As the weather gets chillier, cravings for cool, fresh ingredients diminish as those urges to eat ooey gooey warm goodness take over. Sugary oatmeal for breakfast? Sure, why not. Creamy soup for lunch? Don’t mind if we do. Casserole for dinner? Delicious!
Thankfully, craving comfort food doesn’t have to mean benching a healthy diet. Here are 32 classic comfort foods rethought with a balanced diet in mind. Bon appétit!
1. Veggie Mac and Cheese
It’s a classic childhood favorite, but when those cravings hit as an adult, throw in a load of fresh veggies to justify the choice. Spinach, tomatoes, peas, and broccoli make awesome additions. Extra credit for skipping the boxed mixes and making it all from scratch.
2. Shepard’s Pie
Ground beef, mashed potatoes, and cheese. What’s not to like? The trick with making this one healthier is to mix healthier stuff in with the potatoes (like cauliflower or parsnips) and fill the inside with plenty of veggies. Plus, with those subs made, you can still keep the full-fat butter and a little cheese without feeling so guilty!
3. Green Bean Casserole
Most family Thanksgivings wouldn’t be complete without this classic casserole. Trouble is, the cream of mushroom soup base and crunchy fried onion topper make it not such a healthy choice. Instead of using classic canned soup and those pre-packaged fried onions, opt for a low-sodium soup (or make your own), throw in some extra fresh mushrooms, and make your own crunchy onion topping.
4. Spaghetti and Meatballs
Mamma Mia! There’s nothing quite as comforting as a big bowl of spaghetti and homemade meatballs with tomato sauce. Instead of going for the classic pasta, take the healthier route and opt for whole-wheat or spaghetti squash as an alternative. As for the meatballs, try turkey as a substitution for classic beef, and make the sauce from scratch, too, to avoid any added preservatives, sugar, and sodium.
5. Mashed Potatoes
Rather than overload on carbohydrates with classic mashed potatoes, try a substitute that’s a little lower in carbs and much higher in protein (and antioxidants). This “mock cauliflower” mix of mashed cannellini beans and cauliflower has the same texture as classic mashed potatoes, but with benefits far outweighing those of the original.
The mix of pork and beef that goes into a classic meatloaf isn’t exactly the healthiest choice of protein. And the white bread doesn’t help either. Swapping in lean ground turkey and using oatmeal instead of white bread reduces the amount of fat in the dish and ups the fiber. Feeling creative? Throw some veggies in the mix: Grated carrots and finely minced onion and bell peppers can really raise the “wow” factor.
7. Roast Chicken
There are few things more simple and comforting than a whole roast chicken straight from the oven. Those birds from the grocery store are often dripping in excess fat, but it’s easy to make your own perfect bird at home with extra veggies and less added fat. Try this easy recipe that pairs a bird with sweet potatoes, corn cobs, onions, garlic, rosemary, and lemon. It’s easy to throw together, and the only added fat is a hearty drizzle of heart-healthy olive oil.
8. Baked Beans
What BBQ would be complete without some baked beans? Unfortunately, all the slab bacon and brown sugar can make for a not-so-healthy side dish. Try this healthier version using “liquid smoke” flavor instead of bacon, and a drizzle of agave for sweetness instead of brown sugar.
Contrary to the looks of those greasy pies hanging out in the local pizza parlor window, pizza can make a healthy meal — when it’s done right. Choose a whole-wheat, tortilla, or cauliflower crust, and pile the veggies on high. Also opt for a strong-flavored cheese so the pie requires less of the melty stuff to get full flavor. (Check out 74 more ways to make pizza healthier here!)
10. Chicken Pot Pie
This particular healthier chicken pot pie recipe has been a favorite in my house for years. Instead of doing the traditional “crust on top,” this recipe calls for individual puff-pastry squares prepared separately from the pie “filling.” The filling is cooked on the stovetop and can be eaten alone, or with the puff pastry side. Plus, it’s packed full of veggies (the recipe calls for summer squash and snap peas, but feel free to get creative with winter squash and other greens). Consider swapping out the heavy cream for low-fat milk, too.
It’s football season, people! What get together is complete without some home cooked chili? This turkey chili with chipotle and chocolate gives all the rich flavor of traditional beef chili with less fat. Plus, it’s packed with protein-rich beans along with onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. The unsweetened cocoa powder also gives all the benefits of chocolate (tons of antioxidants) without all the sugar in a chocolate bar.
12. Fried Chicken
Sorry, kids. You’re not getting away with a “healthy” deep fried chicken here. But, there is a way to make faux fried chicken in the oven and keep all the deliciousness intact (plus, it’s Paleo!). What’s the secret? Coconut oil and almond flour. Brown in a pan, finish in the oven. Crispy and delicious drumsticks will emerge after about 20 minutes!
13. Sloppy Joes
Is there a more quintessentially middle-school meal than the classic sloppy Joe? Made with some Manwich, perhaps? Instead of the classic red meat and tomato sauce mix on a white hamburger bun, try swapping in turkey meat, and serving it open-faced on half a whole-grain bun. Bonus: Make your own tomato sauce with as many veggies as possible — carrots, onion, bell peppers, spinach, and mushrooms are sure to be a hit.
14. Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken and dumplings might be one of the most comforting meals out there. Seriously, what’s more delicious than a cream-filled stew base with floating pillows of dough? Make it healthier by opting for lean chicken breasts only and packing the dish with extra veggies (more peas, please!). As for the dumplings, try making the dough with whole-wheat flour and throw in some chopped herbs for extra green (and flavor).
