12 Ways to Make Junk and Comfort Foods Healthier

12 Ways to Make Junk and Comfort Foods Healthier

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Eating a healthy diet doesn’t mean excluding your favorite comfort foods. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that when you follow restrictive diets or completely cut out whole groups of foods, “cravings can become more intense and can lead to a vicious cycle of indulging, overeating, and guilt.”

It’s not about restriction. It’s about finding ways to lower your intake of unhealthy fats, refined sugars, and empty calories so you can still get the taste and texture of your favorite junk foods without the unwanted weight gain. Here’s a list of some of your favorite junk and comfort foods, remixed for a health-conscious diet so you never have to feel deprived again!


1. Nutrient-Dense Mac ‘n’ Cheese

For a more nutritious take on classic mac ‘n’ cheese, opt for protein and fiber-rich whole wheat pasta instead of starchy white noodles. These tips toss veggies into the mix for an added vitamin boost and experiments with Greek yogurt for a dose of added protein.


2. Stevia-Sweetened Brownies

sugar free stevia brownies
Credit: Sugar-Free Mom

For those with a sweet tooth who want to cut down on refined sugar and calories, try sweetening brownies with Stevia, “a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of a plant called stevia rebaudiana, native to South America. This sweetener is naturally calorie- and sugar-free,” says holistic nutritionist Jennifer Nourafshan. Here’s a recipe that includes unsweetened applesauce and stevia for brownies with only 1 gram of sugar!


3. Cauliflower Pizza Crust with Part-Skim Mozzarella

This cauliflower crust recipe focuses on whole foods and natural ingredients for a pizza experience you won’t have to feel guilty about: cauliflower, one egg, part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese, and seasoning. Throw on some no-sugar-added Rao’s tomato sauce, says Nourafshan, and load up with veggies like spinach, mushrooms, and broccoli for a vitamin-packed, low-fat, veggie Italian staple.


4. Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

Nourafshan says it’s important to cook with oils that have a high smoke point, as cooking oils can yield harmful compounds and trans fats when overheated. “Too much exposure to trans fats has been linked to weight gain, cardiovascular disease and other health issues,” she explains. Instead of frying white potatoes, try sprinkling olive oil over potassium-, fiber-, and vitamin A-rich sweet potato wedges, dust with some chili powder and sea salt, and bake them in the oven!


5. Pumpkin Cookies

For a healthier junk food option, try pumpkin cookies that utilize oats and almond flour instead of white flour for a sweet treat that won’t send your blood sugar levels skyrocketing.


6. Apple Cinnamon Protein Pancakes

Apple Cinnamon Protein Pancakes

Traditional pancakes can come loaded with added sugars, white flour, and unhealthy fats. With this Apple Cinnamon Protein Pancake recipe, your favorite breakfast comfort food packs 13 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, keeping you fuller longer.


7. Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and Ground Turkey Breast

Craving a bowl of pasta and meatballs? To cut down on starches and saturated fats, opt for veggie noodles made from spaghetti squash as your base. Then make your own meat sauce with lean ground turkey breast and no-sugar-added tomato sauce for a lighter take on a comfort classic.


8. Air-Fried Chicken Nuggets

air fryer chicken nuggets basket

If you’ve never heard of air frying, I’m about to change your life. Air fryers “fry” your foods using high heat without all that oil, perfect for getting the same great taste and crunch of fried chicken without excess calories, potato starch, or grease. Try this great recipe for panko-style gluten-free air-fried chicken nuggets.


9. Frozen Fruit Bars

“Try and eat foods that are whole, and in their natural form with no added pesticides, preservatives, and GMOs,” suggests Nourafshan. Instead of sugary popsicles with added chemicals you can’t pronounce, freeze your own all-natural fruit bars. Here are four variations of homemade fruit pops to satisfy your sweet tooth. At five ingredients or less, recipes include wholesome components like Greek yogurt, coconut water, and frozen fruit.


10. Guiltless Chicken Parmesan

guiltless chicken parmesan clean eating mag
Credit: Clean Eating Magazine

Chicken Parmesan is traditionally breaded, deep-fried, and covered in heavy cheese. This recipe uses whole wheat panko breadcrumbs and part-skim mozzarella for a lower-fat, higher-fiber dinner that still offers great taste.


11. Wholesome Cornbread

Craving that Deep South staple, but trying to stick to your healthy meal plan? Go for this cornbread option, which cuts the amount of sugar and replaces butter with yogurt.


12. Greek Yogurt Mashed Potatoes

Greek Yogurt Mashed Potatoes

These mashed potatoes use Greek yogurt and almond milk as healthy substitutes for heavy cream, and leave the potato skin on for added nutrients and texture! Get your favorite comfort food, without expanding your waist size.