5 Hearty (and Healthy) Comfort Foods Under 600 Calories

Enjoy your favorite meals without the guilt.

cooking dinner
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Healthy, home-cooked meals don’t have to be bland. In fact, you can enjoy the flavors of your favorite comfort foods, like cheeseburgers and meatloaf, with fewer calories. All it takes are a few simple swaps.

A wholesome diet includes a combination of fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, so making meals with these ingredients help ensures you’re getting the nutrients you need (and avoiding the junk you don't). Monitoring your portions, being mindful of calories and making wise food swaps are also paramount to a healthy lifestyle.

Not sure where to begin? Up your healthy cooking skills with tips from registered dietitian nutritionist, Kelly Kugler of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale FL and Keith Kreitz, MD, a bariatric surgeon at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA.

chicken dinner
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Italian-style chicken

Enjoy this restaurant staple with fewer calories and no guilt. Chicken breast isn't unhealthy, until it's breaded, fried and topped with sugar-laded tomato sauce and full-fat cheese. By combining the right ingredients, like lean chicken breasts, fresh tomatoes, garlic and coriander, you can create an Italian meal with only 270 calories. 

The recipe also calls for a generous portion of spinach, which contains a dose of vitamin A and tomatoes, which are loaded with vitamin C. Both of these can help keep you immune system running smoothly.

A variety of spices elevate the flavors of this dish, without weighing it down. “The great thing about spices is they’re usually calorie-free,” Kreitz says.

crab cakes
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Traditional lump crab cakes

This combination of crabmeat, mustard and spices will transport you to a five-star, waterfront restaurant—without the stuffy dress code.

The dish is relatively healthy already, but the recipe does call for mayonnaise. Lighten this dish even more by swapping equal parts mayo for non-fat plain Greek yogurt. The change up will save you 80 calories, 10 grams of fat and 380 milligrams of sodium per three tablespoons.

A crab cake pairs well with a bed of fresh greens, but bypass the store-bought salad dressings, and make your own with less fat and sugar. Kreitz recommends combining extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Add a bit of mustard or lemon juice and your favorite spices for even more guilt-free flavor. 

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Meatloaf is the epitome of comfort food. It's also easy to throw together, but it doesn’t have to be a total calorie bomb—a few simple swaps can be the difference between a cheat meal and a healthy dinner option.

“Whenever you're making meatloaf, try to sub some of the meat for lentils and add lots of chopped vegetables,” Kugler says. “You can even try replacing eggs with flaxseed.” Soak one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water, until it forms a gel. Swapping out one large egg cuts the fat and calorie content nearly in half, eliminates cholesterol and adds a bit of fiber.

Makeover your meatloaf by replacing high-fat ground beef with lean ground turkey for a swap that saves an extra 35 calories and three grams of fat per three-ounce serving. Serve your main dish with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans. Either one has fewer than 35 calories per cup.

turkey burger
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Turkey burger

A hamburger, served french fries, is the all-American dish, but the patty alone can pack 230 calories and 15 grams of fat—without a bun or toppings.

A turkey burger is a great alternative. Plus, you can serve it between two portabella mushroom caps instead of a traditional carb-heavy bun. Or leave it open-faced and layer on your favorite veggies, like lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles. If a vegetarian option is more your speed, ditch the meat altogether, and enjoy a portabella patty! One portabella mushroom cap contains about 20 calories, and no fat or cholesterol.

Kreitz also recommends using sandwich thins that contain about 100 calories and five grams of fiber per serving.

grilled chicken
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Chicken and Biscuits

This southern specialty is typically anything but healthy, but this recipe proves it doesn’t have to be.

Use baked or grilled chicken without the skin and opt for whole grain English muffins instead of oversized white biscuits. Replacing heavy cream with equal parts evaporated skim milk in your gravy also saves calories, fat and cholesterol. Feel free to load in the low-calorie vegetables, like carrots, onions, celery and peppers.   

“Portion control is key. No matter what you're cooking, if your portion sizes are too big you run the risk of getting more calories than you need for the day," Kugler says.

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