Craving comfort foods as the temperatures drop is something many of us can relate to - yet tend to feel guilty about. However, many of the warming casseroles or soups that we make this time of year can be made with nutrient dense foods to up your intake of essential vitamins, trace minerals and other nutrients which are necessary for immune function. Shifting to a healthier lifestyle is about choosing healthier options most of the time, and allowing those indulgent foods be a treat. Once these foods are not apart of your daily diet, you may learn that you actually enjoy them more, and can be satisfied with less.
So what foods are we talking about? Foods that tend to be high in saturated fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates or come in a package. Swapping one or two ingredients is a simple way to keep the dish’s original taste and texture, and you don’t have spend a lot of money to do it, either.
1. Macaroni and Cheese
Cheese is a beloved food here in Wisconsin, but the way we tend to eat it - piled onto pizza, poured over nachos or stacked on crackers cancels out any health benefits. It’s high in sodium, calories and saturated fat. So how does one substitute cheese, you ask? Nutritional Yeast. It has a pleasantly cheesy flavor and is grown on enriched purified cane and beet molasses with added vitamin B12. Here's a 10 minute recipe for nutritional yeast sauce to make your own macaroni and cheese.
Most soups are actually full of vegetables - making them already a healthy option. However, heavier soups such as chowders or creams tend to ask for heavy cream to be added to thicken it. As your soup is cooking, you can take half of the vegetables, put them in a blender and then add some of the stock it’s been cooking in and puree it. This instantly thickens the soup without adding heavy cream. This can also work on bean, tomato or cauliflower soups. Like mentioned above, there are benefits to having some dairy in our diet, but Wisconsinites tend to put it in everything. For many people, dairy is a hard to digest food and can cause long-term inflammation, so substituting when it’s not an essential ingredient is beneficial.
Dessert can feel like it’s everywhere this time of year, but even treats can have good sources of fiber, protein and vitamins. Let’s use pie as an example. Adding a dollop of greek yogurt to your pie crush in place of butter or lard can help amp up those nutrition facts and keep your pie holder nice and flaky. You can also replace some or all of the flour with nuts. Using almond flour - for example - adds healthy fats, fiber, protein and vitamin E. An easy way to cut added sugar is to choose fruits that are naturally sweet like golden delicious apples.
Sandwiches tend to be loaded with cheese, mayo and other fatty toppings. Easy, flavorful substitutions include: hot sauce, mustard, hummus or even a slice or two of avocado. Although not everyone has an intolerance to gluten, it is easy to rely too much on bread and refined carbohydrates especially when you’re on the go. An easy switch? Whole Wheat bread or a leaf of romaine lettuce.
5. Spaghetti and Meatballs
It’s understandable why spaghetti and meatballs are common in most households. It’s a quick weeknight meal that even the kids can help out with. You can keep this meal in your rotation, just swap in whole wheat or brown rice noodles instead. As for the meatballs, we’re a fan of making these Vegan Sun Dried Tomato Basil Meatballs in a big batch and freezing them to use for quick dinners.