8 Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food That Are Easy Swaps
Food,  Healthy Eating "in the Wild",  Meals & Planning,  Snacking,  Snacks

8 Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food That Are Easy Swaps

Do you love to hate junk food and snacking? You’re in the right place if you’ve ever struggled with how to handle snacking situations and choose healthy alternatives to junk food. You show up to a party already hungry, and the snacks spread out before you like gold coins in Scrooge McDuck’s money vault. What to do?

Strategy: How to Choose Alternatives to Junk Food

No denying it – junk food is delectable. Once the sweet, salty goodness hits our taste buds, it’s really hard to stop!

Whether you’re making your own snack at home or showing up at a party with a dozen of them, this is what works for me: become a “selective snacker.”

Strategies and key tenants of selective snacking:

  • Believe that appetizers and snacks are “before meal”, not “another meal” foods. It’s a few bites to dull your hunger, not fill the belly.
  • Choose nutrient-dense, whole food options that you like.
  • Avoid ultra-processed foods such as crackers, chips, cookies, candies, sweet and savory pastries … you get the idea.

Below are eight snack food ideas that are tasty, stave off hunger, and won’t “ruin your dinner” or your digestive system. 😜

If you’re looking for more tips on how to avoid uncomfortable overeating at parties here’s a post on just that.

8 Delicious & Healthy Snack Alternatives to Junk Food

Fresh Vegetables & Fruits (GF, DF, V) Instead of Chips or Crackers

You know why – light on calories, high on fiber and nutrients. You can eat them for hours and still be hungry at dinner!

Fresh vegetable sticks, slices, or rigid lettuce leaves are awesome dippers and carriers! Some examples:

  • Cucumber slices instead of crackers
  • Carrot, celery, and pepper sticks instead of pretzels
  • Endive leaves instead of chips.
Cucumber slices topped with dilled sour cream and salmon.

Nuts & Seeds (GF, DF, V) Instead of Chex Mix

Crunchy, salty and satisfying – nuts and seeds have ample amount of fat and some protein to dull hunger pangs. Remember:

  • Nuts and seeds are calorie-heavy, so go easy.
  • Avoid nuts that are “candied” or “honey roasted” or have added sugar.

My favorites:

  • Cashews – I’ll eat them anytime, anywhere
  • (NEW NUT CRUSH!) Costco’s Kirkland Signature Roasted Garlic and Herb Seasoned Almonds
  • Macadamias
  • Any fun mix of nuts and/or pepitas

Whole Food Dips (GF, DF, V) Instead of Processed Sour Cream Dips

Think hummus, salsa, tapenade, guacamole. Whole food dips pair well with the fresh vegetables mentioned above. Even the store-bought versions of these mouth-watering dips are made mostly of basic ingredients all ground up together.

Suggested pairings:

  • Broccoli florets or cucumber slices with hummus,
  • Red, yellow, or green bell pepper sticks with guacamole
  • Jicama with salsa
  • Tapenade with endive leaves

Pro tip: Here are two unique hummus recipes that are also festive and better than regular ol’ hummus. Everytime I make either of these, I get requests for the recipes (not my own).

  1. Green Pea Hummus. It’s appropriately green and a bit sweeter than traditional hummus.
  2. Pumpkin Hummus. This recipe is smooth and creamy, thanks to cashew nuts. No, I can never get enough pumpkin.
Pumpkin hummus from What Great Grandma Ate

Cheese (GF) &/or Olives (GF, DF, V) Instead of Crackers or Chips

These are favorites of the low-carb (or just hungry foodie) crowd.

  • Like nuts, cheese and olives are high in fat, which satisfies hunger.
  • If you can tolerate dairy, cheese also packs a lot of protein – around 6 grams per ounce (about the size of a typical slice of cheese).
  • Also like nuts, cheese and olives have a lot of calories, so enjoy these tasty morsels in moderation if you want hope to save room for dinner.
A couple of cheeses and some olives make an elegant – and nutritious – appetizer board.

Pickled Veggies (GF, DF, V) Instead of Crackers, Chips, or Snack Mix

Pickled onions, peppers, and pickles are undeservedly the outcasts of the snack tray, often the lonely remnants after all the other foods have been chosen & eaten. Which means you won’t have to throw any elbows to nosh on pickled vegetables. They don’t retain all the nutrients of fresh vegetables, but flavors are interesting and varied, and they are low in calories.

NOTE: Check labels to make sure pickled vegetables aren’t loaded with added sugar.

I enjoy finding unique or local pickled vegetables (last year it was asparagus) and adding them to a snack tray for a change of pace.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates (or any whole food) (GF, DF) Instead of Pastries or Cookies

I know, I had you at “bacon-wrapped.”

Savory bacon + sweet dates = drooly face

Bacon-wrapped appetizers have been around a long time and are well-loved for their deliciousness and simplicity (two ingredients skewered together with a toothpick – yay!).

You can wrap almost anything in bacon and it will be fabulous.

Here are a few ideas – aside from dates – to get you going: scallops, water chestnuts, pineapple chunks, apple slices or cubes, or cooked sweet potato chunks.

(Very) Dark Chocolate (GF, DF, V) Instead of Candies, Cookies, Cakes

Dark chocolate – look for 70% cocoa or higher on the label – is delicious, high in antioxidants, and lower in sugar than milk or “lighter” chocolates. In addition, most dark chocolates are made without milk solids, so they are dairy free.

Pro Tip: check out the fiber content on a high-quality dark chocolate bar, especially if it’s 85% cocoa or higher.

Panther 88% cocoa chocolate bar
4 grams of fiber – wowza!

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Dried Fruit (GF, DF, V) Instead of Candies, Cookies, Cakes

A natural extension of the dark chocolate bar, no? Dried apricots, orange slices, pineapple rings – anything big enough to grip on one end and dip into melted chocolate.

Yes, this one is high in calories – but also high in satisfaction.

Appetizing Ways to Snack at a Party

We all love snacking, and appetizers are a fun and delicious way to enjoy friends, family, and festivities.

These healthy alternatives to junk food will help you handle all your snacking endeavors – whether it’s a large get-together or a small dinner party.

BONUS: How to Create Your Own Healthy Snack or Appetizer Tray

One last thing! I struggle with how to actually put together a snack tray that looks like an adult did it – and doesn’t take hiring a food stylist or spending all day on it myself. Here are two great posts from other bloggers that I have used for years to help guide me in my crudité platter styling: 7 Tips to a Delicious Crudités Platter and Crudité Platter 101.

crudite platter from The Feed Feed
I don’t have any picture of my own platters, so here’s great example of food styling from The Feed Feed. It’s not as hard as it looks, promise!