Comfort Food for the Modern World

Lighten it up; don't give it up.

By FamilyTime


In these trying times, many of us turn to so-called comfort foods for solace and to help us get through a troublesome day. And yet, so many of these dishes are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Of course they are! These ingredients are what makes them so appealing and comforting.

So, what is a health-conscious, modern family to do? Give up mac and cheese and juicy meatloaf entirely? Eat only tofu and crunchy stir-fried veggies?

That’s one approach, and one that certainly will work — and a good tofu stir fry is mighty tasty — but there are days when we want nothing but spaghetti and meatballs, and others when we crave chocolate cupcakes piled high with frosting.

When this happens, don’t deprive yourself and your family, but instead lighten the dish to make it a little more healthful. It’s not hard.

Here’s How:

There are a few tricks that work so well, you may already be employing them without actually realizing you are.

When you pan-cook vegetables, chicken, or fish, start with a little fat (olive oil or canola oil are good choices) and then, to keep the food moist as is cooks, add low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth rather than more oil. This adds flavor without calories, and prevents the food from sticking to the pan.

When you make macaroni and cheese, or a dish that requires melted cheese, mix the melting cheese (American, Cheddar, Swiss, Gouda) with equal amounts of Pecorino Romano. The latter is less laden with fat, melts well, and provides enough saltiness that you don’t need to add any extra. And you won't need as much of the original cheese.

If you like low-fat cheeses, by all means use them. It's our experience that nonfat cheeses do not melt as well as those with some fat.

Add chopped vegetables to everything. Or just about everything. From meatloaf and meatballs to mac and cheese, blanched cauliflower, broccoli, squash or beans add bulk and texture without adding calories or fat.

Use 1% or 2% milk whenever you can. Most recipes that call for “milk” do fine with low-fat milk. Heck, they do fine with water although they may not taste as full.

Dollop Greek yogurt instead of sour cream on stroganoff. Greek yogurt is generally thicker and richer tasting than others and there are good brands easy to find in the markets. Remember that unlike sour cream, yogurt cannot be heated without separating, and so it should be added to dishes at the very end or, as stated, be dolloped on after the dish is cooked.

Replace salt with a salt-free substitutes, such as Mrs. Dash, and/or with fresh lemon juice. The lemon juice jazzes up a salad or bowl of steamed broccoli very nicely so that you don’t need salt. Still add pepper — it does nothing but add flavor.

Make your own salad dressings with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, with yogurt, and with light mayo. Not only do these taste better than storebought, you can control the amounts of salt and sugar. (And you will save money.)

Make salads interesting and filling. Add chopped eggs, raw or leftover veggies, a little crumbled feta or farmer's cheese (both low in fat), bean sprouts and several different greens. Toss them with dressing rather than letting everyone add their own. This will control the amounts.

Eat a cupcake now and then! There is not much point in trying to make low-fat cupcakes. Just enjoy them less often than might be usual. A cupcake every few weeks is not going to hurt you — in fact, it might help lift your spirits.

Nothing wrong with that!