Yes, indulging in a greasy, fat cheeseburger on a classic brioche bun is OK every once in a while. But for those more frequent burger urges, try something a bit healthier to fill the craving. These black bean and quinoa burgers are packed with protein and fiber. Throw these patties on a lettuce bun with some chopped sliced tomato and avocado and a dollop of homemade ketchup and you’ve got yourself a winner! Throw on a slice of sharp cheddar if you're feeling indulgent.
Instead of classic lasagna noodles (which, lets face it, often take more work than it’s worth!), try layering thin strips of zucchini or eggplant. Also opt for homemade sauce, and throw some extra chopped veggies into the filling (whether it’s a vegetarian or meat lasagna).
Rather than gorge on a cone of classic fried spuds, try swapping in sweet potatoes. These orange cousins to classic taters are packed with carotenoids, which are great for improving eye health.
18. Grilled Cheese
Bad news, friends: There will be no Wonderbread or Kraft singles in this recipe. To make the classic grilled cheese a bit healthier, choose whole-grain bread, toast in a dry pan (no butter or oil), and use a flavorful, high-quality cheese (so you don’t need to pile it on to get the great flavor). If that’s not healthy enough for ya, serve with a salad on the side, or add veggies to the sammie too.
19. Chicken Wings
A big plate of fiery hot chicken wings makes just about any sports-watching event more enjoyable. Unfortunately, their deep-fried preparation and unnecessary breading make them not such a healthy choice (not to mention how easy it is to eat plates full without looking back). Instead of going the fried route, try broiling wings without breading, relying just on hot sauce and some lemon juice for flavor.
A classic short stack? Simple carb central, and not exactly the most exciting item on the breakfast menu. Amp them up with Greek yogurt, and you have something a bit more interesting (for the taste buds and waistline). Plus, the Greek yogurt is so flavorful, these cakes don’t require nearly as much maple syrup as classic versions (though we don’t blame you if it’s still habit to pour it on heavy!). Add chopped fruit or nuts to this mix for a more interesting outcome.
21. French Toast
Whoever first thought to make egg-soaked bread a hot breakfast item has our hearts forever. Boost this breakfast classic by using whole-grain cinnamon raisin bread, egg whites, and plenty of fresh fruit to top the whole thing. An extra sprinkle of cinnamon won’t hurt, either!
22. Apple Pie
Apple pie is just one of those things that will always scream “comfort.” Cooking the pie filling in the actual apple is a great way to cut back on excess crust, but still get all the great flavor and texture. After scooping out the centers of the apple, cook the filling, refill the cored empty apple skins, and top with a few strips of crust. Voilà! Apple pie in apples.
23. Coffee Cake
This recipe makes it easy to fill that indulgent coffee cake craving without making an entire pan (and risking accidently nibbling down the entire thing by the end of breakfast). It’s simple: Combine all the ingredients in a mug, microwave for a minute or two, and enjoy! Feel free to double fist with this one, too — just make sure the second mug is for coffee and not another cake!
24. Ice Cream Sundae
It’s the go-to for heartbreak, disappointment, and plain old depression, so how dare we ruin it and reveal that the ice cream sundae can be made healthy? We promise you won’t regret swapping in pure banana ice cream, fresh fruit and roasted nut topping, and pure dark chocolate or natural peanut butter drizzle for the classic fixins’.
A southern classic, cornbread has become an icon for all things comfort food. Topped with a pat of butter and drizzle of honey? Even better. When craving this corn classic, steer clear of too much butter and unnecessary white flour filler. Instead, opt for a recipe like this one, using just six easy ingredients: pure cornmeal, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, and just a little vegetable oil.
At Greatist, we’ll take any excuse to add avocado to a recipe — and brownies are the perfect opportunity. Black bean brownies with avocado frosting take it even a step further by offering an extra dose of protein in addition to the awesome monosaturated fats from the avocado. (We promise, your friends will never guess the main ingredients in this recipe!)
27. Apple Crisp
The simpler cousin to apple pie, crisp is another great way to enjoy the season’s freshest apples and satisfy that sweet tooth. Simply toss apple slices in a bit of sugar, layer in a glass dish. Top with an oat crumble topping, bake for a few minutes, and voila! Cut back on sugar and butter amounts and add some extra cinnamon spice to make this recipe a bit healthier.
28. Pumpkin Pie
This simple pumpkin pie custard is perfect for filling that common autumn craving for pumpkin pie. Missing the crust? Sprinkle some crushed graham crackers over the top, and all is well again! The custard is super simple, simply combining pumpkin, milk, eggs, and spices to create the perfect crust-less treat.
29. Belgian Waffles
We had to throw pumpkin back into this list somehow! Adding pureed pumpkin to waffle (or pancake) mix is a great way to sneak in another serving of veggies. Add some protein powder , too, and you have a super-healthy way to start any day.
30. Chocolate Chip Cookies
The easiest way to amp up chocolate chip cookies? Add quinoa, flaxseed, and banana, and opt for dark chocolate chips. The quinoa adds a dose of protein and banana gives the cookies sweetness without much added sugar.
31. Birthday Cake
Everyone deserves to indulge on their birthday, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pass to gorge on leftover cake all week long! The best way to celebrate with style and not feel guilty later is to pack that cake full of produce. A harvest cake (this one’s filled with carrots, zucchini, beets, walnuts, and raisins) is a great way to fit in another serving of veggies and satisfy that sweet tooth without ruining that healthy-eating streak.
Have another way to healthify classic comfort foods? Share your ideas in the comments below or tweet the author @ksmorin.