bowlful of elbow salad
Photo by Hermes Rivera

Guilt-Free Winter Comfort Foods

It’s cold outside. It’s snowing. You are so ready to sit under your Ugg throw and snug with a book or a binge watch. 

Maybe you already got your workout in, and it’s time to relax. But what you nosh on during that sesh can totally erase whatever calories you burned during spinning. 

But that does not mean you have to miss out on what you love to eat when the weather is so chilly. I have found a way to enjoy my favorite comfort foods without guilt, and I am sharing a list of the usual suspects with you, and my recommended substitution.

fork with spaghetti
Photo by Mae Mu

# 1 Pasta

Sometimes you just want a big old bowl of pasta – fettuccine or spaghetti with marinara.Or maybe you want to indulge in some lo mein or soba noodles. There is something about a warm bowl of noodles as a comfort food that is so – well, comforting. But the fact is that this can be calorically costly.

Just one cup of cooked pasta contains about 200 calories. Multiply that by two or three, depending on the portion size served, then add a creamy sauce and cheese on top and there’s the rub. The simple carbs in pasta  quickly translate to sugar in our bodies, and can increase blood sugar levels quickly.

Substitute: Shirataki noodles for pasta

Barmalini@ Adobe Stock

Shirataki noodles are an amazing discovery I made when roaming the aisles in an Asian grocery store. They have these in many more places now, but you may gloss over them because they actually are in the refrigerated section.

So what are these?  Noodles with just a few calories per serving may sound too good to be true, but a big pouch of these noodles is only about 20 calories, which is about the same as 3 cups of plain arugula. . But a serving of shirataki noodles contains about the same number of calories as a cup of broth or a handful of arugula. Shirataki noodles are made from konjac root, which is native to eastern Asia.

Recently, I was craving carbonara, so I made my own with shirataki noodles, Primal marinara sauce (which is a version that has less sugar), an egg, and some goat cheese and greens: 

It was HEAVEN. You can toss the noodles in a half tablespoon of butter to get that extra rich taste and mix it with a little heavy whipping cream to get some fettuccine. The other great advantage is that they come already cooked, so you don’t even have to boil any water! 

If you want some more shirataki noodle recipes, check out these on delish blog. 

Petrrgoskov@ Adobe Stock

#2 Mac and Cheese

Basically every healthy macaroni and cheese recipe I have seen uses cauliflower instead. And there is nothing wrong with that, but it is just not the same.

I recently discovered “Goodles” noodles, which are macaroni-style noodles made with chickpea protein and a healthier version of cheddar or parm cheese. If you want a good recipe with NO cauliflower (like 90 percent of the recipes out there, but it really isn’t comparable) check out this simple one from Big Man’s World.

My fave dessert drink for only about 130 calories!

#3 Hot cocoa

No matter how old I get, a cup of hot cocoa with whipped cream brings back New York at Christmastime. My husband and I always go to Bryant Park and get one of the hot chocolates they have, which is essentially Lindt melted but SO good.

So how do you have this as more of a regular treat. Well don’t look at Starbucks. A grande hot chocolate with whipped cream is 370 calories, 14g of fat, and 43 carbs. That’s almost a whole meal’s worth of calories. Shaving off the whip won’t save that many more, and there are no marshmallows even. 

Substitute: No sugar added cocoa with stevia/monk fruit sweetener, low/no sugar whip, and mini marshmallows. Total calories: 160

I like to get Ghirardhelli’s unsweetened baking cocoa because it is a bit less bitter than traditional cacao powder, but if you prefer that, go for it. For the sweetener, I either use Swerve (which is great for baking) or Lankato monk fruit sweetener. Both stevia and monk fruit are sweeteners that do not have a significant impact on blood sugar

If you want to make this less than 100 calories, knock off the ½ cup of mini marshmallows, but I just can’t compromise on those for my cocoa! This makes a great dessert to sip on after dinner or a mid-afternoon pick me up when you don’t want to caffeine of coffee. 

Photo by American Heritage Chocolate

#3 Chili 

Cheesy, meaty, beanie chili can be soooo good in the winter after being out all day in the cold.Classic homemade chili made with ground beef and beans provides about 264 calories per 1-cup serving, according to the USDA. Canned chili can have as many as 360 calories per cup. But by default, the grown beef and cheese add a lot of unnecessary calories and fat. Chili you get out in a restaurant can have even more after added oils and condiments. 

