8 Smart Swaps to Make Comfort Foods Healthier

The chill in the air brings out more than just sweaters. It also awakens the craving for heartier, more comforting foods to warm our bodies from the inside.

But a change of season doesn’t have to mean leaving your quest for a better beach body behind. With these healthier adjustments, you can have your comfort food and eat it too.

Photo by Shared Food from Burst


1. Make it meatless. Vegetarian chili can taste just as hearty as meatier versions, especially when the swap is chunky cubes of sweet potatoes or winter squash.

2. Try turkey. While locals in certain parts of the country would never imagine chili without meat, those seeking a healthier variation might consider turkey. Leaner, low in calories and packed with protein, cooked ground, diced or pulled turkey can be better choice without sacrificing any regional cred.

3. More better beans. Red kidney beans are to chili what sweaters are to fall, so it’s fortunate this popular ingredient boasts great things like antioxidants, fiber and Alzheimer’s-fighting nutrients. To switch things up, pack chili with other varieties of the best-for-you beans, including black, pinto, or navy beans.

Slow Cooker 3-Bean Chili

2 lbs. lean ground turkey

3 tsp. red chili powder

1 medium onion, chopped into ½ in. slices

1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced into ½ in. slices

2 cans (16 total ounces) black beans

2 cans (16 total ounces) Pinto beans

2 cans (16 total ounces) red kidney beans

1 can (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes

1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

2 tsp. garlic salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground cumin

  1. Brown turkey in a large skillet; drain fat and place meat into a large slow cooker.
  2. Add chili powder, onion, green pepper, all beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, garlic salt, cinnamon and cumin into cooker.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours (or on high for 2-3 hours).
  4. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, or chopped scallions.

Makes 8 servings



4. Pick ’flowers. Long before cauliflower emerged as a low-carb sub for everything from sandwich bread to pizza crust, it was a proxy for the main ingredient in mashed potatoes. Although similarly light and fluffy in texture, mashed cauliflower has its own distinct flavor that enthusiasts say offsets the need for heavy cream and loads of butter.

5. Consume color. Lindsay Malone, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic writes that, prepared the right way, sweet potatoes offer more vitamin A, C, and fiber and fewer calories and total carbs than white potatoes. She also suggests red or purple potatoes with the skins on for an extra burst of nutrients—again, minus fatty cheese, sour cream and butter.

6. Go Greek. If you’re a potato purist, then change your mix-ins instead. Rather than cream and butter, stir in tangy Greek yogurt instead.



7. Layer in substitutes. Most recipes for healthier apple pies make smart swaps at every step. Whole wheat or nut flour replaces standard white flour for the crust in some recipes. Vanilla extract helps bakers use less butter in others. And many cut the sugar by selecting sweeter varietals of apples, using natural syrup or honey or upping the spices instead.

 8. Come out of the shell. Granted, they’re not technically pie, but baked apples celebrate the bounty of the season and coziness of warm apples in a more wholesome way. Plus, they practically beg for better-for-you add-ins such as nuts, dried cherries or cranberries. Look for recipes that sidestep the butter and sugar.

Carrot and Apple Casserole

7 lg. carrots, peeled and sliced

5 lg. apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 1/16ths

6 tbs. all-purpose flour

2 tbs. brown sugar, packed

¼ tsp. nutmeg

½ cup orange juice

2 tbs. margarine

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Boil carrots in large saucepan of water for 6 min., drain.
  3. Layer apple slices and carrots in a large casserole dish.
  4. Separately, combine flour, sugar and nutmeg in a medium bowl; sprinkle over carrots and apples.
  5. Pour orange juice over entire dish; dollop with margarine.
  6. Bake 35 minutes or until carrots turn tender.

Makes 8 total servings

This fall, you may also wish to try these better-for-you recipes:

Hungarian Goulash

Szekely Gulyas - Hungarian goulash with beef and sour cream on top of pasta and served with a slice of crusty bread.

1 lb. beef round steak, trimmed

2 tsp. canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves minced garlic

3 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. caraway seeds

¾ cup water

3 carrots, sliced crosswise into ¼ in. slices

1 lg. red potato, peeled, cut into 1 in. cubes

1 cup low-fat sour cream

1 tsp. black pepper

1 lb. yolk-free egg noodles, cooked according to directions

  1. Cut steak into ¾ in. pieces, setting aside
  2. Heat canola oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, paprika and caraway seeds; cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in water, carrots, and potato; cover and cook 15 min. over low heat or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Meantime, spray medium skillet with non-stick canola cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add steak pieces; cook and stir until beginning to brown (around 4 min.). Add steak to vegetable mix; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Stir in sour cream and pepper; cook until heated through. Serve over prepared egg noodles.

Makes 6 total servings

Honey Zucchini Bread

Slices of zucchini sunflower seed bread

1 egg

1 cup honey

3 tbs. canola oil

1 tsp. vanilla

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. grated orange peel

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. ground ginger

Pinch salt

½ cup sunflower seeds, pre-baked

2 cups grated zucchini

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Beat egg in large bowl, adding honey oil and vanilla; mix well.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, orange peel, baking soda, and ginger. Add to large bowl.
  4. Add in zucchini and sunflower seeds; mix well until fully blended.
  5. Spoon batter into greased loaf pan (9”x5”x3”). Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in loaf pan.
  6. Remove from pan, cool completely.

Makes 12 servings

For more ideas on healthy eating, visit the A Healthier You section of!


LifeYourWay Editor

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