When temperatures drop, it’s time to put on cozy slippers and pull up a blanket. A soothing plate to warm your belly doesn’t hurt… unless it’s unhealthy. Most comfort foods we turn to are heavily laden with fat, starch and calories. There are healthier ways to enjoy down-home classics by making a few tweaks. Try the following updates to your traditional favorites without leaving flavor behind.
Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. This duo based on simple protein and starch can be loaded with saturated fat.
- Substitute 4 or 7% fat ground beef for regular.
- Use whole wheat bread crumbs to increase the fiber.
- Increase the diced onion, garlic or other vegetables.
- Skip the egg yolks and “substitute two egg whites for every whole egg to help the loaf stay together,” suggests Emily McKenna Kennedy of EatingWell Magazine.1
- Leave skins on potatoes for fiber that helps with satiety.
- Decrease the dairy fat by using light sour cream, fat-free milk and less butter.
- Add zest with extra roasted garlic, paprika and fresh herbs instead of salt.
- Options: moisten with reduced-sodium chicken broth; sneak in mashed cooked cauliflower; whip potatoes for creamy texture.
Pasta casseroles (e.g. baked macaroni & cheese, lasagna) While tasty now, the cheese and white flour noodles may depress your mood later after you get on the scale.
- Increase vegetables by adding chopped cauliflower to mac ‘n cheese and sliced zucchini in lasagna.
- Use lower-fat cheese (part-skim ricotta and reduced fat mozzarella) but concentrate flavor by adding an ounce of hard dry cheese such as Parmesan or pecorino.
- To curb the need for salt consider a sprinkle of crushed red pepper for bite.
Chicken pot pie / Shepherd’s Pie It’s not just what’s under the cover that adds up here. With a thick crust or mashed potato layer, you can also blame the topping.
- Replace cream with a blend of low-fat milk, white wine and olive oil for the pot pie sauce.
- Use vegetable broth, olive oil and tomato paste for the shepherd’s pie sauce.
- Double up on the diced vegetables for more volume with little calories.
- Go crustless on the bottom by using an oven-safe skillet or nonstick casserole dish.
Biscuits and Gravy – This Southern breakfast that sticks to your ribs is traditionally full of saturated fat and calories.
- Using fat-free buttermilk and less butter, Cooking Light offers a recipe for low-fat biscuits (3 gm fat each).2 We suggest omitting the honey for this savory dish.
- Keep biscuits small (under 2”diameter) and serve only ½ C. gravy per 2 biscuits.
- Substitute turkey breakfast sausage (or mushrooms for vegetarian) for pork sausage.
- Use skim milk in the gravy and stir regularly until thickened.
- Add extra herbs like fennel and sage for flavor when reducing salt.
Warm Apple Pie – Here is a double whammy! The crust is full of fat and the filling is full of sugar.
- Gear up the ratio of solid fruit to the rest of ingredients.
- Use fresh cooked apples instead of canned pie filling.
- Make a lattice work or crumble topping instead of a full crust top. “Less crust on your pie = fewer calories from crust,” says Registered Dietitian Jessica Cording. 3
- Optional: top with a dollop of vanilla frozen yogurt instead of a scoop of ice cream.
Loaded Cheesy Potato Soup A thick chowder or bisque base isn’t the only culprit when the garnish can weigh in at a hefty hundred calories or so.
- Substitute reduced fat sour cream for regular.
- Try adding pureed cooked cauliflower to up the vegetable content.
- Top with only an ounce of hard dry cheese or extra sharp cheddar for punch.
- Top with just a sprinkle of fat-removed center cut bacon and plenty of green onion/chives.
Now you can take solace in knowing there’s a way to enjoy comfort foods without ruining your physique. Pick the changes you’d like to try, have a go at them in the kitchen and let us know your favorite updates in the comments section below!
- Emily McKenna Kennedy, “How to Make Meatloaf Healthier,” EatingWell. http://www.eatingwell.com/article/56415/how-to-make-meatloaf-healthier/ Accessed Oct. 1, 2018.
- Maureen Callahan, “Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits,” Cooking Light. Nov. 2008. https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/flaky-buttermilk-biscuits Accessed Oct. 22, 2018.
- Jessica Cording, “Brilliant Baking Hacks That Make Your Apple Pie Healthier,” Shape. 2017. https://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/cooking-ideas/healthy-apple-pie-hacks Accessed Oct. 22, 2018.