Easy substitute: Substitute lean ground turkey or lose the meat entirely and put in more beans. This will cut the calories by more than half. Also, add in some hot sauce to elevate the thermic effect of food. You can “bulk” up the chili by adding very low-calorie vegetables like zucchini and squash, which easily absorb the other flavors without disrupting the taste. And instead of corn starch to thicken up the chili, use Xanatham gum. Instead of sour cream, try Labneh, which has the same thickness and consistency but also more probiotics and less calories. 

Low calorie chili recipes can be found here: 20 Healthy Chili Recipes for weight loss

cooked food on white ceramic plate
Photo by Courtney Cook

#4 Nachos/soft tacos/burritos

If you are watching the game or feeling in a Mexican mood, nachos, tacos and burritos sound so awesome. They are all warm and floury and cheesy. But the calories can get stuffed down quickly. Here are the typical calorie counts for each type of food:

  • Nachos – 346 to 554 calories per serving.
  • Bean burrito – 447 calories 
  • Beef soft taco – 257 calories 

An easy way you can make these snacks/meals full of fiber and low in carbs is to use low-carb or cauliflower-based tortillas A few of my favorrite brands are Mission’s carb balance, Tumaro’s and Caulipower cauliflower-based wraps. Each of the tortillas clock in at 60-70 calories, so you can easily have two. You can use them as a burrito by folding them in half and “tucking in” the end like an envelope or just fold it in half for a taco.

Mission carb wraps look just like burritos!

For fillings, I like to stick to black beans, shredded lettuce, hot sauce and cheese. This makes a whole taco or burrito only about 150 calories! For cheese, I use vegan shredded cheddar or pepper jack – not because I am vegan but because melted it essentially tastes the same as the real cheese version but with half the calories and fat. When I eat a taco I want it oozing with cheese, and the serving size of plain cheddar at 1 oz is so small that you barely can taste it. 

For nachos, I rip apart the tortillas into small pieces and then stick them on a baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes, and voila, nachos. I melt the cheese on top for the last 2 or 3 minutes, and have a thick/chunky salsa. 

You can always use these tortillas to make turkey and cheese wraps, mini-pizzas or nut butter wraps that you can take on the go. I have at least 1-2 of these when I go to the office and eat them when I get hungry.. Saves a ton of money and space on getting lunch and gets me adequate protein, fat, and carbs (it is less carbs but still some carbs). 

baked cake

#5 Pancakes, Brownies and chocolate chip cookies 

I grouped these items because they have a lot in common – they are all warm, buttery sweet and the perfect cure for a winter’s day. But all the sugar, butter, oil and just general heaviness makes you feel so blah. For five minutes of happiness it’s not fair to pay the price in 5 pounds that could take five months or more to get off. 

So what are you going to do when you have that craving? Well luckily there are plenty of options for low-calorie, low-carb brownie and cookie mixes. Some of the available brands are:




Lankato has a wide range of sugar free baked goods.

Now, these are all generally some of the most popular brands that in my personal opinion, are very good. But if you expect it to be IDENTICAL to the real thing – that’s just not realistic. It is never going to be exactly the same in a blind taste test. But it does give me the satisfactio of being able to have this type of food on a regular basis without having to restrict. 

This also does not mean abandoning the 80/20 rule and never having good old fashioned pancakes or cookies. It just means I am super picky about where I have my “20” – like having my pancakes at a brunch place known for them or a fresh baked cookie, or brownie from a high-end bakery. In the meantime, these are great options. 

In order to make the baking easier, I use a muffin pan and just put the mix in each hole after spraying with coconut oil spray. Then I scoop it out and put it in a tupperware container. This can make a cookie more like a muffin, etc. but it is the same idea of the taste. For the pancakes, I use a large frying pan on high heat and flip over after a few minutes, or a large stovetop griddle pan that lets me make a bunch of these at a time so that I can store them for later.

Some ideas to make these baked goods more savory and closer to the real thing are adding the following to the mix – eggs, butter, coconut oil, monk fruit sweetener, or extra cacao powder. You can even add a little Xanthan gum to make the goods thicker and more gooey. This is a healthier and lower-carb version of cornstarch. 

Other comfort food receipes from around the web

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