How do you make healthy comfort food?
There are lots of ways to make comfort food a bit healthier. Let's begin by looking at how to turn the following foods into healthier alternatives:
- Macaroni cheese
It's quick, it's easy and who doesn't like that cheesy, tomatoey topping? Before you go phoning for a local delivery, though, let's look at ways to make this favourite meal more nutritious!
First off, shop-bought or takeaway options will always hold more additives, preservatives and sugars than the homemade kind, so try to keep these as an occasional splurge. On the other hand, research says that eating home-cooked meals more frequently is associated with lower body fat and increased nutrition, so this is definitely the place to start.1
Homemade pizza is often regarded as a bit of a challenge, but I promise that a good dough only takes about ten minutes to prep and then 90 minutes to rise. You could make it ahead of time then simply add the toppings when you are ready to cook.
Alternatively, if you are really short on time you could purchase the pizza base and add the toppings to that. A wholegrain base is generally lower in calories and less processed; whilst a sourdough base may suit a gluten-free diet.
When it comes to pizza toppings, this is where we can really get a nutritious boost. Once you've got your tomato base and cheese (mozzarella is one of the healthier options) start piling on those vegetables! It may be a case of using whatever is left in the fridge, but here are a few particularly tasty options to consider:
- Mushroom – contains B vitamins and is the only vegan food source of vitamin D.
- Spinach – provides magnesium which is important for a wide range of bodily functions, including energy levels and muscle function.
- Peppers – contain vitamin C which helps support immune function.
- Artichoke – a source of vitamin C, magnesium and iron, and a tonic for your digestive system.
Mac and cheese
With copious amounts of cheese, butter and pasta, macaroni cheese is the ultimate comfort food. However, these ingredients add up to a meal high in calories and saturated fats.
To make your macaroni a touch healthier, try turning it from yellow to green. To do this, boil the pasta with broccoli and peas, then add some spinach when you mix the pasta and sauce together. This means you can still enjoy your mac and cheese; it just has lots of added nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin A.
Another tip is to cook wholegrain pasta rather than white pasta. This tends to keep us feeling fuller for longer, plus it is more nutritious. Wholegrain pasta is known for its content of fibre, manganese and selenium. Another option is to use bean-based pasta (made from black beans, mung beans, etc.), which gives you an energy-stabilising protein boost, whilst tasting just as good as regular pasta.
Finally, adding nuts to your macaroni topping, rather than more cheese, lessens the calorie and fat content just a touch, and bumps up the nutritional profile. Crushed pine nuts with some breadcrumbs make the topping crispy.
Curry is a weekday stable, but some varieties can contain lots of cream and calories. Jars of curry sauce and some takeaways are also likely to be highly processed.
My top tip for making a healthy curry is to cook with plenty of vegetables to bulk out the nutritional content of your meal. Sweet potato, spinach, chickpeas and even cauliflower work well.
Also, rather than adding lots of salt to your meal, flavour it with chillies and spices like paprika and cumin. Serving the dish with brown rice also makes a meal that is much healthier, yet still so full of flavour! Short grain brown rice cooks fast and is great for a digestive system that feels slightly bloated.
My favourite curry recipes are:
Scones and the Victoria Sponge are the most popular cakes in the UK, according to a 2019 YouGov poll.1 These are undoubtedly delicious (and the perfect partner to a cup of tea!); however, they're not the healthiest of food choices, so how can we re-vamp our cake tin to make it a touch better for us?
Baking with fruit is one way to make slightly healthier cakes. Bananas help to release energy slowly, meaning a slice of banana bread, which has seen a burst in popularity recently3, could see you through an afternoon slump. Bananas are naturally sweet and are also a good source of potassium, B vitamins and magnesium, so there is more than one reason to get these into your bakes!
Why not try our banana bread muffins for a twist on the classic?
It's not just fruit that can make your cakes healthier, though, as vegetables are increasingly used to add flavour and shape. Beetroot bakes work especially well, as this veggie is sweet and moist; though we must not forget classics like carrot cake! Swap grated beetroot for grated carrot in your favourite carrot cake recipe for a different colour and nutritional flair.
Adding a touch of cinnamon to these cakes can provide extra antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Clean up your baking space before getting started
- Get out and weigh all ingredients beforehand
- Read over your instructions before beginning
- Keep measurements exact
- Try wholemeal flour instead of white flour for a healthier bake. Be aware that this’ll make the sponge denser
- For a healthier topping avoid butter icing and use glacier instead
- Swap butter for sunflower oil to lower the saturated fat content
If you are guilty of munching on a chocolate bar whilst watching television, make it a healthier option by opting for dark chocolate. Dark chocolate holds a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate and is less likely to include artificial flavours, colours, sugars and vegetable oils. Dark chocolate is also a surprising source of nutrients such as iron and magnesium.
To make it interesting, melt the dark chocolate and then stir in nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts – whatever your favourites are). You can be creative here – maybe add a few rice puffs or raisins so it's a slightly healthier 'rocky road'. Pour into a baking tray and leave to melt again. Once the chocolate has hardened, break/cut into pieces.
You could also melt the dark chocolate and then tip in fresh fruit like strawberries and banana.
Ice cream is a lovely treat but if you want to make it healthier, I have some tips!
Homemade fruit lollies make a lighter alternative to ice cream. Start by getting an ice-cream mould, put in some fruit – berries like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries work well -and then fill the rest of the mould with fruit juice. Cranberry juice or tropical juice would work with any of these fruits. Once frozen, dip the tops of the lollies in some melted dark chocolate and top with some hazelnuts or desiccated coconut!
Sorbet is also very refreshing and lower in calories than ice cream. This too is something that can easily be made at home. Just check out our cranberry sorbet recipe to get started!
Finally, you could also make one of our smoothie recipes, pour into lolly moulds, freeze, and you have yourself a healthy ice lolly! Our blueberry and kiwi smoothie would work well for this purpose.
So, whatever your favourite comfort food is, the key is to make it yourself and get experimenting with fruity flavours, veggies, spices, nuts and seeds in order to make it that bit healthier!