Let’s face it: most diets started on January 1st won’t last until Valentine’s Day, and one reason is an inability to kick the comfort food habit. Typical “diet food” can’t compete with fattening favorites like macaroni and cheese, pizza, and lasagna; these foods have been on our dinner tables since we were old enough to walk. And that creates cravings that can derail even the best-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.
The solution? Trick your taste buds with recipe makeovers that trim the fat and calories without losing any of the feel-good flavor and texture of the originals. You’ll get all the indulgent satisfaction without falling off the diet wagon. (Both your waistline and taste buds will thank you!)
You can start with recipes like Macaroni-and-Veggie Bake, Caramelized Onion and Bacon Pizza, or Stovetop Veggie Lasagna from online meal planning service, eMeals (you can find the recipes here). Each has just 320 to 450 calories per serving, thanks to clever kitchen hacks like using the starch from the pasta’s cooking liquid instead of cream to help thicken the mac-and-cheese sauce.
When you’re ready for more comfort food remakes, use these handy cooking tips from registered dietitian Jessica Cox, the eMeals in-house culinary nutritionist, to lighten your own favorite recipes.
Skip the Cream (and “Cream of”)
Beware of any white sauce made with heavy cream, canned cream of chicken soup, or canned cream of mushroom soup; it’s a calorie, fat, and sodium bomb. You can whip up a slimmer and trimmer basic white sauce by melting 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 1½ cups of low-fat milk and 1 cup of low-sodium chicken broth. Simmer, whisking constantly, 3 to 5 minutes, or until thickened. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg, if desired.
Bake Instead of Fry
Try oven-baking foods with different coatings like panko breadcrumbs, finely chopped nuts, or flaked unsweetened coconut; you’ll get the crispy crunchy texture of fried comfort foods without the added fat. Case in point: panko-crusted chicken fingers. Dip chicken tenders in beaten egg, and then dredge them in panko breadcrumbs. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Then, enjoy—guilt free.
Mash a Better Veggie
Use mashed cauliflower, parsnips, or turnips in place of carb-heavy potatoes to cut calories while simultaneously amping up the fiber and nutrients in a particular dish. Roast the vegetables instead of boiling them to deepen their flavor and reduce the amount of butter needed to perk up the taste when they’re mashed.
Halve the Meat
Making meatloaf? Replace half of the meat with cooked lentils and add shredded carrot and zucchini. Meat sauce? Trade half of the ground beef for finely chopped mushrooms. Burgers? Use half ground beef and half canned beans. Your meal will be just as flavorful and comforting, only with less fat and more nutrients.
Cook it Slow
A slow cooker transforms lean cuts of meat from tough to fork-tender. This easy, time-saving method helps control calorie and fat counts by using cuts like chuck roast and London broil in place of fattier varieties like skirt and strip steak. Bonus: You don’t need to add oil or butter to a slow cooker as you do when making a stovetop stew. Check out eMeals blog for a 270-calorie rendition of Crock-Pot Beef & Carrots Au Jus.
eMeals is the largest online meal planning service in the U.S., generating over 1 million meals per week for subscribers to more than 50 different meal plans designed for different eating styles, family size and grocery store preferences. Options include weekly Classic, Clean Eating, Budget Friendly, Kid Friendly, 30 Minute Meals, Slow Cooker, Vegetarian, Mediterranean, Low Calorie, Low Fat, Portion Control, Paleo, Low Carb, Gluten Free and Diabetic programs, along with breakfast and lunch plans. Menus, recipes and corresponding grocery lists are delivered directly to subscribers’ email inboxes and the eMeals mobile app every week for easy planning and fast, budget-conscious grocery shopping. The company was founded in 2003. For more information and to try a 14-day free trial subscription, visit www.emeals.com.