By Kayleigh Caito

Take a minute to think about some of your favorite comfort foods: biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, beef and noodles, chicken and dumplings, cheesy potatoes, apple pie, brownies… are you hungry yet? We all have our favorite comfort meal (mine is mashed potatoes with Grandma’s homemade noodles), but these meals can be packed with calories, fat, sugar, and starchy carbohydrates. I understand that some recipes cannot be tampered with, like that pecan pie that has been in the family for generations, and there is of course a time and place to eat real-deal comfort food. But sometimes we want some of the flavor of our favorite meals and want to stick to our healthy diet. If your favorite meal of all time is chicken and rice with broccoli, then you get the free pass to stop reading… but for the rest of us, I have some ways to transform those unhealthy comfort foods to make them a little healthier.

Ways to decrease fat:

  1. Don’t use as much fat. I know, this may sound a little obvious, but what I mean is that many recipes call for more fat than is actually necessary. Try to use less fat when sautéeing vegetables and meat.
  2. Use vegetable or chicken stock instead of butter or oil to sauté meats and vegetables. This can also add a deeper flavor to your meals.
  3. Substitute unsweetened applesauce or banana for butter or oil in baked goods. This can add moisture, fiber, and sweetness to your baked goods. Use a ratio of 1:1 when substituting.
  4. Cook with ground turkey instead of ground beef. Try this for tacos, meat sauce for spaghetti, or sloppy joes. If you must cook with fattier meats, be sure to drain the fat.
  5. Try oven-fried foods instead of using oil to deep-fry. Baking breaded chicken or fries instead of frying them in oil can cut a lot of the fat!
  6. Use egg whites instead of whole eggs in a ratio of 2:1 egg white to whole egg.

Choose healthier fats

  1. Use canola or olive oil for butter/margarine. Oil is an unsaturated fat, while butter and margarine are saturated. Unsaturated fats are more heart healthy!
  2. Avocados can be a good fat substitute in some baked goods. For example, try making avocado brownies for a fudgy consistency.

Cut the cream

  1. Use milk instead of cream, skim milk is preferred.
  2. Use plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise. This adds in some extra protein as well!
  3. Low-fat cheese/low-fat cream-cheese instead of full fat cheese.

Lower sugar content

  1. Try using half the sugar. Most baked recipes will still rise with half the sugar and will still be plenty sweet.
  2. Applesauce is also a great substitute for sugar! You can also use it in a 1:1 ratio for sugar.

Healthier sweeteners

  1. Maple syrup for dark sugar. Honey for lighter sugar. These still add sweetness, but have some added health benefits.

Choose whole wheat/whole grain options

  1. Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour.
  2. Whole wheat noodles instead of regular noodles.
  3. Whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
  4. Use quinoa or brown rice instead of white rice.

Adding balance to the meal

  1. Be sure to have plenty of protein with each meal. For example, add chicken to your pasta Alfredo or meatballs to your spaghetti.
  2. Add in vegetables where possible. Sometimes vegetables can be hidden in dishes. For example, try making mashed potatoes with ½ potato and ½ cauliflower. This lowers the carbohydrate content and adds in nutrients. You may not even taste a difference! Cauliflower rice is also a lower-carb rice substitute.

Important note: Some recipes need certain ingredients in order to cook properly, especially in certain baked goods. When making substitutions, be cautious that a recipe may not turn out the way you expect. Baked goods require more precise measurements and ingredients in order for the products to rise, become fluffy, caramelize, etc. For this reason, try these substitutions first when cooking lunches and dinners. As you become more familiar with substitutions and how they taste/react, you can try making substitutions to your baked goods. It may take some experimenting, but experimenting can be fun!

Check out Kayleigh’s healthy Chicken and Dumplings recipe to satisfy your comfort food cravings!