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The Yummiest Comfort Food Recipes (That Aren’t That Bad For You)

Wintertime and the holidays lead to cravings for our favorite comfort foods. There are certain foods we turn to naturally during the cold months to soothe our stomachs and warm our bellies, and there are also foods that we associate with our own personal holiday traditions. Eaters be cautioned: often those hearty foods we love to chow down on are packed with calories, fat, and sugar, creating a formula for winter weight gain.

Here are some healthy recipes for a few of your most beloved holiday comfort foods that you can make yourself over winter break without packing on extra pounds!

Glazed Ham

Ham makes a great holiday main course because it’s a lean meat and naturally rich in vitamins. What usually makes this delicacy a disaster is the sugary glaze and salt that the meat is often cured with – both add unnecessarily high amounts of sugar and sodium to what could have been a healthier plate. You can keep ham on your holiday menu by adding less sugar to glazes already sweetened by jams or fruit preserves.

Good Housekeeping offers this great recipe for Glazed Ham with Apricots! They recommend you ask for shank meat (one of the leanest cuts of meat you can get), and the recipe itself provides a low-sodium, low fat version of the traditional holiday ham.

Glazed Ham with Apricots


  • 1 (7-pound) fully cooked bone-in smoked half ham
  • 1 package(s) (6-ounce) dried apricot halves
  • 2 tablespoon(s) whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup(s) orange marmalade or apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoon(s) country-style Dijon mustard with seeds


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. With knife, remove skin and trim all but 1/8 inch fat from ham. Secure apricots with cloves to fat side of ham in rows, leaving some space between apricots. Place ham, fat side up, on rack in large roasting pan (17″ by 11 1/2″); add 1 cup water. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake 2 hours.
  2. After ham has baked 1 hour and 45 minutes, prepare glaze: In 1-quart saucepan, heat marmalade and mustard to boiling on medium-high. Remove foil from ham and carefully brush with some glaze. Continue to bake ham 30 to 40 minutes longer or until meat thermometer reaches 135 degrees F, brushing with glaze every 15 minutes. Internal temperature of ham will rise 5 to 10 degrees F upon standing. (Some apricots may fall off into pan as you glaze.)
  3. Transfer ham to cutting board; cover and let stand 20 minutes for easier slicing. Slice ham and serve with apricots from pan.

Mashed Potatoes

It’s the side dish that makes a regular appearance at most holiday feasts and sometimes graces tables all year round. Taking one bite of smooth, buttery mashed potatoes is nostalgic for many, but those silky spuds can really dent your diet with fat from butter and cream. Cut the calories by using low-fat or fat-free milk in your mashed potato recipe, and you can always add different flavors using veggies or spices to give each bite an extra kick.

I was never a huge mashed potato lover, but my mom’s most recent recipe for mashed potatoes with roasted garlic totally converted me! She uses warm, low-fat milk to increase the creaminess of the potatoes. Take it from me – once you try this recipe for mashed potatoes, you’ll never have to use cream or butter again!

Maria’s Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic


  • 2 pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup low fat milk (warm)
  • Freshly ground pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wrap a head of garlic in foil and roast in oven for 40 minutes.
  3. Cut the top of head of garlic and squeeze out garlic.
  4. Put potatoes in large pot and add enough cold water just to cover the potatoes. Season with salt and bring to a simmer: cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  5. Drain the potatoes. Peel off the skins and transfer the potatoes back to the pot. 
  6. Add roasted garlic and warm milk to potatoes and mash with potato masher or fork.
  7. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

This appetizer wins the award for most misleading recipe. Many would think that a dip made of spinach and artichokes would be healthy, but this dish is often loaded with mayonnaise, sour cream, and cheese, packing on tons of extra fat and calories. Some restaurant recipes for spinach & artichoke dip can run calorie counts higher than most entrees, negating any nutritional power those veggies could have provided.

One of HC’s editorial interns, Nikki Fig, found a way to lighten up this traditional dip with a little help from her aunt Mikki. “My version is fat-free! I started making it after devouring it at my aunt’s house a few years ago,” she explained. “I also serve it with mushrooms and other veggies, in addition to crackers, so people can skip the carbs from the crackers if they want to. I love indulging over the holidays and I always feel satisfied when I eat this dip, even though it’s only a fourth of the calories!”

