Think of comfort food, and most people think of high-calorie, rib-sticking fare that makes you gain weight just by looking at it. Often, these foods are high in fat, sugar, and calories, identifying them as comfort foods. However, they don’t need to be unhealthy. These comfort foods won’t pile on the pounds, so go ahead and enjoy them.
If you make your own soup, it can be healthy, low-fat – and comforting. Saute the vegetables in a little healthy fat such as olive oil, and use tomatoes as the base for the soup, rather than milk or cream. Vegetable soups are the healthiest, but if you like a little meat in your soup, go for lean chicken or turkey. Remove any fat before adding to the soup, or let the soup go cold when it’s cooked and skim the fat off.
If you like a thick soup, thicken it naturally with lentils, pearl barley, oatmeal, or bran. These foods are high in fiber, so they’ll also help you feel full, which is a must where comfort food is concerned. Another way to thicken the soup without adding calories is to liquidize up to half of it, then return it to the pan. If you must have something to dunk in your soup, go for crackers or wholemeal pitta bread rather than the usual accompaniment of crusty bread.
Potatoes are filling and nutritious – they only become high-calorie diet busters when they are cooked with fat, or cream added. Mashed potatoes are especially comforting. Cook the potatoes with their skins on, because all the nutrients are just under the skin, then mash them with skimmed milk, black pepper, and a little olive oil. Ring the changes by adding tomato puree and a little curry paste. Or cook half mashed potatoes and half cauliflower for more bulk, fewer calories, and a different but delicious flavor sensation.
Jacket potato topped with baked beans is another comfort food that’s filling but diet-friendly. Because the beans are moist, you don’t need to add butter to the potato. However, if you want to add a little fat, drizzle some olive oil over the potato – it will do the same as butter, for a lower calorie count.
One pot meals
Make a low-calorie, low-fat casserole with lean meat such as chicken or turkey breast, lots of vegetables, and tomatoes to make a tasty cooking sauce. Serve with a jacket potato or brown rice for a healthy but filling comfort food.
Cook some whole grain pasta, and make a sauce using tomatoes and vegetables such as courgettes, peppers, mushrooms, celery, and leeks. Add some drained tuna in brine and a few olives if you wish. Whole grain pasta is a healthier option than white, and tomato-based sauces are low in fat and calories.
It’s possible to enjoy comfort foods without breaking the calorie bank. Just remember to keep the fat content low and go for high-fiber options which offer more filling power for fewer calories. Make your own comfort foods for best results – convenience foods are likely higher in fats, sugars, and salt. With a little nutritional knowledge and careful planning, you can enjoy comfort foods this winter without piling on the pounds.