It’s winter, and it’s cold. During this time, there’s nothing I like more than hot chocolate and comfort foods.

The term “comfort food” tends to have a negative connotation in terms of nutrition and health. If you are like me, cold days bring on cravings for chili, lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, creamy soups, and mac n’ cheese. Sounds like a lot of calories and fat, right? It doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds. Sometimes a simple substitution for a healthier ingredient is all it takes to enjoy these foods without the guilt.

For pasta dishes, try whole wheat pasta for more fiber. For creamy dishes, use low-fat cheese and dairy products instead of full-fat. Dishes that call for ground beef can be substituted with ground turkey or ground chicken for less saturated fat. If canned beans for veggies are called for, choose “no salt added” or “low-sodium”, and drain and rinse them to reduce sodium even more, by up to 40 percent.

One of my favorite comfort foods, especially during the winter months, is my family recipe for chili. Over the years, I have slightly modified the recipe to yield a healthier one. Because this is a home recipe, nutritional information is not available.

Winter Chili

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 lb ground turkey
1 small white onion—diced
1 dry package Chili Man mix (low sodium)
1 can mild chili beans
1 can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 12-oz can tomato juice

Directions:

Brown the ground turkey and onion. Then add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 15 minutes or longer (you can also cook this on low in the crockpot). Stir occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.

If this chili recipe is too bland for you, add some green chiles, jalapeno, or hot sauce for a little heat. White distilled vinegar also gives the chili a unique flavor. If you usually top your chili with sour cream, try plain low-fat yogurt instead for a healthier substitution.

Another favorite comfort food of mine is mac n’ cheese. Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters has a delicious recipe that is healthier than the pre-packaged, processed box.

macaroni

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

Yields 16 servings

Ingredients:
1 small head broccoli—rinsed and chopped
5 oz cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese—grated
1- 16 oz package whole wheat macaroni
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
1 1/2Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 Tbsp light cream cheese

Directions:

In a microwave-safe bowl, add broccoli and just enough water to cover half way. Heat in microwave until bright green and tender, about 6-8 minutes. Cook pasta following package directions, drain, and set aside. While pasta is cooking, heat milk in a large pot over medium heat; remove when hot and cover to keep warm. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add flour and whisk with a fork, stirring constantly. Slowly add the warm milk. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula, until sauce thickens. Sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in salt and pepper. Add cream cheese, grated cheese, and broccoli. Stir until grated cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Add macaroni to cheese sauce, and stir to coat. (Nutritional information available on the Cooking Matters website.)

I hope you and your family enjoy these healthier comfort foods as much as my family does!

Heather is a wife, a mom of one and a dog lover. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist, working with families near and far. She enjoys using her profession at home to improve the health of her own family as well.

Photo Credit: Texas to Mexico via Compfight  and Mac and Cheese by The Marmot cc