I’ll admit, there is nothing quite like a hearty meal of chicken pot pie, creamy macaroni and cheese, or Mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes ... just reading these words can conjure up the aromas of our favorite meals. The problem is these comfort foods are not so “comforting” once all those calories start to creep up on the scale. Luckily we can still enjoy these classic favorites by making some smart substitutions, like including more veggies, substituting whole grains, and going easy on the fats. Just follow these top 5 tips to turn comfort foods into healthy meals you can feel good about serving your family.
- Tip #1 - Load up on veggies. You’ll get a whopping dose of nutrients and be much less likely to over-expend your calorie budget. Vegetables are high in fiber and water content which can help you feel full on fewer calories. The more vegetables you stuff into a casserole, pasta dish, gratin or soup, the less of the main item you’ll end up eating. For example, for the same volume of food, one cup of cooked pasta contributes about 200 calories, while one cup of pasta mixed with broccoli (1/2 cup of each) contributes only about 125 calories. Try adding chopped onions and bell peppers to chili, double the vegetables in a chicken pot pie or any casserole recipe, toss 2 cups broccoli or zucchini into any pasta dish, and grate onions, zucchini and bell peppers into meatloaf. Get creative!
- Tip #2 - Lighten up the dairy. When cooking with milk, go for fat free or 1% milk instead of whole milk. If a recipe calls for cream or half and half, try fat free evaporated milk or fat free half and half to cut calories and fat. Better yet, add fat free or nonfat Greek yogurt to white sauces to create a creamy, satisfying texture for a fraction of the calories. And if a recipe calls for cheese or cream cheese, choose a reduced fat variety and decrease the amount called for by 25-50%.
- Tip #3 - Go for healthy fats. Instead of cooking in butter, use canola, olive or other vegetable oil and use sparingly. Sprinkle a small handful of toasted almonds or walnuts into a casserole or pasta dish to add richness and variety, and slather 1-2 Tbsp mashed avocado into a tortilla or hamburger bun. These plant-based fats are actually healthy for your heart and important to include in your diet ... just be sure to use small quantities as all fats are high in calories!
- Tip #4 - Choose whole-grain. When preparing pasta, burritos, rice dishes, burgers etc. go for a whole-grain variety. Examples include 100% whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole wheat tortillas and breads, or other whole grain like quinoa or barley. When baking, substitute half of the flour for whole-wheat, spelt, or oat flour.
- Tip #5 - Choose lean protein. Try white poultry meat without the skin, lean ground meats, fish, sirloin, lean pork tenderloin, tofu, or legumes. Bake, grill, or sauté in a small amount of oil to limit adding fat while cooking.
Bonus Tip: Once the cooking is done ... stick with one serving instead of going back for seconds!
Comfort Food Swap: Fettuccine Alfredo
- 10 ounces fettuccini (try using Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta which tastes just like regular pasta but has added calcium, vitamin D and fiber)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 3 tsp minced garlic
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 3 tsp cornstarch
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- ¾ cup lightly packed parmesan cheese
- 1 cup low fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 ½ cups steamed chopped broccoli
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the fettuccini in boiling water according to package directions. Set aside. While fettuccini is cooking prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, sauté garlic and onion in butter over medium heat. Cook until fragrant and onion is transparent. Combine cornstarch and nutmeg in a small bowl; whisk in the chicken broth. Add the chicken broth mixture to the saucepan and raise the heat until mixture starts to thicken, stirring occasionally. Add parmesan cheese and whisk until melted. Remove from heat; add Greek yogurt and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with cooked noodles and broccoli and serve.
Yield: 5 servings
Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy your comfort foods!