5 Healthy Comfort Food Hacks if You Love Taste & Health

Here’s how to love healthy comfort food. These 5 comfort food hacks give you the taste you crave without compromising on your health.

You want yummy ooey-gooey. I do too. But like me, you know too much yummy ooey-gooey drives cholesterol and blood sugar levels up. And it can make the scale groan.

There’s a reason we call them comfort foods – and a reason that we need them. They tantalize our taste buds, warm the soul and take us back to a time and place when life was simpler and problems were small.

But yikes! Traditional comfort foods pop with added sugars, calories, sodium and saturated fat.

Because of my love for all things chocolate, peanut butter and starch, I’ve learned a few kitchen tricks to turn typical comfort foods into healthy comfort foods with these 5 comfort food hacks.

healthy comfort food hacks white whole wheat chocolate chip banana bread

Made with white whole wheat flour and nonfat yogurt, this chocolate chip banana bread is the perfect healthy comfort food.

Try these 5 Healthy Comfort Food Hacks

A few ingredient swaps and upgrades will have you nourishing both body and soul.

Veggie Up! This may actually be a dietitian’s mantra. Fortunately, I’ve learned to love vegetables. Back in college – before I studied nutrition – I figured out that I could manage my weight better if I filled up on large amounts of super low-calorie foods – cauliflower, carrots, and water. That discovery and a bunch of playing in the kitchen turned first me – and then my entire family – into vegetable lovers. Or at least vegetable appreciators, in the case of one family member.  😉

If you don’t have the veggie habit yet, this is a good place to start. Bulk up other favorite foods with nonstarchy vegetables, so you can have a larger portion for fewer calories, carbs, and unhealthy saturated fats – all while boosting nutrition and being extra kind to your gut.

Load up pasta salad and every other kind of grain or legume-based salad with cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots, sugar snap peas and more. Add flavor, color and texture when you slip slices of bell pepper, red onion and tomatoes into your grilled cheese sandwich.

Potato Salad with Resistant Starch

This veggie-packed potato salad was originally published in Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week. The cold potatoes have some resistant starch, and the calories per serving are further reduced with the addition of nonstarchy vegetables.

Challenge yourself to add a vegetable to all kinds of recipes. It’s a great way to create healthy comfort food. Check out my healthy hashbrown casserole.

Healthy comfort food hacks: hashbrown casserole

Broccoli was the perfect choice for this healthy hashbrown casserole. Reduced-fat cheese helped lower the calories and saturated fats.

Try hiding vegetables too. Add finely chopped broccoli into tomato-based casseroles and grated carrots into meatloaf. Blend ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms. Check out The Blend, developed and perfected by The Mushroom Council. They’ve got lots and lots of recipes.

Focus On Whole Grains. Oh, how I love my starchy grains. You too? Fortunately, these days I find so many healthy options in the stores. And thank goodness whole-grain pasta manufacturers dumped the cardboard taste and found a way to make whole-wheat spaghetti actually taste like spaghetti.

Don’t fear grains, especially whole grains.

Diets rich in whole grains are linked to lowered risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Some options:

  • Brown and wild rice
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Whole-wheat pasta and couscous
  • Qunioa
  • Wheat berries
  • Farro
  • Spelt

And plenty more.

Oats and barley both contain the viscous fiber beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity. Yay for anyone with prediabetes, diabetes or heat problems.

high fiber foods include mushroom barley soup

This mushroom barley soup warms the soul and the body. And it helps with insulin resistance and cholesterol levels.

Substitute Or Go Halfsies. Sometimes a simple substitution of whole milk to 2% milk or white flour to whole wheat flour turns out beautifully.

But other times, yuk! It ruins the entire dish.

When it works, go for it. When it doesn’t, go halfsies.

For example, make airy blueberry muffins with half white flour and half whole wheat flour or sprinkle a combination of regular cheese and reduced-fat cheese over your pizza.

Try some of these partial or full substitutions for more comfort food hacks.

INSTEAD OF THIS

UPGRADE WITH THIS

Ground beef 94% lean ground beef or ground turkey
Half and half Fat-free half and half, milk, evaporated fat-free milk
Cream in soup Whole milk, pureed white beans or potato or other pureed vegetable or pureed bread (yes, bread)
Cheese Reduced-fat cheese
Sour Cream Reduced-fat or fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt
Cornflake crumbs Crushed Wheaties®
Breadcrumbs Rolled oats, crushed bran flakes or chopped walnuts
Enriched white flour Whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, white whole-wheat flour (these last two are softer and lighter)
Butter or shortening in baked goods Replace 4 tablespoons hard fat with 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil or with 4 tablespoons mashed avocado.
Sugar in baked goods Reduce the sugar by ¼ to 1/3 or use a combination of sugar and sugar substitute.

Like whole-wheat pasta, reduced-fat cheeses resemble actual food. I remember when my reduced-fat cheese slice, puffed up and burned instead of melting. Does anyone else remember that?

Healthy Sweet Noodle Kugel

Sweet Noodle Kugel is true comfort food. Check out how I trimmed it down. This is a favorite treat for my family. I make it once or twice a year.

Healthy Tomato Soup recipe

The secret to the “Creamy” Tomato Soup is a bit of pureed bread.

Bring Out Flavors. By seasoning smartly and layering flavors, you won’t miss the extra fats, sugars and salt.

  • When cutting back on sugar, season with cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla to bring out the sweetness of the dish.
  • Sprinkle dry herbs early in cooking and fresh herbs before serving. Check out 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Herbs and Spices.
  • Enhance dishes with toasted nuts. Sprinkle toasted almonds onto green beans, walnuts over Brussels sprouts, pecans into green salads and pine nuts with sautéed spinach. Your options are endless. Oh yum. Did I mention I love all things nuts too?
  • Use tiny amounts of a strong-flavored cheese such as feta or sharp cheddar. Stronger flavors give big taste with smaller amounts.
  • Roast vegetables to bring out their natural sweetness.
  • Squeeze a fresh lemon into stews and soups just before serving to boost flavor with less salt.

Downsize. Sometimes nothing but the real deal satisfies. I don’t want a “healthy chocolate peanut butter cookie.” I want a yummy ooey-gooey chocolate peanut butter cookie.

If the real deal is what you need for a smile, shrink the portion. Serve mini sundaes in stylish shot glasses. Bake pudding or tiny cakes in little ramekins. Do the same for chicken pot pie and macaroni and cheese.

No matter what, sit down, slow down and savor every bite!

Cheers to happy, healthy eating! And cheers to healthy comfort food that reminds us of a time and place when life was simpler and problems were small.

I’d love to share more tips and strategies to help you meet your goals for lifelong health. When you sign up for my emails, you’ll also get The Super Simple Strategy To Keep from Falling Off the Healthy Eating Wagon.

Jill-Weisenberger_about-image-2
Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.

Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.

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