We all love comfort food, especially for its warming effect on the body in the winter chill. That said, a diet of mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, fried chicken and dinner rolls won’t do anything for our waistlines.
To find some skinnier alternatives to those less-than-healthy comfort staples, we asked Barbara Linhardt, MS, RD, founder of Five Senses Nutrition, to give the menu a quick makeover. Here are her suggests for warming winter foods. Enjoy!
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
While you’re body is seeking out an extra starch or carb serving to keep you warm, drop some roasted brussels sprouts on your plate instead — which are a great source of fiber, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and vitamins (notably C and K). “You can also get some healthy mono-unsaturated fat from a drizzle of canola oil,” says Linhardt. “I use canola oil when roasting and baking, because it holds up better under high heat.” And since half your dinner plate should ideally be vegetable-based, this dish will help.
Linhardt’s recipe: “Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of canola oil over halved brussels sprouts, then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper before roasting at 400 degrees (Farenheit) until they start to brown and crisp up. You can even top with a little balsamic vinegar to add some bite.”
This can replace your traditional mashed potato side during the cold-weather months.
“The pureed or mashed cauliflower even has the same color as well as texture as good mashed potatoes,” says Linhardt. That and superfood benefits, too. Cauliflower is also a great source of fiber, vitamins like C, K and folate as well as antioxidants. And perhaps the biggest bonus? One cup of mashed potatoes can top 200 calories, and a cup of mashed cauliflower should only contain about half that.
Linhardt’s recipe: “Steam the cauliflower until tender and then puree until smooth in a blender with olive oil, milk, and a touch of butter. With a little salt and pepper (and wasabi if you like things spicy), mashed cauliflower can fool even the most ardent potato lover.”
Creamy soups like clam chowder can be loaded with saturated fat, which shouldn’t exactly comprise a staple in your smart-eats winter regimen. Sup lentil soup as a better alternative: “To put it simply, you can prepare your favorite veggie soup and just add in lentils,” says Linhardt. “Not only is lentil soup the ultimate comfort food but it is filled to the brim with vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber.” Linhardt suggests dried lentils, which are cheap and cook up much faster than most beans, so you can prepare lentil soup faster than other bean soups. Plus, if you make the soup at home, you’re cutting out a lot of the sodium content.
Linhardt’s recipe: “I typically sauté carrots, onions, and celery in olive oil with some red pepper flakes and spices like thyme or rosemary. Feel free to get adventurous with vegetables, like adding leeks, bell peppers, or favorite greens like kale. Then I top the sautéed veggie mix with water and bay leaves before adding the lentils. Bring to a boil and let it cook until lentils are soft and soup has thickened.”
SPAGHETTI SQUASH AND SAUCE
We all love pasta. It’s what Carb Heaven tastes like for the savory-loving folks. By subbing squash for your noodle, you’re looking at 30 calories per cup compared to a whopping 220 calories per cup for the real deal. “Marinara sauce still provides a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with decreased risk of prostate cancer,” says Linhardt, saying that when you must opt for regular spaghetti, still be smart. “When you feel like having real pasta, go for it, just try to choose whole wheat pasta, and make sure vegetables are the main player in the pasta mix, while pasta is just the side.”
Linhardt’s recipe: “Halve the spaghetti squash, drizzle with canola oil, and bake flesh side down at 450 degrees until tender. When cooled, scrap out the strands of squash and mix with cooked marinara sauce and veggies. I tend to sauté up whatever veggies are around — sometimes it’s broccoli, sometimes it’s frozen spinach. Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese, and add a lean-protein source like ground turkey or shrimp to the mix, as well.”
SAUTÉED COLLARD GREENS
Instead of making fatty traditional southern-style collard greens with ham and bacon, choose a skinnier option to rock your dinner plate this winter. Collard greens are rich in almost every vitamin and mineral you can think of, says Linhardt. “They’re a great source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium and folate. Although calcium found in vegetable sources is less well absorbed than dairy calcium due to phytates, collards are still one of the richest sources of calcium for lactose-intolerant or vegan individuals.”
Linhardt’s recipe: “I love to roll up the collard green leaf, and then cut thin slices horizontally to make ribbons. Then I sauté garlic, red peppers, and onions in a pan of olive oil, and add my collard greens. Once they are starting to turn green, I add in a little low-sodium veggie stock and a tiny smidge of butter. Finally, I let the collard greens cook slowly until they’re more tender and less bitter.
Surprise, surprise: you can slurp up this (smart) indulgence to get your sweet fix, in place of carb-loaded, refined-sugar staples like pecan pie, chocolate cakes, or sugar cookies. “The flavonoids found in cocoa have been linked to cardiovascular health, as well as obesity and cancer prevention,” says Linhardt. “Oh, and it’s delicious.”
Linhardt’s recipe: “Mix unsweetened cocoa powder with low-fat milk or non-dairy milk, and then warm over low heat. I typically add in a tiny bit of pure vanilla extract and a dash of sugar at a time, taste-testing along the way, until it is just slightly sweetened.”
Here are some more healthy comfort food recipes to try: