How to Prepare Comfort Foods Without All the Fat
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Cold weather usually draws us to comfort foods that are hearty and rich. However, those rich ingredients aren’t necessarily healthy for seniors who are living with diabetes or heart disease and need to adhere to a low-fat diet. Good, warm, nutritious comfort food can be prepared in a healthy way by substituting or reducing the use of high fat ingredients with ones that are more nutritious. Here are some suggestions on how to do that with several specific winter dishes. These tips can also be used in many types of cooking year-round to reduce fat content while maintaining flavor.

Chili: A cold winter night by the fire is made complete with a bowl of chili. However, the beef, sausage, and cheese can quickly add up to more than 500 calories per bowl. Fat from meat products is not healthy for those with heart disease. Use lean meat instead of sausage and fatty cuts of meat. Use several types of beans and lots of spices. Before serving, sprinkle the chili with low-fat cheese or nonfat sour cream.

Winter beverages: This is the season filled with warm, sugary peppermint drinks, eggnog, apple cider, and hot chocolate. When coffee shops roll out their most tantalizing flavors, it’s important to order your favorite coffee drinks in a way that greatly reduces the sugar content, such as ordering the “skinny” version with nonfat whipped cream. If you are making hot chocolate at home, use sugar-free cocoa mix and top it with sugar-free or low-fat whipped cream. Low-fat versions of eggnog are available, and some stores carry it made with low-fat almond milk instead of whole milk. If you are at a party and want to drink beer or wine, select the light versions if they are available and limit yourself to only one or two half glasses.

Macaroni and cheese: Many families have a favorite family recipe for mac and cheese. Most are usually high in fat from milk, cheese, and other fatty ingredients like sausage. Replace whole milk with nonfat milk, use reduced fat cheese, and try to make the recipe without sausage. Changing the fat content of the dairy ingredients likely won’t affect the taste and will reduce fat content for those whose health depends on a low-fat diet.

Mashed potatoes and gravy: For some people, this is the holy grail of comfort foods. They believe that the more whole milk, heavy cream, sour cream, and butter used in the dish, the better. When they top the potatoes with full ladles of high-fat gravy, nirvana is achieved. Everyone can still enjoy this comfort food when it is made with low-fat dairy products and reduced-fat butter. Compromises may have to be made in the gravy, such as eating it in smaller portions rather than eliminating it altogether. However, you will have made important progress toward a heart-healthy dish by reducing the fat content of the mashed potatoes.

Traditions are difficult to change, and some seniors may balk at changing the ingredients in age-old favorite recipes. However, talking to them about the importance of reducing fat for heart health may convince them to try a new version.

Smoky Turkey, Black Bean, and Dark Chocolate Chili

This healthy and flavorful chili recipe was created with an easy weekday lunch or dinner in mind. A combination of savory spices plus a touch of dark chocolate gives it an amazing depth of flavor.

Celebrate diabetes awareness month with a mug or bowl of flavorful chili that is packed with fiber-rich beans, tomatoes, and onion, colorful sweet potatoes, and iron-rich chicken. Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates thus creating a slow release of this macronutrient. Sweet potatoes are a terrific source of fibrous carbohydrates and have a significant amount of beta carotene, which is good for the health of your skin and eyes.

Do not be intimidated by the amount of ingredients as this chili is very simple to put together. The recipe includes an Instant Pot, stovetop, and slow cooker options.

Top this tasty chili with green onions, Greek yogurt, avocado, and/or a slice of lime.

Difficulty: Easy

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 1.5-2 hours

Yield: 10 Servings


● 1 diced medium yellow onion (about 2 cups)

● 2 cloves minced garlic (about 2 tsp)

● 1 tbsp olive oil

● 1 pound ground turkey

● 3 tbsp chili powder

● 1 tbsp cumin

● 1 tsp coriander

● ¼ tsp cinnamon

● 1 tsp dried oregano

● 1 tbsp chipotle chili puree (or ½-1 tsp chipotle powder)

● 1 tbsp dark cocoa powder (unsweetened)

● 1 tsp black pepper

● 1 tsp sea salt

● 1 each 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (not drained)

● 2 each 15 ounce cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)

● 1 bag of frozen cubed sweet potatoes (10 ounces) or 1 large sweet potato (diced)

● 1-2 tsp sea salt or to taste

● 2 tsp maple syrup

Enjoy this chili with chopped cilantro, sliced green onion, shredded cheese, lime wedges, and/or plain Greek yogurt.


Instant Pot: Combine all of the ingredients and cook on high pressure for 14 minutes.

Stovetop to oven or Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

1. For the stovetop to oven option, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large, ovenproof pot fitted with a lid, sauté the onions in olive oil until soft (about 5-10 minutes). For a richer flavor; caramelize them by cooking an additional 10 minutes and stirring every minute so that the onions brown but do not burn.

3. Add garlic and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.

4. Add the chicken and brown. Deglaze with water if onions and garlic start to get too brown.

5. Add the remaining ingredients and bring up to just below boil.

6. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for two hours OR place in a 350 degree oven with the cover on the pot and cook for 1.5 hours in the 350 degree oven OR transfer the mixture to the crock pot and cook for 2 hours over high heat.

If you need support in cooking for your senior, the caregivers at Home Care Assistance can help. They are trained in the culinary arts and good nutrition for seniors. Our exclusive Balanced Care Method™ training is a research-based approach to aging that focuses on nutrition and other positive lifestyle factors including physical activity and social engagement. These have been proven to maximize health and wellness for older adults, and our caregivers will practice this approach to care with your loved one.

About the Author(s)

Leslie Myers is a culinary professional with over thirty years of experience including healthy eating and cooking specialist, culinary instructor, restaurant owner and operator, caterer, operations manager, pastry chef, raw foods chef and culinary instructor. She is the owner of Foodsense, Now, a Solana Beach-based company which focuses on healthy eating for athletes. She is also the Professional Chef for Home Care Assistance, where she creates delicious recipes that promote brain health and healthy longevity and are appropriate for the changing dietary needs of seniors.

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