Fitting In Comfort Food This Holiday Season

After all of the running around during the holiday season, nothing tastes better at the end of the day than our favorite comfort foods.

Macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, spaghetti and meatballs… these foods can make the stress of a busy day melt away. For many of us, these scrumptious dishes evoke memories of our childhood or past meals shared with loved ones during the holidays.

Though they bring us feelings of comfort and content, but it’s hard to ignore the bad rap that many comfort foods get: high in calories, high in fat, and heavy on the carbohydrates.

You may think comfort foods are out of the question if you have diabetes. But eliminating these foods is not necessarily the answer. You don’t have to give up your favorites or feel deprived. The truth is, most foods can fit as part of a balanced meal plan. 

Just a few small changes to your recipe and portion size can help. Take the stress out of eating this holiday season and add the comfort back in by using the tips below.

Add additional healthy ingredients to your favorite comfort foods.

Try adding fresh, frozen, or even canned non-starchy vegetables to your favorite recipes. These foods will contribute extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your dish without adding a large amount of calories, carbohydrates, or fat. That way, you still get to enjoy the taste of your favorite comfort foods while fitting in some of the healthy foods that you need every day.

Need some examples?  

  • Add steamed broccoli or diced tomatoes to your macaroni and cheese.
  • Add baked zucchini, low-sodium canned tomatoes, mushrooms and onions to your spaghetti sauce. 
  • Add thick slices of zucchini or other vegetables as layers in your lasagna.
  • Add extra carrots, peapods, and bean sprouts to stir fry dishes.
  • Add extra tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts and sliced cucumbers to your sandwiches, wraps, or tacos.
  • Add sliced tomatoes to your grilled cheese sandwich.
  • Add extra veggies to chili, soups, casseroles, and stews. The possibilities are endless – carrots, peppers, celery, onions, tomatoes, greens, broccoli, summer squash, and other non-starchy vegetables can be easily added to most recipes.

Adding vegetables will also bulk up your dish. If you eat the same portion size as you would without the vegetables, you’ll end up eating less calories and carbohydrates!

Look for healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods.

Health is a hot topic right now, so many chefs are out there altering comfort food recipes. The trick is to make them healthier without sacrificing flavor. 

The best part is, these “made-over recipes” are not hard to find. Start by looking for recipes right here on Recipes for Healthy Living or check the recipe database on You may also be interested in our featured cookbook, The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook by Robyn Webb. This cookbook is filled with popular comfort food recipes in a healthier form.

Try making healthy substitutions in your favorite recipes.

You can also alter your own recipes! Below are possible substitutions you can try to make your recipes healthier:  

  • Top baked potatoes or tacos with non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. 
  • Use low-fat yogurt or light mayonnaise instead of regular mayonnaise in dips and sauces.
  • Replace half of the sugar in your baked goods with a “baking blend” of artificial sweetener. Follow the instructions on the artificial sweetener package.
  • Use less butter than the original recipe calls for. Often, you can get away with using just half without sacrificing the flavor of casseroles, soups, pasta dishes, etc. (This is not recommended for baked goods such as cookies and cakes.)
  • Instead of using butter to sauté vegetables or to pan-fry meats, use a little bit of olive oil or canola oil. Butter and oil have about the same amount of fat and calories, but oils have less saturated fats and more heart-healthy unsaturated fats. 
  • Use artificial sweetener in your coffee or sugar-free syrup in your latte for less calories and carbohydrates. 
  • Use 2% milk instead of cream in soups and sauces.
  • Use less cheese than your recipe calls for or switch to a reduced-fat version.
  • In casseroles that call for canned soups, use products that are low-fat and low-sodium.
  • Replace refined grains with whole grains whenever possible. Use whole-wheat spaghetti noodles, have brown rice with your stir-fry, or use whole wheat bread to make your grilled cheese sandwich. 
  • Make open-faced sandwiches using just one piece of bread instead of two. This will help to cut down on carbohydrates and calories!  
  • When making hamburgers, tacos, etc., buy the leanest ground turkey or ground beef that you can afford.

Don’t Forget the Importance of Portion Control

Remember that even the healthier version of comfort food needs to come in the right portion size. Controlling portions is the true key to fitting the foods you want into your meal plan.

Many comfort foods are grain-based and have a considerable amount of carbohydrates. When choosing recipes, be sure that the nutrition information is provided. You can use the total carbohydrate grams listed to help you fit it into your meal plan.

The Plate Method can be especially helpful in controlling portions of comfort food. Remember, ¼ of your plate should be filled with carbohydrate foods!

Making Choices at the Holiday Dinner Table

Many holiday meals tend to be carb-heavy. Think about it…you could have mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, casserole, pasta salad, fruit salad, cranberry sauce and rolls - all on the same table!

If you can’t decide between one or two carbohydrate foods on the dinner table, try taking small samples of all your favorite comfort foods. Or, choose just two or three foods that are your absolute favorites. Overall, try to keep the carbohydrate in your meals about the same as you usually do.

The holidays and comfort foods are meant to be enjoyed. So, take advantage of the tips above, as well as this month's recipes to take the stress out of eating this December!

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