8 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 against the chilly weather.

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.

Medically reviewed in September 2018.

Swap sweet potato soufflé for pie

2 / 9 Swap sweet potato soufflé for pie

Come November, there are few dinner tables that won’t be decorated with at least one sweet potato staple. Many will reach for the souffle, a sugary side dish piled high with marshmallows. Make the switch to sweet potato pie for something a little more diet-friendly—and just as sweet.

“Both recipes generally call for sugar and butter in addition to mashed sweet potatoes,” says Largeman-Roth. “But the souffle calls for additional butter and brown sugar on top." In this case, a dessert may be better for you than a side dish.

Cut even more fat and calories by baking a crust-less pie or eating just the creamy center. One slice of a typical pie crust (one-eighth of a nine-inch crust) contains 73 calories and 4.7 grams of fat. 

You can also put a savory spin on sweet potatoes with this spinach and sweet potato risotto recipe.

Slim down your potato soup

3 / 9 Slim down your potato soup

Potato soup—made with cream, cheese and bacon—is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. Unfortunately, those yummy ingredients are full of fat and waist-widening calories. Lighten your bowl without sacrificing flavor by blending in some cauliflower, Largeman-Roth suggests.

“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 turkey or center-cut bacon crumbles on top of your soup to add flavor without too many calories, she suggests.

For another healthy take on potatoes, try Largeman-Roth’s twice-baked blues.

Give mom's meatloaf a makeover

4 / 9 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 and chopped parsley. “You can also replace half the meat with finely chopped mushrooms," she says. "They bring similar flavor and help slash hundreds of calories.

You don't have to resort to ground beef either. To slash fat and calories, mix in 99 percent lean ground turkey instead. 

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

Load up lasagna with veggies

5 / 9 Load up lasagna with veggies

Lasagna is filling and warm. A single tray can feed a whole mess of people. The best part? You can swap out not-so-healthy 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 sautéing these picks with onions and squeezing out any excess water.

Thinly sliced butternut squash and sage is another flavorful 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.”

Now you can enjoy this layered dish for dinner and dessert with this pumpkin lasagna recipe.

Lighten up green bean casserole

6 / 9 Lighten up green bean casserole

Forget the condensed soup and ease up on the fried onions for a lighter green bean casserole.

“I swap out the condensed mushroom soup, which is high in sodium, for an 8-ounce package of sliced mushrooms,” says Largeman-Roth. Just sauté them until golden, which is about three minutes on each side.

You also don’t have to forfeit those crispy fried onions, which add great flavor and texture to your dish. Instead, Largeman-Roth suggests sprinkling just 1 cup on top.

Gearing up for your next holiday feast? Check out this expert-approved green bean casserole.

Make macaroni and cheese healthier

7 / 9 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 pass on Grandma's rich casserole dish. Instead serve up this lighter, but nonetheless tasty, version.

Boil up half the pasta you would normally make and mix it with tender steamed or roasted vegetables, like bite-sized butternut squash pieces, broccoli florets or both. If you’re using small white pasta shells, this swap cuts more than 100 calories per 2-ounce serving of dry noodles. 

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.    

Still looking for ways to control you food and beverage intake and stay slim this season? Try tracking your meals, which research suggests can help you drop a dress size or two. Free phone applications like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android, make logging the size and quality of your meals simple.

Bake guiltless chicken pot pie

8 / 9 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 crust-less meal by combining cooked and shredded chicken breasts, vegetables—like carrots, peas, celery, 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 before transferring your mixture to a casserole dish and popping in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In 30 short minutes, you'll be ready to dig in.

If you really miss the flaky crust, pair your bowl with a slice of whole grain toast or homemade zucchini bread

Try this healthier hot chocolate

9 / 9 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, made with unsweetened cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate and vanilla extract. 

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 sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

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

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