Healthier recipes for potatoes, cobbler, stew and other comfort foods

Cinnamon rolls get a healthy makeover. (Thinkstock)

If you’re like me during the cold winter days and nights, you might be praying for spring weather — and seeking comfort foods until it arrives. But you may not realize there are ways to satisfy those cravings without throwing in the towel on health. When I crave mashed potatoes, for example, I use nonfat milk instead of whole milk and use a little less butter to reduce the saturated fat content and number of calories. I make sure to keep the skin on the potatoes for added fiber, and I sprinkle them with a little Parmesan instead of adding table salt.

[See: 12 ‘Unhealthy’ Foods With Health Benefits.]

Knowing that I couldn’t be alone, I asked my registered dietitian pals what they crave during winter, and how they enhance the dishes’ nutrition. Here’s what they said:

1. Cinnamon Rolls

“My comfort food is an ooey-gooey, yeast-bread cinnamon roll. I’ve been making them from scratch for a while for my family, but I do make a few tweaks to give them a slight nudge toward healthier. I start by using a combination of white whole wheat and all-purpose flour. It’s a small fiber boost, but every little bit of fiber in our diets adds up. I also use about one-third less butter and sugar in the filling itself. Cinnamon rolls are sweet enough without overdoing it on both of these higher-calorie items. And, I usually opt to drizzle a bit of icing on top, rather than slather the rolls with a cream cheese frosting.”

— Regan Jones, registered dietitian nutritionist and founding editor at HealthyAperture.com

2. Chocolate Pudding

“It’s impossible for me to pick just one favorite comfort food, but one that I adore is chocolate pudding. It reminds me of my grandma, who used to make it for me whenever I visited her. She made it with whole milk and used the packets of pudding mix. I use real milk too, but opt for 2 percent to lighten it up a bit while keeping it amply rich. I also use high-quality cocoa powder, which has a surprising punch of antioxidant power and an incredible flavor. I also use less sugar than the packages she used, so I get a luscious, dark chocolate pudding that isn’t overly sweet.”

— Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian nutritionist, award-winning cookbook author and host of “Ellie’s Real Good Food” on public television

3. Apple Cobbler

“I crave apple cobblers, but not made at all in the traditional way. I chop an organic Fuji apple and saute it in lemon water with freshly grated ginger root. The ginger and the fruit’s own juices bring out the apple’s natural sweetness so I don’t need any added sugar. For the topping, I create a delicious crumble from a mixture of old-fashioned rolled oats (a nutrient-rich whole grain and source of soluble fiber), almond butter (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat) and cinnamon.”

— Cynthia Sass, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Slim Down Now”

[See: These Healthy Seasonings Are Tasty Substitutes for Sugar and Salt.]

4. Chocolate Tea

“A cup of chocolate tea is my go-to comfort food. After only a mere sip of this warm, delectable beverage that is easily available online, I immediately feel a soothing, calming effect flow through my body. Comfort aside, it’s calorie-free (unlike hot chocolate) and a powerful source of antioxidants, which is good for heart health. Trust me: You and your heart will fall in love with chocolate tea.”

Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor at Boston University and author of “Nutrition & You”

5. Beef Stew

“My go-to comfort food in the winter is beef stew. I stick with lean stew meat and cook it ‘low and slow’ to achieve maximum tenderness. Depending on my mood, I either make it in the slow cooker, on the stovetop or in my new Instant Pot! For my beef stew, I go heavy on the colorful veggies by adding potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and peas. Thanks to my beef and veggie combo, I get protein, iron and zinc from the beef and a boatload of fiber and nutrients from the vegetables. It’s the best of both worlds.”

— Liz Weiss, registered dietitian nutritionist, mother of two grown (and hungry) boys and the voice behind “Liz’s Healthy Table” podcast and blog

6. Stuffed Grape Leaves

“I actually have more than one food I consider to be ‘my’ comfort food, but vegetarian-stuffed grape leaves are at the top of the list right now. I usually stuff the leaves with brown rice (rather than white rice), as well as lots of shallots, mint, chives or parsley, sea salt, pepper and a little cinnamon and allspice. I cook them in water with plenty of lemon and just a little olive oil. Rather than drenching them with more olive oil, I prefer to pair them with plain organic Greek yogurt for creamy goodness and some protein and probiotics.”

— Jackie Newgent, registered dietitian nutritionist, chef and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook”

[See: Unusual Uses for Greek Yogurt.]

7. Loaded Baked Potato

“Baked potatoes are my go-to comfort food. I load mine up with a little butter, some steamed spinach or broccoli, plain nonfat Greek yogurt, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. When I go for this, I usually make it my meal instead of a side. It’s not only a comforting dish, it’s also hearty and really satisfying, and contains a slew of nutrients, including protein, fiber, potassium and vitamin C. ”

— Samantha Cassetty, a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist

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Healthier Recipes for Potatoes, Cobbler, Stew and Other Comfort Foods originally appeared on usnews.com