To round out our comfort food series, we had a request from RDA fan, Erin Hanusa to address the most awesome comfort food ever –
Oh cheese, how would we ever make you healthier? Cheese, in and of itself, isn’t too bad for you. It’s that we tend not to eat cheese in moderation. We tend to load it up on our pasta dishes, our nachos, our veggies, and so on.
If cheese weren’t so tasty, and we only needed a little nibble now and then, all would be good in the world. However, cheese is probably the most tasty thing in the world and almost always tastes like more. So, what do we do?
We’ve got a few options. Minimize the delicious cheese in our dishes, or make the other ingredients a bit healthier. In this post, we’ll aim to do both.
So, in a conventional grilled cheese sandwich, you’re looking at 300-400 calories. Not bad, right? True, but if you’re making a sandwich with two slices of white bread, processed cheese and margarine topped with tons of ketchup (like I used to), you’re looking at 400 calories and nearly no nutritional value.
Some easy ways to improve upon that are to use whole grain bread, natural cheese (and less of it because the flavour will be stronger), and add some veggies into your sandwich (sliced tomato is awesome for grilled cheese). For your frying, pass on the margarine and use olive oil instead. Instead of ketchup, which contains added sugar, dip your sandwich in some tomato soup.
Want to make your grilled cheese even more veggie-fied? Why not pass on the bread altogether! Use a cauliflower crust (added bonus – even more cheese) and enjoy a low-carb version of the tastiest sandwich ever.
Cauliflower Grilled Cheese (2 sandwiches)
Ingredients: 1 small cauliflower broken into small chunks, 1 egg, 1/2 C mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper, 1 tbsp. butter, 1/2 C grated sharp cheddar cheese, EVOO
Instructions: Preheat your oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, grease with EVOO. Rice your cauliflower florets in a food processor until they are evenly chopped but not mushy. Transfer to a microwaveable dish and microwave for 8ish minutes (until cooked). Place the cooked cauliflower in a tea towel or cheesecloth and twist to remove liquid. You want the cauliflower to be dry for the dough to work. Transfer the cauliflower rice to a mixing bowl, and add egg, mozzarella, salt and pepper – mix well. Spread the mixture onto the lined baking sheet and form it into 4 bread-sized squares. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden. Let the crusts cool for 10 minutes before trying to take them off the sheet. Heat a pan on medium heat, and butter one side of each cauliflower crust. Put the crust butter-side-down in the pan, add cheese and the other buttered slice (butter-side-up). Turn the heat down a bit, and grill until golden-brown, flip, and grill the other side until it browns and the cheese is nice and melty.
Grilled cheese is great but cheese’s natural mate, as we all know, is macaroni. Mac and cheese doesn’t need to come out of a box, and it doesn’t need to have processed ingredients. Homemade mac and cheese gives you SO many healthy and tasty options. Let’s get into some!
Again, you can health-up your mac and cheese by minimizing the amount of filler ingredients (the ones that load you up on calories, bad fats or empty carbs) or by maximizing the good ingredients.
Some simple tips:
- Use natural, stronger cheeses. You’ll get much better flavour with a lot less cheese. Alternately, you can try crumbled tofu or vegan cheeses for some less dairy-heavy options.
- Add veggies. Onions, peas, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, kale (ugh), asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower – so many veggies will add flair to your dish.
- Switch out your noodles. Want fewer carbs and more protein? Switch your pasta for quinoa (cook according to package, then mix in your cheese sauce and veggies. Want even more veggies? Swap some or all your noodles for cauliflower or spaghetti squash.
Okay, our first recipe exchanges the traditional cheese sauce for protein-packed Greek Yogurt, and the results are pretty darn tasty!
Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese (serves 6)
Ingredients: 12 oz pasta, 1/2 C Greek Yogurt (unflavoured), 1/2 C sharp cheddar cheese (or mozzarella for extra creaminess), black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, 2 C fresh spinach
Instructions: Cook the pasta according to the package. Place the spinach in a strainer with a pot underneath it. When the pasta is cooked al dente, strain it over the spinach leaves which will wilt the spinach. Save about half of the water that strains out. Return the noodles and spinach to the pot. Add some of the pasta water and the cheese to the pot and stir to melt the cheese. Mix in the Greek yogurt and spices as well. Use additional pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary. Serve immediately.
And our second mac and cheese recipe crams in so many veggies you won’t even know what to do:
Creamy, Veggie Mac and Cheese (serves 6)
Ingredients: 12 oz pasta, 1 C cubed butternut squash, 1 C cauliflower florets, 2 peeled and sliced carrots, 3/4 C water, 1/2 C sharp cheddar cheese, 4 oz cream cheese, 1/4 C milk, black pepper
Instructions: Cook the pasta according to the package. While the pasta cooks, steam your squash, cauliflower, and carrots on a stovetop or in the microwave until soft (about 5-7 minutes). Put the softened veggies in a blender, food processor (or use an immersion blender), and mix it with the water, cheese, and cream cheese. Season with black pepper (and any spices you want – sometimes nutmeg is nice), then combine with the pasta and serve. If you want not-hidden veggies, you can steam those too, but not blend them, and add them during the last step when you’re mixing it all together. You can also top with a little more sharp cheddar and bake until the cheese melts if you want. Enjoy your sneaky veggies!
That’s about it for this cheesy post. Remember, great cheeses are best enjoyed in moderation.
That does it for comfort foods for now – make sure to let us know how you make your favourite foods even better for you!