What do the words comfort food mean to you? To me, comfort foods are the ones we choose when we need soothed, when we are ill, when we are worried, when we are stressed. Comfort foods bring us warmth, happiness, satiety and evoke fond memories.
A hard day at school calls for cookies and milk, a stressful phone call may have us running for a bowl of ice cream or the bag of chips. If we’re feeling achy, we want a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
All of these foods may make us feel better. But they may also make us feel guilty — if we think the calories or carbs are too high if we eat too much of them. So how can we create comforting foods that satisfy our need?
The Sensory Appeal of Food
Think about the sensory appeal of the food.
Eye appeal adds to the enjoyment of the food, so consider an array of colors on the plate and also a brightly colored plate or bowl. I find foods to be so much more eye appealing when presented in a patterned bowl or on an eye-catching plate.
Then add the aroma. Smells that are quite comforting: garlic sizzling in olive oil, bread baking in the oven or cinnamon, cloves and ginger in hot apple cider.
We can also find comfort in the textures of what we eat: crunchy almonds added to creamy yogurt or a cranberry/orange relish with chopped walnuts.
And certainly, flavors can be comforting. The first spoonful of chicken noodle soup may bring back a flood of memories of being taken care of when we were sick. A cheese plate with sharp Cheddar, briny pickles and olives, crunchy breadsticks and juicy red grapes provide eye appeal, texture contrasts and a variety of flavors to savor.
[READ: Comfort Foods and Stress Eating.]
Bring on the Comfort, Reduce the Guilt
If you want the comfort that food provides, but are trying to be mindful of your calorie cap, is it possible to do both? Absolutely.
Think About the Portion
You may find that an individual-sized serving of ice cream can do the trick or buying one brownie instead of making a pan of them.
Do a Swap
If you really want that dessert, can you have it instead of the rice with your main meal?
Change the Ingredients
If it’s a creamy taste you crave, try substituting plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream in a dip. If cheese is your thing, go for sharp cheese — more flavor with less cheese — then shred or grate it and add at the end to make the flavor pop.
Bake Instead of Fry
If crunchy or fried foods are what you seek to be comforted, think about how you may prep them — and what you prep. For instance, you can finely slice Brussels sprouts, drizzle on olive oil and roast at high heat to get the crunchy, fried taste.
Thinly slice potatoes — or zucchini, carrots and even beets — drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on your favorite seasonings. Bake at high heat for a crispy, crunchy better-for-you snack and pair with a creamy yogurt-based dip to get both the protein and the produce.
It’s All About the Add-Ins
Chicken noodle soup is delicious with added veggies. Macaroni and cheese becomes even creamier with added pureed cannellini beans — and the additional fiber and protein provide staying power.
Make it look good. Colorful sauteed vegetables with thinly sliced flank steak and a side of roasted new potatoes may do the trick. A scoop of ice cream with fresh berries and a drizzle of chocolate syrup looks indulgent, tastes delicious and delivers on cold, creamy comfort.
[See: Best Foods for Brain Health.]
If tradition in the kitchen gives you comfort, here’s a recipe to consider. I grew up loving this noodle kugel from my grandmother. I made it recently and was immediately transported back to her table.
Nana’s Noodle Pudding
— ½ pound fine egg noodles.
— 2 tablespoon melted butter.
— 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, reduced fat.
— 1 cup small curd cottage cheese, 2% fat.
— 3 eggs.
— 1 tsp vanilla.
— ¼ cup sugar.
— ? cup prune puree (recipe below).
— ½ cup 2% milk.
— ½ cup diced prunes.
— ? cup pitted prunes.
— 3 tablespoons hot water.
Puree in blender or food processor until smooth.
— ½ cup chopped slivered almonds.
— ¼ tsp sugar.
— ¼ tsp cinnamon.
Mix together in a small bowl and set aside.
Boil noodles in 2 quarts boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, or until done. Drain and set aside. In a blender or food processor, blend the eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, prune puree, melted butter, ¼ cup sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth.
Stir in the prune pieces. Stir the noodles into the egg mixture and pour into a buttered 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle on the almond topping. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Yield: 12 servings
— Calories: 226.
— Fat: 7.3 grams.
— Carbohydrate: 33.3 grams.
— Fiber: 2.2 grams.
— Sugar: 13.2 grams.
— Protein: 10 grams.
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