The 8 Healthy Comfort Food Dinner Recipes That Got Us Through 2020

These healthy comfort food dinner recipes serve up cold-weather coziness alongside key nutrients.

Top Recipes highlights the biggest cooking trends of the year based on our readers’ favorite recipes in 2020.

Many of our favorite activities (think: traveling, seeing concerts or going to movie theaters) have been out of reach this year, so it's no surprise we turned to comfort food — namely pizza, burgers, ice cream and mac and cheese, according to a September 2020 survey by market research firm OnePoll — for relief.


In fact, these cozy dishes were so important to us that 67 percent of people in the survey said they'd prefer to give up alcohol instead of their favorite comfort food.

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But it wasn't all salt bombs and ultra-processed sugar — as the pandemic continued, we recognized there is such a thing as good-for-you comfort food.

"High-protein comfort foods are now in high demand, as people still want to indulge in their favorite comfort foods and still feel like they are being healthy at the same time," says nutrition coach and registered dietitian Emily Danckers, RD.

We saw this trend up close: Our top comfort food recipes — the eight featured below — received 104 percent more traffic in 2020 than in 2019.

1. Meatballs and Gravy

These meatballs are lean and full of heart-healthy ingredients.

"This recipe is a great lean and easy protein meal to put together," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristen Richardson, RDN. "The ingredients are simple, clean and have a lot of flavors. The recipe also calls for olive oil and garlic, which are very heart-healthy."


Get the Meatballs and Gravy recipe and nutrition info here.

2. Healthy Instant Pot Carnitas

One serving of these lean pork carnitas packs 31 grams of muscle-maintaining protein.

"Carnitas are such a great way to enjoy a high-protein meal with tons of flavor," Richardson explains. "You can use this recipe to make burrito bowls and tacos, pair it with your favorite vegetables or enjoy on top of a salad."



Get the Healthy Instant Pot Carnitas recipe and nutrition info here.

3. Spicy Chicken and Basil Pizza

This pizza pairs protein-rich chicken with savory mozzarella cheese and tangy Sriracha.

If you need a new way to prepare chicken, Richardson says this recipe is a winner. Topping your pizza with chicken is a great way to boost the protein and provide that satisfaction you're looking for in a meal, she says.


Get the Spicy Chicken and Basil Pizza recipe and nutrition info here.

4. Lean Lasagna

Try this lightened-up lasagna the next time you're in the mood for pasta.

Traditional lasagna recipes are high in saturated fat (from both beef and cheese) and contain tomato sauce as the only source of vegetables, says registered dietitian Kelly Jones, RD. Thank goodness for this lean lasagna, which is a healthier swap with more veggies (think: mushrooms, spinach and basil) and lower-fat cheeses.


Get the Lean Lasagna recipe and nutrition info here.

5. Chilly Philly Cheesesteak

The moderate portion of provolone cheese keeps the classic flavor of a traditional cheesesteak sandwich without adding too much fat.

While cheesesteaks are delicious, they aren't typically known for their health benefits. But you can still enjoy a protein-rich cheesesteak with this lighter recipe, which uses roast beef (a leaner cut of beef) instead of slices of fatty meat, Jones says.



Get the Chilly Philly Cheesesteak recipe and nutrition info here.

6. Slow Cooker Turkey Sloppy Joe

A serving of this sloppy joe clocks in under 300 calories and provides 28 grams of protein.

Turkey is a smart alternative to red meat, as it's lean and affordable, making it a major score for both your wallet and your health goals, says Colleen Christensen, RD. Try eating the turkey sloppy joe filling on a whole-grain bun for extra fiber, she adds.


Get the Slow Cooker Turkey Sloppy Joe recipe and nutrition info here.

7. Turkey Fried Rice

This quick-cooking recipe keeps your peas crunchy and your turkey moist.

"This high-protein recipe includes two basic components that are important for any healthy meal: lean protein (from turkey and egg) and vegetables," Danckers says. It also doesn't skimp on umami, thanks to aromatic sesame oil.

Get the Turkey Fried Rice recipe and nutrition info here.

8. Baked Chicken Nuggets

Breaded and deep-fried chicken nuggets serve up loads of fat, but this baked version skips out on all the added calories.

"By using real chicken and baking the nuggets instead of frying them, this recipe gives you all the flavor of the traditional comfort food without the added fat and calories," Danckers says.

Get the Baked Chicken Nuggets recipe and nutrition info here.



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