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Fork with macaroni and cheese from bowl

Dietitians Dish: Comfort Foods

Comfort foods are like a big ol’ hug. They can whisk us away to our childhood, soothe the wounds of a bad day, and add a few inches to our waistline if we crave them too often.

We wanted to know if our OhioHealth dietitians answer the call of comfort foods the same way we do and, if not, how they indulge without straying too far from a healthy diet. Here’s what they had to say.

What is your go-to comfort food?

Bowl of chili next to a pan of cornbread

“During the summer, it’s a bowl of ice cream, particularly Jeni’s. During the colder months, I reach for a bowl of chili and cornbread. But my favorite chili recipe is loaded with vegetables and beans, so it’s not too bad to start with.” – Susie Schneider, RD


Wooden block with pieces of pizza on it

“Pizza! But at my house we are very picky about our pizza. We make it from scratch, dough and everything, and experiment with different toppings. Some are healthier than others.” – Emily Monfiletto, RD, LD, CCMS


Bowl of tomato soup with slices of grilled cheese sandwich next to it

“Tomato soup and grilled cheese. I enjoy it as-is, or if I’m craving it a lot, I’ll tweak what I use to make it healthier but still get the satisfaction.” – Jenalee Richner, RD, LDN


Bowl of guacamole next to a bowl of tortilla chips

“I have several: tortilla chips with melted cheese, guacamole and fresh salsa; trail mix with raw nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, dark chocolate chips and maybe golden raisins; key-lime-pie-flavored Greek yogurt with dark chocolate chips; air-popped popcorn with butter; or a Kind, Lärabar or Clif bar if I’m in a hurry. I try to keep healthier options available so I’m not tempted by less nutritious options.” – Marlys Slone, MS, RDN, LD


Closeup of pieces of different types of chocolate

“Chocolate.” – Ashya Walden, RD


Fork with macaroni and cheese from bowl

“I love macaroni and cheese!” – Brittany Smith, DRD


What is your advice for someone trying to eat healthy?

  • “It’s ok to treat yourself, or make a variation of it. It’s surprising how many variations you can find online for healthy comfort foods. Experiment with them, but when you do want the real thing, just enjoy it and savor it slowly.” – Susie Schneider, RD
  • “Eating healthy is not a perfect science. It’s all about balance. You have to find the balance that works for your individual health goals. Depending on what your favorites are, you may be able to alter some of the ingredients to make them a little better, or you may not. In those instances, just make sure to watch your portion size and how often you eat the food.” – Emily Monfiletto, RD, LD, CCMS
  • “Warm, broth-based soups or toasted sandwiches loaded with vegetables and lean protein can be very satisfying. Look at your favorite recipes and identify the less healthy ingredients and see whether you can substitute them with low-fat, high-fiber options.” – Jenalee Richner, RD, LDN
  • “Comfort foods are appropriate to have. Just focus on the same principles of healthy eating during the rest of the week. If you struggle with only wanting comfort foods, explore that desire so you understand how to manage it. Which of your senses – taste, texture, temperature, sound and sight – cause you to crave that food or use it to satisfy an emotional state? Seek out options that have a hearty texture, such as nuts, meat and cheese, Greek yogurts, beans or lentils. These foods will fill you up longer. And make sure you’re portioning your plate” – Marlys Slone, MS, RDN, LD
  • “If I’m going to eat something that brings me comfort, I just eat it. I’m wise enough to eat the right portion, but I don’t make changes to the recipes. It’s just not the same. You’ve heard this a million times: Everything in moderation. Just make sure you keep your plate balanced with colorful foods and watch the portion size of your comfort item.” – Ashya Walden, RD
  • “I usually just go for it because we all deserve a treat every now and again. You can eat smaller portions, and eat them slowly so you enjoy them longer. But, if I’m craving my comfort food and want to make it healthier, I’ll use low-fat cheese, whole-wheat noodles and low-fat milk. I’ve even tried a recipe that called for butternut squash to make the cheese sauce!” – Brittany Smith, DRD