As a fitness trainer, I encourage my clients to have a “cheat meal” every so often. Consuming a cheat meal helps your body both physically and mentally. If you’ve been eating clean for a while, you may notice that your brain and metabolism are starting to ask for a little stimulation.
For the record, a cheat meal doesn’t imply indulging in junk food all day long. If you’re smart about it, you’ll make sure to get a few gains from your cheat meals, whether it’s protein, good fats or both.
You never know when the urge to cheat may hit, so having a “cheat kit” handy with some better-for-you foods to swap for unhealthy ones will make your cheat day a little better.
1. Sweets swaps
This is usually the first type of cheat people cave for—a snack to satisfy the sweet tooth. The following items are my favorite sweet swaps for cheat days. Pair these treats with a cup of green tea or coffee for good measure.
- Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownies have 20 g protein, only 6 grams fat and tastes like a bakery treat.
- Orgain Organic Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bar is a plant based bar with 6 g, fiber, 5 g sugar and 10 g protein. It’s also free of soy, dairy, GMOs and gluten.
- For candy lovers, Vitacost Gummy Bears are a great alternative to artificially flavored fruit snacks. These yummy gummies are free of gluten, GMOs, trans fats and artificial colors and flavors. They’re also an excellent source of vitamin C. If chocolate is more your thing, keep a few dark chocolate bars handy and spread natural nut butter on top (tastes just like a Reese’s peanut butter cup!).
2. Carb swaps
Carbs are crucial to the cheat kit. Our bodies crave carbohydrates—unfortunately, it’s not always the good kind. Thankfully, there are so many options to swap in for carbs so you can stay on track!
- Pizza (my weakness): When the pizza cravings kick in, opt for thin crust to cut the carbs and be sure to add tons of veggies for added nutrition.
- Lasagna: Instead of noodles, thinly slice eggplant and zucchini to use instead. Or, turn to zoodles!
- Pasta: Explore Cuisine makes a variety of organic bean-based pastas that are high in protein and fiber. These great-tasting noodles are perfect for pasta salads, soups or simply with spaghetti sauce. Try chickpea, lentil and black bean.
- French Fries: Make your own sweet potato fries by slicing a sweet potato or regular potato and baking them with a little olive or coconut oil (you can even sprinkle on some sea salt).
- Bread: If you’re craving something more savory, like a burger or sandwich, eliminate empty carbs by using a high-fiber tortilla or bread thins instead of a bun to save on calories.
- Pancakes: Swap regular pancake mix for Birch Benders Protein Pancake & Waffle Mix, which is made from natural, non-GMO ingredients and offers 16 g protein per serving. For an added bonus, swap out sugary syrup for peanut or almond butter—this adds more protein and healthy fat.
3. Salty food swaps
Crunchy, salty treats are usually something we steer clear of when eating clean. Try these awesome swaps when you feel the need for a salty cheat.
- Simply 7 Quinoa Chips: Made from healthy ancient grains, these chips are made with clean, simple ingredients for a gluten- and GMO-free snack.
- The Daily Crave Lentil Chips: With 40 percent less fat than regular chips, these lentil-based crunchy bites pack on 3 grams of protein per serving.
- Pair multigrain tortilla chips with healthy, easy-to-make homemade salsa.
4. Coffee swaps
When it comes to a healthy diet, we tend to steer clear of the sugary, high-fat lattes. But when plain black coffee doesn’t do it for you, treat yourself with one of the following specialty coffee drink options. Bonus tip: When you’re ordering from the café, ask for a smaller size so you can go all out!
- Milk: Go non-fat, or ask for light, skinny milk. The milk will add some protein, which is a plus. But definitely pass on the whip (no cheat is worth that mess!).
- Vita Coco Café Vanilla Coconut Water Latte: Keep a few cartons of this hydrating, tasty beverage in your pantry to fill your caffeine fix when the craving comes.