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5 Steps for Cozying up to Healthy Comfort Food

Want to enjoy comfort food while achieving your health goals? Then check out dietitian Sharon Palmer’s best tips on how you can enjoy your favorite comfort foods the healthy way.

When the cold weather sets in, it’s time to turn to the comfort of classic American dishes to warm the mind, body, and soul. In fact, these foods offer respite all year long! Macaroni and cheese, patty melts, and creamy casseroles may come to mind, however these dishes can often set back your best intentions for healthy eating. It can be hard to meet your weight and health goals while enjoying many typical ooey-gooey, fat- and calorie-laden comfort food dishes. But before you give up on the idea of enjoying some of your favorite comfort foods, consider this approach: Lighten up your favorite dishes to make them healthier so you can enjoy them all season long while meeting your health goals.

With that in mind, I’ve put together my five steps to healthify comfort foods so you can enjoy cozying up to some delicious grub the healthy way.

5 Steps to Make Comfort Foods Healthy

Cozy Up to Healthy Comfort Food
Vegan Baked Mediterranean Lasagna

1. Trim the Fat

Many comfort foods, such as pasta alfredo, lasagna, and deep dish pizza pie, pack in the calories through fat. This concentrated source of energy can raise those numbers on your bathroom scale, and the type of fat (usually saturated) can also increase your cholesterol levels, contributing to heart disease. Trim the fat from these dishes by swapping large amounts of rich ingredients, such as cheese, cream, fatty meats, and fats for smaller amounts of lighter, healthier options (i.e., almond milk for cream, cashew cream for cheese, and mashed avocados instead of mayonnaise). Try this recipe for Swiss Chard Lasagna or the Vegan Baked Mediterranean Lasagna pictured above, for starters.

Classic Tomato Soup

2. Soup it Up

Remember that soup is as comforting a food as you can find, and it can be a very healthful choice when filled with vegetables, whole grains, and pulses. In fact, studies show that when you start your meal with a veggie-rich soup, you eat fewer calories at the meal.

Cozy Up to Healthy Comfort Food
Easy Vegan Mac & Cheese with Peas

3. Veg Out

Take a classic comfort food dish, and pile on the veggies. This strategy can reduce the number of calories in the dish, and increase your load of fiber for satiety. Start with cutting out half the pasta from your lasagna by layering in more vegetables. Toss in an extra serving of vegetables in your chili.

Green Bean Mushroom Pot Pies with Mashed Potatoes

4. Cut the Carbs (Just a Little)

It’s not that carbs are bad for you, it’s just that many classic comfort foods contain a hefty serving of them—plus these carb sources are often found in their highly refined forms, such as pasta and breads made with refined wheat. Just picture piles of spaghetti noodles in spaghetti Bolognese and layers of white bread in a club sandwich and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Cut your portions of pasta in half by “beefing” up more vegetables in your recipe and include a thin layer of mashed potatoes on your pot pie (check out my Veggie Pot Pie).

Farro and White Bean Veggie Burgers

5. Lighten Up Your Classic Sandwich

You can turn that greasy burger or grilled sandwich melt into something altogether more healthful (and delicious!) with a little creativity. Swap the beef burger for my Farro Bean Burger (pictured above). Or fill your sandwich with something unique and different, such as Sriracha-baked tofu, tomatoes, and greens.

I love to cook up my favorite comfort food recipes in my Instant Pot! Grab your own here with this code.

For more plant-based comfort food inspiration, check out these recipe collections:

50 Plant-Based Light & Lean Comfort Food Recipes
10 ESSENTIAL Comfort Food Plant-Based Recipes



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