Comfort foods are known for being high in refined carbohydrates, calories, and unhealthy fat. Simple changes to your favorite recipes allows you to enjoy these foods while sticking to your eating plan.
Select low-sodium and unsalted stocks and broths.
Broths and stocks are a staple ingredient in soups, stews, and some casseroles. Packaged stock can be loaded with sodium with one cup containing as much as 510 milligrams. You can cut the sodium by several hundred milligrams by substituting low-sodium or unsalted stocks. Most recipes call for table salt on top of these ingredients, so you won’t notice a big difference in the taste.
Reduce the cheese.
Cheesy toppings on casseroles, potatoes, and pizza are hard to resist, but cutting back can reduce your calorie and fat intake. Some recipes like lasagna and scalloped potatoes use so much cheese that you won’t notice if you reduce the total amount. Begin by reducing what you use in the recipe by an ounce or two, or ¼ cup. As you get used to the new way of preparing the recipe, you can try to cut back even more.
Add shredded vegetables.
While the addition of vegetables to a dessert or casserole won’t automatically make it healthy, it can add fiber and vitamins. In baked goods, vegetables can also provide moisture that may allow you to cut back on added oils or milk. Shredded zucchini, carrots, and parsnips go well in cakes, quick breads, and brownies. Finely shredded cabbage can be added to meat fillings and sauces. Finely chopped dark leafy greens can be added to baked casseroles from mac and cheese to lasagna.
Use dark chocolate.
The heart health benefits of dark chocolate are still well supported by research making it an ideal option to satisfy a sweet tooth. While a square of dark chocolate may be the healthiest choice, when you splurge on comfort foods like cookies and brownies give them a slight nutritional boost by sticking with dark chocolate of at least 60 percent cacao. Darker chocolate has less fat and sugar as well as more of the disease fighting antioxidants that contribute to chocolate’s health benefits.
Use alternative flours.
Flour is often used in coatings for fried chicken and fish, in crumb toppings for desserts, and as a thickener for cream sauces. Nut flours and alternative grain flours (amaranth, teff, oat bran) won’t always decrease total calories, but they do supply a unique set of nutrients from protein to vitamins and minerals. Experiment with substituting these flours as well as 100 percent whole wheat flour in recipes that call for refined white flour.
Layer in vegetables.
Vegetables like summer squash, eggplant, and sweet potato can be sliced thin and added to casseroles. These additions can serve as substitutes for some of the noodles in lasagna, and they add a nutritional boost. Cauliflower and broccoli can be chopped fine and layered into casseroles and quiche to give you an extra serving of vegetables with the meal.
Make stock-based sauces.
Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and creamy soups use heavy cream to create the sauces. You can reduce the fat and calorie content by using chicken or vegetable stock in place of the cream. The stock will often thicken just as well as cream when combined with flour and butter for the roux. Just be sure to select low-sodium or no-salt-added stocks because store-bought varieties are often high in sodium.
Use lean meats and vegetable substitutes.
When recipes call for ground beef, you can reduce fat and calories by choosing lean cuts such as ground round and ground sirloin, or by using ground chicken or turkey breast. You can also use smaller amounts of meat by adding diced mushrooms and greens like kale, or replace the meat altogether with these ingredients as well as beans.
It is surprising how delicious baked versions of your favorite comfort foods can be. When baked at high heat, fresh-cut fries brown nicely with crispy edges. Fish and chicken can be coated in nut meal or whole wheat bread crumbs and baked until browned. Pastries like yeast and cake donuts can be baked using a sheet pan or a donut pan, reducing the total fat content compared to frying in oil.
People often pass on root vegetables thinking the category is reserved for starchy, high-calorie foods. That is rarely the case and these delicious options are proof of the wide variety of nutrients root vegetables supply.
Jicama is a crisp and refreshing vegetable that is rich in fiber and vitamin C. It is often eaten raw, which helps to preserve its valuable vitamin C content.
Kohlrabi is a cruciferous vegetable that provides the same glucosinolates more commonly associated with broccoli and cauliflower. Glucosinolates have been found to protect against cancer.
Radishes are a crunchy, spicy root vegetable that are rich in vitamin C. Like jicama, they are often eaten raw, preserving the vitamin content.
Rutabaga is often described as a sweeter, denser version of a turnip. It provides fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Parsnips have a similar shape and texture to carrots. They are a source for fiber, folate, and manganese.
Winter Access and Long Storage
As the temperatures drop in fall and winter, the availability of fresh foods can become limited. Root vegetables are an ideal option to keep your intake of fresh, nutritious produce going year round. Most varieties also have an extended storage life, making it easy to stock up so that you can use them throughout the season. Root vegetables are best stored at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in a space with controlled humidity, such as a root cellar, garage or basement.
Easy to Cook
Jicama and radishes have a crisp texture that is delicious when eaten raw. Try slicing them to top fresh salads or shred to add to slaw. When sliced thick or cut into sticks, they also make good dippers for salsa, guacamole, and hummus.
Root vegetables like kohlrabi, rutabaga, and parsnips get sweeter when they are cooked. Chop them into equal pieces, toss with olive oil and spices and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Another option is to shred them and stir them into muffin and cake batters before baking. They can also be steamed until soft and then pureed into a mashed side dish.
As fall approaches, so do game day celebrations with friends and family. Many of these events are centered around food, but that doesn't mean that they have to be unhealthy. By making minor changes to your menu, you can host a healthy game day party without the extra calories.
