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Comfort Foods + Good Health? Yes!

Comfort foods remind us of home, warmth and family; they are often simple, everyday foods we had as children.

Date Published: 1/24/2012

Comfort foods remind us of home, warmth and family; they are often simple, everyday foods we had as children. Eric Watson, dean of academic affairs at The Art Institute of Charleston, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta, and a professional chef, says, "When people are looking for comfort foods, it is not just about the food, but about how they feel and the general need to be comfortable and relaxed."

Comfort foods tend to be hearty, cold-weather dishes based on meats, cheeses and carbohydrates – all of which can pack on the pounds. But even if you’re trying to reduce that holiday bulge, you can still enjoy your favorite comfort foods. Just make them healthier!

Chef Jim Gallivan, department chair of Culinary Arts at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Atlanta, offers these ten tips.

  • Choose whole grains over refined: brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta instead of white rice, white bread or standard pasta. Whole grains digest more slowly, providing longer-lasting energy.
  • Use small amounts of olive oil instead of butter on grains or vegetables, and to sauté. A non-aerosol spray bottle can help use oil sparingly.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products:  skim or one-percent milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurts, sour cream and cheeses – and reduce the amount.
  • Choose Canadian bacon or lean ham over bacon, wild-caught, fresh or water-packed tuna or salmon over oil-packed tuna or salmon, chicken and turkey sausage over pork sausage and  lean ground turkey and beef over high-fat options.
  • Use herbs, flavored powders (like garlic powder), citrus (like lemon juice) and heat (like red pepper or hot sauces) over extra salt.
  • Instead of frying, bake, roast or grill using a rub or marinade.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables over canned. Remember that frozen vegetables are harvested at peak season and usually flash-frozen, making them superior in flavor and nutrients to off-season fresh ones.
  • Use vegetables and legumes, like chick peas or black beans, to make a dish more hearty. When making a legume soup, puree some for thickness and body, and leave some whole for texture and interest.
  • Feature fresh, seasonal fruits and berries in desserts. The natural sweetness means you can reduce added sweetening.
  • Remember – using low-fat or fat-free dairy products, olive oil, whole grains or lean meats doesn’t mean unlimited portions!

"Dishes like lasagna, chili, macaroni 'n' cheese and apple pie have the power to comfort us," says Chef John Maxwell, academic director of Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Jacksonville, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design. "But with some adjustments, these foods can also sustain good health."