10 ways to make comfort food healthy

Want to boost the health quotient of your favourite foods without sacrificing flavour? Here are 10 easy ways to make comfort food more healthy

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comfort food woman eating

Give your comfort food a makeover

Sad but true: comfort food tends to be unhealthy. The dishes are usually buttery, creamy, deep-fried-or otherwise high-cal, high-sodium and high-fat (sigh). But once temperatures drop-or we've had one heck of a bad day at work-comfort foods such as casseroles, mac 'n' cheese and Sloppy Joes start sounding pretty good.

 

Here's the good news: trim some fat here and add a bit of fibre there, and you can actually turn these diet busters into healthier dishes-without sacrificing taste. Here are 10 comfort food makeovers to add to your cookbook.

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man meat

1. Try a new meat

For lasagna, Sloppy Joes, hamburgers and goulash, swap the ground beef for ground elk or bison.

 

Karen Langston, a holistic nutritionist and certified nutritional consultant from Toronto (now based in Phoenix, Arizona), is a fan of these alternative red meats. "Because bison and elk are grass fed and free range, their nutrient content is higher than ground beef," Langston says. "You're getting more protein and nutrients with fewer calories and less fat."

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meatballs

2. Upgrade your meatloaf

"The next time you're craving meatballs or meatloaf, try using oats instead of breadcrumbs and ground turkey breast instead of ground beef," suggests Amber Wilson, a South Lake Tahoe, California-based nutrition counselor. The oats add fibre and whole-grain goodness while ground turkey lowers the saturated fat in the recipe. Best of all, swears Wilson, "It tastes just like the original."

 

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pasta with parmesan

3. Make cream sauce without cream

If you're craving pasta with a decadent cream sauce, swap heavy cream for evaporated skim milk, suggests Janet Zappala, author of My Italian Kitchen: Home-style Recipes Made Lighter & Easier. "Evaporated fat-free milk cooks up beautifully with a rich, delicious taste, but contains less calories and half the fat," she says. "Any time you're in the mood for a guiltless please, this dish fits the bill."

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tuna sandwich

4. Cut the fat in your tuna sandwich

Craving a tuna salad sandwich? "Skip the mayonnaise and opt for non-fat plain yogurt. You can always add flavour to the yogurt with herbs and spices," suggests Dr. Sass Moulavi, a Boca Raton, Florida-based weight-loss doctor. You can further reduce the fat by buying tuna canned in water, rather than oil.

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tuna sandwich

4. Cut the fat in your tuna sandwich

Craving a tuna salad sandwich? "Skip the mayonnaise and opt for non-fat plain yogurt. You can always add flavour to the yogurt with herbs and spices," suggests Dr. Sass Moulavi, a Boca Raton, Florida-based weight-loss doctor. You can further reduce the fat by buying tuna canned in water, rather than oil.

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macaroni

5. Revamp your mac 'n' cheese

Scratch the regular pasta, re-jig the cheese ratio and throw in some veggies, and you've got Macaroni and Cheese 2.0. "Use whole wheat pasta-or sprouted grain pasta for a protein punch-and half regular cheese, such as cheddar, along with half low-fat cottage cheese, ricotta or yogurt," suggests New York City-based heath counselor and Pilates instructor Laura Dalch. "To get another serving of veggies into your day, mix in some broccoli or spinach," she adds.

 

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burrito

6. Build a better burrito

Toronto mom Helen Racanelli swapped cheesy burritos in favour of these healthier, lower-fat versions. "Take a tortilla or wrap and heat it in a cast-iron pan with just the lightest bit of oil or cooking spray. Spread on a couple tablespoons of refried beans-which you can buy canned-and then grate a little bit of cheese on top. When it's all melted, add hot sauce, which adds a satisfying kick. I eat this as is, but you could also serve it with a salad [for a full meal]," says Racanelli.

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chicken strips

7. Upgrade your fried chicken

Fake-fry your chicken and nix the nutritionally questionable side dishes, suggests Alysa Bajenaru, a registered dietitian who blogs about food, family and fitness. "Instead of frying, coat your chicken in whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs and bake it," she says. "Then serve with a side of sweet potato fries and fresh green beans, instead of mashed potatoes and canned green beans." Delish!

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mashed potatoes

8. Make over your mashed potatoes

To make your mashed potatoes more healthy, try substituting vegetable or chicken stock for cream. And since part of the appeal of mashed potatoes is their rich, creamy look, pick an eye-pleasing, buttery-hued potato. "I like to use Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes, which trick your eye into thinking they're quite buttery, so that you can cut down on the amount of butter or margarine that you use," says Jill Nussinow, a Santa Rosa, California-based registered dietitian and cooking instructor, also known as "The Veggie Queen."

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Ramen noodles

9. Try Japanese noodles

"Replace rice noodles with shirataki yam noodles in a stir-fry. These noodles have 0 calories and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving, making them a great substitute," says Julie Mancuso, a Toronto-based registered holistic nutritionist. Look for them at your local Asian food market.

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deviled eggs

10. Make deviled eggs less sinful

This old-school potluck classic is long overdue for modernizing. "Deviled eggs came by their name honestly because they're full of fat and evil ingredients," says Chicago-based diet coach Judy Weitzman. "Deviled eggs have about 70 calories per half egg. The egg white, however, is all protein and only 17 calories. So lose the yolk and fill each egg half with one tablespoon of hummus, instead," suggests Weitzman. "It has the same texture as a deviled egg, tastes delicious and is incredibly filling at only 42 calories for both halves."

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slow cooker

Put your slow cooker to good use

Nothing says "comfort food" like a hot bowl of homemade soup or stew straight from your slow cooker. Need some inspiration? Check out The New Slow Cooker. With 225 healthy, easy-to-prepare recipes designed to simply fix and forget-including satisfying soups and stews, crowd-pleasing entrées, and sinful desserts-you'll have more time to do other things you love. Get out that slow cooker and free yourself from the kitchen stove!

 

Available now in the Best Health Store.

 

Related:
Why it's hard to say "no" to comfort food
3 healthy comfort-food recipes
The perfect healthy comfort food menu