Whether it's Granny's gooey brownies or mom's mac and cheese, comfort foods can easily conjure up festive feelings of nostalgia. Unfortunately, the reality is that these classic eats tend to be high in unhealthy fats and sugar, which can promote weight gain.
However, you can still indulge in your favorite foods by making a few simple tweaks. From mashed potatoes to ice cream sundaes, these 17 lightened-up versions have all the flavor and coziness of your go-to comfort foods, just with more nutritious ingredients and a lighter calorie load.
1. Pull-Apart Cheesy Cauliflower Loaf
Perfect for entertaining, this veggie dish satisfies cheese cravings while still keeping it light. The Parmesan and mozzarella feel indulgent, but cauliflower provides a much-needed dose of nutrients, including potassium and vitamins C and B6. Cheesy and healthy? Sounds good to us.
Get the Pull-Apart Cheesy Cauliflower Loaf recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Avocado Black Bean Brownie Bites
Looking for a lighter version of rich chocolate brownies? Featuring avocados, black beans and almond butter, these mini-brownies are packed with fiber and heart-healthy fats. They're the perfect breakfast bites (or midday snack) to stave off hunger until your next meal.
Get the Avocado Black Bean Brownie Bites recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Sweet Potato Nachos
Sweet potatoes are not your average spuds. The orange-fleshed veggie boasts a boatload of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that the body converts to eye- and skin-protecting vitamin A. Not to mention, they're also a sweet source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Score!
Get the Sweet Potato Nachos recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Chocolate Nut Butter Cups
This rich, four-ingredient recipe will satisfy your sugar cravings in an instant. What's more, the antioxidants in cocoa can give your skin a radiant glow, and studies have also shown that noshing on dark chocolate is linked to lowering your risk of heart disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Get the Chocolate Nut Butter Cups recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Instant Pot Turkey Bolognese
This take on classic Bolognese calls for low-fat milk, omits wine, oil and butter (reducing total calories by almost 550), and swaps turkey for ground beef, which means less saturated fat. Using the Instant Pot's "sautée" setting adds flavor to the turkey and vegetables, while pressure-cooking keeps the meat moist for a silky, savory sauce.
Get the Instant Pot Turkey Bolognese recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Vegan Mac and Cheese
This amazing vegan version of mac and cheese is perfect for kids and grownups alike. The nutritional yeast imparts a rich, tangy, cheesy flavor. It's also a complete protein and comes packed with fiber to help you feel full, while simultaneously boasting many beneficial nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, selenium and zinc.
Get the Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe and nutrition info here.
7. Vegan French Toast With Strawberries and Cream
This vegan french toast recipe features fresh strawberries, which contain plenty of antioxidants known to help fight cancer-causing inflammation, per a May 2014 study in the Journal of Agricultural And Food Chemistry.
To make a lean cream that rivals the real thing, all you'll need is a plant-based substitute for Greek yogurt (we use a coconut milk-based alternative) and maple syrup.
Get the Vegan French Toast With Strawberries and Cream recipe and nutrition info here.
8. Lean Lasagna
Our version of a party-friendly, freshly-baked lasagna features whole-wheat pasta nestled between layers of ground turkey, spinach, mushrooms, crushed tomatoes, low-fat mozzarella and fat-free cottage cheese.
And while it may look like our recipe requires quite a few steps, this one is actually rather easy. Simply prep the ingredients for each layer, do the layering, bake — and you're done!
Get the Lean Lasagna recipe and nutrition info here.
9. Dark Chocolate Goji Berry Bark
This delicious bark highlights the trendy goji berry, which is packed with antioxidants and beta-carotene for skin health. These tart berries are also known to boost the immune system and are teeming with fiber.
Get the Dark Chocolate Goji Berry Bark recipe and nutrition info here.
10. Grown-Up Grilled Cheese With Basil Aioli
Your average grilled cheese has nothing on this lighter version full of flavor and healthier ingredients like part-skim, all-natural mozzarella and fiber-rich, vitamin-packed baby spinach.
Swapping white bread for a high-fiber tortilla helps fill you up and keeps those carb cravings at bay. A garlic aioli lends this souped-up sandwich a sophisticated taste that ties it all together.
Get the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese With Basil Aioli recipe and nutrition info here.
11. Farmers' Market Meatloaf
Loaded with colorful veggies, ground turkey and rich flavors like garlic, Worcestershire sauce, extra-sharp cheddar and fresh herbs, this meatloaf is guaranteed to satisfy your savory comfort food cravings.
With a balance of lean proteins, healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs, these mini loaves will help you build lean muscle, boost your energy and keep your appetite in check.
Get the Farmers' Market Meatloaf recipe and nutrition info here.
12. Apple Crisp a La Mode Smoothie
This smoothie includes all the flavor of a traditional apple crisp without the excess fat and calories. Vanilla protein powder adds a boost of muscle-building protein while whole oats and apples help you rack up your daily fiber requirements.
Get the Apple Crisp a La Mode Smoothie recipe and nutrition info here.
13. Creamy Parmesan Cauliflower Purée
This low-calorie, creamy cauliflower purée is just as rich and satisfying as traditional mashed potatoes minus all the fat and carbs. Loaded in vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and anti-inflammatory properties, this cauliflower mash pairs perfectly with a lean protein like roasted chicken.
Get the Creamy Parmesan Cauliflower Purée recipe and nutrition info here.
14. Not Your Average Shepherd's Pie
Lighten up this classic comfort food by swapping out carb-loaded mashed potatoes for creamy parsnips. This root vegetable provides a unique sweetness that potatoes lack, along with fiber, folate, potassium and manganese. Red wine, tomato sauce, sautéed veggies and fresh herbs provide deep, rich flavor without all the excess fat.
Get the Not Your Average Shepherd's Pie recipe and nutrition info here.
15. Homemade Tomato Soup With Mascarpone Cheese and Basil
While canned tomato soup relies heavily on salt and processed ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup for flavor, this healthier homemade tomato soup uses all-natural, fresh tomatoes. Top it with a tablespoon of creamy mascarpone cheese and slurp to your heart's content.
Tip: Because tomatoes are the star of this recipe, it's important to use ripe, juicy ones.
Get the Homemade Tomato Soup With Mascarpone Cheese and Basil recipe and nutrition info here.
16. Feel Better Chicken Soup
With cold and flu season on its way, it's important to have a simple yet satisfying chicken soup recipe on hand. This lighter version balances protein, carbs and fat to give your body what it needs to stay healthy and keep your energy up.
Adding a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sugar at the end of the cooking process packs a flavorful punch. And even if you're not under the weather, this yummy broth makes a deliciously healthy staple meal all year long.
Get the Feel Better Chicken Soup recipe and nutrition info here.
Read more: 5 Uncommon Ways to Fend Off Cold and Flu
17. Gelato Sundae With Sautéed Strawberries and Toasted Almonds
This recipe swaps traditional ice cream with a creamy, satisfying alternative that's higher in protein. Top your sundae with toasted heart-healthy almonds, vitamin-C-rich strawberries and just a hint of antioxidant-packed dark chocolate. The end result is a decadent and healthy dessert that won't weigh you down.
Get the Gelato Sundae With Sautéed Strawberries and Toasted Almonds recipe and nutrition info here.