Healthy comfort food recipes can be hard to come by. I mean I totally get the desire to start new diets in the new year, what with fresh beginnings and all. But when it’s winter, I just want to cuddle up on the couch with a blanket and a big bowl of cheesy soup or cheesy pasta, or (also cheesy) mac & cheese. While I’m tempted to give in to my comfort food cravings every night, summer will be here before we know it and I’ll be cursing my winter indulgences.

So I’ve tracked down a few healthy comfort food recipes made with ingredients that don’t skimp on flavor, but do ease up on calories.

These lighter takes on the classics are going in my rotation starting now, so I can at least feel a little better about how I’m fueling my body, even while I enjoy every single bite.

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A Flavorful Mac & Cheese With a Healthy Twist

Yes, mac and cheese can be vegan! Decadent, even: Green Chili Mac and Cheese | Minimalist Baker

Vegan Green Chili Mac and Cheese | Minimalist Baker

Mac & cheese is a favorite in my house, but you’ve got to be careful with all those carbs and cheese in the basic sauce. We were excited to find this recipe for Vegan Green Chili Mac and Cheese at Minimalist Baker last winter when we rounded up the best, most decadent mac and cheese recipes. The creaminess comes from cashews (yes, cashews – a tried and true vegan trick, so we buy them in bulk!), and you get tons of flavor from the Mexican spices and chilis. Perfect way to put that Lodge cast iron skillet to good work.

A Chicken Parm That’s Baked, Not Fried

Skinny comfort food recipes: Baked Chicken Parmesan | SkinnyTaste
Baked Chicken Parmesan | Skinny Taste.

Growing up in New Jersey, our editor Stacie knows her way around Italian-American classics,  A.K.A. foods draped in melted mozzarella. These classic comfort food dishes can be way over the top, and not always in a good way. Years ago, she introduced us to this Baked Chicken Parmesan at Skinny Taste. which is one delicious, healthy comfort food recipe. It has every element that makes a great parm dish, all in perfect measure. If you’re craving pasta with protein, consider it a healthier alternative to a meat lasagna.

And of course, you can always swap out the spaghetti for homemade zoodles, or zucchini noodles. They take minutes if you have an electric spiralizer like this one. (You’ll use it all the time!)

A Lighter Vegetable Pot Pie

Skinny comfort food recipes: Lighter Veggie Pot Pie | Swanky Recipes
Lighter Vegetable Pot Pie | Swanky Recipes.

For many, comfort food doesn’t get better than a rich and creamy shepherd’s pie or a rich casserole. But they can be heavy, even in the dead of winter, which is why I turn to recipes like this one for Lighter Vegetable Pot Pie at Swanky Recipes. With just 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of milk (feel free to swap in reduced-fat milk), this veggie-packed pie (asparagus! peas!) makes for a healthy comfort food recipe you’ll turn to over and over.

Related: Skinny comfort food recipes that gently ease you into healthier eating.

A Skinny Fettucini Alfredo (Really!)

Skinny comfort food recipes: Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo | Gimme Some Oven

Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo | Gimme Some Oven

This skinny Fettuccini Alfredo recipe from Gimme Some Oven is a favorite with all the families on our team! And yes, one of the world’s most renowned, high-calorie comfort food gets a whole lot healthier thanks to olive oil, chicken broth, and low-fat milk in place of heavy cream. It’s still creamy and delicious, as Alfredo should be. Add some grilled chicken breast and extra veggies — broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, or even some steamed spinach on the side — and you have a pretty perfect meal.

Homemade Baked French Fries

This omemade baked freezer fries recipe makes comfort foods healthier: Jane Maynard for Cool Mom Eats
Homemade Freezer French Fries | Jane Maynard for Cool Mom Eats

A lot of us turn toward our favorite fast food kids’ meal recipes when we need a little extra comfort. But one cannot live on chicken nuggets alone! Skip the greasy fries and tots; it’s so easy to whip up a batch of your own homemade baked freezer french fries using these instructions from Jane Maynard. Season with salt, spices, garlic, paprika — whatever makes them satisfying. You can also dip them in a good dijon mustard like the Belgians do and skip the added sugar you find in ketchups.

