Here's how to make favorite recipes lighter without losing those comforting flavors and textures.

By Victoria Spencer
January 22, 2021
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Credit: Linda Pugliese

When the temperatures drop, the comfort food cravings begin. Much as we love cheesy casseroles and baked pasta, we know the rich ingredients add up. The good news is that with a few ingredients you likely already have on hand, you can still keep all that stick-to-your-ribs taste without making a new notch in your belt. Try swapping in these ingredients when you make your favorite recipes to create more wholesome, healthier comfort food that still hits the spot for family meals.

Cauliflower

Maybe you've tried cauliflower pizza crust? That's not the only way that cauliflower, everyone's favorite crucifer, stands in for carbs. Add cauliflower to comfort food favorites to make them lighter and healthier, think Tuna-Noodle Casserole with Cauliflower. Or swap in cauliflower next time mashed potatoes are on the menu; give creamy but creamless smashed cauliflower a try. And when you're in the mood for mac and cheese, give Roasted Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce a try. We're not saying it's the same, but we are saying it's totally creamy and feels comforting.

Panko

These coarse Japanese breadcrumbs are crisp and airy, so you can put away the oil— they lend a crunch typically found in fried food. Try using them with chicken breasts for baked, not fried (but still wonderfully crispy) breaded chicken cutlets or homemade chicken nuggets. Also use panko to make a healthier take on chicken cordon bleu or Tuna Noodle Casserole and a must-try Baked Fish and Chips.

Mushrooms

Did you know mushrooms are a wonderful, stealthy swap for meat? Here's why: 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, making them more satisfying, and adding mushrooms to a sauce (like this elemental Bolognese) or a burger is a great way to reduce the amount of meat in the dish. Use mushrooms as the base for the broth in a rich vegetarian French Onion Soup.

Greek Yogurt

Calcium- and protein-packed yogurt adds creaminess without the calories and fat of cream, whole milk, or sour cream. Try it instead of sour cream in dips, as a topping for baked potatoes, or as the finishing touch to chili, or alongside fish tacos. (Swap in plant-based yogurt if you prefer.)

Zucchini

The subtle flavor and versatility of zucchini make it a top contender to incorporate some green into dishes and to lighten them up at the same time. Shred and mix zucchini with part-skim ricotta for a lighter pasta filling. Or layer thin slices in lasagna in place of pasta. Use zoodles (noodles made from zucchini) in the classic comforting chicken soup. Try zucchini paired with parmesan for tasty savory pancakes. And don't stop there, shredded zucchini is a stellar cake ingredient in these tasty little Chocolate-Zucchini Cakes.

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