Joy Bauer’s 5 Easy Swaps to Healthify Comfort Foods (Plus 2 Recipes!)

Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, is the health and nutrition expert for NBC’s TODAY show, the founder of Nourish Snacks, and the author of the new book From Junk Food to Joy Food, in which she lays out the secrets to transforming everyone’s favorite comfort foods into healthier versions. Here, she shares with Yahoo Health five smart swaps to health-ify your favorite comfort foods, as well as two recipes from her new book.

You’ll cut calories and saturated fat but still maintain the same delicious flavor of these hearty dishes.

The reduced-fat versions melt beautifully and deliver the same creamy, velvety texture.

Creamy Greek yogurt is flavor-neutral, loaded with protein (which can help rev metabolism and keep a lid on appetite), and low in calories. Trust me, you’ll never miss the sour cream!

You’ll use far less in your cooking and save 120 calories for every tablespoon you trim. 

Replacing regular table salt with coarse kosher salt in recipes that call for a certain amount allows you to get the same flavor for a bit less sodium. A teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 milligrams sodium, while the same amount of coarse kosher salt has about 1,120 milligrams thanks to the large crystals. (Just make sure you read the labels as amounts can vary.) Keep in mind that this trick works only when you’re swapping the same volume of table salt for coarse kosher salt — it doesn’t work when you are salting to taste.

(All photos courtesy of ‘From Junk Food to Joy Food,’ Hay House, Inc.)

This chili lets you enjoy the rich, spicy flavors of Buffalo wings without the calorific overload. Rather than chicken wings, with their high ratio of skin to meat, I’ve turned this favorite into a slimming flavorful stew your gang will love! You also have the option of making this dish in a slow cooker — simply toss all of the ingredients into a slow cooker (cutting tomato/vegetable juice by about ¾ cup), mix everything up, and cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 4 hours). 

1,270 calories365 calories

This recipe makes 4 servings (serving size: 2¼ cups, without toppings)

  • 6 carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons
  • 6 stalks celery, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds ground chicken (99% lean)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable or tomato juice
  • ¼ cup hot sauce (see note below)
  • Plain nonfat Greek yogurt or light sour cream (optional)
  • Chopped scallions (optional)
  • Bleu cheese dip (optional; recipe below) 

Liberally coat a large pot or Dutch oven with nonstick oil spray, and warm over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes; add water, a tablespoon at a time, as necessary to prevent scorching.

Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the ground chicken, reapplying nonstick oil spray if necessary. Sauté, stirring continuously and breaking the chicken into small pieces, for 5 minutes or until cooked through. As the chicken cooks, continue scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any large bits

Sprinkle in the chili powder and flour, and stir quickly to distribute them evenly. Immediately add the vegetable juice and hot sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

Ladle the chili into serving bowls and serve with desired toppings.

To prepare, simply add all ingredients to slow cooker, stir, and cook on low for eight hours (or high for four hours). If you like a thicker chili, reduce the tomato/vegetable juice by about ¾ cup. That’s because the slow cooker generates more liquid than the skillet. Prepare the whipped blue cheese topping (below) prior to serving, if desired.

Note: The amount of hot sauce you use will depend on the brand you select, as well as your (and your family’s) own personal tolerance for spicy foods. I advise adding ¼ cup hot sauce to start with, then tasting the chili and adding more if you find it too mild.

In a small bowl, mash together ¼ cup bleu cheese crumbles (at room temperature) and ¼ cup light or nonfat sour cream or nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Stir in ¼ teaspoon each garlic and onion powder and mix until combined. Add a dollop to each bowl of chili before serving.

Ever order a classic banana split — three scoops of ice cream drizzled with a medley of sauces and topped with whipped cream and a cherry — with the intention of splitting it (pun intended) with a friend … only to devour the whole thing by yourself? It can cost you more than 1,000 calories. No joke! And that’s for a small-sized version. Instead, make this totally satisfying spin (single serving to cut temptation) for just 180 calories.

1,000 calories180 calories

This recipe makes 8 servings

  • 4 large bananas, ripe but firm
  • 8 wooden popsicle sticks
  • ¼ cup granola cereal OR finely chopped salted peanuts
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Whipped cream and cherries for garnish (optional)

Peel, then cut each banana in half horizontally and insert the wooden stick into each half. Place in zip-top bag or cover in plastic wrap and place in freezer until frozen, about 3 hours. 

Spread out granola (or peanuts) on a flat surface, such as a shallow dish, cutting board, or baking sheet.

Melt the chocolate chips using a double boiler or by placing them in a glass bowl and microwaving for 30 seconds, stirring, and continuing this same routine for 15-second increments until chocolate is velvety smooth. Pour the melted chocolate into a tall glass and carefully dip each of the frozen bananas into the glass, twirling to coat at least the top half. Then immediately roll in the granola or chopped peanuts.

Serve or place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and stash in the freezer for future treats. 

For a fun serving presentation, I like to lay the pops on an individual banana split tray and top each with a squirt of whipped cream and cherry. 


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