Do Diet

Give comfort food a healthy makeover

By swapping and sneaking in healthy ingredients you can transform your favourite comfort foods into good-for-you meals.


Photo, Erik Putz.


Add extra nutrients

Sub in these ingredients to boost the health benefits of even the most decadent dishes

1. Bulgur and lentils
Instead of ground beef, use bulgur or lentils in chili, meatballs or meat loaf.
The benefits: 1/4 cup of whole-grain bulgur contains 7 g of fibre and 5 g of protein. Lentils are also a great source of protein (9 g per 1/2 cup).

2. White beans
Purée these mild-tasting beans to thicken and add extra creaminess to soup.
The benefits: 9 g of protein, 10 g of fibre and 15% of your daily recommended iron in 1/2 cup.

3. Zucchini ribbons
Use these in place of noodles for a lighter take on lasagna.
The benefit: High in bone-strengthening potassium.

4. Butternut squash
Add it to mac ’n’ cheese for extra nutrients, flavour and fibre.
The benefits: Excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Try our recipe for Macaroni and cheese with roasted butternut squash.

5. Greek yogurt
Substitute it for mayo to make creamy dressings, dips and egg and tuna salad.
The benefit: 3/4 cup gives you 18 g of protein.

6. Banana, avocado and pumpkin
Replace up to half of the butter or oil in baked goods with mashed fruits and veggies.
The benefits: Full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy fibre.


Make over shepherd’s pie

It’s a family favourite, but the calories and fat (from ground beef and creamy potatoes) add up fast. Switching a few of the classic ingredients reduces calories, increases nutrients and makes the dish even more delicious. Add vitamin-rich root vegetables to the traditional mashed-potato topping (like carrots, which add sweetness and a healthy dose of cancer-fighting carotenoids). And use lean ground turkey, which is lower in fat than beef and a good source of immunity-boosting selenium.

Get the recipe for Turkey shepherd’s pie with root vegetable topping.


Photo, Sian Richards.

Photo, Sian Richards.


Sub one thing at a time

“Usually, comfort foods are dishes we’ve grown up on — they may not be super healthy, but they make us feel good,” says Vanessa Yurchesyn, a dietitian in Saint John, N.B. “You don’t want to change them up so much that you don’t enjoy them.” She suggests making recipe modifications and ingredient substitutions one at a time, and then assessing the taste and texture. “Sometimes, it even tastes better.”

Add flavour instead of fat

It’s true that butter, cream and cheese are responsible for the flavour in many of the best comfort foods. The key is to find ways to enhance flavour without adding fat, says Yurchesyn. Some of her favourite tricks are mixing caramelized onions or garlic into mashed potatoes (and cutting back on the butter and cream) and using sharp-tasting cheese in grilled cheese sandwiches, so you don’t need as much.

Dish up a balanced plate

Spaghetti and meatballs usually involves a pile of pasta topped with ladles of meat sauce — but a healthy plate should be 50 percent vegetables, 25 percent whole grains and 25 percent protein. Rethink this crowd-pleasing comfort food with 1 cup of whole-grain pasta and a smaller meatball serving (about three). Add veggies, like carrots and zucchini, to the sauce, and fill half your plate with salad.

Try a stealth approach

It’s easy to disguise healthy ingredients when feeding picky eaters of all ages. Yurchesyn recommends throwing extra veggies, like peppers, mushrooms and spinach, into your pasta sauce and then puréeing it, so it’s all the same colour and texture. Add cauliflower to mashed potatoes, or make crispy-rice squares a healthier treat with whole-grain brown-rice cereal and dried cranberries.

Click here for 11 more healthy comfort food recipes.

Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.