8 Easy Ways to Make Comfort Food Better for You

National Comfort Food Day is December 5th.  A day to celebrate food that is associated with feelings of reassurance and support. The term comfort food has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.” 

Typically, comfort food is something that was enjoyed as a child and offers a positive social memory. Consider those favorite indulgences that provided security when young, sad, happy, or sick. A dish may have meaning for you, but for no one else. Comfort food is often culturally driven and may change from one generation to the next. Studies show that women gravitate towards sweets and snacks while men favor hearty, meaty dishes such as casseroles and stews. 

Comfort food has the reputation of being high in fat and carbohydrates, filling and satisfying. Also known as “calorie bombs.” With the holidays coming up, the dining room table will be covered in all kinds of favorites. Before you start cooking, take a glance at 8 simple ways to make comfort food better for you. 

  1. Add Vegetables: In the constant quest to eat healthier, increasing the volume of vegetables will make any comfort food healthier by increasing fiber and overall nutrition density. For an easy and delicious way to sneak more veggies to family favorites, try this Squash Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
  2. Tweak the Animal Protein: When preparing casseroles, soups and stews, try supplementing animal protein with vegetable proteins like beans, lentils, tofu and other soy-based meats. This will help to boost the fiber while cutting back on saturated fats.  
  3. Treat Vegetables like Meat: Mushrooms, eggplant, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower can be a delicious base for many stews and casseroles. This Spinach Meatballs and Tomato Sauce recipe makes hearty meatballs without the meat. 
  4. Enjoy Flavorful Cheeses: When using cheeses with a more pronounced flavor, less cheese may be used in the long run, decreasing fat and calorie intake. For example, goat cheese carries a punch when sprinkled on tacos. Gruyere cheese can be more a more flavorful option than cheddar. Visit our cheese mongers at McCaffrey’s for some great cheese options and pairing ideas.  
  5. Embrace Whole Grains: Swap out white rice for brown rice, enjoy whole grain pastas and try recipes with quinoa, farro, bulgur, or buckwheat grouts. Switching from refined to whole grain is an easy option. Up your whole grains with this healthier version of Chicken and Brown Rice Casserole.
  6. Cut Back on Carbs:Rather than overload on calorie-heavy carbohydrates (mashed potatoes, pasta), use fiber-rich veggies to revamp comfort food classics. Mix whole wheat fettuccine with zucchini noodles; use riced cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes; and replace starchy potatoes with cannellini beans in soups and winter salads. Try this lower-carb Cauliflower Rice in place of traditional “fried rice.” 
  7. Get Creative with Casseroles: Lighten up your favorite recipes with smart substitutions. Slash the fat by substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream or mayo, cut the amount of butter and other high fat extras in half and use lower fat dairy products. 
  8. Pick a Healthy Side: Watch portion sizes and compliment favorite comfort food with a vegetable salad, roasted vegetables, or vegetable-based soups! 

You can modify nearly any comfort food recipe to make it lower in calories and fat and higher in nutrients. And remember every food fits in a healthy lifestyle—even the unmodified classic recipes. The key, of course, is portion control. 

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