Not all comfort food needs to get filed away when you're trying to keep the weight off during winter months. Instead, incorporate healthy ingredients like seasonal produce, fiber-rich legumes and good fats that will keep you feeling warm and satisfied.
"Understanding what's good and what's bad about fats and other foods is such a puzzle for people," laments local cookbook author and cooking teacher Rebecca Wood. "If we deny ourselves by going fat-free or low-fat or if we feed ourselves poor quality food, we're never satisfied and we're always looking for the next nibble."
To combat the cravings and compulsive eating this year, try following these tips:
Make comfort food healthier by substituting seasonal and organic products. Try cans of organic tomatoes in red sauce; instead of mashed potatoes, use yams. "Yams are one of my favorite things to eat and cook with," says certified culinary educator Marilyn D. Moore of Talent. For an easy lunch or side dish, bake a yam as you would a potato, then top with light sour cream or yogurt and chives.
Stir up some soup. "Start your soup in the Crock-Pot in the morning," suggests Moore. "In a pinch, make a 20-minute minestrone with tomatoes, some veggies and a little pasta." For a heartier version, add chicken, steak or tofu.
Prepare something simple. "I tend to have an easy dish to toss in the oven as soon as I get home," Moore says. She likes a combination of potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic that she preps the night before, to which she adds chicken or tofu. "Toss with oil, fresh rosemary, pepper and sea salt. The flavor of sea salt goes a long way." Another easy favorite in the Moore household is turkey bacon over a bed of greens with a big bowl of lentil soup.
Eat your greens. Don't forget about the leafy vegetables that are packed with nutrients and are ready to pick this time of year. Try cutting kale into small pieces and tossing with pasta; steam broccoli with carrots and other vegetables; serve a hearty salad of romaine lettuce, red onion, shredded cabbage and a few toasted pecans or baby greens with red onion and minced Jerusalem artichoke alongside a bowl of soup. Make a quick salad dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar seasoned with salt and pepper. (Really good balsamic vinegar also tastes great on frozen yogurt.)
Don't pass on pasta. "I feel a small amount of pasta is a good thing - we need the fiber," Moore says. To get an easy, warming pasta fix, Moore uses whole wheat linguine sauced with leftover red bell pepper soup and minced greens. What could be simpler?
Lighten up by baking instead of frying. If you can't resist, use only coconut or palm oil and discard it after a single use.
Keep food moist and flavorful by adding sensible amounts of good fat. The experts' favorite fat to bake with? "Butter, coconut oil or palm oil," says Rebecca Wood. She warns against baking or cooking with any canola, soy or olive oils because once they reach a hot point, they create free radicals and can become toxic. "Just use butter, it'll taste better."
Bake with healthy flavorings and whole grains. Sweeten a whole wheat carrot cake with pineapple and maple syrup for a guaranteed yum, recommends Moore. Boost taste and immune systems by adding cinnamon, a natural anti-inflammatory. "My trademark ingredient is almond extract," says the cooking instructor. "It adds flavor, keeps the fat down and is even great in oatmeal with frozen peaches."
"If we're keeping ourselves deeply nourished by giving our bodies good things, we never have to be compulsive about food because we're always comforted," Wood says. And so we learn that the way to freedom from food issues is through good food itself - eaten three times a day, every day of the year.
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