You can feel it in the air–that slight chill, a few colorful leaves fall from the trees, darkness comes a little faster. Yes, it’s autumn and with that we go from living outdoors to hibernating a bit earlier in the day. And our food preferences shift with this change of season. We now want filling soup and stews and some thing heavier that will “stick to our ribs”, as my mother used to say.
I’ve made a career out of designing comfort food recipes. My book,The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook written in 2011, continues to be a best seller ( it has remained in the top 5% of books sold on Amazon since its debut) and just this past week, my latest book, The Perfect Diabetes Comfort Food Collection, has launched with accolades and rave reviews. Seems everyone likes comfort food and why not? Most comfort food reminds us of happy times and provides not only warmth in our tummies but in our souls. It’s the kind of food that sweet memories are made of.
But, if not careful, traditional comfort foods will not only fill us up, but out as well. While mac and cheese, meatloaf and fried chicken may make our mouths water, it isn’t going to do much else for our health. Fortunately there are ways to make our favorites a bit slimmer, while still retaining great flavor. And since I know I’m not the only one with a talent for transforming comfort foods into better choices, I asked some of my very favorite colleagues what they do to keep comfort foods on the menu.
“A favorite comfort food is anything breaded!, says Amy Gorin, MS,RDN. “I’m a vegetarian, so I love swapping out bread crumbs for chopped pistachios when “breading” tofu or even eggplant cutlets.”
She says you can also use this trick on fish and chicken breast. By swapping in the pistachios, you cut some carbs and add healthy fat, protein, and fiber to your meal–a combo that will help to keep you full.
Amy also grew up with her mom making mini muffins. “Most often, she’d make delicious cinnamon spice muffins. The portion control is great, but the original recipe contains margarine. When I make these muffins now, I sub out some of the margarine for butter and replace the rest of it with Greek yogurt. Sometimes I’ll also sub in half the flour for whole wheat flour, too, to add extra fiber.”
Cinnamon Spice Muffins
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cinnamon, divided
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and 1 cup of sugar. Mix in yogurt, butter, eggs, and milk. Add baking powder, vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon, and cloves; fold in walnuts and pour into greased muffin tin. In a small bowl, combine remaining sugar and cinnamon; top muffins with mixture. Bake at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes about 15 muffins or 36 mini muffins.
Mashed potatoes and white sauces would top the list of favorite comfort foods. Fortunately when I asked Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, LD about how to make them healthier, she provided me with such great ideas.
“Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes? It’s probably a top contender for the best comfort food. This is a twist on Puree Marie-Louise, a French dish that uses celery root and potatoes. This one, from my husband’s French grand-mère Madeleine, uses carrots. Using about 1/3 carrots to new potatoes, begin cooking the carrots first as they take longer. Add the potatoes and when soft, puree using a stick blender with milk or cooking broth to get to the desired consistency. The new potatoes and blending process make “sticky” mashed potatoes. Add your choice of butter, salt and pepper, or herbs. A bit of Ranch mix flavors it well too as does garlic powder or Mrs. Dash. This week we tried a butter that had herbs in it and it turned out perfectly!”
And when it comes to the white sauce, Bridget literally wrote the book on how to transform the creamy favorite.
“This recipe for a “Sneaky White Sauce” comes from my book Healthy Food for Healthy Kids. Of course, we should encourage kids to embrace their veggies with enthusiasm. In a perfect world, that means raw or steamed and plain. But I don’t mind creating foods that give a gentle nudge in the name of health–enter Sneaky White Sauce.
Sneaky White Sauce
- This white sauce calls for 2 cups cooked cauliflower
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup sharp Cheddar cheese
You puree the cauliflower, adding milk or cooking water for a smooth consistency. Then, return to the saucepan or microwave to melt in the cheese.
These go well on Mac n’ Cheese, a comfort food for all age groups!
And speaking of cheese, a true comfort food in every sense of the word, Nazima Qureshi, RD,MPH, CPT has the perfect solution for those who like to indulge.
“Comfort food to me means ooey gooey cheese! As delicious as cheese is, it can be easy to overdo it, which means excess calories. I like to use a strong flavoured cheese, such as old cheddar, to satisfy my cheesy needs with a smaller amount. I also grate my cheese very finely so that I can spread out a smaller amount all over my dish.”
And even small changes can go along way to making comfort foods fit your healthy eating plan:
- *Make noodle-less lasagnes. Use long strips of zucchini and eggplant to be the noodles. You’ll increase the fiber and decrease the excess carbohydrates
- *Prepare meatloaf without a pan. Form the loaf and the just let it roast on a baking sheet. The outside will form a beautiful, rich crust and you’ll be satisfied with a smaller portion.
- *Reverse the sauce and pasta portions– make more sauce( preferably vegetable based) and use less pasta. You’ll still get plenty of flavor.
- *Learn to properly sear a piece of chicken and make a healthy sauce to top it. When done right, a piece of seared chicken is golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft and delicate on the inside- very comforting!