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.
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.
Find out what home chefs were cooking up this year with the most popular healthy comfort food dinner recipes of 2020 on LIVESTRONG.com and our food-tracking app MyPlate.
1. Meatballs and Gravy
"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
"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
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
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
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
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 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
"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.
- PR Newswire: "2020: The Year of the Comfort Food Comeback"
- Registered Dietitian Emily Danckers, RD
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Kristen Richardson, RDN
- Registered Dietitian Kelly Jones
- Registered Dietitian Colleen Christensen, RD
- Fox News: "Majority Of Americans Eating More Of These Comfort Foods During Pandemic"
- Door Dash: "The Deep Dish: Food Trends In 2020"
- Grubhub: "Grubhub Releases Second Annual State of the Plate Report"
- Forbes: "Food Trends Forecast 2021: Being Healthy In A Post COVID-World"