Healthy Comfort Food Recipe Success
If your family is anything like ours, feeding the kids can be a chore. Especially when they refuse all of your efforts to make a healthy meal. I mean, even I have trouble with brussel sprouts sometimes. So, what’s a well-meaning parent to do? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve done the legwork on a few healthy comfort food dishes that are perfect for chilly winter/spring nights. These recipes are tried-and-true kid favorites that I guarantee your little minions will enjoy.
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
I adapted this dish from a Hello Fresh recipe that came in one of our boxes a few months ago. From the first bite, I knew it would be a huge hit. I’ve since made some changes to amp up the flavor and the health factor. I use a whole head of cauliflower (the biggest one I can find), I substitute almond milk for regular milk, and I add a few more cups of cheese. The entire family LOVES it, and it makes so much that you’ll have dinner for at least another day or two (bonus!). If you’re not familiar with bacon lardons, they’re just bacon slices cut into matchsticks. Here’s a quick link with the actual definition and instructions if you want to be super fancy and precise.
- 1 head of cauliflower
- Olive oil
- 1 whole box of cavatappi (or equally swirly pasta)
- Half a package of bacon, cut into lardons
- 1 small yellow onion, or 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups almond milk (or regular milk or lactose-free milk or whatever "milk" your family prefers)
- 1 tbsp chicken stock concentrate (or 1 tbsp crushed up bouillon, dissolved in about a tbsp of hot water)
- 3-4 cups of cheese
- 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut cauliflower into small florets and toss with a large drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread into a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until tender, 20-25 minutes, stirring/flipping them halfway.
- 2. Once water is boiling, add pasta to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 9-11 minutes. Drain.
- 3. Meanwhile, heat a large pan over medium-high heat (use an ovenproof pan if you have one). Add bacon and cook until browned and crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, keeping as much bacon grease in pan as possible, drain on paper towels.
- 4. Add chopped onion (or shallot) to same pan and cook until translucent. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, keeping as much bacon grease in the pan as possible, and add to bacon.
- 5. Melt butter into bacon grease over medium heat. Once melted, add flour and stir constantly until it loses its raw smell, 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour in milk, whisking to combine. Stir in chicken stock concentrate and let simmer until thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat, then stir in cheese. Season with pepper.
- 6. Stir bacon, onion, pasta, and cauliflower into sauce in pan. (If your pan is not ovenproof, transfer mixture to a lightly oiled baking dish at this point.) Scatter panko breadcrumbs on top and bake in oven until bubbly, 5-7 minutes.
- * Get creative with the cheese that you use! My favorite combo is 3 cups sharp cheddar and 1 cup asiago or parmesan, but if your family likes more of a mild flavor, try adding some mozzarella into the mix. Personally, I'd love to try it with blue cheese or goat cheese but my family isn't as adventurous as I am.
- * Other than the salt on the cauliflower before baking, don't add any extra to the dish. I find that with all the cheese, bacon, and chicken stock concentrate, this dish is plenty salty without adding more.
I’ve been making this sauce for at least eight years. I’ve tried all sorts of combinations of meat in it, including ground beef and sausage. However, my favorite is still straight up ground turkey. It’s a healthy way to eat your favorite pasta dishes, and if you don’t tell them it’s not beef, I promise they’ll have no idea they’re eating turkey. I regularly triple the recipe and use this sauce to make multiple lasagnas. I always freeze a few for us to enjoy later or to give away in food trains for mama friends with new babies. If you do make a lasagna and freeze it, you’ll need to take it out at least a day and a half before you plan to eat and let it defrost in the refrigerator fully before baking. Say hello to your favorite new healthy comfort food!
