Junk food, whatever its reputation, in some form or another, usually holds a special place in our hearts. Most of us grew up eating it, or enjoyed it during college, camping adventures, a road trip, friends, and memories of those times are what we often associate with junk foods. Some of us have rituals, the way we eat a peanut butter cup or the perfect time for popcorn. Typically, they are foods that we look for for comfort, convenience and the occasional indulgence. The problem is that they are generally unhealthy and not something we should regularly be eating.
The top ten junk foods are just riddled with issues. Pizza and hamburgers are chocked full of calories and largely lacking on quality vegetables. Chips and French fries are saturated in unhealthy oils, doused in sodium and often full of additives. Donuts, ice cream, cake, pie, cookies and soda are all straight sugar in a trendy marketing package. Junk food just wasn’t meant to be eaten with health in mind. Even “healthy” versions, the low-fat, low-sugar items with extra protein or whatever marketing nonsense they tout, are not good choices.
So, what’s a hungry snacker to do? Is it a choice between junk food and health? Have we been reduced to grabbing a bag of baby carrots over chips, an apple over cookies? Or, can we actually have our cake and eat it, too? Well, the answer is kind of yes to all of these things. The trick is to snack responsible, and when things do go the way of junk food, go DIY and make them more respectable.
And, they can still be really delicious, too.
Junk Food for Dinner
Pizza and burgers are delicious. They are fun because we get to eat with our hands. It’s no wonder they’ve become probably the two most popular dishes on a global scale. Unfortunately, they both are typically full of stuff we shouldn’t eat too much of: white flour, processed sauces, grease, and—for many—meat and dairy. So, how can we get around these ingredients, still get our pizzas and burgers but come away healthier for it?
We make them ourselves! We address all these less healthy components. We start with whole-wheat sourdough buns, breads and crusts, leaving the nutrient-deficient white flour behind and replacing it with grainy whole wheat, as well as adding in sourdough which can even improve digestion. We make our pizza sauce so that it isn’t stuffed with sugar, salt and preservatives, or we make our burger patties so that they aren’t highly processed with sodium, additives and so on. We use fresh, vibrant vegetables (or fruits) for worthwhile toppings.
For those of us who want to kick it completely plant-based but equally indulgent, there are great options for making vegan cheeses at home. And, with the DIY spirit fully engaged, it’s also not so tough to avoid store-bought condiments (often laden with corn syrup and other unwanted stuff) and make our own condiments instead.
True, this all seems like a lot of work, but it’s nothing overly labor intensive, time-consuming or complicated. What’s more, it means that everyday life isn’t just filled with pizza and burgers but, when it is time to enjoy them (why not once a week for each?), the effort makes it all taste that much better. It really is worth it.
Junk Food on the Side
French fries and chips are really not so far apart on the recipe scale, more or less classified as different by the way they are cut. In their purest form (not the McDonald’s variety) they both involve potatoes, oil and salt (preferably real salt, not highly processed salt you find on shelves). And, while not the healthiest of side dishes or snacks, straight up homemade fried potatoes are likely going to be better for us than even healthy pre-packaged options.
For a complete healthy overall, however, it means possibly trading up the potatoes for something a bit more nutritionally valuable, and sacrificing the fatty fat oil with a lot of hot air, either baking or dehydrating. Sweet potatoes make for healthy (and flavorful) fries, as do other starchy root vegetables. Bake them low and slow, use sea salt instead of sodium, and concoct those favorite flavors—dill, spicy, vinegar, etc.—with natural stuff, like dill, spices and vinegar.
Junk Food as a Sweet
Granulated white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and all the other refined sweeteners have just really thrown a monkey wrench in what was once consider healthy foods. Low-fat this and that has now been shown a fraud, with skyrocketing sugar levels to make products probably even more unhealthy. The country, the Western world, is in a real battle with diabetes due to our ridiculous overconsumption of sugar and sugar-like stuff. Even in the DIY arena, it’s a territory in which to tread lightly and infrequently.
However, there are definitely healthier solutions for curbing the cravings. We look for natural, improved sources of sweetness, like dates, berries, cherries, figs, raisins, pumpkins or maple syrup. We find alternatives for white flour, anything from whole wheat to milled nuts to ground brown rice. We don’t eat sweets like convenience foods, on the go and thoughtlessly, but rather as what they should be: treats.
And, we can enjoy them at their very best …
Donuts can be done with quality ingredients in the oven. Ice cream can go the way of a healthy whole food (as opposed to a dairy-based sugary fix) with no more than a food processor and a few real ingredients. Cookies can be a source of healthy fats, protein and nutrients. Cake can be made with healthier flour, better sources of sweetness and redeemable components, or even with raw whole foods. Likewise, pies can ditch the flour and abundance of sugar and become something much more wholesome.
As with many things, “junk food” has really only become such in the hands of the food industry, when the overhead results in using byproducts, addictive substances and nutritionally devoid versions of stuff. Home-cooking from scratch has so many advantages that it can actually make something considered junk a completely viable source of valuable nourishment. That’s why we DIY this junk food thing and continue enjoying our favorite foods into ripe old ages.
Lead Image Source: Mini Doughnut Balls With Caramel Dipping Sauce