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Winter is a season that, particularly in colder climates, often calls for special comfort foods: hot, delicious dishes that make us feel cozy, nostalgic, and content. However, for seniors as for other groups, it's essential to balance what’s tasty and filling with what has nutritious value. The good news? There is such a thing as healthy comfort food, and there are ways to make your favorite dishes more beneficial to your health. Here's how.

Identify Comfort Foods With Key Nutrients

Contrary to popular belief, fall and winter comfort food doesn’t have to be packed with fat, salt, or sugar to satisfy your cravings. Foods like oatmeal, baked sweet potatoes, stews, soups, and even dark chocolate can be both appealing and healthy. Oatmeal, for example, is rich in fiber and can help lower cholesterol levels. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A and C, and dark chocolate contains antioxidants that are good for the heart. A bowl of soup with plenty of vegetables can offer abundant vitamins and minerals as well.

Other Strategies for Embracing Comfort Foods Responsibly

One of the best ways to eat comfort food responsibly is to make it yourself — and for certain dishes, to strategically add, subtract, or substitute some ingredients. Baking and steaming foods can often be healthier than frying or sautéing them. Portion control is also key for mitigating the unhealthy nature of some dishes. Here are some healthy approaches to making beloved cold-weather dishes:

  • For cheese-heavy dishes: Cheese can be a great source of calcium, protein, and vitamins, but it’s also high in fat. For foods like lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and pizza, consider adding less cheese than the recipe calls for, or substituting lower-fat varieties. You can also add or increase vegetable content for greater benefits.
  • For potatoes: Potatoes do contain fiber, potassium, and other key vitamins, but are often prepared in unhealthy ways. Healthier tweaks include baked options with minimal salt or added fat (such as bacon, cheese, or sour cream). Consider topping mashed potatoes with herbs and spices like dill and pepper rather than fatty gravy, or swapping them out entirely for baked and mashed butternut squash.
  • For pastas, noodles, and breads: Refined, processed carbs like pastas and breads have some nutritious value, but should be eaten in moderation. If you can’t do without them, try whole-grain varieties or “zoodles” (“noodles” made from zucchini and other vegetables). Alternatively, give chickpea pasta a try.
  • For meats: Meats are a great source of protein, but can also be high in fat and salt. It’s best to consume red meat in moderation and opt for white meats (poultry), lean meats, seafood, or meat substitutes, like beans, mushrooms, or tofu.

Easy-to-Prepare Options

For seniors who have difficulty preparing foods (or just don’t enjoy cooking), there are still plenty of easy healthy comfort food options. Pre-cut fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables can be a quick and healthy addition to meals. Slow cookers can also be a lifesaver; just toss in your ingredients in the morning, and by evening, you'll have a warm, nutritious meal ready. Alternatively, seek out help with meals from a local senior or community services organization.

Enjoy Winter in Comfort With Spectrum Community Services

At Spectrum, we work hard to support nutrition and good mental health in our senior clients, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Meals on Wheels program delivers nutritious meals to seniors with limited mobility. Seniors can also enjoy in-person social opportunities through our Meet & Eat program or virtually through our Grab & Connect program. Sign up today to get in on the fun!

Spectrum Community Services is committed to improving the quality of life for low-income families, seniors, and individuals in Alameda County. Through financial assistance, outreach programs, and services, our goal is to support community members in building healthy, safe, and independent lives. Contact us to learn more about our services, or consider making a donation to support our work. We can't wait to work with you!