We have all heard the phrase “comfort food” but it has become something that has guilt attached to it now. Despite many of us languishing in the biting cold of the latest winter storms, feeling like we need a little love 😉 we are now programmed to feel badly if we have stew AND biscuits for dinner, as that is overly hearty. For a while it was okay if you simply added a glass of red wine with the meal (you have to love that French paradox !) but now the wave has shifted and popular opinion generally says you should eat lighter. So, in the interest of responding to this trend, I suggest a new variation: comfortable food.
Since moderation is something that doesn’t often go out of style, I propose that portion size might be an integral part of converting rich comfort food favorites to our new, healthier comfortable food. Simply serving up a smaller amount of a rich dish and perhaps adding a salad as a side dish ( instead of biscuits) is a wonderful way to enjoy just enough of a good thing instead of too much. How about having salad for dinner on its own? Composed salads, containing a bit of protein in the form of nuts, cheese or fish, are a light dinner that can help you recover from the sins of yesterday or tomorrow.
Another idea is to look at new alternatives, and here is where we can really have some fun. I am not suggesting we need to go to slurping clear broth on its own, but if it’s flavorful then there is no punishment in that. Often spices can substitute for cream or butter when you want flavor intensified, so ethnic recipes can offer many options. Seasonal flavours also tend to be more intense – tomatoes in winter never taste nearly as glorious as they do in summer. Instead of chicken stew with dumplings how about Thai green curry with jasmine rice? You could change up fruit salsa on your fish for that buttery sauce (citrus salads as are fun in winter). Even desserts can be a bit lighter… How about an angel food cake with your fruit, and yogurt instead of custard for a shortcake? Having a sense of adventure can lead you down new paths and create new opportunities. This is a great way to enrich a child’s palate too, with new flavours and taste combinations.
Another healthful alternative and a great education for kids is to avoid processed foods. You can get more nutrients from foods without preservatives, and often you will save on sugar too. Even something as simple as making your own vinaigrette for salad can send you down a healthier path. Getting kids involved in the kitchen is the first step to a healthy and fun life of enjoying food.
When one of the popular TV chefs announces that they have diabetes it reminds everyone that none of us is immune. The good news is every little bit counts. A news report this week announced the obesity rate in the U.S. has dropped by half a percent to 26.1 percent of the population. That’s not a sweeping change but it’s a start. Hopefully Paula Deen will show us some of the lighter alternatives she chooses for her rich Southern recipes.
So, just because you put on your sweatpants this weekend, doesn’t mean you need to fill them out. Enjoy the taste, not the quantity, of the food, and think about how much extra comfort you really need.