16 Lighter, Healthier Recipes for Your Favorite Comfort Foods

16 Lighter, Healthier Recipes for Your Favorite Comfort Foods

Hali Bey Ramdene
Jan 4, 2016

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.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

1. Baked Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

2. Best-Ever Veggie Burger

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

3. Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

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?

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

4. Zucchini Noodle Salad with Parsley-Pistachio Pesto

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

5. Spaghetti with Turkey Bolognese

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.

(Image credit: Todd Coleman)

6. Cheesy Pizza Portobello Mushrooms

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.

(Image credit: Kathy Patalsky)

7. The Avodilla

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.

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

8. Kale, Bacon & Egg Whole-Wheat Breakfast Sandwich

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

9. Lighter Baked Mac and Cheese

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.

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

10. Spiced Lentil, Sweet Potato & Kale Whole Wheat Pockets

Stuffed with spiced lentils, kale, and mashed roasted sweet potato, these sturdy vegan pastries freeze well and taste great hot or at room temperature.

(Image credit: Kristin Teig)

11. White Pizza with Avocado, Spinach & Mozzarella

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.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

12. Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups

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.

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

13. Turkey Taco Salad

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.

(Image credit: Alice Choi)

14. Baked Vegetable Wontons

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

15. Lasagna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

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.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

16. Fried Cauliflower Rice

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!

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