When Comfort & Resolve Collide
by tiffany ricci
Out the window, a frost-covered branch catches the setting sun’s weak rays. Wisps of snow leave their drift as the wind carries them from one side of the road to the other. A thermometer is unnecessary; you can see how cold it is outside.
It’s the kind of winter day that begs for a bowl of warmth for dinner. A meal that can fill the home with nostalgic aroma, the belly with happiness, and warm the body from the inside out. This day needs comfort food. Ooey, gooey, packed-with-memories comfort.
“Comfort food” is not a particular dish but rather the memories associated with the food. It’s the feeling you get when you take a bite of Grandma’s meatloaf or sink your teeth into a melty grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food is more an experience that brings joy and warmth to body and soul.
But it’s also January. The month of resolve. The month where we stop our monthslong overindulgence that started at Halloween and stumbled right through till December 31st. It is the month where we “get back on track” by joining challenges and cleanses and the latest diet.
It seems that the season perfect for comfort food is in opposition with the month of fresh starts.
What do we do when comfort and resolve collide?
The solution is not at odds as one might think.
Let’s look at this through the eyes of a registered dietitian who loves comfort foods yet understands the desire to pursue healthier nutrition and exercise patterns after the joyous holiday season, now in our rearview mirror.
First, while January is the month we resolve ourselves into our best versions - we want to make realistic changes that last into February and beyond. Practical changes include adding health to our current routines. Unrealistic changes include upending everything we currently do by replacing it with unsustainable patterns that are too draconian to last and force us to adopt too many new habits simultaneously.
For some of us, January can be a good reset to go back to patterns we had before the Halloween candy trickled in and then roared into all the edible Christmas traditions that littered the December calendar. January allows us to limit our dessert choices to one meal a day instead of every meal. We can stop living off leftovers and incorporate veggies into our lunches and dinners.
January is perhaps the most challenging month in Montana to sustain these healthy habits. We start to notice the dark and cold. The festive lights fizzle out, the decorations get stored, and all we’re left with is bitter wind, fast-approaching nights, and a deep desire (maybe even a need) for comfort food to provide a little hug to get us through till spring.
Let’s not dismiss comfort food or swear it off to save face for our habit trackers. Here are three ways to mend the vast divide between often calorically dense comfort food and our resolve to get back to healthy.
Add some nutrition to your comfort food dish. Is there a way to tweak the dish to improve the overall nutritional profile? See if any of these suggestions will work:
- Use less cheese or lighter cream cheese.
- Replace white rice with brown and use whole-grain pasta instead of white wheat pasta.
- Add pureed pumpkin or squash to cheesy dishes.
- Incorporate pulsed mushrooms and green peas with meat for meatloaf and meatball dishes.
- Double up the veggie content in soups and stews.
If you might be banished from the family for trying to “healthify” a beloved favorite, try adding nutrition to the side. Start with a smaller portion of the not-to-be-messed-with dish and add a healthy dose of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
- Roast root vegetables such as beets, turnips, and parsnips to add color and flavor.
- Thinly slice raw Brussels sprouts to use as the base of a salad.
- Sauté broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil and seasonings.
- Use whole-grain bread or crackers to serve with soups and stews.
- Thaw frozen berries and mix them with yogurt as a side.
Invite a new comfort food to your rotation. Combine warm, soul-filling comfort food along with a “January-appropriate” dish. This can be done with options such as a veggie-packed stew or hot dish, a dreamy curry with brown rice, or a creamy tomato soup like the one featured in this issue.
Since we’re focused on a feeling of comfort rather than a specific dish, it is possible to incorporate nutrition into those signature foods so you can fully enjoy the associated memories and honor your resolution. Cheers to nourishing comfort foods!