Healthier Comfort Foods That Keep the Comfort
December 02, 2017
Comfort foods remind us of home, warmth, and family; they are often the creamy, rich, and heavy everyday foods we had as children. Things like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken may be soothing to the soul, but not to the waistline.
"I happen to like my comfort foods just the way they are," jokes chef instructor Terra Ciotta of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Charlotte. "But around the holidays, many are making more mindful and healthier choices."
If you're trying to reduce the holiday bulge, follow chef Ciotta's equation of substitution equals reduction. For mashed potatoes, Ciotta purées steamed cauliflower, makes half the portion of her freshly mashed potatoes, and folds the cauliflower purée into the mashed potatoes. For hearty spaghetti with meatballs, Ciotta reduces the ground beef portion and adds finely chopped, sauteed mushrooms.
"If you really want to make your recipes healthier, try to make simple modifications that won't change the end product too drastically," says chef Leslie Eckert of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham. "Otherwise, you won't achieve the comfort in comfort food."
Here are tips and simple guidelines chefs Eckert and Ciotta recommend.
- Choose whole grains over refined: brown rice, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta instead of white rice, white bread, or standard pasta. Whole grains digest more slowly, providing longer-lasting energy.
- When baking cookies, you can usually substitute half whole-wheat flour for the white flour called for in the recipe.
- Use small amounts of olive oil instead of butter on grains or vegetables and to sauté. A non-aerosol spray bottle can help use oil sparingly.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products: skim or 1-percent milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurts, sour cream, and cheeses — and reduce the amount.
- Choose Canadian bacon or lean ham over bacon; wild-caught, fresh or water-packed tuna or salmon over oil-packed tuna or salmon; chicken and turkey sausage over pork sausage; and lean ground turkey and beef over high-fat options.
- Use herbs, flavored powders (like garlic powder), citrus (like lemon juice), and heat (like red pepper or hot sauces) over extra salt.
- Instead of frying, bake, roast, or grill using a rub or marinade.
- Use fresh or frozen vegetables over canned. Remember that frozen vegetables are harvested at peak season and usually flash-frozen, making them superior in flavor and nutrients to off-season fresh ones.
- Remember — using low-fat or fat-free dairy products, olive oil, whole grains, or lean meats doesn't mean unlimited portions.
According to chef Eckert, high-fat, high-sugar foods — such as comfort foods — elicit "feel good" hormones quicker than a plate of raw vegetables. To make your holidays healthier, you can always add vegetables to a hearty dish. Chef Ciotta cites one of her favorites as creamy risotto with broccoli. You're still getting the hearty dish, but at the very least, you're adding something healthy with fiber.
Many experts say that you don't have to give up your comforting favorites in order avoid weight gain. It just takes planning and portion control, and a few substitutions.
Cheryl’s Oven “Fried” Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. If breasts are thick, pound them so they are about ½ inch thick
¼ c Melted butter
1 c Rice Krispie Cereal , finely crushed* (Can also use Corn Flakes or Special K)
Flour the chicken pieces using whole-wheat flour. Dip each piece into butter, then roll in the crushed cereal. Arrange in a shallow pan. Bake 350 for about 45 minutes.
Whole Wheat Cranberry Banana Bread
1¼ c Whole Wheat Flour (Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour Recommended)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ c mashed banana
2 Tbsp plain nonfat Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp honey
½ c chopped fresh cranberries
- Preheat oven to 325. Coat an 8 x 4” loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray
- In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. In separate larger bowl, stir together oil, egg, and vanilla. Then add the mashed banana, yogurt, and honey and stir. Add in the flour mixture and stir until ingredients are just mixed together. Fold in the cranberries.
- Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.
For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.
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