6 Easy Ways to Lighten Your Favorite Cold-Weather Comfort Foods

Curl up with a healthier take on potato soup, lasagna and green bean casserole.

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There’s just something about crisp, chilly air that makes us reach for heartier food. Belly-warming soups and casseroles provide much-needed comfort.

Unfortunately, many cold-weather favorites aren’t usually the healthiest picks. Often, they're loaded with cheese, cream, sugar and fat, which can contribute to weight gain and raise your risk for chronic illness, like heart disease and diabetes.

Now you don’t have to give up comfort or taste. These eight wholesome swaps, curated with help from Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, food and nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, will warm you up without weighing you down.

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Slim down your potato soup

Potato soup is often made with cream, cheese and bacon—which is why it’s so delicious. But a heavy meal doesn’t always fit into a healthy eating plan.

Largeman-Roth suggests blending in some cauliflower to lighten your bowl without sacrificing flavor. “Most recipes call for 3 pounds of potatoes for eight servings; cut it to 2 pounds of potatoes, plus 1 pound of cauliflower," she says. "And don’t be afraid of the bacon!" Sprinkle a light serving of turkey or center-cut bacon crumbles on top of your soup to add flavor without too many calories, she suggests. 

You can also experiment with 1% milk, low-fat Greek yogurt or dairy-free milk in place of heavy cream.

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Give mom's meatloaf a makeover

There are few meals that stick to your ribs better than meatloaf. As good as it tastes though, most recipes call for ingredients that are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.

Largeman-Roth’s secret? Add veggies like shredded carrots, diced celery, chopped bell pepper and chopped parsley.

You can also find creative ways to substitute some or all of the meat in a recipe. Finely chopped mushrooms, either by hand or in a food processer, bring a umami flavor to your meal that’s similar to meat. Some recipes even use lentils as a meat substitute. Experiment with either by trying a half meat/half meatless protein blend.

You can also make a simpler swap by replacing the ground beef with ground turkey or chicken that is at least 90% lean.

Cut back on salt by choosing low-sodium broths and ketchup. For better portion control, consider baking your meatloaf in muffin tins, suggests Largeman-Roth.

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Load up lasagna with veggies

Lasagna is filling and warm. A single tray can feed an entire family. The best part? You can swap out ingredients for some of Largeman-Roth’s better-for-you favorites.

“You can use so many different vegetables to make a delicious lasagna,” she says. “I love using frozen organic spinach and mushrooms.” She recommends first squeezing out any excess water and sautéing these picks with onions.

Thinly sliced squash can be used in place of noodles. Zucchini is a great summer substitution, while thinly sliced butternut squash and sage is a flavorful winter combination. "And don’t skimp out on the cheese on top," she adds. "That’s going to give you the most flavor-bang per buck.”

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Make macaroni and cheese healthier

Creamy macaroni and cheese is a childhood favorite, but the hearty dish is adored by grownups, too. Skip the boxed stuff and serve up this lighter, tasty version.

Boil pasta and mix it with tender steamed or roasted vegetables, like bite-sized butternut squash pieces, broccoli florets or both. Try a pasta made from chickpeas—these options tend to be higher in fiber and protein.

Next, swap any full-fat dairy for a low-fat variety. If you like your macaroni meal baked, pop it in the oven with just a light sprinkling of breadcrumbs, about a quarter cup.    

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Bake guiltless chicken pot pie

Most chicken pot pies are notorious for their crisp, flaky crusts, but that's where much of the dish's fat and calories hide. Skip the buttery topping and make a crustless meal by combining cooked and shredded chicken breasts, vegetables—like carrots, peas, celery, green beans, mushrooms and onions—a bit of flour and unsweetened almond milk.

Season your filling with salt, pepper, garlic powder and any herbs and spices you like. You can either make this on the stovetop as a one-pot cozy soup. Or you can make it into a pot pie by adding sweet potato dumplings. Combine mashed cooked sweet potato, gluten-free flour, eggs and cornmeal. Transferring your mixture to a casserole dish. Form loose dumplings from the sweet potato mixture and top your soup. Pop in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In 30 short minutes, you'll be ready to dig in.

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Try this healthier hot chocolate

What's cozier than curling up with a mug of hot chocolate on a cool night? Sadly, those store-bought packets are loaded with sugar, hydrogenated oils and preservatives. Skipped the powdered mix and whip up Largeman-Roth’s version instead,

Over medium heat whisk 4 cups of nonfat or low-fat milk with 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of monk sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Serve in a mug and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few mini marshmallows.  

Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “Food Sources of Calcium.” 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.
The Mushroom Council. “Mushrooms & Umami.” Accessed February 5, 2020. “Lentil Meatloaf by Chef Michael Smith.” Accessed February 5, 2020.
Self Nutrition Data. “Squash, winter, butternut, raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Accessed February 5, 2020.
Self Nutrition Data. “Broccoli, raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Accessed February 5, 2020.
Swiss Miss. “Milk Chocolate.” Accessed February 5, 2020.

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