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Around the Home: Make comfort foods healthy

POSTED: February 15, 2012 1:30 a.m.

This year’s mild winter weather has been nice, but this past weekend reminded us just how cold and windy winter can be.

Somehow the idea of staying inside our cozy homes turns thoughts to warm, inviting comfort foods. In the South, most of our comfort foods are loaded with artery-clogging fat, sugar, sodium and numerous other calorie-laden ingredients.

Foods like macaroni and cheese, chili and stews, and creamy pot pie with double pastry are so tempting. Unfortunately, these yummy foods can wreck our healthy eating plans and cause us to pack on extra pounds.

Commercially prepared macaroni and cheese can have nearly 1,000 calories per serving — more than half of the 2,000 calories the average adult should consume in a day.

One serving of a creamy casserole like the traditional hash brown casserole contains more than 500 calories, and a chicken pot pie with pastry on the bottom and top has nearly 800 calories.

It is OK to splurge on a small portion of a decadent food, but it is better to completely avoid temptation if you can.

The best way to avoid temptation is to eat a balanced diet of foods that make you feel full and satisfied longer. This includes protein foods to stabilize blood sugar and high fiber foods, which send the message "I’m full" to the brain.

If you just can’t survive without your favorite comfort food, try preparing it yourself so that you control fat and calorie content. Here are some ways to make some favorite comfort foods lighter, but just as tasty.

Macaroni and cheese: Modify your recipe by using low-fat cheese and low-fat milk. Add vegetables to make it more nutritious and great tasting. Or, try whole-wheat elbow macaroni tossed with a cup of tomato sauce and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (2 cups = 420 calories and 5 grams fat) instead of eating regular macaroni and cheese (2 cups = 880 calories and 40 grams fat).

Chili and stews can be very hearty and high in protein. Use small portions of lean meat, lots of vegetables and beans, and then sprinkle a small amount of low-fat cheese on top. Limit high-fat ingredients like ground beef, sausage and cheese. Stews and soups become more delicious when refrigerated overnight to allow flavors to blend.

Cream and cheese-based casseroles: For a healthier cream- or cheese-based casserole, substitute low-calorie ingredients such as fat-free sour cream, low-fat cheese and reduced-fat soups. Better yet, try oven-roasted vegetables, such as new potatoes. They make a tasty, healthy side dish with only 100 calories and 4.5 grams of fat per 6 ounces.

In addition to limiting the most fattening foods, follow these tips to avoid winter weight gain.

  • Drink plenty of water between meals and at mealtimes.
  • Eat tomato-based and broth-based soups and stews that contain lots of vegetables and are low in sodium.
  • Eat plenty of lean protein to feel full and satisfied.
  • Use only lean meats in soups, casseroles and other dishes, and limit portion sizes.
  • Replace high-fat ingredients with spices and peppers to add pizzazz to your food.
  • Use low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half instead of cream in recipes.
  • Replace each whole egg in a recipe with 2 egg whites.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day to stay fit and to keep your metabolism perking. Exercise is a great non-food way to reduce stress.

Remember, it is easier to keep your weight stable than to lose weight. You can lose weight, or at least maintain your weight, by eating 100 calories less than your body burns each day.

On the other hand, you will gain about 10 pounds in a year by eating 100 extra calories a day.

Ginger Bennett is a Northeast Georgia Radon Educator with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Based in the Hall County Cooperative Extension Office, you may contact her at 770-535-8290 or Her column appears Wednesdays and on

Radon gas, a decay product of uranium, is a Class A Carcinogen. There is no safe level. Approximately 30 percent of homes in North Georgia have tested high for radon gas. Have you tested your home? Find out more about testing at


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