A creamy bowl of macaroni and cheese, a juicy burger, and gooey slices of pizza — delicious, sure, but eat too much and that heavy feeling will start to weigh you down. So how do we enjoy comfort food without the feeling of indulgence? Up the veggies and swap in healthier ingredients.
Here are 16 lighter takes on classic comfort food — with a healthy twist. Swap spaghetti squash for pasta in a carbonara casserole; make a satisfying bolognese with ground turkey; get your takeout fix with homemade fried cauliflower rice. This isn't about replacing the pizza and pasta, it's about making smart choices for the long run, so when you do have the bowl of pasta, you can enjoy every single forkful and feel wonderful about it.
How do you make a winning pasta-free carbonara? By sticking closely to the classic elements. Start by mixing eggs and Parmesan with spaghetti squash strings scraped out of baked halves, a cooked onion, and a dollop of ricotta to make up for the lack of richness in plain baked squash.
This burger has a deep, savory umami flavor that contrasts nicely with a slice of Provolone cheese, bitter greens, and the buttery toasted bun. Bits of beet, black bean, and brown rice make the mix, but no single ingredient overpowers the other.
Stir-fries like pad Thai have so much going on that the slight crunchiness of the squash noodles just goes into the mix. When you have chewy cubes of fried tofu, tender onions and scallions, crunchy peanuts, and a tasty sauce to bring it all together, who's going to notice whether the noodles are more brittle than usual?
It isn't about replacing the pasta, or even pretending like strands of zucchini taste the same, but for a satisfying twirl of the fork, zucchini noodles will absolutely do. Topped with a zestier take on the classic pesto, parsley and pistachios replace basil and pine nuts for a fresh, vibrant flavor.
This dish is really a reminder that good food doesn't need to be complicated or use fancy ingredients. In fact, sometimes the most basic, everyday ingredients make the most satisfying meals. Ground turkey makes a lighter weeknight pasta sauce that is still full of good flavor.
Don't underestimate the versatility of mushroom caps and the never-ending list of ways to stuff them with items for a fast and delicious dinner. Here, they are stuffed with herbed cheese and panko breadcrumbs and topped with a tomato sauce for a pizza-inspired meal.
With buttery avocado wrapped between light and bubbly lavash layers, and maple syrup and salt giving a hint of sweet-salty flavor, this healthy riff on a quesadilla will help keep you satisfied until your next meal.
Kale, bacon, and egg get piled onto the bun, taken to the table, and — slice, ooze, yum — breakfast is served. Or, you know, lunch. Or dinner. For those in the pro-egg-yolk camp, this sandwich is made for any time of day.
This "lighter" baked macaroni and cheese casserole relies on a combination of cottage cheese, sour cream, and shredded cheese for its creamy base. If you're looking to shave a few more calories off this dish, low-fat dairy is definitely an option.
Stuffed with spiced lentils, kale, and mashed roasted sweet potato, these sturdy vegan pastries freeze well and taste great hot or at room temperature.
We love a good red sauce, but white sauce has its own pleasures, bringing a creamy base for milder toppings like greens and smoky meats like bacon.
This is just the simplest and easiest way to get lasagna on the table on a weeknight. Make the filling as the pasta cooks, and then roll them up and bake.
This is not your greasy taco salad of yesteryear — in fact, there’s no ranch dressing powder or "taco seasoning packets" in sight. Just a few pantry ingredients come together for a flavorful (and fast!) weeknight dinner the whole family is sure to love.
These baked veggie wontons are so quick, easy, and versatile that you’ll never have to scramble for a vegetarian party appetizer again. Add some cream cheese for a vegetarian spin on crab rangoon.
Today, mild-tasting spaghetti squash is getting a lasagna makeover. Mozzarella, ricotta, meat sauce — the works. It's a bowl of hot-baked goodness that you get all to yourself — no sharing required.
As a fried rice look-alike, this dish can hold its own. The cauliflower is chewy and nubbly in all the right rice-like ways. Bits of egg and tender vegetables also make it a satisfying meal on its own. This still feels like comfort food — just comfort food that's sneaking a few more vegetables into your day!
(Image credits: Emma Christensen; Faith Durand; Nealey Dozier; Todd Coleman; Kathy Patalsky; Anjali Prasertong; Kristin Teig; Alice Choi)