival that can’t be produced by our body. These are called the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Dietary fats provide more energy compared to other macronutrients, but are also digested slowly. For this reason, adding healthy fats to your meals helps us feel fuller for longer.
- Butter or coconut oil (all-heat cooking)
- Extra virgin olive oil (cold use and medium-heat cooking)
- Cold-pressed sesame oil and peanut oil (cold use and lower-heat cooking)
- Peanuts (or unsweetened peanut butter)
- Almonds (or unsweetened almond butter)
- Brazil nuts
- Milled flaxseed or linseed
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Carbohydrates are a source of energy for our body: these include sugars, starch, and fibre. When we digest carbohydrates, they’re broken down into individual units of sugar, mainly glucose. Glucose is what the body’s cells use as energy.
For those of us who’re very active during the day, eating plenty of carbs might be fine, but many of us live quite sedentary lives. If weight loss is our goal, science says that following a lower-carbohydrate diet might be effective.
Some carbohydrate foods are higher in fibre. These foods are called complex carbohydrates. Fibre can help food to move through your digestive system and remove any waste products with it. Eating fibre-containing foods also helps you feel fuller for longer and maintains the good bacteria in your gut, which has been linked with many digestive health benefits. The list below includes starchy vegetables, fruit, and complex carbohydrates.
- Wholegrain bread
- Rye bread
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Tropical fruit (watermelon, pineapple, mango)
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices can often be swapped for other similar ones and depend on our taste preferences.
If you’re unsure of what to use, an easy swap for any fresh herbs or dry ones you don’t have can be dried mixed herbs (for tomato-based dishes) or curry powder (for curry style dishes). For anything where you’d like a bit of heat (e.g. chicken or roast vegetables), cayenne pepper, chilli powder, and paprika are great alone or combined.
We’ve combined herbs and spices on each row that compliment each other, but that also can be swapped for one another (depending on our preferences):
- Basil, chives, parsley
- Dill, marjoram, oregano, tarragon
- Bay leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme
- Coriander, mint, lemongrass, Thai basil
- Cardamom, coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric
- Caraway, paprika, saffron
- Cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, nutmeg
Blimey I never knew grapes had carbohydrates in them! Bananas yes but grapes? Shock horror!!!
A really good article.
When you see a recipe and you see something you don’t like or don’t feel like today we never think about swapping ingredients we just dismiss that recipe
So pleased you’ve found this guide helpful!
Have you had the chance to check out our other Second Nature recipes? On our programme, you’ll have the 1:1 support of a health coach who can help you to adapt any recipe to fit your food preferences and needs.
If you’re interested in learning more about our programme, you can take our health quiz here, or email email@example.com with any questions 🙂
Brilliant article. The swaps so helpfu,l the herb spice swaps especially.
So pleased this guide has been helpful!
If you’d like to learn more about our programme, you can take our health quiz here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions 🙂
Love this article especially the swaps
So pleased you’ve found this guide helpful 🙂
Our programme supplies a wealth of other nutrition tips. If you’re interested in learning more, you can take our health quiz here, or email email@example.com with any questions.
Sadly I’m allergic to seeds particularly sunflower seeds and nuts☹️ so I avoid eating them raw or in cooking. I can use the above as oils though for cooking
Thanks for your comment! Are you currently a Second Nature subscriber? If so, your health coach will be able to work with you to find substitutes for seeds and nuts.
If you’re not yet on our programme, you can learn more by taking our health quiz here, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions 🙂
Very useful suggestions. Thank you.
Thanks for your comment, so pleased you’ve found this guide useful 🙂
If you’re interested in learning more about our programme, you can take our health quiz here.
Please send me your five day plan thank you.
Hi Pauline, please email email@example.com to request our free 5-day plan 🙂
To learn more about our programme, you can take our health quiz here.
I found this information, very helpful and the meals look appetising.
On looking at all these vegetables that are cards, that leaves me with no vegetables to eat. Find this section confusing
I would like to know which vegetables are considered starchy.
