by Alison McAleese, LiveLighter Victoria Campaign Manager and Dietitian

Blueberry banana bread

Packaged foods might seem like a convenient and easy option for a mid-week meal or a lunchbox snack – but don’t be fooled…

Many of the jars and packets you find on supermarket shelves are laden with more sugar and salt than our bodies need.

The good news? With a little planning and the right ingredients, you can make delicious and healthier substitutes at home for a fraction of the cost.

Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:

Sauces and dressings

Whether you’re making a stir fry, a salad or a humble meat and veg, readymade sauces can seem like a good way to flavour your meal. But unfortunately, most can transform your healthy meal into a not-so-healthy meal high in sugar and/or salt. Try these alternatives instead:

Ginger, chilli and lime marinade

A tablespoon of grated ginger, a teaspoon of chopped chilli and the juice of half a lime can take the place of readymade sauces for chicken and fish.

Honey and soy marinade or stir-fry sauce

Honey is still sugar and soy sauce is still salty, but making your own marinade or stir fry sauce can greatly reduce the amount of sugar and salt in your meal. Mix together 3 teaspoons of reduced-salt soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of honey to serve 4 people.

To marinade: put honey and soy a bowl with meat and toss to coat, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

For a stir fry: simply stir fry your vegetables and/or meat as usual then add to the wok or pan  at the end until heated through, as you would with a jar of stir fry sauce. If you need more liquid add a little boiling water to make it go further.

Lemon salad dressing

Ssshh don’t tell anyone this secret, they’ll keep coming back for more. Use lemon juice and/or balsamic vinegar to dress a salad. Before serving grate some lemon zest into the salad and/or a dash of balsamic vinegar and mix through. Everyone will want to know how you made it so delicious.

Oven chips

These are possibly the easiest thing to make that usually comes in a packet. Slice potatoes or sweet potatoes into long strips, about 8cm long and 1.5cm across. Place in a large microwave bowl and fill with boiled water to cover the potatoes. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Drain the water well. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil for 4 potatoes, mix with a spoon. Pour onto an oven tray and bake at 200 degrees for around 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Pre-made desserts

A fruit crumble or pie can be prepared in less than 10 minutes plus cooking time. You can also vary the fruit depending on your tastebuds and what’s in season. Here a few to try:

Apple and peach pie
Apple and peach pie

Lunchbox snacks

Instead of relying on muesli bars for lunchbox treats, freeze freeze freeze! Muffins, banana bread and fritters all freeze well and are ready to go on the day. Try these easy recipes:

Zucchini and corn fritters
Zucchini and corn fritters

Short on time? An even easier idea is to pop 30g of nuts into your bag.

Whether you’re faced with a weeknight dinner squeeze or a lunch box emergency, a well-stocked pantry can help you prepare a more nutritious meal and avoid those hidden sugars and salts.

To learn more about healthy cooking at home, check out these tips on the LiveLighter website.

Featured image: blueberry and banana bread