5.9 min readBy Published On: November 20th, 2017Categories: Health and Wellness, Lifestyle0 Comments on Are Guilt-Free Comfort Foods Possible? Absolutely.

Oh New England weather – it seems like just yesterday we were breaking records for warm weather in November.  But now that cold temps are consistently here, our taste buds are officially gravitating towards warmer and heavier fare.

Who doesn’t love a steaming bowl of hearty stew or some warm, cheesy pasta after commuting home in the dark, freezing cold? We certainly do!

But since comfort foods tend to be higher in calories, fat, and the types of carbohydrates that don’t keep us satisfied for long, it’s easy to overdo it. Combine them with all the holiday parties and celebrations your calendar is packed with over the next 6 weeks, and you might have a recipe for diet disaster.  And since packing on pounds isn’t a healthy way to stay warm, the dietitians at the Weight and Wellness Center at Tufts Medical Center have some strategies for modifying our favorite fall and winter comfort foods to make them fit into a healthy diet.  Check out our ideas below!

Reduce Fat

  • Replace high fat dairy for lower fat options. For example, if a recipe for clam chowder calls for whole milk, try low fat milk instead to save 45 calories and 3g of saturated fat per cup.
  • Choose lean proteins such as lean beef, chicken breast, turkey breast, 99% lean ground turkey, or 93% lean ground beef instead of higher fat cuts.
  • Reduce portions of high calorie ingredients such as cheese, butter, oil, etc.
  • Use butternut squash or sweet potato puree to replace cheese sauce – or just replace a portion of the cheese with the vegetable puree. The color will be reminiscent of cheese with half the fat.

Increase the volume – of vegetables  

  • Double the portion size of non-starchy vegetables such as celery, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc.
  • Reduce portions of starchy vegetables in half. For example, consider reducing the amount of potato in beef stew and increasing the carrots and onions.
  • Add sautéed vegetables like peppers or broccoli rabe, roasted cauliflower or fresh tomatoes to pasta dishes to make the portions seem larger.
  • Add a mixed salad before the meal or on the side to bulk-up the meal without a lot of extra calories.

Increase fiber content [even more!]

  • Switch to whole grain carbohydrates such as brown rice or barley instead of white rice or whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta.  For example, switching barley for white rice in chicken soup adds 9g of fiber and will be much more satisfying, even two hours later.

Add protein

  • Include a 3-4oz portion of a lean protein with any pasta dish or on the side. The protein will help you stay fuller, longer.
  • For some options, try grilled or baked chicken tenders, shrimp, scallops, or meatballs (lean ground beef, chicken or turkey varieties are all great options!).
  • Adding beans can also boost the fiber content and provide filling protein. Try adding white beans to chicken soup or black beans to turkey chili.

Portion size

Some foods containing carbohydrates can also be very calorie dense, which can easily lead to overeating.

  • Reduce pasta portion size to 1 cup cooked. A typical portion of pasta is anywhere from two to four cups of cooked pasta. By reducing your portion to one cup, you are saving anywhere from 440-660 calories.

Reduce carbohydrates

While carbohydrates don’t have to be completely cut out in order to lose or maintain weight, it’s never bad to try some alternatives!

If you’re trying to monitor carbohydrate intake, consider switching to a lower carb alternative such as zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.

  • Zucchini/squash noodles can be substituted for pasta noodles in any pasta dish or soup. Just sauté for in a pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until warmed and serve with a favorite sauce.
  • Spaghetti Squash is a popular pasta substitute and only has 31 calories per cup. Just bake in the oven or microwave and then use a fork to shred the flesh to get squash “noodles” than can be used with any favorite pasta sauce.
  • Tofu Shirataki Noodles might sound strange, but they are a wonderful option for those trying to substitute their pasta. For only 10 calories per serving (about one cup) it can be used the same way that you would use any other pasta.
    • No need to boil the noodles, just make sure to drain and rinse thoroughly before using in your pasta dish. It can be found near the fresh produce and tofu at most grocery stores.
  • Cauliflower Rice is a quick and easy substitute for rice in any dish. Simply take a head of cauliflower and using a box grater, grate the cauliflower down to the base of the cauliflower head.  Sauté in a pan for 3-5 minutes or warm in the microwave for 3-4 minutes before serving. The texture is very similar to rice, but at only 25 calories per cup it saves 175 calories and 30g of carbohydrate.
  • Cauliflower mashed potatoes started getting popular back when low-carb diets were all the rage. Unfortunately, many recipes called for adding lots of butter, cheese, and high calorie toppings. No need to do that! Steam or boil cauliflower until fork tender and then mash or puree until smooth. Add low fat milk until the consistency is smooth and 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil to give it some flavor. Use as a side dish paired with a lean protein and vegetable.

Now let’s combine these principles to modify a delicious baked mac and cheese recipe.

The modified recipe uses several techniques for cutting calories and fat while also increasing the fiber content. Using a smaller portion of high fiber pasta will make the dish more filling for fewer calories. Instead of making a high calorie cream sauce with butter and whole milk, the recipe calls for puréed vegetables such as cauliflower and butternut squash to replace half of the cream sauce. By using reduced fat cheese and sour cream, it reduces fat and calories as well.

So as the weather turns cooler, remember that you can still enjoy your favorite winter comfort foods. All it takes is a little modification to create tasty and satisfying meals without worrying about winter weight gain.

For more tips and information from the dietitians at the WWC, check out their Resources Page!

The Weight and Wellness Center at Tufts Medical Center is committed to working with you to understand why you’ve had trouble losing weight in the past and develop a comprehensive weight loss program to meet your needs. We offer medical, surgical and combined approaches to weight loss. As one of the leading weight management clinics in New England, the Weight and Wellness Center offers a range of minimally invasive bariatric surgery approaches. We use innovative techniques that will get you the best possible results and back on your feet quickly. 

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

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