Healthy comfort food swaps

Healthy comfort food swaps

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Warming winter foods can add value to your diet rather than stodgy empty calories. Here’s how to make over a few of your fave comfort cuisines.

Why do we eat comfort foods when it's cold?

Comfort foods are hard to avoid in winter. There’s nothing more inviting than a warm, filling meal when we walk into the house after a long, cold day. But often, these foods come with a massive side serve of empty calories. 

And it seems that no matter how hard we try to be good, that even evolution may be working against us. A University of Exeter study suggests that we have evolved to have subconscious urges to over-eat, and limited ability to avoid putting on weight, especially in winter

Lead author Dr Andrew Higginson, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University said, “You would expect evolution to have given us the ability to realise when we have eaten enough, but instead we show little control when faced with artificial food.”

“Because modern food today has so much sugar and flavour the urge humans have to eat it is greater than any weak evolutionary mechanism which would tell us not to.”

The good news is, with some simple swaps you can give in to the cravings to eat comfort foods, but without the stodge and empty calories. 


Bump up the nutritional value while still enjoying the flavour of a Mexican meal by making your own  - slow cook pork, beef or chicken and shred with a fork (or use lean mince if you’re short on time), add tinned tomatoes and paste, refried or kidney beans, diced onions and garlic, grated veggies and Mexican spices - cumin, paprika and mild chili flakes.

Go for wholemeal wraps or baked sweet potatoes rather than packet taco shells and wraps, skip – or halve the cheese, and top with avocado and low fat Greek yoghurt or  refuel the whole family with these fully loaded nachos

Hot desserts

Puddings and cakes are popular in winter but are usually full of sugar and empty calories. If you crave something hot, stew fruits and serve with cinnamon and a drop of Greek yoghurt, or bake your own goodies, substituting in wholemeal flours and oat bran. 

Bananas can be used to add sweetness, meaning you can significantly cut back on how much refined sugar you add. 

Bonus tip: next time you DIY a healthy home-made banana bread, pop a slice in the sandwich press for a hot pudding-like dessert.
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Lasagne and pasta dishes

Swap your traditional lasagne sheets for wholemeal varieties or thin sliced veggies – think sweet potato, eggplant and zucchini. 

You can also bump up the nutritional value by adding grated veggies and lentils (or add peas for an authentic Italian version.) Skip the béchamel and go for limited low fat cheese –use fresh herbs for flavour instead.

Or go all out and give John's 'world-famous' vegan lasagne a go. It's a family favourite for good reason. 

Toasted sandwiches

A popular lunch time staple in colder months; the nutritional value really comes down to the quality of your ingredients. 

A ham and cheese on white bread (especially with mayonnaise) may taste delicious, but doesn’t offer up equal amounts of nutrition. 

Rather than skip the hot sambo, grab a quality whole grain bread, and fill with baked beans and a titch of low fat cheese, hummus and tinned tuna, leftover cooked chicken breast with avocado and tomato, or fill a wholemeal wrap with leftover roast veggies, baby spinach and hummus and pop it in the toaster.


The trick to creating a healthy curry is to go heavy on the vegetables, use lean cuts of meat – or go vegetarian, and opt for low fat coconut cream or milk or tomato-based version.

Serve with brown rice, or low-GI basmati rice and you’ve cut given your bod a boost of essential nutrients.

Roberta Nelson's recipe for curried lentil bowls is the perfect warming dish that is built on a solid base of protein, complex carbohydrates and dark leafy greens with all the necessary trimmings. 

Bonus tip: curries and rice freeze well, so keep some stocked for lunches or last minute dinners. 


Much like curries, soups can be a huge nutrient booster if you choose the right ingredients, without sacrificing flavour or satiety – they’re also great for the budget, as you can use up leftover veggies or buy from the markdown section. 

Create any combo you like from your fave winter veggies to make a smoky minestrone soup, add optional lentils or lean meats (chicken, beef and lamb) work best – though a Thai fish soup is pretty amazing. 

Make a soup more of a meal by adding canned beans.

What are your go to winter warmers – and how do you add extra nutrients?