Comfort Foods - Make Them Lighter!

The coldest months of the year seem to be when we crave comfort food the most. But you probably know that many traditional comfort foods are packed with calories, sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats, and often, carbohydrates. But now, a lot of chefs are getting creative and making over popular recipes. Below are some ingredients to watch when preparing comfort food in your own home. We've also provided comparisons of some traditional comfort foods and our own made over recipes. 

Ingredients to watch:

Too much cheese

Many popular foods are loaded with cheese – pizza, tacos, casseroles, sandwiches, salads, and more. The truth is – cheese is one of the biggest sources of saturated fat in the typical American diet. It’s also high in sodium and calories. Here are some tips to try for recipes that call for a lot of cheese:

  • Use reduced-fat varieties or cheeses with less than 3 grams of fat per ounce whenever possible.
  • You can still use full-fat cheese, but use it sparingly. Start by cutting the cheese in your recipe down by a third or even by half. For example, try ½ the cheese when you make pizza, casseroles, or when topping tacos or enchiladas.
  • Substitute a sharp cheese with a strong flavor like sharp cheddar or parmesan. You’ll be able to get away with using less because of the stronger flavor. 
  • For ingredients like cream cheese, use less or use a combination of fat-free cream cheese and reduced-fat cream cheese. You could also use half cream cheese and half plain Greek yogurt for some dips.

Call for Creamy Soups

Many dishes, casseroles in particular, call for creamy soups. These soups add a good amount of sodium and unhealthy fats to your dish.

  • A first step is to use a lower-sodium or reduced-fat version of the soup.
  • You can also try adding less soup. Experiment by using just ¾ of a can or even 2/3 and add 2 extra tablespoons of low-fat milk to make up for some of the lost liquid.
  • Make a low-fat white sauce on your own to use instead of the soup. Use 1% milk and a thickener like flour. You can also add some herbs, spices, and sautéed veggies to your sauce for extra flavor! A good example of how to do this is our recipe for Spaghetti Squash Casserole.

You might also be interested in our recipes for Healthy Homemade Green Bean Casserole or Potato Casserole.

Lots of Mayo

A lot of classic dips, salads, and dressings call for mayonnaise in large amounts. Think potato salads, crab and artichoke dip, and homemade creamy salad dressings. While it does contain mostly healthy fats, regular mayo is still high in calories, so you don’t want to have too much. Here are some ways to lighten up mayo-loaded dishes:

Looking for healthier alternatives?

Our recipe library features several “made over” comfort food recipes. Check out the two comparisons below to see how you can work these into a healthy meal plan.

Homemade Mac and Cheese

½ cup usually has: 230 calories, 13 grams of fat, 7.5 grams saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 435 mg sodium, 22 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 9 g protein.

Homemade mac ‘n cheese usually calls for a good amount of butter, cream or whole milk, and a whole lot of cheese. Instead, try our Classic Mac ‘n Cheese recipe, which uses 1% milk and corn starch to thicken the cheese sauce. It also uses a reduced-fat extra sharp cheese, onions, and a few spices to keep the flavor up. To boost the fiber in this dish, use whole grain noodles.

Recipe Makeover: 185 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 2.3 grams of saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, 10 g protein.

Instead of an entrée, think of mac ‘n cheese as a tasty side. Serve it up with some grilled chicken breast and a generous serving of green beans. You could also up the nutrition in your recipe by adding some cooked veggies before baking like carrots, broccoli, or cauliflower.

Homemade Spinach Artichoke Dip

2 tablespoons usually have: 100 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.

Remember that this is just an appetizer – and it’s easy to lose control of portion size when you snack. If you have too much, you could easily be eating as many calories as you need in a meal! Spinach Artichoke dip is typically loaded with mayonnaise and cheese. Instead, try our made over Spinach Artichoke Dip that’s just as tasty. It cuts back on the mayo, uses a light cheese spread, and is loaded with vegetables! When you serve it, scoop a small spoonful onto your plate and enjoy it with some fresh carrot sticks, celery, or cucumber slices.

Recipe Makeover: 40 calories, 1.5 grams fat, <1 gram saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram dietary fiber, 2 g protein. 

Making over a recipe doesn’t mean it becomes a free food. It simply means we’ve cut down on the bad fats and some high-calorie ingredients to make it more nutritious and easier to fit into your meal plan. While these alternatives are healthier than the originals, it’s still important to watch portion size and the amount of carbohydrate in a serving.

Here are some other made over recipes to check out:

Easy Half-Mashed Potatoes
Chicken Joes
Crockpot Spinach Lasagna
Budget-Friendly Herb Garlic Meatloaf
Parmesan Crusted Chicken 

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