Yummy – Yet Healthy – Winter Comfort Food!


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Have you started the new year vowing to lose 10 pounds or feed your family less junk and more real food? If you've made these resolutions hoping you and your kids can slim down in 2013, you're not alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds (65.7 percent) of all adults and almost one-third (30 percent) of children in North Carolina are overweight or obese. Research shows that obesity runs in families. Genetics plays a part in obesity, but lifestyle habits such as what we do together and what we eat matters greatly.

It's easy to visualize ourselves slimmer and more fit when summer rolls around. But that means we have to start watching what we eat now, and who wants to think about eating healthier when winter comfort foods are clamoring for our gastronomic hearts and souls?

Focus on nourishment

Familiar smells and textures of favorite comfort foods transport many parents back to childhood and your grandmother's kitchen. True comfort food tastes good, nourishes the body and preserves health. The classic dishes that warm our hearts - macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, soup and grilled cheese - were prepared by loving hands with real ingredients devoid of artificial colors, dyes, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or other additives that adults can't even pronounce.

Healthy eating and wholesome comfort food can coexist in the modern kitchen. So put down the diet books, turn away from the infomercials and start cooking.

Try different time-saving techniques

It's easy to rely on processed convenience foods when trying to save time in the kitchen; however the real time-saving strategy is to select recipes with simple ingredients that require minimal preparation. Start by choosing a few simple recipes that appeal to your family's taste and use "one-ingredient ingredients." For example, look for recipes that use natural, unprocessed ingredients like cauliflower, garlic, onions, kale, red peppers, whole wheat bread and flours, leeks, and a variety of spices and herbs.

Healthy cooking methods such as sautéing, broiling, baking and stewing are essential to save time in the kitchen and maximize the nutrients retained in the food we eat.

Healthy cooking and eating at home is a great way to enjoy the comfort foods we love and keep our families happy and healthy. Following these quick recipes and healthy cooking tips will have your family fit for summer fun by spring!

Consider these tips to enjoy the comforts of real food:

Cook and eat more meals at home.Familiarize yourself with simple cooking methods and quick recipes featuring a single real food ingredient like kale, cauliflower or quinoa.Learn how real food benefits health - then teach your kids.Choose whole grains over refined.Plan, shop and cook meals at home at least twice a week.Ask your kids and spouse to help you plan and prepare home-cooked meals. Then eat together as a family.Stock a real-food pantry. Give products with artificial colors, dyes, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners the boot!Get healthy fats from real foods like nuts, avocados, fish and olive oil.Avoid foods prepared outside the home, which tend to be high in fat, salt, sugar and calories.Eat more vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of lean meat.Avoid highly processed, refined foods. Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible.When possible, use fresh herbs instead of dried for richer flavor (1 tbsp. fresh herbs = 1 tsp. dried herbs)

BAKED QUINOA MAC & CHEESE
Not your ordinary macaroni and cheese - but just as delicious! A modern twist on an old family classic.

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium leek, chopped
1/3 cup red pepper, diced
1/3 cup yellow pepper, diced
1/3 cup tomato, diced
1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 ½ teaspoon seasoning salt
2 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups vegetable broth (or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, unbleached
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups 1 percent milk (or milk of choice)
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (8 ounces)
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350?F.
Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add leek, red and yellow peppers. Sauté 5 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the leeks are translucent. Add tomatoes and sauté an additional 2 minutes.
Add quinoa, seasoning salt (I like Lawhorn's Signature Seasoning) and garlic. Cook, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add water and broth. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat 20 minutes or until most liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.
Spread the quinoa mixture evenly in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish coated with olive oil.
Pour hot cheese sauce evenly over quinoa mixture. Mix well. Sprinkle with Panko whole wheat breadcrumbs.
Preheat oven to. Bake, uncovered, for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until center is set and top is golden.

To make cheese sauce:
Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, dry mustard and pepper. Stir to mix.
Add milk. Boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes or until mixture becomes thick and bubbly.
Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted.

QUICK MEATLOAF
Sautéed mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic and whole-wheat breadcrumbs add layers of flavor and nutrients to this American comfort-food staple. Leftovers, if there are any, make a delicious hearty sandwich the next day.

Ingredients:
1 pound extra lean ground beef sirloin or chuck
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
8 ounces portabella mushrooms, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely shredded
1 large celery stalk, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan & Romano cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs, finely ground (see note)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat olive oil in heavy-bottom skillet over medium-low heat.
Sauté onions, mushrooms, carrots and celery in olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the vegetables to cool.
Place the ground sirloin into a large mixing bowl. Add cheese, egg, salt and pepper.  Use clean hands (or a fork) to mix the liquid and seasonings into the meat. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to mix.
Add the cooled vegetables. Continue using your hands to gently work the ingredients into the meat until well combined.
Transfer the meatloaf mixture into a lightly greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Use your hands to shape the meat into a loaf.
Place meatloaf in a preheated oven and bake on 350°F, uncovered, for 1 hour until cooked through and a thermometer inserted into center registers 160°F.
Remove the pan from the oven. Drain any excess fat and allow meatloaf to rest 10 minutes before serving.

To make homemade breadcrumbs: Put two slices of whole-wheat bread (the ends work great) in a blender or food processor. Pulse into coarse crumbs. Spread the crumbs onto a baking sheet. Bake at 300°F for about 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Tonya Peele is an inspiring foodie and the author of Quick Wins for Healthy Eating: Easy Changes You and Your Family Can Make Now. By eating in more than she eats out, she has lost 30 pounds, reclaimed her health and discovered new ways to connect her family with real food.  For more of Tonya's quick recipes with real food, visit her blog, The Quick Dish, at thequickdish.com.

Find more healhty winter comfort food recipes here.

 Sign up for our Healthy Families enewsletter, too!

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