Tweak your comfort foods for more nutritional value
Everyone needs some comfort food now and then, especially this past year. But many of our favorites won’t be confused with health food. The good news is there are some ways to tweak some favorite foods and make them healthier, said Rochelle St. Onge, clinical dietitian with Cape Cod Healthcare.
“When we're stressed, we like to have foods like mac and cheese or chili that bring us joy,” she said. “A lot of times, these are things that people have grown up with, they're used to them, and they're easy to prepare. It's just convenience, comfort, and taste.
“Tweaking things that are ‘unhealthy,’ maybe by adding in some fruits or vegetables, is a great way to make them a little bit more nutritious while still reminding us of the original dish.”
Here are a few ways St. Onge suggests you can update a few of your favorites:
Chili – “You can boost the healthiness factor just by putting in more vegetables. Use two cans of beans rather than one and put in peppers, onions and carrots. That goes with any soup or stew that you're making. Bulking up your dish with more vegetables will also give you more portions. Try to use a leaner ground beef, since you're not going to miss the fat if you're slow cooking it.”
Macaroni and cheese – “I always try to get my patients to use wholegrains. If you're not used to the taste of whole-wheat pasta, you can do half regular, half wholewheat pasta to get the health benefits, and it won’t change the taste much. For mac and cheese, real cheese is still the way to go, just cut back on it a little bit.
“I like to add broccoli or frozen carrots to my mac and cheese, and there are recipes using pureed butternut squash or pureed carrot in the mixture to keep that orange color. Adding vegetables and lean protein on the side, so you're not just having a carb-heavy meal.”
Meatloaf – “Some people put pureed or mashed vegetables into their meatloaf. That may be a little bit more labor-intensive, but if you have the time, go for it. The main thing is to use lean ground turkey or a leaner cut of beef when you're making your meatloaf. And then just be sure to have some vegetables on the side with your meatloaf.”
Pizza – “Make it yourself at home if you can. Most groceries sell uncooked pizza dough, and you can top it with plenty of vegetables. I like spinach, peppers and onions. You can make your own tomato sauce or buy a low-sodium tomato sauce or pizza sauce. Don't go heavy on the cheese, but you can still use your cheese of choice. For my heart-healthy patients, I suggest mozzarella or provolone, because they are lower in salt and lower in saturated fat. Then add your own seasoning, like garlic, basil or oregano.”
Oatmeal – “Oatmeal is a good way to start the day, but you can make it healthier. Start with either old fashioned plain oats or steel-cut oats, so you can control how much sugar you're adding to it. The instant packets usually contain a lot of added sugar. With the steel-cut or the old fashioned, you can add just a little bit of maple syrup or honey to it, or you can use cinnamon or vanilla extract. Top it with fresh or frozen fruit and some nuts.”