There’s nothing more comforting than a nice hot meal on a winter’s day. The problem is, what many of us consider to be winter comfort foods aren’t always as healthy as we might assume.
Many comfort foods are high in simple carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, instead of healthier complex carbohydrates like whole wheat flour and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates can reduce our serotonin levels and make us tired (and even depressed), which is quite the opposite of what a comfort food should do. In addition, many recipes include ingredients high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, so curbing those is only going to help your waistline and overall healthy.
With all this in mind, let’s look at how the comfort foods we love can really be good for us.
- Macaroni and Cheese, Lasagne and Other Pastas: Use whole wheat noodles and replace any flour in the recipes with whole wheat flour. Add more vegetables and reduce the cheese and meat content.
- Fried Chicken: Instead of frying, try baking your coated chicken and don’t forget to use wheat flour and egg whites instead of a whole egg.
- Soups: Forego the canned varieties that are extremely high in cholesterol and make yours fresh where possible. It’s not as complicated as you might think and it tastes much better. When making your own soup, always skim the fat of your soup stock and use plenty of vegetables. If you don’t have time to make your own stock, choose the low sodium pre-made varieties.
- Chili and stew: Choose leaner cuts of meat. For example, a turkey chili can be just as hearty and delicious as its ground beef counterpart. Of course, don’t forget to load up your chili with vegetables. When making stew, always cut the fat off the meat before cooking and use wheat flour for thickening your delicious meal. If serving bread, use whole wheat and reduce foregoing the butter. A warm whole wheat baguette dipped in homemade chili or stew just doesn’t need the extra added fat and cholesterol.
It doesn’t matter what your preferred comfort foods are, you can use these guidelines to prepare many of your favorite meals:
- Whole wheat flour replaces white flour.
- Olive oil replaces butter, margarine, and other oils.
- Eggs whites replace whole eggs.
- Skip the butter on bread and vegetables. Use seasoning instead.
- Reduce sugar in recipes. Use ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon or other extracts to add a sweet flavor.
- Choose leaner cuts of meat and cut off any visible fats before cooking. You can also remove the skin from chicken, or to retain juiciness remove the skin before eating.
- Use skim milk instead of whole milk.
- Reduce salt in recipes dramatically. Most recipes don’t actually need salt, excluding ones that include yeast for leavening.
- Cook more meals instead of eating packaged ones.
- When in doubt, add more vegetables.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean avoiding your favorite comfort foods, but it could mean adjusting things a little. Keep these tips in mind when preparing your next meal to stay healthy, happy and trim this winter.