20 Healthy Food Hacks for a Clean Start

Tips, hacks, and easy recipes from our favorite healthy-eating experts (and it’s not all kale chips, we swear)

Elaine Johnson
1 / 20

Later, Sad Desk Lunch!

Put in some time on Sunday and you won’t wind up reaching for that premade Caesar salad at lunch. Take a cue from Portland recipe developer and stylist Alison Wu (wuhaus.com; @alison__wu) and roast chickpeas, veggies, and seeds; throw a pot of quinoa on the stove; and whip up a quick dressing. With these building blocks on hand, making lunch becomes almost a grab-and-go affair.

Here’s how she assembles a healthy, satisfying, infinitely riff-able salad:

1. In a lidded container, lay a base of quinoa, then a mix of rinsed and dried greens like baby arugula, torn kale and/or radicchio, and lettuces.

2. Layer in roasted veggies. Try carrots, sweet potatoes, or cauliflower. Got an extra 2 minutes? Slice fresh radishes or fennel.

3.Top with roasted chickpeas, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and fresh herbs. Feel free to swap leftover chicken for the chickpeas—just shred and store in bone broth to keep it moist until it’s time to pack lunch.

4. Pack dressing separately so the salad stays crisp.

Recipe: Make-Ahead Workday Lunch Salad

2 / 20

Long Live the Smoothie

It’s one of the oldest healthy food hacks in the book: Drink your greens. But Amanda Frederickson (@amandafrederickson), a professional cook and food stylist in L.A., and nutritionist friend Kelly LeVeque (bewellbykelly.com) have come up with an intriguingly delicious version of the classic green smoothie. It’s also packed with lots of protein and healthy fats—safeguarding you against unhealthy grazing later on. “It keeps me full for hours,” says Frederickson.

Recipe: Avocado and Spinach Smoothie

3 / 20

Beyond Avocado Toast

Sliced bread is the perfect blank canvas, ready to be loaded up with virtuous ingredients. Here are two toasts from the Instagram queen of the genre, Diana Ngo (@diningwithdiana), a cook and mom in the Seattle area who is working on her RD.


Cilantro and Kale Pesto Toast with a Fried Egg

Pear Toast with Yogurt and Mint

4 / 20

Your Weeknight Savior

“Fab, fuss-free dinners are my holy grail,” says Michelle Tam (nomnompaleo.com, @nomnompaleo) about sheet pan meals. This one is adapted from her and husband Henry Fong’s latest Nom Nom Paleo cookbook, Ready or Not! “Sheet pan suppers allow me to maximize the amount of veggies for dinner,” she says. “And cleanup is a breeze.”

Recipe: Chicken Sausage and Vegetables Sheet Pan Supper

5 / 20

All-Star Sauce

With the right seasoning, even a virtuous chicken breast or handful of raw vegetables becomes something to savor. Enter romesco: “I’m obsessed with it,” says Erin Alderson, the Sacramento-based author of the vegetarian cooking blog Naturally Ella (naturallyella.com, @naturallyella), as well as the cookbook The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen. She uses the bold, smoky sauce on grain bowls, crudités, and anything else that needs some oomph.

Recipe: Sunflower Seed Romesco Sauce

6 / 20

Make Every Moment Count

Busy lives and from-scratch cooking can seem hopelessly at odds. They don’t have to be, says Sara Forte (sproutedkitchen.com, @sproutedkitchen), an Orange County cookbook author (Sprouted Kitchen, Sprouted Kitchen: Bowl + Spoon) and mom of two. Here are her strategies for keeping her family’s healthy eating on track and avoiding the temptation of frozen pizza.

Microprep. Instead of prepping all weekend, Forte makes the most of whatever kitchen time she gets. “While I’m feeding everyone breakfast, I’ll sauté onions or chop fajita vegetables for dinner.”

Cook Once, Use Twice. “If I grill chicken and we do some Asian bowls one night, I grill extra and use it in a big chop salad or burritos for the kids the next night. Or if I roast some butternut squash as a side, I’ll save half for a pasta dish.”

Waste Not. “I try to think of what I already have. If I have some leftover salmon and tortillas? I’ll make a sauce and a slaw, and we’ll have tacos for dinner.”

