8 Classic Comfort Foods with a Nutritious Twist

Burgers, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets: all foods we know and love. Comfort foods are tasty and easy-to-make meals that make us feel at home and, well, comfy! Unfortunately, comfort foods have a bad reputation of not being nutritious, making them more once-in-a-while rather than a usual meal. Guiding Stars has compiled a list of comfort foods that are just as yummy as the originals but are packed with plenty of nutrition, vitamins, minerals, and fiber; and fewer unhealthy fats, added salt, or sugar.

 1. Mushroom Beef Burgers

Mushroom Beef Burgers
Mushroom Beef Burgers – 1 Guiding Stars

For some, it doesn’t get more comfortable than a burger with a side of fries. These mushroom beef burgers are a more nutritious and sustainable option than standard burgers. Mixing chopped mushrooms into the beef makes a little bit of beef go further, so you can use less and reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, mushrooms provide essential vitamins and antioxidants. Serve them on whole-grain buns and top with veggies like lettuce, onion, and tomato for an additional boost of nutritional value!

 2. Slow-Cooker Lentil Chili

Slow Cooker Lentil Chili
Slow Cooker Lentil Chili – 2 Guiding Stars

When the weather gets cooler, we love a warm bowl of chili. And what is easier than set-it-and-forget-it slow cooker chili? This nutritious slow cooker lentil chili substitutes classic beef for beans and lentils—leaner proteins full of fiber, potassium, iron, and other essential nutrients. Plus, the squash adds a hint of sweetness that beautifully complements the spice of the chili powder. Top it with a few slices of avocado and get the added benefits of healthy fats.

 3. Classic Mac & Cheese

Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Classic Macaroni & Cheese – 2 Guiding Stars

Our next nutritious comfort food is a family-friendly mac and cheese that’s sure to make even your pickiest eater excited for dinner time. The low-fat cheese and nonfat milk provide plenty of calcium and 11 grams of protein per serving for a filling weeknight meal. Opt to use whole-grain pasta for even more nutrition and stir in some kale or spinach before baking! If your family doesn’t like their mac and cheese baked, go ahead and skip the baking step. Eat it right out of the pan—and get dinner on the table in under 20 minutes. 

4. Baked Chicken Meatballs

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Baked Chicken Meatballs – 3 Guiding Stars

If you love pasta and meatballs, you’ll enjoy these baked chicken meatballs. Ground chicken provides plenty of protein and is a leaner and more nutritious option than beef, and turkey bacon adds extra flavor and texture. Since these meatballs are baked, not pan-fried, there’s less saturated fat with the same amount of familiar flavor you love. For an additional boost of nutrition, we recommend enjoying these meatballs with a plate of whole-grain pasta or next to some steamed veggies.

 5. Oven-Fried Chicken Parmesan

Oven Fried Chicken Parmesan
Oven Fried Chicken Parmesan – 2 Guiding Stars

Chicken parmesan is a classic dish, a favorite comfort food, and a surprisingly easy recipe to adapt for nutritious eating. As its name suggests, this oven-fried chicken parmesan deploys the oven to cook the chicken for an easy way to get a crispy cutlet without the oil involved in deep frying. With a serving of grains in the form of whole-grain pasta, protein from the chicken breasts, and a delicate blend of herbs, this satisfying plate is as filling as it is yummy. 

6. Herbed Popcorn

Herbed Popcorn
Herbed Popcorn – 3 Guiding Stars

Skip the butter and salt for your next movie night and try this herbed popcorn instead. With an herb-infused oil drizzle that combines oregano, dill, thyme, and crushed red pepper flakes, you’ll get a burst of flavor with every bite—not to mention the added “cheesy” flavor from nutritional yeast! This recipe takes only twenty minutes, with the bulk of the time letting the herbs infuse into the oil, so you can whip up a wonderful, whole-grain snack that’s low in calories (and high in enjoyability)!

7. Sweet Harvest Chicken Soup

Sweet Harvest Chicken Soup
Sweet Harvest Chicken Soup – 1 Guiding Stars

Get the cozy taste of your grandmother’s cooking on the table in 30 minutes with this sweet harvest chicken soup. Shredded chicken and apple chicken sausage give this dish 32 grams of protein, making it just as filling as it is tasty! The array of veggies and sliced apples give each spoonful a variety of textures, flavors, and essential nutrients for a perfectly balanced bite. 

8. Herbed Chicken Nuggets

Herbed Chicken Nuggets
Herbed Chicken Nuggets – 3 Guiding Stars

Our herbed chicken nuggets are a more nutritious version of the childhood favorite. Cubes of chicken provide the protein, and a breading made from pulverized oats and wheat germ create a fiber-filled crispy crunch. A blend of herbs and spices makes these nuggets a delectable after-school snack or an easy weeknight meal. We recommend a yogurt-based dipping sauce like our Herbed Blue Cheese Dip as a well-balanced condiment that goes perfectly with chicken nuggets and a plate of fresh-cut veggies.