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 lb ground turkey
- Black pepper
- 1 large can crushed tomatoes (1 lb 12 oz size)
- 1 regular can diced tomatoes (about 15 oz)
- 1 regular can tomato sauce (about 15 oz)
- 1 tiny can tomato paste (6 oz size)
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 1 tbsp parsley
- 1 tbsp garlic powder/or a few fresh cloves, crushed
- Splash of balsamic vinegar
- Salt/pepper to taste
- 1. Add olive oil, chopped onion, and ground turkey to large stockpot, season with generous salt and pepper, and cook thoroughly on medium high heat, breaking up the meat into small chunks. The turkey will release water as it cooks, so be patient and cook until all the water has dissipated and the meat browns. Trust me, the flavor is worth the extra time it takes for browning.
- 2. Once the turkey has browned, add all of the tomatoes, oregano, parsley, and garlic. Bring to a boil. It's thick and the bubbles will pop tomato sauce all over the place so keep it covered and watch your arms! Taste at this point and add more seasoning as needed. You'll usually need more salt, but I like to taste it first before dumping a bunch in at the beginning.
- 3. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook covered (with the lid slightly off to release steam) for at least 30-45 minutes (even up to an hour), or until the tomatoes no longer taste raw.
- 4. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, stir thoroughly, and remove from heat.
- 5. Serve with your favorite pasta or use in homemade lasagna. It will keep in the fridge for about a week or portion and freeze for easy dinners when you're short on time.
Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon
This is a newer healthy comfort food recipe to me, but let me tell you – it’s delicious nonetheless. The first time we had it my two-year-old kept saying “Bacon! Bacon!” with each bite and ate every last piece. It has a bright lime finish that really balances the sweetness of the nuts and potatoes. The original recipe calls for walnuts, but I used pecans because I’m a sucker for a sweet potato/pecan combo. You’ll need a high-speed blender or a food processor for the dressing, and it took me some trial and error to figure out the best way to blend it. But it’s worth the perseverance. The leftover dressing is great on a salad or for dipping some carrot sticks into.
- 3 Medjool dates pitted and soaked in hot water to soften or you can use 2 tbsp honey instead
- 2-3 tbsp water (use the water you soaked the dates in for extra flavor)
- Fresh lime juice from half a lime, cut the other half into wedges to squeeze on when serving
- Finely grated lime zest from half a lime
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 tbsp olive or avocado oil
- 6 slices bacon, cut into lardons
- 2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes, totaling 4-5 cups
- 2 tbsp reserved bacon fat or olive oil
- Generous pinch salt
- Generous pinch black pepper
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 3/4 cup raw pecans (or walnuts) roughly chopped
- Finely chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish
- 1. If you want to use reserved bacon fat to roast the sweet potatoes and nuts, cook the bacon before anything else and set aside until ready to use.
- 2. Cook bacon until crisp, stirring to evenly brown, and remove from skillet with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels, set aside. Reserve 2 tbsp of the rendered fat to toss with sweet potatoes and pecans, if desired.
- 3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- 4. Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with 1-1/2 tbsp bacon fat, salt, pepper, onion powder, and smoked paprika. Spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- 5. Roast for 20 minutes, turn (or stir gently) then bake another 10-15 minutes or until soft and lightly browned.
- 6. Toss the pecans with 1/2 tbsp bacon fat and a small pinch of salt, then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes to roast with them for the last 5-7 minutes of roasting time. Potatoes should be nearly done when you add the nuts, so they don’t roast too long and burn.
- 7. While the potatoes roast, make the dressing. Using a high speed blender or food processor (either should work well), blend the dates, water, lime juice and zest, balsamic vinegar, garlic and salt until smooth.
- 8. With the blender on low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil in a narrow steady stream, blend until smooth and well combined.
- 9. Toss the roasted potatoes and nuts with the bacon. It’s best to add the vinaigrette just before serving. Slowly add the vinaigrette - you will have more than you need - so add this slowly and stop once you’re satisfied with the amount of dressing. Leftover dressing can be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to one week.
- 10. Garnish the salad with parsley or cilantro, a lime wedge and an extra splash of lime juice if desired. Serve warm or room temperature, and store leftovers covered tightly in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
What’s your favorite healthy comfort food? Share in the comments below!