Getting creative with comfort foods

Skinny Macaroni and Cheese is so named because it uses low-fat milk and cheese. Skinny Macaroni and Cheese is so named because it uses low-fat milk and cheese.

Skinny Macaroni and Cheese is so named because it uses low-fat milk and cheese.

With the weather getting colder and the winter months soon approaching, many of us will gravitate toward cozy blankets and delicious comfort food.

Comfort foods are commonly characterized as rich, creamy, hearty and typically loaded with excess calories, sodium and saturated fat. Making simple alterations to some of your favorite cold-weather recipes can transform them into nutritious and equally delicious meals.

• Macaroni and cheese — Trade traditional white pasta for a whole wheat variety and mix in some iron and calcium-rich spinach. Cut some of the calories and fat by using a low-fat cheese combined with low-fat cottage cheese. This will also add a great source of lean protein.

• Chicken pot pie — This flaky all-in-one meal can certainly pack a calorie and fat punch with its creamy sauce and buttery crust. Try making the sauce with low-fat milk and fat-free Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream or a creamy soup base. Use whole wheat flour when making the crust and remember to load it up with a variety of fiber-filled veggies.

• Meatloaf — When made with high-fat ground beef, meatloaf tends to be loaded with calories and saturated fat. Trim down these numbers and boost the nutrient content by using lean ground turkey as the base. Bind it together with whole wheat breadcrumbs and egg whites instead of whole eggs. You can even experiment with mixing in veggies or bulgur for added nutrition and a unique twist.

Concerned about portion control? Try cooking the meatloaf or mac and cheese in individual muffin tins.

Skinny Mac and Cheese

Makes 6 servings

• 4 ounces whole wheat macaroni

• 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

• 3 tablespoons whole wheat panko bread crumbs

• 2 tablespoons flour

• 1/2 teaspoon paprika

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

• 2 cups fat-free milk

• 1/2 cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

• 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8×8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Boil water and cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Set aside.

Combine the bread crumbs and 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small bowl, then mix. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a large saucepan. Set over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour, paprika, salt and pepper until smooth.

Add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking for about 5 minutes, or until thickened.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese until it melts. Stir in the macaroni. Pour into the baking dish and top evenly with the crumbs.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until bubbling and golden. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Nutrition information per serving: 233 calories, 10 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 368 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber

Emily DelConte, Kali Garges, Amy King, Kelly Markiewicz and Meghan Martorana write this column and are registered dietitians at EVOLUTION — Nutrition Counseling by Dietitians in Bristol, East Greenwich, Newport and Providence. They adapt the recipes from public domain or copyright-free recipes.

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