You probably have a favourite comfort food that you love to indulge in. And, chances are, you feel a twinge of guilt every time you eat it. But you can turn almost any fattening recipe into a healthy one with an ingredient makeover. Intimidated? Don’t be. Nutritionist Leah Holbrook, RD, clinical instructor of family medicine at Stony Brook University in New York, and her dietitian interns April Murray and Selina Chou offer practical tips for lightening up even the most unhealthy food favourites — from adding more fruits and veggies to making smart ingredient swaps.
Pancakes That Won't Pack on the Pounds
An easy recipe fix for pancakes is to use whole-wheat flour or flour that includes another whole grain, such as oatmeal. You can also go the healthier route when it comes to choosing pancake toppings. “Replace sugary syrup with fresh fruit, fruit preserves, plain Greek yogurt, natural peanut butter, pure maple syrup, or honey,” says Holbrook. The recipe for oat pancakes accomplishes both makeover goals. But remember that even with healthy recipes, portion sizes matter — limit yourself to one or two flapjacks.
A Healthier Ham and Cheese Melt
Make a healthier version of your favourite bistro-style sandwich by choosing whole-grain bread and low-fat cheese. Add tomatoes, lettuce, or other favourite grilled or fresh veggies to increase fibre and flavour. For a crispy finish, take out the panini press that’s been hidden away in a kitchen cabinet. Baking and pressing are better options than using oil or butter to grill a sandwich. If you need to watch calories and carbs, pile the ingredients on a single slice of bread and eat the sandwich open-faced.
The key to taking away mac-and-cheese’s crown as the king of unhealthy foods is portion control, says Holbrook. Use whole-wheat pasta, low-fat cheese, and individual baking dishes to turn this comfort food into a healthy recipe. “Add pureed vegetables — cauliflower works well — to the casserole,” she advises. Other chopped vegetables, such as bell peppers, will boost flavor and make the dish more filling. For another variation, try a yummy macaroni and two-cheese casserole.
Nothing beats noshing on nachos when you’re watching a game on television or just gathering with friends, but you don’t have to derail your diet or sacrifice taste to enjoy them. “Top low-sodium, baked tortilla chips with low-fat cheese, diced tomatoes, green onion, Greek yogurt, grilled chicken, lettuce, and salsa,” says Holbrook. You can lower the salt intake and cut down on preservatives in the dish by making your own avocado-corn salsa. For another flavourful variation, add chunks of tangy mango or papaya to your favourite salsa recipe.
A New Spin on Pizza
“Pizza night is a great opportunity to spend quality time with your family,” says Holbrook. For an easy recipe, make individual pizzas on whole-wheat English muffins, pitas, or toast, or try this healthy recipe for this veggie pizza. “Another alternative is to purchase ready-to-use, whole-wheat pizza dough and make it a create-your-own-pizza night,” says Holbrook. Offer plenty of healthy toppings such as low-fat cheese, spinach, mushrooms, pineapple, bell pepper, onion, lean chicken, olives, eggplant, and diced tomatoes.
A Better Take on Tacos
Taco night is another fun way to introduce children to new flavours. The key is to “limit the cheese and avoid sour cream and fried tortillas,” says Holbrook. Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with low-sodium black beans, fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, lettuce, plain low-fat Greek yogurt, and homemade salsa. “Other great fillers include cilantro, grilled bell peppers, and grilled onions,” she adds. You can also try experimenting with protein choices, including fish (as with these tacos) and chicken.
Lean and Tasty Hamburgers
Nothing beats a hamburger for a quick and easy meal, but all too often burgers fall into the ranks of unhealthy foods. Instead, let fresh vegetables come to the rescue. Start with a lean ground turkey patty on a whole-wheat pita rather than the typical bun, and load it up with fresh veggies or a couple of avocado slices. “Make it interesting by adding grilled mushrooms, peppers, and onions,” says Holbrook. Skip the cheese and mayo in favor of low-fat or fat-free condiments, such as mustard.
A Low-Calorie Version of Lasagna
Lasagna is one of the most popular dishes at potlucks and large family dinners. Transform this crowd-pleaser into a healthier dish by building your lasagna with whole-grain pasta, low-fat ricotta cheese, low-sodium sauce, and plenty of veggies, such as zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, onion, eggplant, and carrots. “Boost flavour with fresh parsley and your favourite spices,” says Holbrook. A great example is a recipe like garden vegetable lasagna.
Flavourful Fettuccini Alfredo
Rich and creamy Alfredo sauce is a popular comfort food, but with all its traditional high-fat dairy ingredients, it’s just about at the top of fattiest foods list. You can enjoy this creamy dish by making a few healthy swaps. “Replace some cheese, oil, butter, and cream with olive oil, chicken broth, and white wine,” says Holbrook. As always, choose whole-grain pasta, and add lean chicken breast, and lots of veggies to create a healthy recipe. “Flavour the dish with fresh herbs, lemon juice, and your favourite Italian spices,” Holbrook advises.
Scrumptious Chocolate Cake
Indulge your sweet tooth with a lighter take on chocolate cake. Keep it moist and low fat by exchanging vegetable oil for butter or applesauce for oil (1:1 portions in exchange). Use whole-grain flour and make healthier choices about toppings. Instead of layering on a butter-and-sugar frosting, just lightly dust it with powdered sugar or serve with a simple fruit puree as a sauce. Try our healthy version of a chocolate bundt cake.
Just Say Cheesecake
Cheesecake baked in individual serving sizes not only looks appealing, but this method also helps you control portion sizes. “Make individual, crust-less cheesecakes in cupcake wrappers,” suggests Holbrook. And look for opportunities to reduce fat in the recipe with low-fat cream cheese or cottage cheese. Non-fat sour cream and fresh fruit make delectable and healthy dessert toppings. Try our marmalade glazed orange cheesecake, which is a citrusy, reduced-fat version that’s rich in flavour, but not high in calories.