Nikki & Mikki’s Spinich & Artichoke Dip


  • 2-4 cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup fat-free mayonnaise
  • 1 cup fat-free parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
  • garlic powder to taste
  • 1 or 2 10 oz. pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a casserole sprayed with Pam (or other cooking spray).
  2. Bake at 425 degrees for almost an hour so it gets really crispy on top. (The time may vary depending on the oven).


This creamy holiday drink gives new meaning to the phrase “liquid calories.” Made with tons of sugar, whipping cream, rum, and eggs, one glass of eggnog can be over 300 calories and have almost a day’s worth of sugar! Lighten up your ‘nog by replacing heavy cream with low-fat or fat-free milk, and use egg whites to lessen the cholesterol. You can also opt for spiced cider over eggnog for your holiday drink.

If you absolutely cannot go without this rich treat, make this recipe from Sizzlin’ Chef for Healthy Egg Nog, which achieves the same thick, creamy texture by simmering milk with sugar and using fewer egg yolks.

Healthy Egg Nog


  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 5 1/2 cup(s) low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup(s) sugar
  • 2 tablespoon(s) cornstarch
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoon(s) vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) (plus additional for sprinkling) ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup(s) dark Jamaican rum (optional)


  1. In bowl, with whisk, beat eggs and egg whites until blended; set aside. In heavy 4-quart saucepan, with heat-safe spatula, mix 4 cups milk with sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook on medium-high until mixture boils and thickens slightly, stirring constantly.
  2. Boil 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat.
  3. Gradually whisk 1/2 cup simmering milk mixture into eggs; pour egg mixture back into milk in saucepan, whisking constantly, to make custard.
  4. Pour custard into large bowl; stir in vanilla, nutmeg, rum, if using, and remaining 1 1/2 cups milk. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours or up to 2 days. Sprinkle eggnog with nutmeg to serve. Makes about 6 1/2 cups.

Sugar Cookies

They seem simple enough, but these holiday cookies could be the reason Santa packs on a pound or two each year! With the excessive amount of butter, eggs, and sugar used in most recipes, sugar cookies sneak in hundreds of calories in their bite-sized forms. Try using egg whites instead of full eggs and less butter when possible to cut those unnecessary calories.

Health.com has a great recipe for Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies that uses only a half a stick of butter, a fraction of the sugar, and adds fiber from whole-wheat flour!

Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies


  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Icing
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


  1. For cookies, whisk together first 4 ingredients (through baking soda) in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat butter and sugars together in a separate medium bowl until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, and add the egg white and vanilla and almond extracts; beat until just combined.
  3. Add flour mixture, and stir until incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 4 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 325°.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Dust a work surface with flour. Turn out chilled dough directly onto work surface. Roll dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes in dough, and gently transfer them to baking sheets. (You can reroll the scraps, just be sure to chill in between.)
  6. Bake cookies for 12 minutes or until set but not browned. Remove cookies from oven, and cool for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. For the icing, whisk together all the icing ingredients in a large bowl until completely smooth. Mixture should have consistency of a glaze. (If it’s too thin, add a bit more sugar. If it’s too thick, add a few more drops of lemon juice.)
  8. Transfer icing to a pastry bag (or a zip-top plastic bag with a small hole in one of the bottom corners). First, outline the cookie or desired design, then fill it in. Let icing harden before serving. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Happy holidays, and bon appétit!

Valentina Palladino is a student of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, dual majoring in Magazine Journalism and English. While at school, Valentina is the Assistant Features Editor for What the Health, Syracuse University’s health and wellness magazine. This summer, she was busy as an online editorial intern for Fitsmi, an community which seeks to connect and aid teen girls struggling with weight issues, and as an editorial mentor for Teen Voices magazine. Valentina also works at Victoria's Secret as a sales associate. She feels lucky to have been able to travel extensively already in her life, and wants to study abroad as much as she can. In her free time, Valentina enjoys cooking, practicing yoga, drawing, and being with her family and friends... among many other things!
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