Comfort Foods Reimagined

Comfort Foods Reimagined: Simple Swaps for Healthier Cooking

Publish Date December 4, 2023 5 Minute Read

In our fast-paced lives, there's something truly magical about slowing down for a comforting home-cooked meal. Classic comfort foods and childhood favorites have the power to help soothe our souls, bringing a sense of nostalgia that's hard to beat. As you start to prioritize your wellness, though, you may find that many of our favorite comfort foods aren’t as nutritious as we’d like. But don’t worry. Your go-to comfort foods can be upgraded with just a few simple swaps and better-for-you ingredients.

Why Do We Crave Comfort Food?

Grandma’s macaroni or Mom’s famous meatballs satisfy our hunger in a way 5-star dining can’t. When we’re feeling down, we crave food that feels like a warm hug and tastes like home. There are several reasons why our cravings occur. In some instances, such as holidays and special occasions, our unconscious minds associate the comforting dishes with happy memories, love and abundance. On the other hand, certain situations or events can trigger our comfort cravings. Here are some common triggers:

  • Weather: While the lack of sunlight makes the temperature drop, making any warm food or beverage sound appealing, there’s an even deeper reason for these cravings. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Less sunlight means our bodies make less serotonin. To make up for the missing serotonin, the body uses a specific protein called tryptophan. Carbohydrates and sugar help to transport this protein to the brain, leading to cravings for comfort foods. This may have you craving a warm mug of hot chocolate on a cold, wintery day.
  • A Drop in Blood Sugar: Ever wonder why you don’t commonly crave salad or raw veggies? When you go a long period without food, your blood sugar takes a dip. This sends a signal to your brain that you need fuel, which leads to the release of hunger hormones. Once the craving is satisfied and your blood sugar rises, your body releases insulin to stabilize glucose levels. This can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, marking the start of a craving cycle. The key to getting out of the cycle is consuming foods that stabilize blood sugar, such as healthy fats, protein and fiber, rather than quick-fix foods like refined carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Emotions: A breakup, a stressful day at work, a lively celebration or a daunting task are all common triggers for cravings. We see it in the media and at home: chocolate for the breakup, wine for the stress and a pizza party for the reward.

Turning to food for comfort isn’t the problem, since the right foods really can help us feel better. But it is important to have multiple skills and tools for emotional regulation in your toolbox, such as calling friends, reading, gentle movement and mindfulness techniques to live a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Reimagining the Classic Comfort Foods

Cooking and eating can be social experiences that have the ability to bring us together while food has the potential to heal and fuel our bodies. It makes sense to use this everyday need as an opportunity to seek out joy.

Rather than limiting your access to comfort foods, you can enhance them by adding mindfulness to your recipes. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, along with adding healthy ingredients to your favorite recipes, builds nutritional value and satisfaction. Try adding more veggies, fiber, and alternative sugars in your recipes for a healthier twist.

Try these easy upgrades for better-for-you comfort foods:


  • Make it keto - Keeping your carb count low doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza. This crust in this Pepperoni Keto Pizza is made with mozzarella, cream cheese, egg and low-carb flour.
  • Make it gluten-free - Snag a gluten-free crust or make your own with a gluten-free flour to make this classic work for those with allergies or sensitivities with a Gluten-free Veggie Pizza.
  • Make it plant-based - Going plant-based or vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorites. This Plant-based Pizza proves it!
  • Make it healthier - This Rainbow Veggie Pizza is an easy way to get a diverse set of vegetables and a burst of flavor into your diet.


  • Make it keto - This Keto Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe will satisfy your sweet tooth without compromising your health goals.
  • Make it gluten-free - Gluten-free baking is easy. Just find a gluten-free flour and replace the regular flour at a 1:1 ratio, like with these Gluten-free Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies.
  • Make it healthier - These Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies contain only natural sources of sweetness, like banana and honey, and it has filling fiber and protein, making it a balanced choice.
  • Make it plant-based - Cookie dough that’s safe to eat and packs some filling fiber? Count us in! Give this Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough recipe a try.


  • Make it keto - Great for low-carb or keto diets, hearts of palm are a pasta substitute that doesn’t need to be cooked in boiling water, making it perfect for fast, one-pan meals like this Hearts of Palm Pasta with Olive-almond Pesto.
  • Make it gluten-free - Thankfully there are lots of gluten-free swaps these days that don’t compromise taste. Add a variety of veggies for more gut-health benefits to this Gluten-free Summer Pasta Salad
  • Make it healthier - Adding broccoli to a basic pesto recipe easily elevates the nutrient density and flavor. To make it a meal, try pairing your homemade pesto with a protein like chicken or beans in this Broccoli Pesto Pasta
  • Make it plant-based - This Meatless Bolognese Sauce with Chickpea Pasta recipe can easily be doubled and frozen for later. It can also be served over mashed potatoes or cauliflower.

Craving More Inspiration?

If you’re stuck in the craving cycle or want to incorporate healthier foods into your lifestyle, set up a Telenutrition appointment with a registered dietitian today.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider