In times of uncertainty and stress, we often turn to comfort food for solace. These dishes remind us of more specific, happier times, from a bowl of mac and cheese to a warm slice of apple pie. But why do we crave them? And is there a way to make them healthier?
Why Do We Crave Comfort Food?
First, let’s look at why we crave comfort food. According to research, comfort food is often associated with positive memories and emotions from our childhood. The familiar taste and smell of these dishes can trigger feelings of nostalgia and comfort, providing a sense of emotional security in times of stress. Additionally, comfort food tends to be high in carbohydrates and fats, which can increase serotonin levels in the brain, leading to feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Making Comfort Food Healthier: Tips and Tricks
Now, let’s talk about how to make comfort food healthier. While it’s true that many comfort foods are high in calories and lacking in nutrients, there are ways to modify recipes and create healthier versions. For example, swapping refined carbohydrates for whole-grain alternatives can add fiber and nutrients to dishes like mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. Using leaner cuts of meat or plant-based proteins, such as beans or tofu, can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in dishes like chili or shepherd’s pie.
In addition to making ingredient substitutions, there are other ways to make comfort food healthier. Here are a few suggestions:
- Control portion sizes: Enjoy comfort food in moderation and be mindful of the serving size.
- Add vegetables: Adding vegetables to dishes like casseroles or lasagna adds nutrients, volume, and texture.
- Use herbs and spices: Flavoring dishes with herbs and spices instead of salt or butter can reduce sodium and fat intake while adding complexity to the taste.
- Cook at home: Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients and cooking methods, leading to healthier and more nutritious meals.
Black Bean and Corn Salad:
- 240 grams of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 285 grams of drained corn
- 150 grams of diced red bell pepper
- 75 grams of diced red onion
- 14 grams of seeded and minced jalapeño pepper
- 4 grams of chopped fresh cilantro
- 30 grams of Lemon Juice
- 28 grams of olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add the black beans, corn, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro in a large bowl.
- Mix the lime juice and olive oil in a separate small bowl. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and gently toss to combine.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature as a side dish or a topping for tacos, salads, or grilled meats.
Tofu Stir Fry:
- 1 block of firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 green onions, sliced for garnish
- Cut the tofu into small cubes and coat them evenly in cornstarch. Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the tofu and cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Remove the tofu from the skillet and set it aside.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the sliced bell peppers and onion, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the soy sauce and honey to the skillet and stir until combined. Return the tofu to the skillet and toss to coat it in the sauce.
- Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until the tofu, is heated through and the sauce has thickened.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the tofu stir-fry hot, garnished with sliced green onions. You can enjoy this dish or serve it with steamed rice or noodles for a complete meal.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes:
- 907 grams of russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 118 milliliters of whole milk
- 57 grams of unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat and cook the potatoes for about 15-20 minutes or until they are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot.
- Heat the milk and butter over low heat in a small saucepan until the butter is melted and the milk is warm.
- Pour the milk mixture over the cooked potatoes and use a potato masher or an electric mixer to mash them until they are smooth and creamy—season with salt and pepper to taste.
- If the mashed potatoes are too thick, add more milk to achieve the desired consistency.
- For additional flavor, you can also add minced garlic, grated Parmesan cheese, or chopped herbs like chives or parsley.
- Serve the mashed potatoes hot as a side dish with your favorite main course.
In conclusion, the rise of comfort food is understandable, given the stress and uncertainty of our current times. However, making minor modifications and being mindful of portion sizes allows us to enjoy these dishes without sacrificing health. So, go ahead and indulge in that bowl of soup or slice of apple pie – make sure to do it in a balanced and healthy way.