Make comfort food classics a bit healthier

Try vegetable substitutes or baking instead of frying to get 2023 off to a good and healthy start

One of the keys to a healthy lifestyle is diet. You can exercise all you want, but you need to fuel your body properly.

While the idea of changing your eating habits may be daunting, there are ways to achieve it.

A healthy eating plan isn’t extreme, but instead emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

It includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars while staying within your daily calorie needs.

If the phrase “healthy eating” makes you think about the foods you can’t have, try refocusing on what you can eat. And remember, the key is moderation and balance.

You can enjoy favorite foods by balancing them with healthier options.

Try a lower-calorie version by using lower-calorie ingredients. If your macaroni and cheese recipe uses whole milk, butter and full-fat cheese, try making it with non-fat milk, less butter, light cream cheese and adding fresh spinach and tomatoes. Just remember to not increase your portion size.

And remember to create a colorful plate, since colorful ingredients — many of them vegetables — contain a variety of needed nutrients.

Following are some recipes for healthier classic comfort foods from

Healthy Lasagna With Kale and Portobello Mushrooms

1 cup coarsely chopped, drained jarred roasted red peppers

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

28  ounces no-salt-added whole plum tomatoes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1-1/2 cups grated part-skim mozzarella cheese

2 large egg whites

15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 portobello mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 small bunch kale, stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

9 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Puree peppers, oregano, tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sugar in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Mix one cup \mozzarella cheese with egg whites and ricotta cheese in a medium bowl.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook about 10 minutes, stirring, until they have released their liquid and are tender. Stir in the kale in batches, and as it wilts add the pepper flakes, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook five minutes, until kale is wilted and bright green.

Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread 3/4 cup sauce in the bottom and top with three noodles, half the ricotta mixture and half the mushroom mixture. Repeat layers of sauce, noodles and ricotta and mushrooms. Top with remaining noodles and sauce.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven about 50 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the sauce is bubbling around the edges of the pan. Uncover, sprinkle with the remaining grated mozzarella and bake about five minutes, until melted. Let stand 15 minutes, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Quick Pork Goulash

1-1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 carrots, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 red or green bell pepper, diced

3 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup low-sodium beef broth

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

2 cups whole-wheat egg noodles

Chopped chives, for garnish

Toss pork pieces with thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat half the oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork pieces in a single layer and cook about five minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Heat remaining oil in the same pot, then add carrots, celery, onions and bell pepper and cook seven to 10 minutes, stirring, until softened. Stir in paprika, tomato paste, caraway and garlic and cook one to two minutes, until fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened slightly. Stir in broth and 1-1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Cook about 45 minutes, until vegetables are tender and broth has thickened.

Cook noodles according to package directions and keep warm.

Place pork in the stew and cook, stirring, until  pork is cooked through and hot. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Toss with hot egg noodles and garnish with chives.

Sloppy Joe Baked Potatoes

4 russet potatoes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 pound 93% lean ground turkey

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup ketchup

1/3 cup sweet chili sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese

Pierce potatoes in a few places with a fork, place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave about 15 minutes, until tender, turning once. Set aside.

Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook about seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add turkey and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook five minutes, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink on the surface. Stir in ketchup, chili sauce, 1/2 cup water, chili powder and garlic powder and continue cooking three to five minutes, until meat is cooked through.

Split baked potatoes open lengthwise, dot with the remaining butter and gently fluff the flesh with a fork. Top with turkey mixture and sprinkle with the cheese while still hot.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Kosher salt

6 ounces wide egg noodles

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 scallions, white parts sliced, green parts finely chopped

3 stalks celery, thinly sliced, plus 2 tablespoons chopped leaves

12 ounces fat-free evaporated milk

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup frozen peas and carrots

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup light sour cream

3/4 cup shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese

5 ounces water-packed tuna, drained and flaked

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to the package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the noodles and return to the pot.

Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallion whites and sliced celery and cook two minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add evaporated milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir in peas and carrots and mustard. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cook two to three minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened.

Pour sauce over the noodles, then stir in sour cream, 1/2 cup cheese, tuna and reserved cooking water. Transfer to a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

Melt remaining butter. Toss with the panko, scallion greens, celery leaves and remaining cheese and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the casserole. Bake in a 400-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.

