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Healthy Comfort Foods? Recipes Right Here

by Elise Museles

Comfort FoodCan you smell the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, warm & gooey right from the oven? Do you love dipping your fork into a rich & creamy plate of mac & cheese?

Nothing beats the cozy goodness of your favorite comfort foods. These savory or sweet delights not only tantalize our taste buds, but they also flood our minds with happy memories and send warm & fuzzy nostalgia through our bodies.

While comfort food brings sentiment and joy, it’s usually not filled with the most waist & heart-friendly ingredients. And, after indulging in three helpings of Grandma’s famous mashed potatoes, you’re likely consumed with a whole lot of guilt & negative self-talk (and probably even a stomach ache to boot).

This pattern of “indulge in comfort food and feel anything but comforted” is the exact opposite of what you are supposed to experience when you eat comfort food in the first place! Remember, when you beat yourself up about food (or anything else), you release stress hormones (hello, cortisol!), which decrease your metabolism and impair your digestion and absorption of nutrients. Basically, your nerves & negativity may be doing your body just as much harm as the slice of warm apple pie.

Here’s what I know:

Completely abstaining from pleasurable, fun or comforting foods never works over the long haul. (And who wants that, anyway?)

Filling your body with whole, nutrient-dense & real foods most of the time, and then occasionally indulging in your favorite comfort foods, is a winning formula that sticks.

When you’re open to trying healthier versions of the foods that recall happy childhood memories, then these updated “comfort foods” can do what they are supposed to do…keep you feeling comfortable in your mind and your body.

So, from my kitchen to yours, enjoy these comfort foods with a healthy twist:

Baked Sweet Potato Fries. For the kid in all of us, these “fries” hit the spot when you need something savory to remind you of the good old days. Loaded with beta-carotene and lots of fiber, this is a nutrient-dense and just-as-tasty version of “fries.”  Need a juicy burger to complete the meal?  Try these tasty turkey sliders.  Bet you can’t stop with just one.

Mashed Cauliflower with Garlic. Who doesn’t love a heaping scoop of “mashed potatoes” to complement dinner? This cauliflower version is sure to fill you up without filling you out.

Sweet & Spicy Kale Chips: I had to get kale somewhere in here. I would be lying if I said that they taste exactly like potato chips, but they are just as flavorful and crispy and oh-so good… like BBQ potato chips. (well, sort of)

The Best Chocolate Protein Bars Ever: Craving the taste of a decadent piece of gooey chocolate fudge? If you’re trying to do without the calories and saturated fat but want to satisfy your taste buds with all the flavors, try these nutritious & delicious signature protein bars.  Warning: highly addictive.

Mint Chip “Ice Cream”: If you loved mint chip ice cream as a kid, then you are going to freak out over this nutrient-dense but scrumptious soft-serve version. Who knew that “ice cream” made with hidden greens from spinach and avocados could remind us of one of our favorite childhood treats. You have to taste this to believe it!

Calling all chocoholics.  This special section is for you:

I could have written an entire post devoted to all the healthier versions of traditional chocolate dishes.  For now, enjoy Flourless Garbanzo Bean Brownies made without gluten, flour or refined sugar with some sneaky beans thrown into this mix for added protein & fiber.  Or, warm up with Healthy Hot & Spicy Cocoa filled with anti-inflammatory spices for a real treat.  Indulge your decadent side with Chocolate Mousse that you’ll swear tastes like the real deal. (You won’t even notice the secret green ingredient.) Who says you can’t eat your greens… and your chocolate, too, in one dish?

I’m hoping these recipes find a permanent place in your kitchen… and a special place in your heart. Eat up!

Now it’s your turn: What is your absolute favorite comfort food?  Bonus points for sharing any healthy adaptions you have made on your childhood faves. Share your stories in the comments below.

13 Responses to Healthy Comfort Foods? Recipes Right Here

  1. Sarah February 1, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    Oooo, bookmarking this one Elise. I’m in a bit of a comfort food zone at the moment. For some reason I’m on a home made mac n cheese run. I’m curious if you have suggestions for a healthier alternative for this particular one. 🙂

    Great article!

    • Elise February 2, 2014 at 2:33 am #

      Hi Sarah! You and so many others are enjoying mac & cheese this time of year, especially. There are so many different ways you can “elevate” your mac & cheese. For starters, you could use a pasta that is more nutrient-dense than the traditional elbow macaroni. Any whole grain (and preferably gluten free) will do…from quinoa to brown rice pasta, there are several options. That will make a huge difference in the nutritional value of your meal. You can also add in some colorful veggies into your dish for some additional phytonutrients. You just gave me an idea for a future post:). Hope you enjoy the recipes.

      • Sarah February 2, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        Oooo great idea Elise! I like the idea of quinoa pasta. That’s more proteiny than carby right? Haha I’ll keep my eyes peeled for that future post. Thanks!!!!

  2. Silvia February 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Elise, Girlfriend, we are so on the same page with this post! I wholeheartedly believe that if we consume something with pure joy and pleasure and no guilt, it just won’t effect us adversely in any way. Our minds are far more powerful than our gut! But as in anything, balance is the key. A steady diet of chocolate and mac n cheese would require “Master Skills” to make that work. More likely denial would be at work. With that said I have a killer mac n cheese recipe (vegan too) and a healthy biscotti recipe that helped my daughter kick her store bought cookie habit. But, I’m bookmarking this post because your recipes look amazing! Thank you so much for putting this oh so real post out there. Wisdom and common sense. We need to keep reminding others of this recipe!

    • Elise February 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      Silvia,
      Thank you for your well-said and thoughtful comment. It is true that balance is a key ingredient, and we forget how powerful our minds are in the equation. I would love to post your vegan mac ‘n cheese recipe. Your recipes are always so delicious…and nutritious. I can’t wait to check out your “healthy” comfort food recipes. So glad we are on the same page:).

  3. Lorna February 2, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Mac and Cheese is definitely the first thing that comes to mind Elise. My mom made it when I was a kid–starting with a roux and adding the cheese and then the noodles. It is fantastic. I haven’t de-glutenized the recipe yet, so I have been going without. But there are so many healthy things that I crave these days and that give me the same sense of comfort. Great article!

    • Elise February 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

      Hi Lorna, You have convinced me that I MUST get a “healthy” mac and cheese recipe up ASAP! I love that you crave foods that nourish you on a deep level. Thanks for joining in the conversation!

  4. Stacey February 3, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    Hi Elise, these tips are GREAT! As a sugar/fast food junkie, it’s a major challenge for me to go completely healthy (though I try, often!) I am definitely going to try the chocolate mousse. Thanks for these great tips. I signed up for your newsletter for more.

    • Elise February 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

      Hi Stacey,
      Welcome to the Kale & Chocolate Community! That chocolate mousse is one of my absolute favorite ways to indulge in chocolate. I can’t wait to hear what you think:).

  5. Sarah February 3, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Great recipes! my go to comfort meal is moussaka or beef and bean hotpot, it’s rather cold and wet here in Ireland at the moment so I want warming oven food.

    • Elise February 3, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Hi Sarah from Ireland! Thanks for sharing your warming comfort food. Maybe the mashed cauliflower or sweet potato fries will add a healthy addition to your fave?!? I love hearing about the different go-to comfort foods from around the world.

  6. Gwendolyn Calderon February 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    Elise….I totally agree with you 100%. As a personal trainer…this is something I would have my clients read. Balance is the key. Great recipes!! Great Tips!!! Keep them coming….You are the best!

    • Elise February 6, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks, Gwen. Nice to know that we are on the same page and that you pass on similar information to your lucky clients:).

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