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Comfort Food with a Healthy Twist

Fall and winter are all about coziness and comfort. They’re also about another c-word: carbs. (And don’t forget the other MVPs of comfort food: fat, salt and sugar.) It can be challenging, as the air becomes cold, to resist crawling under a pile of potatoes, cream, bread and cheese until spring. Here are a few tips to keep that cozy vibe going strong – while ensuring your clothes still fit once the warm weather returns.

Substitution is key

One easy way to make recipes more healthful is to reduce or eliminate fat, sugar and salt where you can. One way to do this is through ingredient substitution.

Dairy’s an easy fix thanks to the available variations on the market – for recipes that call for full cream, full-fat sour cream or homogenized milk, substitute with lower-fat products like skim or 1%, or replace with almond or soy milk.

When it comes to carbs, look for products that are higher in fibre. Brown rice, wild rice, bulgur wheat or pearl barley can be added in place of starchy white rice. Similarly, white bread and pasta can be swapped with whole wheat or multigrain versions.

Soup is a great option for healthy eating – it’s a great way to get your veggies. Choose broth-based soups over cream soups whenever possible, and if you’re making your own soup, use a reduced-sodium broth. Use a hand blender to purée your soup for a creamy texture without the added calories of cream or milk.

In baking, it’s recommended to replace fat by using half the butter required then replacing the rest with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, or prune purée. Reduce sugar by a third to a half and make up the difference with cinnamon, vanilla extract, nutmeg or allspice to get that flavour profile. You can often eliminate salt completely without sacrificing flavour. (Find a full list of substitutions for baking.)

Watch the extras

Serving size can make a big difference – and so can the little extras that accompany what you eat. Cut back on the amount of whipped cream atop that daily pumpkin spice latte or slice of pie and walk away from foods that are essentially fatty or sodium-saturated garnishes (such as pickles and olives). Relax with the dollops of butter, mayo and syrup. Making a gratin? Reduce the amount of cheese by half – people probably won’t notice.

Be strategic

Planning ahead makes a big difference. Knowing what’s on the menu for dinner can help you avoid making bad decisions at the grocery store or in the drive-thru. Weekly meal-planning can help – check out the Heart and Stroke Foundation for all sorts of heart-healthy recipes that work at any time of day, and for a great list of healthy mains for days when you’re short on dinner ideas.

Change your approach to mealtime, too, starting with eating more slowly. Your brain needs up to 20 minutes to realize that your stomach is full. Give it time to catch up by meandering through your meal to prevent overeating. If you find it hard to do so, you can build in some speed-reduction challenges like putting your fork down between bites or setting a minimum chew number for yourself – this could also be turned into a fun family game. At restaurants, where you can’t control the portion size, consider splitting items with your dining companions or taking half home for lunch the next day.

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Make planning healthy meals easy. Download our meal planner and substitution list.

Your turn: What’s your favourite way to make comfort food healthy? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

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