A nutritionist shares seven secrets (and recipes!) that'll lighten up your favorite comfort foods this winter.
As the temperature drops, cool-weather comfort foods — and extra calories — abound. “Comfort foods tend to be higher in fat, calories, and sometimes, sugar than other foods,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, RD. That’s why it’s a good idea to pay attention to how many calories you’re consuming when you’re eating heavier winter dishes dishes like chilis, soups, casseroles, or desserts. Rather than resigning yourself to the excessive calorie counts of the season, you can easily shave these extra calories off by making healthy alterations whenever possible. Read on to find seven easy ways to trim down your favorite comfort foods this season.
1. Whip Up a Creamy Soup Without the Cream
Creamy root veggie soups and purees often call for fatty ingredients like butter, half-and-half, or cream. To cut calories, Kennedy suggests limiting the amount of full-fat dairy you use in soups and purees. “While these ingredients can add flavor, they also add loads of calories and unhealthy saturated fat,” she says. Use a smaller amount of full-fat dairy, or replace the full-fat dairy that the recipe calls for with reduced-fat dairy or reduced-fat coconut milk, and use a little olive oil instead of butter.
2. Make a White Chicken Chili or Stew
Many chilis and stews are made with fatty cuts of meat. “This can add unwanted extra calories and unhealthy saturated fats to what can be a very healthy dish,” says Kennedy. For a healthier yet still hearty or stew, she recommends choosing lean cuts of beef or using skinless chicken breast. She also points out that cutting back on starchy vegetables such as potatoes and peas can help reduce calories as well. “Increase the amount of carrots and onions you use in their place,” she advises. You can also throw in some greens, like kale, collards, or spinach.
3. Supercharge Your Sweet Potato Fries
Kennedy says that sweet potato fries can be a delicious and nutritious side as long as they’re baked and not fried. Simply wash, peel, and cut up the sweet potatoes, toss them in olive oil or canola oil along with some sea salt and spices of your choice (paprika, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne are good options), and bake them in the oven. “Baking your sweet potato fries not only cuts back on the amount of fat in the fries,” she says. “It also allows for using a healthier type of fat, like olive oil.” Skip the ketchup and serve up your fries with a creamy dip or drizzle: simply combine a small cup of low-fat Greek yogurt, a pinch of salt, and pepper, and sriracha and serve.
4. Use Applesauce as a Secret Calorie-Cutting Ingredient
“Quick breads are often made with lots of fat and sugar,” says Kennedy. But applesauce can be a secret calorie-cutting ingredient in your pumpkin spice bread, cranberry-walnut bread, or apple-cinnamon bread. To cut back on fat, sugar, and calories, Kennedy recommends replacing half of the oil in any quick bread recipe with an equal amount of applesauce. “You'll save on calories and have a moister bread to boot!”
5. Make Baked Apples a Go-to Dessert
Fresh-baked pies and cobblers are undeniably delicious, but they’re often made with unhealthy saturated fats (and sometimes trans fats) in the form of shortening or lard. To lighten the calorie load, Kennedy suggests adding Greek yogurt in place of some of the fat in your crust recipe. She also suggests replacing half of the all-purpose flour in the recipe with whole-wheat flour to add more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But if you really want to shave off calories, go for a crust-less autumn treat like baked apples! You’ll get all of the warm apple-cinnamon deliciousness without the extra fat.
Don't Double Your Calories When Cooking
Remember that not all cooking techniques are created equal. Some of them can heave on extra calories, while others can keep calories at bay. Skip the deep-frying and stir-fry or sauté foods in a small amount of olive oil. When braising meats or veggies, use low-fat broth instead of full-fat broth. Remember that steaming, poaching, baking, grilling, and roasting can all be healthy options. “The key,” says Kennedy, “is to add zero or minimal calories and fat when cooking.”
6. Use Visual Cues to Keep Portions In Check
Because of cold, long days, this can be a time of year when you find yourself reaching for (or being served) more calorie-laden foods than usual. If you want to keep your calorie consumption in check, portion size is key. Kennedy points out that visual cues can help you decide when to call it quits. For example, try serving your food on a small salad plate rather than a large dinner plate, she suggests. Additionally, portion out snacks in a small bowl before you sit down and start eating. She also warns against drinking your calories. You’ll be able to shave off even more calories if you limit or avoid calorie-dense drinks like cocoa, soda, and alcohol this season.