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These 6 tips help lighten the foods that warm you up and keep you satisfied.
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Does one step outside on a cold, blustery day send you running back indoors to curl up on the couch to enjoy a steaming plate of your favorite comfort food? Does the current state of the world make you turn to foods that soothe your emotions rather than just fueling your body?

It’s no wonder so many people turn to their favorite comfort foods in the winter – or when they feel like they need a little pick-me-up. Comfort foods are rich and satisfying. They soothe body and soul, filling us up as they warm us up. The problem is that what makes them so comforting – lots of fat, carbs, salt or sugar – also makes them less than healthy choices.

Luckily, with a little creativity, your favorite comfort foods can be made healthier without skimping on taste. Here are 6 techniques to lighten things up:

  1. Go lean. Instead of adding high-fat proteins like ground beef to chili, meatloaf or burgers, try using ground turkey or ground chicken. If you must have beef, opt for the leanest version you can find (no lower than 90%).
  2. Spice it up. Worried that ground turkey or ground chicken will taste bland and boring compared to the beef everyone is used to? Enhance the flavor of leaner meats by adding herbs and spices that really pack a punch, like chili powder, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, oregano, curry powder, garlic or onion. If you’re making meatballs, simmer them in sauce before serving to infuse them with flavor.
  3. Bake, don’t fry. Frying foods in oil can add an estimated 50% more calories to a dish. Classic comfort foods like fried chicken and french fries can easily be baked in the oven – or try an air fryer.
  4. Reduce salt. If you’re using canned, boxed or frozen ingredients, chances are they already contain more sodium than they need. Purchase low-sodium versions of these foods when available and don’t add any extra salt until you taste the final dish.
  5. Think veggie. Substitute thinly sliced zucchini or eggplant for the noodles in a pan of lasagna. Instead of spaghetti, try baked spaghetti squash – just use a fork to turn the cooked squash into strings that look just like pasta – or make zucchini “noodles” with a spiralizer. For pizza, try a crispy cauliflower crust instead of a doughy one. If you have picky eaters in your house, make these switches gradually by swapping out only half of the pasta for veggies.
  6. Use other healthy alternatives. The veggie swaps above really help to reduce calories and add essential nutrients, but there are many other simple swaps you can make:
    • To thicken cream-based soups, use pureed potatoes instead of heavy cream.
    • For mac and cheese, use low-fat cheese and 1% milk when making the sauce. You can also replace half the cheese with pureed low-fat cottage cheese or cooked and pureed butternut squash.
    • Instead of white pasta, use whole-grain varieties like whole-wheat or brown rice pasta.
    • Instead of white rice, use brown rice, quinoa or riced cauliflower.
    • When a recipe or topping calls for sour cream, opt for plain Greek yogurt instead.
    • Serve tacos in corn shells instead of flour tortillas, or use lettuce leaves to hold everything together. Lettuce cups make great burger buns, too.

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Date Last Reviewed: October 16, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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