Baked Fish and Chips

For chips:

3 medium russet potatoes)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt

For fish:

Olive oil cooking spray

2-3/4 cups crispy rice cereal

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 large egg whites

1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless pollock or other firm white fish, cut into 2-by-4-inch pieces

Tartar sauce and/or malt vinegar, for serving, optional

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Place a baking sheet on one of the racks.

Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick sticks. Toss with olive oil and cayenne. Remove hot baking sheet from the oven and place potatoes on it in an even layer. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any oil from the bowl over the potatoes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes on the top oven rack, turning once, until browned and crisp. Season with salt.

Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Lightly crush cereal in a bowl with your fingers. Add two teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste. In another bowl, whisk egg whites and a pinch of salt until frothy.

Dip fish in the egg whites, then roll in the cereal crumbs to coat. Place fish pieces on the rack on their sides so that the majority of the crust is exposed and mist with cooking spray.

Bake on the bottom oven rack about 12 minutes, until crisp and just cooked through. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve fish and chips with tartar sauce and/or malt vinegar, if desired.

Beef Chili

1-1/2 pounds beef round, cut into 1-inch chunks

Kosher salt


6 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 to 2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons fine corn meal

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 14.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Fresh salsa, for serving

Lime wedges and cooked brown rice, for serving

Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat with two teaspoons vegetable oil and sear the beef in two batches for four to six minutes each, adding as much as two teaspoons more vegetable oil as needed, until browned on all sides. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer beef to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining oil to the pot with the onion, red pepper and garlic and cook eight to 10 minutes, stirring, until onion is soft. Stir in cocoa, chili powder, oregano, cumin and coriander and cook one minute, until fragrant. Add corn meal and tomato paste and cook two minutes, until tomato paste sticks to bottom and caramelizes.

Stir in six cups water, scraping tomato paste from bottom of pan, then bring to a simmer. Add reserved beef and beans, partially cover the pot and simmer 1-1/2 to two hours, until beef is tender.

Serve with fresh salsa, lime wedges, and brown rice, if desired.

Three-Cheese Macaroni

1 large egg

1 12 -ounce can evaporated whole milk

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1-1/3 cups grated muenster cheese, plus 4 deli-thin slices

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets

4 cups medium pasta shells

Whisk  egg, evaporated milk, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and black pepper in a bowl. Toss the grated cheeses in a separate bowl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower and cook seven minutes, until almost falling apart. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add pasta to the same water and cook about 10 minutes, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water.

Combine egg mixture and grated cheeses in the empty pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until cheeses melt and the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add cauliflower. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth and light. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water until creamy.

Toss pasta in the sauce, season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a shallow casserole dish and top with muenster slices. Broil about five minutes, until golden brown.

Hearty Chicken and Dumplings Lightened-Up

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 cups trimmed and halved green beans

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill

Heat olive oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, garlic and onions and cook five minutes, stirring, until the vegetables are softened. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.

Grind oats in a food processor until fine. Combine with flour, baking powder, zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Work in butter with your fingers until only very small pieces remain. Stir in 1/2 cup ice water, a bit at a time, until a soft dough is formed. Let rest 10 minutes.

Drop cherry-size bits of dumpling dough into the soup. Add green beans and stir gently. Cook 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dumplings are floating and cooked through and beans are bright green and crisp-tender. Add chicken and cook three minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the heat, stir in dill and season with salt and pepper.

Crispy Baked ‘Fried’ Chicken

8 chicken pieces]

1/2 cup flour

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

4 cups cornflakes

2/3 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons paprika

3/4 teaspoon ground sage

Rinse chicken in cold water, then pat dry. In a wide bowl or on a plate, season flour with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Dredge each chicken piece with flour until fully coated, tap against the bowl to shake off excess flour and set aside. Discard flour.

Crush the cornflakes in a large resealable plastic bag, carefully pressing the air out of the bag. Pour crushed flakes into a wide bowl or onto a plate.

In a large bowl, mix buttermilk, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika and sage. Dunk each piece chicken in buttermilk mixture, then roll in the cornflake crumbs.

Arrange chicken pieces on a rack set in a roasting pan or baking sheet. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 degrees and cook another 25 to 30 minutes, until cooked through and crispy.



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login