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The 5 Secret Ingredients That Can Make Comfort Food Healthier

Use these "secret" ingredients when you make favorite recipes to lighten them without loosing those comforting flavors and textures. 

Photography by: Bryan Gardner

As the temperatures start to drop, crisp salads and gazpacho just don't cut it. And once the comfort food cravings begin, well, it's like trying to turn an 18-wheeler around on a dirt road. The good news is that with a few secret ingredients, you can still keep all that stick-to-your-ribs taste without making a new notch in your belt. Try swapping in these items to create more wholesome comfort food.


How it works: These coarse Japanese breadcrumbs are crisp and airy, so you can put away the oil -- they lend a crunch typically found in fried food.

How to use it: Coat chicken tenders before baking for unfried chicken fingers. We also use panko to make a healthier take on chicken cordon bleu.

Try these recipes: Tuna Noodle Casserole, Baked Chicken Nuggets, and Lighter Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner


How it works: Calcium- and protein-packed yogurt adds creaminess without the calories and fat of cream, whole milk, or sour cream.

How to use it: Regular plain yogurt can replace some oil in muffin batter. Try Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in dips, on chili, or alongside fish tacos.

Try these recipes: Salmon Burgers with Yogurt-Dill Sauce, Loaded Slow-Cooker Baked Potatoes, and Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner


How it works: Zucchini’s subtle flavor and versatility make the vegetable a top contender to incorporate some green into dishes.

How to use it: Shred and mix with part-skim ricotta for a lighter pasta filling. Or layer thin slices in lasagna to cut back on pasta and cheese layers -- and fat.

Try these recipes: Zucchini-Almond Cake, Zucchini Lasagna, and Zucchini-Parmesan Pancakes.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner


How it works: Because Canadian bacon comes from a leaner cut than regular bacon does, it has one-third the calories and a fraction of the fat.

How to use it: To trim fat first thing in the morning, use Canadian bacon slices in egg sandwiches or serve with a veggie scramble.

Try these recipes: Better Bacon-Egg-and-Cheese Sandwich and Canadian Bacon Strata.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner


How they work: Mushrooms are a source of the same savory umami flavor that beef and pork have. They also contribute a meaty texture, so they’re ideal in vegetarian dishes.

How to use them: Make a vegetarian soup more satisfying with mushrooms, or saute them for a baked potato topper or a side to any meatless meal.

Try these recipes: Roasted Beef, Mushroom and Barley Soup; Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole; and Mushroom Turnovers with Sour Cream.