Grilled cheese is a childhood favorite that many of us avoid today. But with the right tweaks it can be healthy. (Image via Tumblr)
By Keri Gans
What is it about cold weather that makes us crave comfort foods? I don’t know of any scientific reason – though I’m not saying one doesn’t exist – but I do know the feeling is common. After being in private practice for so many years, I also know that one person’s comfort food isn’t everyone’s comfort food. And sometimes, a person’s choice winds up being not so comforting after all – especially when it’s loaded with fat and calories.
But truthfully, “comfort” doesn’t need to be synonymous with “unhealthy.” In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Here are my top five picks for comfort foods that will nourish your body – and warm your soul:
There is nothing better on a cold morning than to start your day with this 100 percent whole grain cereal. Packed with fiber, it will keep you satisfied until lunch. I eat it year-round – no matter the temperature outside. But, I know many people only enjoy it once they’ve taken their winter coats out of storage.
The key with oatmeal is to keep it from turning into a sugary and high-fat meal. My go-to is quick cooking oats (not to be confused with instant oats), cooked with nonfat milk for added protein, sliced banana for sweetness and a tablespoon of chunky almond butter for healthy fat and an irresistible savory taste. Trust me: The added sugar and cream will become a thing of the past.
Potatoes are a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin and dietary fiber. They are so good for you it’s a shame that many people only associate them with excess calories. But if you want to enjoy mashed potatoes and French fries on a regular basis when the fire is crackling, they might be come just that: excess calories. That’s why you might want to consider tweaking your recipe.
French fries can easily be baked at home instead of fried, and when mashing potatoes, you can swap in nonfat milk and olive oil for butter and cream. I suggest leaving the skin on, so you don’t lose any nutrients. For me, nothing beats a simple baked potato topped with black bean hummus and a dollop of low-fat sour cream.
Nothing says comfort more than a nice hot bowl of chili. The problem, though, is that many chili recipes are made with high-fat meats and topped with cheese, tortilla chips or both.
If you’re eating out, choose the cup over the bowl, and perhaps leave off the cheese. If you’re cooking at home, go completely vegetarian by using all beans instead of meat, or at least cut back on the meat. Beans are high in antioxidants, a class of phytochemicals that can fight off cell-damaging free radicals in the body. They are also a good source of protein, fiber, calcium, potassium and folate. Oh, and besides the typical tomatoes and peppers, don’t be afraid to add other veggies to your chili – there’s no rule that says otherwise.
For many people, it’s the summer barbeques that have burgers calling their names. For others, including me, going to a pub in the winter and ordering a big juicy burger hits the spot – especially if there’s a fire going.
Unfortunately, if you add cheese and fries to this scenario, it can be a plated disaster. So here’s the deal: If you’re dining out, choose fries or the bun and pass on the cheese. If you’re making burgers at home, stick to no more than a 4-ounce serving and choose 90 percent lean sirloin. Use an English muffin instead of a big bun, and top the burger with lettuce and tomato. Then, pile your plate high with veggies. Beef is a great source of zinc, a mineral that may help boost your immune system, which is a real plus during the cold and flu season.
5. Grilled Cheese
Grilled cheese is one of those dishes that brings many people back to their childhoods. Unfortunately, though, they might not be burning as many calories as they did back in the day.
But you don’t have to avoid grilled cheese. First, I recommend making the sandwich on 100 percent whole grain bread to reap the fiber benefits. Next, use only two slices of cheese (they’ll give you some calcium) and a sliced tomato (nothing like a veggie opportunity). Use a non-stick pan with a teaspoon of olive oil to brown the bread on both sides until the cheese melts. If you tend to only want grilled cheese in a restaurant, may I suggest that you still ask for whole grain bread and tomato slices? Never let an easy healthy swap pass you by.
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