Healthy versions of your favorite winter comfort foods

When it’s cold outside, most people like to feel warm and cozy by snuggling up on the couch with their favorite comfort food. However, eating for pleasure without a thought to nutrition can mean hundreds of unwanted calories, which combined with lounging inside, can add up to extra pounds. Comfort foods can still be delicious and bring back childhood memories without going overboard on calories, carbs, and fat. I’ve re-created some comfort food classics with fewer calories, carbs, and fat, while adding more nutrient dense ingredients.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Nothing says winter like a nice bowl of chili. However, the usual fare is robust in saturated fat and sodium. This version, though not your classic bowl, is definitely a great dinner option. Pumpkin is a staple I keep in my pantry at all times as an easy way to add a “creamy” texture to recipes without calorie-heavy cream. It adds a subtle sweetness to recipes, plus tons of Vitamin A and fiber! I recommend serving it over barley or farro with more veggies and topped off with plain yogurt for a very well balanced meal.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 c onion, chopped
  • 1 c mixed bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 c vegetable of choice (chopped broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc)
  • 1 – 4oz can green chilis
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound (16 oz) 99% extra lean ground turkey
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, reduced sodium
  • 1 can red kidney beans (no salt added if available)
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can 100% pure pumpkin
  • 1 ½ tbsp chili powder
  • ½ tbsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt (can add more to taste at end)
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper – to taste
  • Optional toppings: chopped cilantro, 0% plain Greek yogurt, 2% shredded cheese


1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Sauté the Bell peppers, vegetables of choice, green chilies, and garlic until tender, about 10 minutes. Push veggies to side of pan and add turkey. Cook turkey until brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and pumpkin. Then add rest of seasonings and more salt if needed.  Reduce and simmer for at least 25 minutes.

3. Top and enjoy!

Nutritional Value per serving (1/6 recipe): 255 calories, 4.5 g fat, 419 mg sodium, 30 g carb (11 g fiber!), 27 g protein [Calculations via Diet Master Pro using chopped broccoli and no-salt added canned tomatoes and beans]

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole really brings me back to childhood and is one of my favorites. It’s nice and creamy on the inside with a crispy, cheesy top. Tuna is a nutrient-packed lean source of protein, which requires virtually no prep since you just open the can or pouch. The recently updated USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume a variety of seafood at least two times per week so this is great way to hit that quota. The recipe below is a complete meal, which includes vegetables, whole grains, lean protein with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and low-fat dairy.


  • 1 [8 oz] box 100% whole wheat wide noodles
  • 1 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp chicken broth
  • ½ c chopped yellow onion
  • ½ c white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/3 c carro, chopped
  • Whole wheat flour (for dusting)
  • 2 ½ c fat free milk
  • ½ c Plain 0% Greek yogurt or Siggi’s Plain Skyr
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika (optional)
  • ½ c frozen peas
  • 1 c frozen broccoli, chopped
  • ¼ c reduced-fat Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ¼ c reduced-fat cheese, shredded
  • 2  5-oz cans albacore tuna in water (low sodium)


1. Cook noodles according to package and drain. Heat a large skillet over medium heat adding oil and broth to pan, distributing evenly. Add onions, mushrooms, and carrots; cook about 5-7 minutes until carrots are tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with whole wheat flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in milk; cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk until slightly thick. Stir in yogurt, mustard, salt, paprika, and pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Remove pan from heat. Stir in noodles, peas, broccoli, Parmesan cheese, and tuna. Put mixture into shallow oven-safe 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with shredded cheese. Broil on high for about 3-4 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Value per serving (1/6 recipe): 300 calories, 5 g fat, 398 mg sodium, 38 g carb (5 g fiber), 27 g protein [Calculations via Diet Master Pro.]

Kelly Strogen, MS, RD, LDN is the owner and Registered Dietitian for Wayne Nutrition LLC in Wayne, PA. She also consults with the National Fisheries Institute and writes for her personal blog Kelly’s Pantry.


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