How to find comfort without the calories

In winter, we crave stodgy, fatty and sugary foods. But it needn’t be bad for us.

By Ruth Joseph, February 4, 2010
Rice pudding is the ultimate comfort food — but it can be made without unhealthy amounts of fat and sugar

Rice pudding is the ultimate comfort food — but it can be made without unhealthy amounts of fat and sugar

It’s that time of year when it is freezing outside and we crave comfort food. But most feel-good nosh seems to be fried, loaded with rich, creamy sauces or saturated with sugar. It is a proven fact that as the temperature drops we try to add extra sustenance to keep ourselves warm.

So how can one enjoy luscious food without adding on the pounds? There are simple tips that can help us to stay on course.

Many of them are just basic rules. Firstly, avoid the frying pan. Anything fried will add extra calories, or if you are frying, for example, chopped onions to start a soup, cut the quantities of oil in the recipe. One teaspoon will work the same as two tablespoons, just take care not to burn your mixture — an easy way to ensure this is to lower the heat and cover the pan. And try to use olive oil which will improve your overall health.

Again, useful methods include cutting out other high fats such as cream and full-fat milk and full-fat cheeses. Try substituting skimmed, low-fat, and use yoghurt whenever possible. Then cut the sugar in dishes — many do not need sugar or very little to make food taste delicious.

If you are eating meat or chicken, discard the skin and fat. Cook it and give to the birds. And remember, herbs and spices are calorie-free, so indulge and enjoy.

Here are some ideas for wonderful low-calorie foods that should comfort without laying on the pounds.

Soups are perfect comfort foods. They fill, are a wonderful beginning to a meal and scientists have proved that soup stays in the stomach longer, increasing that full feeling.

Look to lean fish and vegetables for fitness and low-cal help. Salmon and non-endangered white fish are wonderful cooked in foil or baking parchment — en papillote — with plenty of herbs and a dash of white wine if possible.

Packs of ready-prepared vegetables are a boon to the busy cook. Try simmering a butternut and sweet potato mixture in a little stock — Asda do a good combination. Then mash, add plenty of freshly milled salt and pepper and try adding a little grated ginger, some ground cumin or Moroccan spice — easy, delicious and a little unusual. Make tasty chips by par-boiling potatoes, then cut in wedges, season, cover with low-fat spray — a little barbecue spice can be a delicious addition.

And then there are the magical grains that will fill you for longer. Organic wholegrain brown rice, barley, or even quinoa can be cooked in the microwave with water until very tender but still sustaining. Try short-grain brown rice cooked for an hour until soft. Then add a little skimmed milk, grated lemon and a handful of raisins for a healthy, very low-cal rice pudding that still tastes good.

Remember, bought desserts are laden with sugar. Make your own. Baked apples with the wonderful Bramleys available at the moment are truly satisfying. Stuff the cores with low-sugar jam and maybe a little orange flower essence, or use mixed spice and low-sugar marmalade.

Or for a moreish, low-calorie cheesecake type dessert, open a tin of peach halves, drain and save the juice to stew other fruit. Process a 250g of tub cottage cheese with the tiniest spot of vanilla and almond essence, some grated lemon zest and maybe a teaspoon of sugar or honey until smooth. Stuff the peach centres and grill until the tops are golden — serve hot or cold.

Last updated: 12:46pm, February 4 2010