How to Make Better-For-You Comfort Food

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As the weather gets colder and we head into hibernation for the winter, cravings for warmer, more indulgent comfort food may begin. Most traditional comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and fried chicken are loaded with calories and fat, which will wreak havoc on your waistline and your health if you eat that way all winter. But if you make some simple swaps you won’t have to forego all of your favorites.

Take a look at the Fresh Express Salad Swaps as an example: when the craving hits for a rich and creamy pasta, instead of fettuccine Alfredo you can have a Salad with Fusilli and Homemade Creamy Dressing. The salad has the same flavors as the indulgent pasta dish and will save you more than half the calories. If you’re not in the mood for a salad, you can still lighten up these comforting meals. A few ingredient swaps and healthier cooking techniques are all you need for these comfort food recipe makeovers. Here are 5 of our favorites:

Macaroni and Cheese: All the butter, cream, and full-fat cheese make the sauce decadent but also the major source of calories in this dish. Use olive oil, low-fat milk, and light cheese to get the most flavor for fewer calories. Add herbs, spices, and some grainy mustard for a flavor boost. Reduce the amount of cheese and add pureed butternut squash to the sauce to add a creamy consistency and some added nutrients to the sauce. And switch to whole wheat pasta for a fiber boost. Give this recipe a try: Lightened-Up Macaroni and Cheese.

Mashed Potatoes: Often filled with butter and heavy cream, what seems like a simple side dish can be a calorie, fat, and sodium bomb on the plate. For a less heavy version, use a combination of olive oil, low-fat milk, and low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat plain yogurt in place of heavy cream. Instead of traditional russet potatoes, use Yukon Gold potatoes, which already have a buttery flavor and creamy texture. Or better yet, replace half the potatoes with mashed cauliflower or mashed roasted parsnips. Add garlic and chives for additional flavor and few calories, and a sprinkle of strongly flavored cheese like Parmesan will go a long way for your taste buds.

Chili with all the Fixings: Traditional meat-based chili has a lot of saturated fat and sodium, but the real kicker is all the fixings on top – sour cream, shredded cheese, and crushed corn chips are fan favorites. To make chili more wholesome, use a combination of lean ground sirloin beef and ground turkey breast or skip the meat altogether and keep it vegetarian. Load up on vegetables to add flavor and  bulk up the bowl – try bell peppers, corn, onions, and different types of squash. Look for no-salt added crushed or diced tomatoes and canned beans. For the latter, be sure to drain and rinse them first. When ready to serve, limit the toppings to one or two and stick to lighter options like diced or mashed avocado, low-fat plain yogurt, and reduced-fat shredded cheese. Garnish the bowl with a squirt of lime juice and a sprinkle of cilantro to boost the flavor without added calories. You can also try the Sante Fe Style Flank Steak Chili Salad.

Creamy Soups: Get the silky, smooth texture without the cream in traditional cream-based soups by pureeing the vegetables with a hand blender and thinning it with low-sodium stock. You’ll be amazed how rich and velvety your favorite butternut squash or tomato soup is even without the cream. If you’re looking for some tang, stir in a dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt when serving. For an extra flavor boost, use fresh herbs and spices, especially fresh garlic and onion, and add a pinch of salt just before serving rather than while cooking.

Fried Chicken: Get some Southern comfort without your diet going south of the border by using white meat chicken, removing the skin, coating the chicken in egg whites and whole wheat panko breadcrumbs or crackers, and oven baking at a high temperature on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Or try this Cracker-Crusted Chicken Salad.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

The Fresh Express Salad Swap helps you recreate the flavors of your favorite higher-calorie foods in lower-calorie salads. Discover the free app with delicious recipes and money saving coupons at www.saladswap.com/