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Healthy Comfort Foods for Winter

healthy comfort foods

Pizza, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, chicken pot pie, dumplings, biscuits and gravy, chili, almost any potato dish…

We all have our favorite comfort foods. Nothing else chases away the chill and gloom of a typical Midwestern winter day like a warm bite of comfort.

The appeal of comfort food is part of what causes winter weight gain. Most Americans gain 1 to 2 pounds between November and January.

However, our favorite comfort foods don’t have to pack on the pounds.

Tips to Make Comfort Foods Healthier

The Esquiline’s own Chef Todd Schrage offers some ideas on how to make our favorite comfort foods healthier.

  • Trim excess fat and use leaner cuts like eye of round, chicken breasts and turkey.
  • Roast or grill rather than frying.
  • Eat more seafood and vegetable proteins.
  • Grill vegetables to caramelize their natural sugars and bring out the flavor.
  • Roast garlic, onions and shallots to add a sweetness without sugar.
  • Use sauces and gravies sparingly.
  • Season with fresh herbs and aromatics rather than salt.
  • Choose dry/low-fat cheeses and dairy products.
  • Choose cholesterol-free egg products.
  • Check the label on processed foods and snacks for excess salt and sugar.

Chef Todd’s Favorite Healthy Comfort Food Recipes:

Cranberry Sage Stuffing

8-12 servings

6 ribs celery, diced

1 large onion, diced

½ cup margarine

2 cups chicken broth or bouillon

16 slices dried bread, cubed

½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries

¼ cup toasted almonds

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

½ teaspoon rubbed sage

Salt and pepper to taste

  • Melt margarine in a large skillet, add celery and onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes
  • Add stock or broth and bring to a boil
  • Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes in a greased casserole dish


Sweet Potato Gratin

8 servings

3 pounds sweet potatoes, baked and peeled

½ cup butter or margarine, divided

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup flour

¼ cup uncooked oats

1/3 cup chopped pecans

  • Combine sweet potatoes, ¼ cup butter or margarine and 2 tablespoons brown sugar; beat with mixer
  • Add eggs, orange juice, 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, salt and nutmeg; blend well
  • Pour into 1 ½ quart casserole dish
  • In a small bowl, combine flour, oats, ¼ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Cut in ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • Add pecans and sprinkle over casserole
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes


Pumpkin Bread Pudding

8 servings

6 cups French bread, cubed and toasted

2 cups half and half

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup brown sugar

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin

½ cup raisins

½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream topping

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Combine all ingredients, except whipping cream
  • Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake for 50-60 minutes
  • Serve warm with whipped cream


For more healthy comfort food recipes—although not Chef Todd’s—check out these at Eating Well, Cooking Light, and Greatist.

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