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Amp Up Your Comfort Food Favorites

10/28/2014 08:00PM ● By Ryan Frisch
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With the cool weather season right around the corner, many look forward to a time of joyful hibernation. Prepare the fireplace, wrap yourself in that old sweater, fuzzy slippers and flannel blanket, and get to cooking those yummy staples that bring comfort from the cold.

Packed with nostalgia and mouthwatering flavors that bring you back to mom’s home cooking, comfort food offers warm feelings on even the most bitter cold days. However, those time-honored recipes are usually packed with calorie- and fat-laden ingredients that can undo any healthy eating intentions.

When you want to warm up with beloved recipes, look for tools to help you, such as the NuVal-Nutritional Scoring System. Many grocery retailers now provide these scores on the shelf tag to help shoppers find more nutritious food choices. On a scale of 1 to 100, foods and beverages are scored based on their nutritional content, with the most nutritious choices scoring highest.

By focusing on the NuVal scores of the ingredients they use in dishes, consumers can amp up the nutrition of their favorite comfort foods. Marisa Paolillo, nutritionist with NuVal, suggests these simple swaps to add flavor and nutrition to common comfort dishes.

Baked stuffed potato (a white baking potato has a score of 99):

  • Add color and nutrition by topping potatoes with cooked vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, red bell peppers, shredded carrots, mushrooms or onions (scores of 100).
  • Make it a protein-rich satisfying meal by adding 95 percent lean ground beef (score of 57), or 93 percent lean ground turkey (score of 72).
  • Sprinkle potatoes with calcium-rich dairy by adding 2 ounces of reduced-fat cheese.
  • Swap sour cream toppings with fat-free Greek yogurt (score of 100) or low-fat cottage cheese with garlic or onion flakes.

Macaroni and cheese:

  • Choose whole wheat pasta to boost fiber and protein.
  • Reduce calories by using reduced-fat cheese.
  • Add chopped vegetables like broccoli, spinach and mushrooms for flavor and fiber (score of 100).
  • Boost protein by adding 95 percent lean ground turkey (score of 72).
  • Right before baking, fold in fat-free Greek yogurt (score of 100) to the cheese, macaroni and vegetable mixture. This gives the dish an extra creamy texture and a boost of protein and calcium.


  • Use 95 percent lean ground beef (score of 57) or 93 percent lean ground turkey (score of 72).
  • Replace some of the meat with cooked grains such as quinoa (score of 95) or bulgur (score of 94).
  • Add texture and moisture to meatloaf by adding vegetables like mushrooms, onions and green peppers (score of 100).
  • Rather than ketchup, top meatloaf with tomato paste (score of 84).
  • Make your own bread crumbs by drying out slices of whole grain bread.

According to Paolillo, many traditional comfort food recipes call for similar ingredients. “Look at the recipe,” she recommends. “The most immediate way to add nutrition is to incorporate the basics – vegetables, whole grains, reduced-fat dairy and lean sources of protein.”

Find more recipes and ideas to help you enjoy your favorite comfort foods at

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Sponsored by NuVal-Nutritional Scoring System