Healthful Comfort Food Recipes for Rough Times

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Recipes for Rough Times

The stock market roller coaster, the housing crisis, the dreaded “R” word — it’s stressful out there. Where can we turn? How about high-calorie and high-fat comfort foods? Well, while food can offer comfort during economic and emotional uncertainty, most experts recommend controlling your internal environment despite the fact that external factors remain unstable. During stressful times, it’s important to feel that you have some level of control over your life. Therefore, when your external environment is unbalanced, being able to look inward and feel good about your nutrition and health is critical. Knowing that, we thought it would be helpful to reach out to a few foodies and chefs to find several tasty, low-calorie recipes.

Squash-Tastic Shepherd’s Pie

Healthy by: Lisa Lillien, founder of Hungry Girl ( and author of Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World (St. Martin’s Griffin, April 29, 2008)

Makes 4 servings

3½ cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
½ cup chopped onions
1 pound raw extra-lean ground turkey
½ teaspoon minced garlic
Dash of garlic powder
Dash of onion powder
Dash of black pepper
¾ cup fat-free gravy
1½ cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 tablespoon light whipped butter or light buttery spread
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash in a large microwave-safe dish with ½ cup of water. Cover bowl and cook squash in the microwave for 12 to 14 minutes, until squash is soft. Meanwhile, in a medium pan over medium heat, cook onions until slightly browned (2 to 3 minutes).

Add the turkey, minced garlic, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper to the pan. Stir well. Cook until meat is browned.

Drain any excess liquid from the pan. Place meat/onion mixture in a casserole dish. Pour gravy evenly over the mixture. Spread the mixed veggies on top and then set dish aside.

Once squash is cooked, drain excess water and mash well. Add butter and salt to the squash and mix thoroughly. Layer the mashed squash on top of the veggie layer. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes (until crust looks slightly crispy).

Nutritional Information Per Serving (¼ pie): 232 calories, 2.5g fat, 552mg sodium, 25g carbs, 4g fiber, 5g sugars, 28g protein

Kickin’ Chicken Pot Pie

Healthy Recipe by: Lisa Lillien, author of Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World (St. Martin’s Griffin, April 29, 2008)

Makes 4 servings

8 ounces raw boneless skinless lean chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
3 cups frozen mixed vegetables
One (10.75-ounce) can Campbell’s 98% Fat Free Cream of Celery Soup
3 servings Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls refrigerated dough

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a pan spritzed with nonstick spray, cook chicken pieces for several minutes until light brown (cooked but still tender). Set aside.

Heat frozen veggies in the microwave according to package instructions.

Mix chicken, vegetables and soup together, and place in a 9-inch round baking dish sprayed with nonstick spray. Place dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until mixture is hot and bubbly, stirring halfway through.

While pie filling is cooking, unroll 3 crescent rolls. Use your hands to combine pieces into one large ball of dough. With a rolling pin, roll dough out (super-thin) into a circle just large enough to fit atop the dish (a little less than 9 inches in diameter).

Place dough on top of filling and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (¼ pie): 235 calories, 6g fat, 723mg sodium, 26g carbs, 3.5g fiber, 6g sugars, 18g protein

Brown Rice Meatloaf

Healthy Recipe by: Tosca Reno, author of Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook (Robert Kennedy Publishing, 2007) (

Makes 6 servings

1 pound lean ground turkey or chicken or bison
1 cup cooked brown rice (any variety will do)
1 egg
¾ cup plain, low-fat yogurt cheese
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped red, green or yellow bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari (tamari is excellent for anyone on a gluten-free diet)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1 teaspoon crumbled dried basil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients. Place in a loaf pan sprayed with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray. Bake for about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Nutritional InformationPer Serving (1 cup): 245 calories, 5g fat, 184mg sodium, 29g carbs, 1g fiber, 19g protein

Jam Dot Cookies

Healthy Recipe by: Executive Chef Dean Rucker of the Golden Door, Escondido, Calif. (
Makes 30 cookies

1 cup whole-wheat flour, sifted
1 cup blanched slivered almonds, ground into a course meal
1 cup oats, ground into a course meal
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Apricot jam or your favorite kind of fruit spread or jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable spray and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the sifted whole-wheat flour, ground almonds, ground oats and cinnamon.
In a separate bowl, combine the canola oil, maple syrup, orange juice and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. For each cookie, scoop 1 tablespoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a well in the center of the cookie and fill it with 1 teaspoon of fruit spread or jam. Repeat the process with the remaining batter and jam. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown.

Nutritional Information Per Serving
: (1 cookie) 100 calories, 4g fat, 1mg sodium, 14g carbs, 2g dietary fiber, 2g protein
Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Bulgur-Laced Meatballs

Healthy Recipe by: Judith Finlayson, author of The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook (Robert Rose, 2008)
Makes 8 servings



3/4 cup bulgur
3/4 cup skim milk
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup basil pesto
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Tomato Sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine or stock
2 (28-ounce) cans no-salt-added tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
1 (16-ounce) package whole-wheat, spelt or Kamut spaghetti
Finely chopped parsley, optional

Meatballs: In a large bowl, combine bulgur and milk, stirring until combined. Let stand until milk is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add ground beef, basil pesto, Parmesan, garlic, egg, lemon zest, salt, pepper to taste. Shape into meatballs about 1-inch in diameter. Roll in flour and shake off excess.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add meatballs in batches and cook, turning them, until evenly browned. Transfer to a plate. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet.

Tomato Sauce: Add onion, celery and carrot to pan in which meatballs were cooked, and cook, stirring, until carrot is softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add white wine and tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil. Return meatballs and any accumulated juices to pan. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until sauce thickens and meatballs are no longer pink inside, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti until tender to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain in a colander and transfer to a large deep platter or shallow serving bowl. Arrange sauce and meatballs on top. Sprinkle with parsley, if using.

Tips: Chicken, beef or vegetable stock works well in this recipe in place of the wine.
If you prefer a thicker tomato sauce, add 2 tablespoons (25 milliliters) of tomato paste along with the tomatoes.

Nutritional InformationPer Serving (2 ounces pasta, and one large meatball): 546 calories, 15.3 g fat, 716mg sodium, 75g carbs, 11.7g fiber, 28.5g protein

Excellent source of vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and selenium. Good source of vitamins C and E (alpha-tocopherol), folacin, pantothenic acid and calcium. Contains a very high amount of dietary fiber.
Quick Chicken Soup

Healthy Recipe by: Lara Rondinelli, R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E., the Diabetes Center Coordinator at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Jennifer Bucko, a Chicago area chef, both authors of The Healthy Carb Diabetes Cookbook (American Diabetes Association, 2008)

Makes 6 servings

2 teaspoons trans-fat-free margarine
1 cup carrots, diced small
1 cup onions, diced small
½ cup celery, diced small
3 (14.5-ounce) cans reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
¼ cup uncooked instant brown rice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 store-bought rotisserie cooked chicken (about 2½ pounds), skin removed and meat shredded

Heat margarine in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onions, celery, and sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown.

Add chicken broth, making sure to scrape up any brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add parsley, bay leaf and rice; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Add pepper and shredded chicken and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Cooking Tip: Store-bought rotisserie chickens are delicious and can be great time savers in the kitchen. They are usually found in the deli section of your supermarket.
Nutritional InformationPer Serving (1 cup):190 calories, 6g fat, 590mg sodium, 12g carbs, 2g fiber, 21g protein

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