4 Practical Tips for Making Healthier Comfort Food

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

It’s hard to beat the pleasure of comfort food. Digging into a gooey bowl of macaroni and cheese or biting into a cheesy slice of pizza has a way of making a lackluster day a little better. We think you should be able to have the foods you crave while also feeling your best. With that in mind, we’ve given those well-loved comfort food dishes a few twists to transform them into delicious, lightened-up, veggie-filled versions of themselves. Here are the tips and techniques that helped us do it, and the recipes that bring them to your kitchen.

4 Easy Ways to Make Comfort Food Better for You

1. Tuck in vegetables wherever you can.

The easiest way to make comfort food a bit lighter? Add vegetables! Skip the ground meat in your lasagna and replace it with a colorful mix of spinach, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms. Or get a bit more subtle about it: a creamy cheese sauce made with more cauliflower than cheese is incredibly satisfying — and you might not even be able to spot (or taste) the difference.

2. Treat those vegetables like meat.

Adding more veggies is easy, right? But getting those veggies to taste amazing is often the bigger challenge. Pay a little more attention when seasoning them and the results can change the way you or your family views them.

Take slices of meaty portobello mushrooms and poblano peppers and quickly marinate them in a tangy mix of lime juice, olive oil, and spices, just like you would chicken or steak. Roast them at high heat so all the marinade’s flavor soaks in and they get tender and caramelized. Suddenly you have a filling for tacos that’s as satisfying — and as flavorful — as meat.

3. Make smart cheese choices.

One serious requirement of comfort food is that cheese is involved in some way. (At least that’s one of my requirements!) Bringing cheese into the mix doesn’t mean all chances of things remaining wholesome are out the window, though. What matters is that you make smart cheese choices.

Opting for cheeses that are more flavorful than others means you don’t need to use as much to enjoy them. Tangy goat cheese carries more of a punch sprinkled on tacos than more common cotija or even shredded Monterey Jack, so you only need a little to reap its benefits. Same thing goes for a lighter mac and cheese. While cheddar is always great, swapping out some for nuttier, more flavorful Gruyère means you’ll need less cheese overall since the flavor impact from this cheese is far more pronounced.

4. Embrace whole grains.

I love pizza and I’m not planning to give it up anytime soon, but I am totally up for the occasional compromise to fuel my need for the ultimate comfort food. My substitute of choice: swapping out the regular refined wheat crust for one made of polenta. Sure, it’s not traditional, but it’s pretty darn tasty. Not only is the crust whole-grain, but it also happens to be gluten-free, which is a bonus for many.

5 Lightened Up Comfort Food Recipes