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Eight Classic Comfort Foods Revamped

Rethinking casseroles

Healthier comfort foods for today’s families

Comfort food is big business these days. Cookbooks on the topic abound and restaurants purporting to specialize in “food your mom used to make” dot the landscape. Invoking mom’s cooking is an easy way to summon up (hopefully positive) family memories associated with food. But which “mom” is doing the cooking? Your mom might have made clams casino while holding a cocktail, or maybe she could barely open a can. Perhaps your mom came from India, China, or Italy and prepared amazing feasts every night. If you had a single, working mom like I did, you may have eaten your fair share of Rice-A-Roni, Hamburger Helper, and other packaged foods.

Regardless of the kind of cook your mom (or dad) was, you can probably name some comfort foods from your childhood. Now that we are the parents, we get to cook up comfort food memories for our own families. Unfortunately, a lot of the foods our moms made 20 or more years ago were fattening, salty, and bland. So, here are some tips on how to revamp eight classic comfort foods to make them healthier.

Create cleaner casseroles

The casserole played a recurring role in many childhood dinners. These one-pot meals were easy to assemble, required fewer dishes to make (and clean), and packed a lot of calories into one dish. Casseroles came in lots of different forms, with tuna and beef stroganoff leading the pack. Full of sodium and fat, these were not the healthiest of dishes. In fact, when perusing old recipes it seems like a lot of casseroles from the past existed primarily to sell Campbell’s brand soups. At any rate, the casserole is still a great idea, so here are some tips for creating “cleaner” versions:

  • Use roux or pureed potatoes to thicken casseroles instead of sodium-packed, fattening commercial soups. You can make roux with alternative milks (almond, rice, soy) as well, but you might want to use tested recipes because these milks can often change the taste considerably.
  • Pick casserole recipes that are bean and vegetable-based, like this delicious polenta and black bean casserole.
  • Skip the pasta by making potato gratins that use layered potatoes and a touch of cream, along with other vegetables. Similarly, you can layer white corn tortillas instead of pasta in lasagnas.
  • Consider meat substitutes (tempeh, tofu or textured vegetable protein) or adjust recipes to include less meat.
  • If you must make tuna casserole, here is a lighter recipe.

Next: Fast food overhaul

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