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Smart Ingredient Swaps for Healthier Comfort Foods

Caveman diet

Soup, macaroni and cheese or chicken pot pie - we all have our favorite comfort foods. While we love the taste of them, we don’t like what they do our waist lines. But instead of giving them up, Virtua registered dietitian Lauren Guenther gives you tips for making your comfort foods healthier.

Portion control

“If you attempt to cut all comfort foods, when you do treat yourself, you’re more likely to overeat,” Guenther says. “So treat yourself in moderation. It’s all about portion control.”

She offers these tips for controlling your portions:

  • Drink skim milk with your meal to fill you up.
  • Measure your food for the right serving size.
  • Eat a salad before your meal so you’re not as hungry.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables.

“It’s also about exercise,” says Guenther. “Increase your activity throughout the day – go to the gym, take the stairs instead of the elevator, do sit-ups during TV commercials, walk or ride your bike to run errands – just keep moving to burn calories.”

Ingredient swapping

Another way to enjoy comfort foods without packing on the pounds is to modify the recipe to use less of the fattening ingredients or to swap them for healthier options.

  • Butter: Use half the amount called for on the recipe and get the same results. In some recipes, you can swap the butter for Greek yogurt.
  • Sour Cream: Use plain Greek yogurt or non-fat sour cream.
  • Flour: Use whole-wheat flour or ground oats instead of enriched white flour.
  • Cheese: Use light cheese, less cheese, or leave it out if it’s not a main ingredient.
  • Milk: Use skim milk.
  • Eggs: Replace one egg with two egg whites.

"Healthify" your favorite comfort foods

Instead of adding milk, butter and flour, puree cooked butternut squash until it’s creamy and add it to your pasta. Replace half of the cheddar cheese with low-fat cheddar cheese, and swap your white pasta for a whole-wheat.

Instead of using beef, use a mix of veal, pork and 93% lean ground beef. Or, swap the red meat for ground turkey or chicken.

Mix in equal parts spaghetti squash and regular spaghetti. Even try whole wheat pasta. Use a tomato-based sauce, and make sure it has less than 5 grams of sugar per serving and zero trans fats. Add vegetables whenever possible.

Add more beans than meat. Swap ground beef for turkey or chicken. If you do use beef, make sure it’s 93% lean. Add plenty of veggies and serve it with wheat crackers.

Fried Chicken

If you can’t live without the fried chicken crunch, take a wheat-based cereal and crunch it up. Dip the chicken in milk, cover with the cereal and bake. It cooks up crunchy without the calories.


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