5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 8, 2013

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Whether it’s the changing weather, a hard day at work, or the approaching holidays, around this time of year many of us find ourselves reaching for comfort foods — the saltier, crunchier, greasier, or sugarier, the better. For those without iron willpower, fall is often a season of cheesy, fried, baked, deliciously unhealthy meals and snacks, sometimes from unknown or unsavory sources. However, there is hope, for your cravings, arteries, and food ethics: there are delicious and healthy comfort foods out there. We’ve collected a few of the easiest and most satisfying healthy comfort food favorites for you to try. Next time you feel tempted to turn into a drive-through or reach for boxed mac ‘n cheese, try one of these eco-recipes to sate your appetite: 

For Dinners and Snacks: 

1. The classic grilled cheese is not itself unhealthy — it’s when we get generous with the cheese, butter, and white bread that things start getting bad. There are a few quick variations, however, that can make this go-to comfort food less of a hit to your healthy diet, but still the cheesy, crispy treat you’re craving. Ditch white sandwich bread in favor of a whole grain or country loaf, and lose the mounds of mild cheese in favor of something stronger, like a sharp cheddar or mozzarella. You’ll end up with just as much salty flavor, but far less fat and calories. Or skip the cheese entirely and opt for one of these vegan sandwiches. Finally, some grilled cheese aficionados swear by a pan lightly coated in olive oil over the classic buttered bread to achieve a perfect, crispy gold crust.

2. In cold weather, a cup of hot chili can warm you up from the inside in the most wonderfully salty, hearty way. And thankfully, homemade chili is most often pretty good for you. Meat eaters have the option of choosing to avoid factory farmed beef or turkey, and buying lean meat to keep it healthy. One of the great things about chili, however, is that it sticks to your ribs with or without meat. Great vegetarian recipes aren’t hard to find — check out this easy one from the blogging chefs at Two Peas & Their Pod. 

3. Artichokes are the vegetarian’s ribs — a meaty finger food you really dig into, with all the fun of dipping sauces. And, even better, they’re incredibly easy to make. While the traditionalmayo and butter dipping sauces contribute much to the comfort of this food, there are healthier (and equally delicious) alternatives. Try substituting some or all of the mayonnaise in your dip for yogurt, and add herbs and olive oil. 

For Dessert: 

1. Holidays wouldn’t be the same without hot chocolate, which is generally pretty good for you. But the individual packets of coco sold in grocery stores are frighteningly full of unnecessary ingredients, including palm oil, corn syrup, gelatin, and a whole host of others that sound like they belong in a lab, not your food. This year, choose unsweetened cacao and add natural sweeteners and warm spices. If you’re going dairy-free, nut milks will add even more flavor to your cup. 

2. For a delicious and healthy indulgence, sweet cornbread drizzled with honey will fill you up and hit the spot, without saddling you with post-meal guilt. Better yet, if you have half an hour and a handful or basic ingredients, you’re all set. Try a basic recipe for a simple treat, or get adventurous with healthful alternatives like this recipe for sweet yogurt cornbread from Happy Wife Healthy Life.

Read online at SierraClub.org

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