It’s on the app – they have a section start your journey, prepare for the program 😃
Very helpful, agreed with Angela about the berries? Can you clarify what a portion is ?
It’s on the app – Under nutrition guidelines. (Two small handfuls)
Really useful, thank you. I would add that most herbs freeze well so, if you’ve bought them fresh and not used them all, pop the rest in a plastic bag and seal with some air in. When needed, just crumble some off.
Make sure you label the bag! One green herb looks much like another when frozen 🤔🥺
Bit confused, the limited carbs list shows berries, is this certain kinds of berries? I understood berries were ok to have? Was I wrong? Thanks
Useful article, love that our group chats are monitored & we directed to helpful articles 🙂
This is all very informative and useful information. I am learning a lot.
So pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed this article! To find out more about our programme, please take our health quiz here.
Really useful article. Will refer to it quite a lot.
Excellent article…..perfectly explained & so informative 👍
This is just great, especially the recipes! I’d love all the recipes in one downloadable doc?
Bit shocked you had to pay for a coach at the end! Needs to be made very clear before the survey. Not for me. Just had to get the five day free plan but that’s good. Thank you!
This was very helpful as I have a shell fish allergy and although I do eat white fish I have to be careful and to see easy swaps re assures me
This sap food list is great. After reading this I’m feeling confident to succeed. As I am allergic to many veges an spices.
This was just what I needed. I am terrible for never doing a recipe just as it is written. I love to swap things but was worried I would get it wrong so I have been struggling to do everything by the book. This is freedom for me and will take away the stress I was feeling. Big thanks…huge!
This is good information and very helpful. I will be able to reinvent some of the meals
Helpful to have great recipes with value swaps suggested, I have applied swaps to a few recipes now, varies taste and experience, thanks 😊
All very interesting and some learning to be done.
Thank you for these great helpful tips I will try and swap things around when where I can.
This has been very helpfull and informative on alternatives that had opened my eyes and to be honest relieved some future stress. The team network is really supportive and team leader really helpfull and understanding and supportive cant fault anything.
All this looks lovely, the additional information was really helpful too.
I have had a good 1st week on reset, learning new recipes and beginning to enjoy a more spicy food! Tried the Peru Peru Chicken, Spicy Bang bang shrimp, and chicken parmigiana, all were delicious! Enjoying walking, drinking water more than I have done before, bit disappointed at not losing any weight, but hoping my 2nd week will be better! Having so much support helps tremendously so I am still optimistic.
For the Anzac cookies could I switch coconut oil for butter?
Hi, just started today, great recipes and suggestions, I already plan meals for the week, so this is a habit I enjoy. Did this weeks shopping on Saturday from the recipe book. Had the butter chicken Saturday night, it was really delicious.
Very interesting info- hopefully I can adapt it for Indian cuisine.
I like to eat a more vegetarian type of Indian food – and so have a huge supply of beans, spices etc. So will be trying those out with the recipes in the book.
Very useful recipes and even more useful swaps. Thanks
Really found this article useful, I have been put off making some recipes as I dislike aubergines etc. But your suggested swaps have opened up lots of recipes to me. Thank you.
Good to see swaps especially when in lockdown and trying to only shop once a week
Very useful swaps. Makes the recipes more versatile
This is a very useful guide, thank you for sharing it. There is also some great recipes in there to add a bit of inspiration food wise.
Good article many thanks
Thanks, really useful !
Fantastic article. One of the most useful on the plan. Thanks.
Amazing information. Will be considering those food swops.thanks
Fantastic info! Thanks so much.
Thank you for all those Swap ingredients. I found that item extremely useful in these challenging times. I will be trying those swops.
Excellent simple recipes, swaps very helpful
This is just so useful. Excellent ways of varying some of my favourite second nature recipes.
Great ideas to try and knowing what you can substitute for something else
Excellent information, it’s given me some ideas . Keep up the good work x
Interesting article with some nice recipes 👍
V good info.
Good info, many thanks. T.