7 / 20

Veggies First

“We aim for two vegetables instead of the old fashioned protein, starch and veg. There are plenty of vegetables that are starchy but have much higher nutritional value than say, rice—carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, and peas." ­—Sara Forte

“Think 75% veggies in each meal. Compliment that with lean protein and healthy fat.” – Alison Wu

“Start with the produce and build a meal around it (even if it’s homemade pizza!).” —Erin Alderson

8 / 20

Powerful Palette

“Prioritize color in your meals. In plant-based foods, color comes from phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants in our bodies. Think fresh herbs; sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes; purple or orange cauliflower over white." —Jenné Claiborne, author of Sweet Potato Soul (Feb. 2018); sweetpotatosoul.com, @sweetpotatosoul

9 / 20

Moderation Is Key

"My three biggest pieces of advice for surviving the holiday season are to avoid skipping meals, wear real pants, and if you want dessert, put it on a real plate and enjoy thoroughly." - Shira Lenchewski, RD, author of The Food Therapist (Feb. 2018); shirard.com, @shira_rd

10 / 20

With the Grain

Whole grains make my cooking so much more interesting—flavorful, richly textured, and satisfying. ” —Katie Morford, RD, author of Rise & Shine and Best Lunch Box Ever; momskitchenhandbook.com, @momskitchenhandbook

11 / 20

Whole Foods

“I always like to cook with real ingredients, nothing prepackaged. I’m a firm believer in shopping the perimeter of the grocery store for produce and whole grains and doing your own thing.” —Tieghan Gerard, author of Half Baked Harvest; halfbakedharvest.com, @halfbakedharvest

12 / 20

Easy Access

“The key is to have healthy foods ready to eat, and in plain sight. I keep hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced veggies and fruit, and made-from-scratch sauces and dressings in glass containers in the fridge; and nuts, jerky, and seaweed snacks in the pantry. With nourishing foods handy, I don’t wind up resorting to junky snacks.” —Michelle Tam, author of Nom Nom Paleo and Ready or Not!; nomnompaleo.com and @nomnompaleo

13 / 20

Get-Smart Snacks

Can’t eat another carrot stick? Neither can we. Here’s fresh, healthy inspiration for just those moments.

A soft-boiled egg with homemade everything seasoning (pictured). —Diana Ngo

Half an avocado with sea salt and smoked paprika. —Shira Lenchewski

Stove-popped popcorn topped with coconut oil and nutritional yeast. —Jenné Claiborne

Coconut yogurt with fresh fruit and shaved dark chocolate. — Alison Wu

Sliced cucumbers doused with seasoned rice vinegar, pepper, and sesame seeds. —Katie Morford

14 / 20

Power up Your Pantry

Chefs have notoriously little time to cook at home (sound familiar?). But what chef Sam Smith of Portland’s Tusk (tuskpdx.com, @tuskpdx) lacks in hours he makes up for in a well-stocked pantry. Here are his staples for taking quick, healthy meals into the stratosphere.

Three Spices to Rule Them All! A trio of spices are on heavy rotation in Smith’s kitchen. “Sumac offers brightness and acidity,” he says. “Aleppo pepper is a little smoky and sweet and not too spicy. Cumin has a distinctive, subtle flavor that enhances anything.” oaktownspiceshop.com.

15 / 20

Crunchy Seeds

For a toss-it-on-everything mix, Smith combines 2 parts each hemp hearts and toasted sesame seeds* and 1 part poppy seeds. “I put this on yogurt, vegetables, roasted carrots and tahini, rice porridge, and oatmeal for avor and texture.”

*Smith buys extra-flavorful sesame from thejapanesepantry.com.

16 / 20

Sour-Sweet Vinegars

“In terms of commercial vinegar, there’s nothing comparable with Katz,” he says. “Their agrodolce-style is raw and unpasteurized, and brings so much to vegetables and meat dishes. My favorite is the LateHarvest Sauvignon Blanc.”

17 / 20

Brown Rice

Smith cooks Koda Farms medium-grain brown rice from California in a rice cooker. “It’s nutty tasting and firm-textured,” he says. Then he uses it as a base for sautéed greens and kimchi, and more.

18 / 20

Lacto-Fermented Pickles

“I really like the flavor, sourness, and health benefits of naturally fermented pickles,” says the chef. “For a snack, I’ll have greens, pickles, and crackers—I can totally crush that.” He’s a fan of kimchi from Uwajimaya markets in the Northwest and Bubbies Fine Foods’ Spicy Dill pickles.

19 / 20

Delectable Canned Seafood

Conserva, a shop in Portland, imports seasoned canned seafood. “I love their sardines, calamari, and mussels.”

20 / 20

Primo EVOO

Smith also goes to Katz for oils with deep character.