10 Ways to Make Comfort Food Healthier

Many comfort food dishes evoke memories of loved ones and good times. While creamy, fried, or sugary treats can soothe frazzled emotions temporarily and are fine in moderation, eating them too often can leave you feeling sluggish. Here are some ways to make comfort food healthier so you can indulge while getting the nutrition you need to feel great.


Use ground turkey instead of ground beef and oats in place of breadcrumbs. Add flavor with diced onions, garlic, herbs and your favorite vegetables.

Click here for the recipe and directions.


Use ground turkey instead of beef, load up on beans and vegetables (like corn, zucchini, sweet potatoes or chopped spinach), and use low-sodium broth. Top with plain, fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream – you probably won’t notice a difference and you’ll get a boost of extra protein.


Try whole wheat or vegetable-based pasta instead of traditional white pasta. Combine zucchini noodles with whole wheat noodles to get more vegetables in your dish. Sneak broccoli, pureed butternut squash or kale into your macaroni and cheese. Toss roasted vegetables into your pasta dish. Instead of a heavy cream-based alfredo sauce, make a healthier version using chicken broth and reduced-fat cream cheese.


Make tacos with whole wheat wraps, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream and ground turkey instead of ground beef. Load up tacos with sauteed onions and peppers or crunchy romaine lettuce. Swap cheese for guacamole for more healthy fats. If you want cheese on your taco, choose a really flavorful variety, like cheddar, goat or cotija cheese, so you don’t have to use as much.


Cauliflower crust pizza is popular these days and for a good reason – it tastes great and holds up well under tomato sauce and toppings. You can make your own cauliflower crust or buy a store-bought version. Top the crust with low-sodium tomato sauce, cheese and veggies, like zucchini, spinach, onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms. Or try a whole wheat pizza crust if cauliflower crust isn’t your thing.

Fried chicken

Instead of frying chicken, coat it in panko breadcrumbs and bake it in the oven. You’ll still get that satisfying crunch with less grease.

French fries

Make fries healthier by baking them at home. Slice regular or sweet potatoes into thin strips, spritz with avocado oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder and roast them in the oven until crispy. Leave space between each fry on the baking sheet for maximum crispiness.

Chips and dip

Make your own kale chips by tearing clean kale into small pieces, tossing it with avocado oil or olive oil, and salt, pepper and your favorite spices. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on the kale to make sure it doesn’t burn. Serve with guacamole or hummus.


Instead of using heavy cream or flour, try pureeing a can of beans (kidney beans, black beans, northern beans, etc.) to thicken soups. Beans will add more fiber.

Mashed potatoes

Use chicken stock instead of heavy cream, choose a potato variety like Yukon gold for a buttery look or mash cauliflower instead of potatoes.

Baked goods

  • Use unsweetened applesauce, canned pumpkin or Greek yogurt in place of oil (check the recommended ratio in the recipe you follow).
  • Use whole wheat flour or oat flour in place of white flour (again, check the recipe for substitution recommendations).
  • Use a one-to-one ratio to swap mashed avocado for butter.
  • Try bananas instead of sugar to add sweetness to muffins, cakes and bread.
  • Chickpeas or black beans can replace flour and work especially well in blondies and brownies.
  • Cinnamon is naturally sweet, so use the spice when cutting back on sugar.
  • Use less-processed maple syrup, honey, dates, agave nectar or coconut sugar in place of white sugar.
  • Try dark chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet or milk chocolate; look for a variety that contains at least 70% cacao for the most nutrients.

Remember these ways to make comfort food healthier and you can still enjoy the foods you love while making them a bit more heart-healthy and waistline-friendly!

If you have questions about your health and diet, talk to your primary care provider. To find a provider near you, visit

Ryane Greene

Ryane Greene, MHS, RD, LDN

Licensed and Registered Dietitian 
UNC Health Pardee

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