November 30, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Healthier Comfort Foods

As it becomes colder, I tend to crave high-calorie comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, creamy soups, and cakes.

Can you suggest some nutritious ways of making them?

-- Sarah S.
Buffalo, NY

Absolutely. The key is to recreate these dishes in healthier, lower-calorie ways.

When it comes to mac and cheese, try whole wheat pasta. The higher fiber content will help you feel fuller faster.

If you find the change too sudden, make your dish half whole wheat pasta and half regular pasta.

When making the cheese sauce, use 1% milk, rather than whole. Also, cut the amount of butter asked for in the recipe by half.

To give the sauce extra thickness, add some cornstarch.

I also suggest using reduced-fat cheddar cheese (I highly recommend the Cabot brand) and then sprinkling some parmesan cheese at the end for extra taste that doesn't add too many calories.

When all is said and done, you will have saved yourself hundreds of calories and quite a bit of saturated fat. Best part? Your tastebuds will be just as pleased.

For homemade mashed potatoes, leave the skins on. Again, this provides a boost of fiber.

Then, replace the butter and milk in the recipe with olive oil (replace the suggested amount of butter with half as much olive oil.)

I have also made some delicious mashed potatoes by substituting whole milk with either 1% milk, plain soy milk, or unsweetened soy milk.

For creamy, lower-calorie soups, I suggest using corn starch or stale French bread as a thickener.

Using stale bread in this context is quite foreign to people in the United States, but very common in many European countries.

This will give soups hearty volume without tacking on saturated fat or an abundance of calories.

Another tip? Try a touch of Silk soy creamer (in its original flavor.)

And so we come to cake.

The best advice I can give you there is never to have an entire cake (or even half of one) sitting in your kitchen counter. It's too easy to cut a tiny slice, followed by another, and another, and another.

When it comes to choices, though, opt for a lower-calorie cake like angel's food cake first.

Top it off with the fresh fruit of your choice and up to 4 tablespoons of Reddi Whip (that adds, at most, 30 calories and 1 gram of sugar) and you have a slice of cake -- with fixins! -- that clocks in at less than 250 calories!

Hope this helps.


Kristin said...

For me to make a sweet baked good (one that I'm going to eat) it has to have some sort of redeeming nutritional quality that makes up for the indulgence of fat and sugar. And if it includes some kind of fruit or vegetable (i.e. pumpkin, banana, zucchini or even black beans) that's even better. With practice I've gotten pretty good at achieving good texture/flavor in treats that are made entirely with whole grains. You just have to get used to the flours and their different qualities (i.e. whole wheat pastry flour for delicate items like cakes, cookies, biscuits, pie crusts and quick breads or whole wheat and whole wheat white flours for pizza crust and yeast breads that need gluten). If you are new to whole wheat flours, recipes that include chocolate might be a good place to start. Try this:

Make it in small muffin pans substituting 2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour for the unbleached flour. Also make sure to use lowfat or nonfat buttermilk. Don't eat more than ONE a day, remember to share with friends and put a few away in the freezer for a rainy day.

Jessica said...

I've never thought of using whole wheat pasta in macaroni in cheese. Excellent idea!

Andy Bellatti said...


You make some excellent points.

I was responding to this question thinking of the powdered cakes to which you just add a few ingredients and throw in the oven (of which there are no whole grain varities.)

If we are talking about baking from scratch, I absolutely agree with you.

Thanks for sharing that link, too.

Jen said...

Thanks for the nice mention!

Just wanted to let you know that Cabot makes a 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar and a 75%. I would recommend the 50% for the best melt-ability (if that's a word). The 75% is tasty, but it melts a little differently than what one might be used to with cheese. :)