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Lighter Alternatives to Traditional Comfort Foods

By Marie-Antoinette Issa.

Comfort foods often fill our spirits (it’s called soul food for a reason) and bellies! Providing satiation and solace with each spoonful, they’re also often served with a side of saturated fat, sugar and too much salt, meaning they can also hit our heart where it hurts - literally. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to forego your traditional favourites for the sake of a tighter tummy. In fact, there's a counter-trend towards crafting healthier comfort food alternatives that retain their all-enveloping essence while being kinder to our waistlines and overall wellbeing.

Here’s how incorporating inventive ingredients, smart substitutions and calorie-conscious cooking methods can transform beloved classics into guilt-free delights:

Smart swaps:
One of the simplest yet most effective strategies for lightening up comfort foods is to swap out high-calorie ingredients with healthier alternatives.
Lighter Alternatives to Traditional Comfort Foods

For instance, mashed potatoes, a quintessential comfort food, can be made lighter by using cauliflower instead of potatoes. Cauliflower mash offers a similar creamy texture with a fraction of the calories and carbs - approximately 60 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates, alongside four grams of fibre and three grams of protein per serving for those keeping track.

Similarly, creamy pasta dishes can be revamped by using whole wheat or pulse-based noodles (such as chickpea), which increase fibre content while reducing refined carbohydrates. Ditching heavy creamy sauces in favour of tomato-based varieties can also significantly reduce fat content while introducing layers of flavour to this classic carby comfort food. 

While it may not be a sandwich in the classic sense of the word, occasionally replacing your slices of sourdough with hearty lettuce leaves, can help those who are looking to reduce their carbohydrate intake. 

Spice world:
Herbs and spices are also an easy way to enhance flavour without adding extra calories. Experimenting with aromatic herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil can elevate the taste profile of dishes making them as satisfying as their original counterparts, without the need for excessive salt, butter or oil.

Out of the fry pan into the…airfryer:
Lighter Alternatives to Traditional Comfort Foods

Another innovative approach to crafting lighter comfort foods lies in modifying cooking methods to minimise added fats. Instead of deep-frying, for example, which increases calorie and fat content, opt for baking, grilling or air-frying techniques.

These methods can produce equally crispy and delicious results without the need for excess oil. We love crispy baked sweet potato fries which offer the same indulgence as their deep-fried counterparts but with considerably fewer calories and healthier fats.

Prioritise plants:
Furthermore, embracing plant-based alternatives can revolutionise traditional comfort foods, making them not only lighter but also more nutritious. Take, for instance, vegetarian Bolognese, which replaces ground meat with protein-rich beans and lentils. Not only does this reduce saturated fat content, but it also increases fibre and plant-based protein intake, promoting satiety and overall well-being.
Lighter Alternatives to Traditional Comfort Foods
Photo credit: Green Kitchen Stories.

Similarly, swapping out chicken burgers for grilled portobello mushroom caps, or beans for beef in traditional tacos, provides a hearty and flavourful alternative that's lower in calories and saturated fat.

Stay in control with portion control:
Finally, portion control plays a crucial role in enjoying lighter comfort foods without overindulging. Rather than super-sized servings, aim for smaller, more mindful portions that allow you to savour your favourite flavours without feeling weighed down, or ‘crowd out’ your meal by pairing comfort foods with vibrant side dishes such as baked vegetables or crisp salads. These not only add nutritional value but also help balance out the meal, making it more satisfying and wholesome.
Lighter Alternatives to Traditional Comfort Foods

Ultimately, the journey to creating healthier comfort foods is paved with endless possibilities for culinary exploration. You just need to embark on this delicious adventure with a bit of creativity and culinary flair, an open mind (a herb-packed pantry) and the right techniques to transform classic favourites into more wholesome alternatives that don’t sacrifice satisfaction - or taste - and nourish both your body and soul.
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