Mini Meatloafs Instead of Meatballs

Healthy comfort foods: Lightened-up Mini Meatloaf at The Seasoned Mom

I grew up on my mom’s meatloaf once a week for dinner, and it’s still one of my favorites when the cold weather hits. That said, this lightened-up Mini Meatloaf recipe at The Seasoned Mom is a healthy comfort food recipe thanks to lean ground beef, and it also happens to be a snap to make! Just use a mini muffin pan and you have a high-protein, low-fat alternative to meatballs. All ready in about a half-hour. Just pick your favorite vegetables to serve on the side.

Related: 6 chili recipes that cook in 30 minutes or less.

Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes

Roast sweet potatoes in the slow cooker using this easy method, then whip up Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes from What's Gaby Cooking
Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes | What’s Gaby Cooking. 

If a big baked potato topped with sour cream calls your name this time of year, a few easy substitutions make it a healthier comfort food. Stacie has a terrific tutorial on how to make sweet potatoes in your slow cooker. From there, choose one of her favorite recipes. Like these Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes found at What’s Gaby Cooking. Top with beans instead of meat for some plant protein, use a non-fat or low-fat cheese, sprinkle with fresh diced tomatoes, and by now you know that non-fat Greek yogurt is the perfect sour cream substitute. Add some avocado for healthy fats and you’re satisfied for the entire night! (Psst. there’s also an outrageous Roasted Sweet Potato and Wild Rice Salad on our slow cooker post.)

A Healthy Korean Alternate to Chicken Noodle Soup

Healthy comfort food recipes: Kimchi soup with tuna via My Korean Kitchen
Kimchi Soup with Tuna | My Korean Kitchen

Spices can help impart flavor when you’re cutting back on fat, and there’s no better example than Asian cooking. On a recent trip to South Korea, my husband and I fell in love with Myeongdong Goyja’s spicy bowls of kalguksu noodle soup, which led us to My Korean Kitchen, and Sue’s wonderful Kalguksu recipe. That said, it’s not quite low in fat. Instead, check out her truly simple recipe for Kimchi Soup with Tuna. (We love kimchi!) It’s packed with protein, low-carb and low-fat, and her sauce is packed with umami flavor. P.S. Buy a big container of kimchi — you may find yourself eating it all the time, once you start.

A Healthy Slow Cooker Recipe

Budget slow cooker dinners under $10: Dal Makhani at My Food Story

Slow Cooker Dal Makhani | My Food Story

If your comfort food is a stick-to-your-ribs Indian dish, then this Slow Cooker Dal Makhani from Richa at My Food Story may be the healthy comfort food recipe you’ve been looking for. We first shared it as one of our favorite budget-friendly slow cooker dinners but it belongs here too because it’s so satisfying, affordable, and packed with protein from all those lentils and kidney beans. It does require some ingredients you may not have ready stocked, but you may find it worth the effort. Just try not to eat pounds of naan with it and you’re good!

A Perfect Roast Chicken

Healthier Roast Chicken: How to make without needing an actual recipe

There’s not much that’s easier to pull together for a cozy dinner than a crispy roasted chicken, especially if you follow our tips for how to roast a chicken perfectly. Stick with the white meat if you want to keep things a little healthier, and avoid rich or sugary sauces. Once you get it right — and it doesn’t take all that much, to be honest — you’ll be roasting at least one chicken per week, which is also great for leftovers. And, if you’re into reducing waste and saving money at the market, you can make your own homemade chicken stock too. That’s healthy comfort food for a week!  (photo: Anshu A via Unsplash)

Top image: Jessica Kantak Bailey via Unsplash