Make it a meal
Setting out a spread of snacks often means munching on high calorie foods throughout the duration of the game. Try serving a full meal instead. This will encourage you to eat at only one point during the party and prevent mindless snacking. Invite guests to fill their plates at the start of the game or enjoy the meal during halftime.
Create a healthy DIY buffet
Turning a meal of tacos or soup into a self-serve buffet is a great way to stick to healthy options. For tacos, provide hard shells and soft tortillas as well as lettuce for those who want a salad. Beans, brown rice, poultry, diced tomato, fresh salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce are all healthy fillings that will allow guests to create their own meal. For a soup buffet, set up slow cookers filled with chicken tortilla soup, black bean soup, and chili made with lean ground turkey. Whole grain croutons and crackers, fresh herbs, salsa, chopped avocado, diced onion, and chopped black olives are a few examples of delicious and nutritious toppings.
Limit the options
The larger the variety of foods available, the greater the chance that you will eat more. If you serve appetizers and snacks, limit them to three or four healthy choices. Create mini salads or a soup that can be sipped from a cup. Fire up the grill for chicken satay or shrimp skewers. Serve a healthy bean dip or fresh salsa with chopped vegetables. If there are only a few foods to try, you’ll be less likely to overload your plate and consume more food than you need to feel full.
Keep the food in the kitchen
Avoid leaving snack foods out on the coffee table within easy reach. Set up a buffet of foods near the kitchen and provide plates to encourage everyone to fill their plates and take them back to the television. Keeping the food out of reach will make everyone less likely to engage in mindless snacking throughout the party.
Dress up low calorie drinks
Avoiding alcohol and sodas will save you hundreds of calories. Add some flavorful twists to lower calorie drinks so that you don’t feel deprived. Serve club soda with shots of 100 percent fruit juice or cider. Make up a few pitchers of water that have been filled with cucumber or citrus slices and chilled. Serve unsweetened flavored teas like orange or Chai over ice. Sipping these low calorie drinks during the party will keep you occupied, which may reduce the urge to grab more snacks.
Portion control is the key to reaching your weight loss goals. Understanding more about healthy serving sizes and reducing portions to meet these recommendations provides a way to satisfy cravings while sticking to your nutritious eating plan.
Portions versus serving sizes
A serving size and a portion are not always the same thing. A serving is a healthy amount of a food recommended by health professionals, and a term used by food manufacturers as a base for determining nutritional information. A portion is how much food you serve yourself. A healthy goal is to reduce your portion sizes so that they more closely align with what health professionals consider to be an appropriate serving. For example, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one serving of grains is one slice of bread or a half-cup of pasta.
Gaining control of portion sizes doesn’t mean you have to carry around measuring cups. These tools can be helpful in your own kitchen, but you can also make yourself familiar with common objects and how they compare to appropriate serving sizes to make healthy eating easier.
Reduced portions and total calories
Regardless of the food, the more you eat of it, the more calories you consume. By simply reducing portion sizes, you can create the negative calorie balance necessary to initiate weight loss. Choosing nutritious foods is still an essential part of improving your health, but reducing portion sizes allows you to include your favorite treats while still losing weight. Choosing a mini cupcake over a full size dessert, or adding a half-cup of whole wheat pasta as a side instead of a main course are ways you can satisfy cravings without consuming excess calories.
Portion control and fullness
Research shows that the more food people are served, the more they eat. As a result, large portions, like those served in restaurants, cause people to eat much more food than they need. It takes time to get back in touch with hunger cues and to recognize true hunger and fullness. As you gradually decrease portions, you will begin to feel full after eating much less food. As a result, your calorie intake will decrease and you will be on your way to reaching your goal weight.
Adding spices to your food allows you to enhance flavor without using excess salt and fats, but the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that spices contain substances that fight disease and improve your health.
Research shows that cinnamon can improve blood sugar by stimulating insulin receptors and improving glucose absorption by cells. Some studies suggest that it may help lower blood sugar in those with diabetes. The oils in cinnamon have also been found to help fight bacteria. Add cinnamon to your morning coffee, stir it into yogurt or oatmeal, and sprinkle it over fruit salad.
The oil in coriander seeds has antibacterial properties that may be effective at destroying dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness. It is also full of multiple phytonutrients. Animal studies have linked coriander with reduced blood sugar and cholesterol. Sprinkle coriander in scrambled egg whites, add it to salad dressings, or mix it into soups and stews.
Crushed Red Pepper
Peppers contain capsaicin, which contributes to the spicy heat. Capsaicin is also responsible for many of the health benefits of hot peppers. Hot peppers have been found to produce a slight increase in metabolism and a brief reduction in appetite that may help with weight loss over time. Studies also show that hot peppers may reduce blood cholesterol, and they are linked to lower risks for heart attack and stroke. Stir crushed red pepper into soups or pasta sauces, and sprinkle it over roasted vegetables.
Gingerol is responsible for the many health benefits of ginger. Ginger has been found to fight inflammation, which may help reduce arthritis pain. Research shows that it may also help protect against some cancers by blocking the growth of cancer cells. While fresh ginger contains more gingerol, dried ginger is still a healthy spice. Blend it into smoothies, stir it into oatmeal, and add it to sauteed vegetables.
Turmeric is a spice often found in curry powder as well as yellow mustard. It contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is responsible for its multiple health benefits. Turmeric has been found to reduce joint inflammation. Research shows that it may also help block the growth of cancer cells. The antioxidant power of turmeric has been found to reduce total cholesterol, which may lead to a reduced risk for heart disease. Blend turmeric into smoothies, add it to stir-fries,and mix it into dry rubs for poultry or fish.