With the cold weather settling in, many folks turn to their favorite comfort foods. But the truth is, most classics like macaroni and cheese, chili, and chicken fingers are laden with calories. I had the opportunity to speak with Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian, cookbook author and host of Food Network’s hit show Healthy Appetite, about her new book Comfort Food Fix. She tells us how we can eat these favorites without worry.
Q: What inspired you to write you new book Comfort Food Fix?
A big reason people think that healthy food isn’t delicious is that you have to sacrifice taste for health. People go to extremes and they’ll cut all the fat in a muffin by replacing it with applesauce, for example. They’ll end up with a rubbery muffin and are turned off forever. My technique is about splitting the difference—I use some mayo and some yogurt in my creamy dressings. In muffins, I replace only half the fat with applesauce and make the other fat a healthy fat like canola oil. Also, I use ingredients like butter, full fat cheese, and bacon in small amounts. I use a minimum amount for maximum impact, so you get the best of both worlds.
Q: In Comfort Food Fix you list the nutrition information “before” and “after” each recipe is lightened up. Why do you think this was important to include in your book?
I think it’s important to know that I don’t cook to the numbers. When I’m in my test kitchen, I think about flavor and amping up healthful ingredients while reducing less healthful ones. I always provide the nutrition info for my recipes. I was about three-quarters of the way through writing all the recipes for Comfort Food Fix, when I though “hmm . . . how does my lasagna compare to a typical one?” When I ran the numbers, I almost fell off my chair. So, I compared my other recipes and I was so shocked with the difference these small tweaks made that I decided to include it in my book.
Q: Which kinds of foods do you feel are easiest to lighten up and which are more challenging?
I find casseroles very easy to lighten because in the creamy sauce you can use lighter milk and still have a lot of flavor from cheeses and spices. You can also easily meld in veggies to amp up nutrition while reducing calories.
I find cookies to be the most difficult because in order to make a good cookie you need to have some butter and a fair amount of fat. Most of my cookies are not much lower in calories, but they’re healthier because they have more wholesome ingredients like whole grain flour or oats or healthier oils balanced with some butter.
Q: What 3 easy swaps you can suggest to folks who are looking to lighten up their own dishes?
- For creamy sauce, use 1% milk thickened with a little bit of flour instead of cream.
- Add finely chopped sauteed mushrooms to dishes with ground meat like lasagna, sloppy Joes or shepherd’s pie.
- For creamy dressings, use half mayo and half Greek nonfat yogurt.
Q: I read that you started a live interactive cooking show on twitter where you’ll be cooking dishes from your new book. Can you tell me about this?
I am super excited about my twitter cooking show #CookwithEllie which is on the first Sunday of each month. I can now literally be in your kitchen cooking with you. A few days before the show, I post the recipe on my blog and twitter so you can read the recipe, buy the ingredients, and have your equipment ready. During the show, we cook, chat and have a great time cooking side by side. Once your dish is done, you snap a pic and the winning photo wins a copy of my new book. The next #CookwithEllie is on Sunday 12/4 at 6pm ET on twitter.
Q: Can you share one of your favorite recipes from Comfort Food Fix?
Scalloped Potatoes Au Gratin
Nonstick cooking spray
3 pounds yellow potatoes, like Yukon Gold, unpeeled, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
3 cups cold low-fat (1%) milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large or 2 small sprigs thyme
1-3/4 cups grated Gruyère cheese (6 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, set aside, and allow to cool slightly.
Place the milk and flour into a large saucepan and whisk until the flour is dissolved. Add the garlic and thyme and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the thyme sprig. Add the salt and 1 cup cheese, stirring until the cheese is melted.
Arrange half of the potatoes in the baking dish. Pour over half of the cheese sauce. Add the remaining potatoes and top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup cheese and bake until bubbling, about 25 minutes. Set under the broiler and broil on high until the top is browned, about 2 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
Serving size about 1 cup
Per Serving: Calories 280; Total Fat 9 g (Sat Fat 5 g, Mono Fat 2.6 g, Poly Fat 0.5 g); Protein 14 g; Carb 38 g; Fiber 4 g; Cholesterol 30 mg; Sodium 570 mg
Excellent source of: Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Protein, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C
Good source of: Copper, Fiber, Folate, Iodine, Magnesium, Manganese, Niacin, Riboflavin, Selenium, Thiamin, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Zinc
For more information on Ellie Krieger, visit her website.