5 Tips for Cooking Healthy Comfort Food (Plus Easy Recipes!)

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
cauliflower mac and cheese

When you’re having a rough day, enjoying meals that make you happy can help turn it around. Many people crave comfort foods when they’re feeling stressed out, anxious, depressed or lonely. That’s also when we’re most tempted by choices that are high in calories, fats and sugar. You know that no food can make your problems go away, but making healthy choices about your diet is one positive thing you can do for yourself when life is throwing so many challenges your way. Here’s the good news: you can make your day just a little better with the food that perks up your mood and stay on track to your weight loss goal.

Your comfort foods choices tend to be meals that have a positive association for you, often because they remind you of home and childhood. The most popular comfort foods are potato chips, ice cream, cookies, pizza and pasta, according to a report in the Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. Interestingly, the preferences are slightly different among women and men. Women favored ice cream, chocolate and cookies. Ice cream also was the top-ranked comfort food for men, but pizza and pasta were close behind.

If these are your go-to picks, try these tips and ideas for healthy comfort food that hit the spot without weighing you down. We’ve also provided links to tons of healthy comfort food recipes here on The Leaf that are sure to satisfy your craving without sabotaging your weight loss!

Nicer Ice Cream

salted caramel ice cream

What makes ice cream so appealing when we’re feeling down and also when we’re ready to celebrate a happy moment? Maybe because it brings back memories of birthday parties, summer vacations, and special occasions. Or it could be that the sweet taste lights up our taste buds while the cool, creamy texture soothes us on the inside.

For any reason, ice cream can be part of your weight loss menu. Consider making nice cream, which uses frozen food as its base with other nutritious additions that add flavor and creaminess, like almond milk, nonfat yogurt, vanilla extract or chocolate chips.

Try one (or more) of the healthy ice cream recipes here on The Leaf. You can download our free printable book that gives simple directions for whipping up “nice” cream, featuring flavors such as pumpkin, mint chocolate chip, salted caramel and cake batter. They’re cool and delicious, but lower in calories and added sugar than your store-bought favorites.

Lighter Chips

homemade potato chips

Crunching on potato chips can be relaxing when you’re tense. And the salty flavor hits us with a little spark of flavor when we need a pick-me-up. However, these crunchy snacks aren’t always the best option for your weight loss plan. Instead of buying them from the store, make your own at home in the air fryer with fresh produce and less oil.

With an air fryer, you can make your own classic potato chips in minutes with far fewer calories and fat than you get from the bags in the grocery store. With our Air Fryer Potato Chip recipe, you can season your chips with salt or go a little spicier with chili powder. Homemade Air Fryer Salt and Vinegar Chips are another tasty twist on a classic taste.

Do you love sweet and spicy chips? Try making our BBQ Sweet Potato Chips recipe that can be made in your oven or air fryer. They’re just as crispy as regular chips, but more flavorful and (bonus!) more nutritious. You can also make Root Vegetable Chips from slices of beets, parsnips, turnips and sweet potatoes with a little olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Or nix the root veggies altogether! Make chips from fruits or veggies with our recipes for Air Fryer Apple Chips, Balsamic Eggplant Chips or Rosemary Kale Chips.

Use corn tortillas to make homemade Crispy Nacho Cheese Chips, or avocados and parmesan cheese to make 5-Ingredient Avocado Chips. You can even use pasta to make chips with our healthy take on trendy Air Fryer Pasta Chips!

10 Comfort Food Recipes That Taste Like Mom’s Home Cooking

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Pizza Perfected

healthy whole wheat pizza

Eating pizza almost always feels like a party, even if it’s just an ordinary day. It’s food you usually share with someone else and you get to pick it up with your hands to take a bite, which is just more fun. The Leaf recipe section features several pizza ideas that give you all of the pleasure of this Italian classic but fewer calories than you get from any other pie you can buy.

Start your day with pizza for breakfast with our recipe for Cheesy Pizza Waffles made from whole wheat pastry flour, spices, almond milk, egg, part skim mozzarella and veggies.

Swap regular pizza crust with a whole wheat version in this Whole Wheat Pizza recipe, which is topped with low sodium marinara sauce and part skim mozzarella cheese. Or go low-carb with our recipe for Eggplant Margherita Pizzas, which swaps the crust with thick and chewy slices of eggplant.

Wanna skip the crust completely? Whip up this easy Pizza Stuffed Chicken recipe that features tender chicken breast filled with marinara, turkey pepperoni and mozzarella.

We’ve also got creative twists on pizza, including recipes for Air Fryer Pizza Rolls and Easy Pepperoni Pizza Pinwheels. Ready for dessert? Whip up this 2-Step Watermelon Fruit Pizza recipe! >

Happier Mac and Cheese

Healthy cauliflower mac and cheese

Kids love macaroni and cheese, and the joy of eating noodles coated in creamy cheese stays with us no matter how old we get. That may be because mac and cheese is warm and filling, and it always feels so calming to sit down to a plateful.

Instead of using regular white pasta, swap the typical noodle with a whole wheat version or a vegetable-based alternative! This will add fiber and nutrition to that plate of cheesy pasta.

We have plenty of mac and cheese recipes on The Leaf that will bring the whole family to the kitchen. Mac and cheese made with cauliflower is an infamous low-carb alternative that’s delicious and easy to make. Try one of our many versions, including Bacon Jalapeno Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Buffalo Blue Cauliflower Mac and Cheese or Classic Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.

You can also use zucchini noodles (zoodles) to make easy, cheesy mac. Try our recipe for Zoodle Mac and Cheese with Roasted Veggies, which features a medley of produce like broccoli, bell pepper, red onion and sweet potatoes in a creamy sauce. But if you’re craving real pasta, of course we have healthy comfort food recipes for Instant Pot Green Chile and Chicken Mac and Cheese and Green Mac and Cheese!

8 Easy Instant Pot Chicken Recipes

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Better Cookies

healthy air fryer chocolate chip cookies

Little things can add up to big differences. Cookies, for instance, can make a hard day seem not so bad. They‘re a little crunchy, a little sweet, and just the right size to perk you up without feeling like you’ve overindulged.

When you deserve a cookie break, the healthy recipes on The Leaf are in just the right portions to put a smile on your face. We make many healthy swaps, like replacing regular white flour with whole wheat flour or almond flour. Many of our recipes swap sugar with healthier sweeteners like honey, maple syrup or stevia. We also have options in all of your favorite flavors!

If the aroma of cookies baking in the oven puts you in a happy place, make a batch of our Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies, which are sure to satisfy everybody’s cravings for cookies and chocolate. Chewy Ginger Cookies are sweet with a hint of heat, a combo that can turn a bad mood into a moment of pleasure.

Did you know you can use your air fryer to make cookies? Our recipe for Air Fryer Chocolate Chip Cookies is proof that your favorite countertop appliance is capable of magic!

Make Double Chocolate Cookies that use black beans as the base for a unique and moist cookie – trust us, you won’t even be able to tell they’re made from black beans!

Want to enjoy more comfort food while you lose weight? Get started with a Nutrisystem plan to stock up on perfectly portioned comfort foods! Enjoy your favorite meals and snacks without any of the cooking, all while achieving your weight loss goals. Get started with a Nutrisystem plan today!