Cold-Weather Comfort Foods that Won't Destroy Your Diet

More mac n' cheese, please!
healthy comfort foods

The days are short, the weather is cold and all you want to do is curl up under a blanket binge-watching Netflix and eating something warm and filling.

Wintertime could certainly be a recipe for disaster for your diet—but it doesn’t have to be! There are lots of ways to eat what feels like comfort food without giving up on your goals.

I have to preface this by saying I’m a kind of lazy cook. While I love cooking for a big crowd of people for a special event, it’s a challenge to get excited about preparing a mid-week dinner for myself. If I don’t plan something simple, I often end up ordering in—which comes with its own diet derailing risks—so I need to have a repertoire of simple and convenient options.

That said, here are some of my go-to “recipes” for something hot, satisfying, and healthy on those cold winter nights:

Frozen Dinner Hacks

Companies like Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers have spent millions of dollars developing low-calorie versions of some of our favorite comfort foods, so why not start there? No need to think outside the box when the box has exactly what you want, right?

However, there are some tweaks you can apply to make the meal more delicious (and nutritious!). One of my favorite meals, especially when I’m hungry, is to take a good, saucy frozen dinner like Chicken Alfredo and bulk it up with protein and/or vegetables. (Pro tip: Cook a bunch of chicken at the beginning of the week and cube some and shred some to use as needed through the week.)

Just heat the Chicken Alfredo in the microwave for a little less time than instructed (to avoid overcooking) and then dump it in a larger bowl.  Add chicken or your protein of choice, plus maybe some broccoli and peas, then finish heating and mix well. There’s enough sauce and pasta to feel indulgent, but it only makes a small dent in your daily calorie or point allotment, and the extras you added in are calorie-efficient and boost bulk to help you feel full longer.

You can do the same type of thing by adding chicken to Ziti Marinara, or browned ground beef and diced tomatoes to Mac and Cheese, or even broccoli slaw to Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. Get creative!

Meet Your New BFF:  Your Slow Cooker!

Nothing beats spending 5 or 10 minutes throwing something together, flipping a switch, going to work all day, and then coming home to a kitchen full of good smells and a slow cooker full of dinner.

One of the very easiest things you can make in a slow cooker is pulled pork. Just put a few pounds of pork tenderloin in the crockpot and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, sprinkle with some red wine vinegar and liquid smoke, and cook on low. Depending on your slow cooker, 8-10 hours later your pork will practically fall apart when you poke it with a fork. If there’s a lot of liquid from the cooking, remove it, then shred the pork with two forks.Cook it for another 30-60 minutes in your favorite barbecue sauce. This also works with chicken.

Another cold weather favorite is chili. Slow cookers are very forgiving, so don’t worry too much about following a specific recipe—use what you like!

If I’m making my chili with chicken, I just put the raw chicken breasts right in the slow cooker. If I’m using cubed beef, I’ll brown it first and then throw it in. (When I do bother to cook, I cook a lot in order to have food for the week, so I rarely use less than three or four pounds of meat.)

Add a can or two of beans (I like to use black beans and kidney beans), a can or two of diced tomatoes with chilies, an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce, and a packet of taco seasoning. You can also add things like diced onions and frozen roasted corn, according to your personal preferences. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, and voilà!  (If you’ve gone with chicken, remove it, shred it, and mix it back in.) Top with some Greek yogurt and reduced-fat cheese, and enjoy!

Of course, sometimes you just have to have that mac and cheese according to your mom’s recipe or can’t resist the chicken parmesan from your favorite spot around the corner—I feel you. Here’s how to enjoy them while mitigating the damage to your diet:

  1. Drink a big glass of water first.
  2. Eat a salad or green vegetable with your meal.
  3. Make sure you serve yourself a reasonable portion and put the rest away immediately—don’t keep it on the table where it will tempt you!
  4. Don’t focus on “giving in” to eating your treat… choose it, savor it, enjoy it.  If you’re not beating yourself up over your choice, you’ll find it easier to go back to your lean proteins the next day instead of spiraling out of control because you feel like you screwed up.

Stay warm this winter, and remember that eating hearty can also mean eating healthy!

Make it WayBetter

Get even more warming goodness (and satisfy your sweet tooth) by sipping a mug of low-calorie hot chocolate or herbal tea with honey after your meal. Bonus: hydration!!