10 Healthier Recipes for Comfort Foods You Love

Mormon funeral potatoes combine potatoes, cheese and a crunchy topping. (Photo: Fanfo/Shutterstock)

When NPR recently published a story about Mormon funeral potatoes, it got me thinking about comfort foods. The writer described how this memorably-named dish came to be. It's a casserole that's served at funeral luncheons but also at other times casseroles are called for like holidays, potlucks and Sunday dinner — whenever there's going to be a crowd.

This casserole falls squarely in the category of comfort food that can temporarily make you feel better, whether it's during difficult times or even a celebration. New baby? Bring that family a casserole. New neighbors? Bring them a pie. Celebrating retirement? Bring out the trays of baked ziti.

These dishes are usually not the healthiest, but there are ways to cut some of the fat and calories while adding some more nutritious ingredients. These five recipes are for traditional comfort foods, but they've all been tweaked to be a little more nutritious.

Ziti to feed a crowd. (Photo: Annie/flickr)

Baked ziti: Easier to assemble and less expensive to make than a lasagna, this pasta casserole achieves the same purpose. It comforts with pasta, cheese and sauce (with optional meat) while feeding a crowd. This simple recipe uses whole wheat ziti and organic ingredients. It also has suggestions for adding veggies like spinach, broccoli rabe, mushrooms or peas.

mormon funeral potatoes, casserole
At funerals or celebrations, Mormon Funeral Pototoes are a favorite to dig into. (Photo: fanfo/Shutterstock)

Funeral potatoes: The Mormons followed all the comfort food rules when they created this dish. Potatoes, cheese, butter, creamy soups and a crunchy topping of cornflakes or potato chips are the common ingredients. This particular recipe gives suggestions for substituting some of the ingredients like using a homemade canned cream soup substitute or lower fat cheeses and sour cream. The healthier options add a little time to the preparation.

Meatballs in a big pot
Meatless meatballs can by very convincing in both their appearance and their taste. (Photo: Robyn Mackenzie/Shutterstock)

Meatless meatballs: A large pot of meatballs is a comforting way to feed a crowd. Include some long, sliced rolls and provolone cheese, and they can be made into sandwiches. This particular meatball recipe uses finely chopped mushrooms instead of beef, combined with traditional meatball ingredients. You'll want to inform everyone there are mushrooms in these, though, in case anyone has a mushroom allergy.

Lentil and Orzo Pasta Salad
Give guests a pasta salad that's full of nutrition, not bottled Italian dressing. (Photo: Enrique Gili)

Lentil and orzo pasta salad: Cold pasta salad is another common dish to serve a crowd, but often it's simply cooked pasta drowned in bottled Italian dressing. This pasta salad is nutritious and filling, with powerhouse lentils, delicate orzo, thinly sliced veggies, feta and a homemade dressing. The recipe makes eight servings, but it can be doubled or tripled easily.

apple pie
Apple pie covers all occasions, including funerals, potlucks, new babies and new neighbors. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

Apple pie: Less sugar and homemade crust (instead of store-bought with preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients) is what makes this pie recipe a little healthier. Choosing the right apples is also key, so no one will notice a little less added sugar.

mashed pototoes
Just looking at a bowl of mashed potatoes is comforting. (Photo: Nadya Nadal/Shutterstock)

Garlic mashed potatoes: How do you make creamy garlic mashed potatoes without as much fat or as many calories? Skinny Taste starts with Yukon Gold potatoes (which Hell's Kitchen's Chef Barbie Marshall says should be the base of all mashed potatoes) and then uses a combination of light sour cream, fat-free broth and skim milk to create creaminess. All the comfort with a little less guilt.

grilled cheese, wheat bread
Use less cheese, but make it top quality, to help lighten up a grilled cheese sandwich. (Photo: Simona Flagigmi/Shutterstock)

Grilled cheese: A grilled cheese sandwich is comforting, quick and easy to make, but usually high in calories and fat while low on nutrition. Food Network offers some tips on lightening up this classic comfort sandwich without sacrificing flavor. The key is in quality ingredients. The idea is to choose whole grain bread that's less than 110 calories a slice and add just 100 calories worth of quality cheese. Round out the sandwich by adding veggies — roasted red pepper, spinach, tomatoes, arugula or perhaps some fruit like tart green apples with cheddar or pear with blue cheese.

French fries
An Air Fryer allows you to make crispy, comforting French fries at home with just a fraction of the oil a deep fryer uses. (Photo: Krysanov maxim/Shutterstock)

French fries: Making French fries in the oven used to be the best way to lighten them up, but with the advent of the air fryer kitchen appliance, there's now a way to use a small amount of oil and get them crisp like they'd been submerged in a deep fryer. A Pinch of Healthy uses three russet potatoes and just a tablespoon and a half of oil plus seasoning to create crispy fries.

zucchini manicotti
Instead of pasta, the cheese in this manicotti is wrapped inside zucchini. (Photo: Fanfo/Shutterstock)

Zucchini manicotti: Instead of stuffing vegetables inside manicotti with the cheese, this recipe uses vegetables — strips of zucchini, in fact — as the manicotti. No pasta means fewer carbs and fewer calories.

artichoke spinach dip
Instead of full-fat mayonnaise and cream cheese, use pureed beans to create the creaminess in a comforting dip. (Photo: NECHAPHAT/Shutterstock)

Hot artichoke spinach dip: Neufchatel cream cheese and pureed cannellini beans replace the full-fat cheeses usually baked into this comforting appetizer, and low-fat mozzarella tops off the tasty dip. Serve with baked chips and raw vegetables for dipping instead of fried chips.