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Comfort Food

Everybody has them -- and they're very personal. Elvis favored the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Oprah relies on sweet potatoes. Comfort foods. Foods that provide more than physical sustenance -- they're also like a warm fuzzy blanket for your soul. Yours might be mashed potatoes. Someone else might choose bacon and eggs. Or macaroni and cheese. One person's favorite may not even register with another.

A study by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab shows that men and women differ in their preferred comfort food. "Males tended to prefer meal-related comfort foods, things like steak, hamburgers, pasta, casseroles and soup," says researcher Brian Wansink. Women, on the other hand, tend to reach for snack-related foods, such as potato chips, cookies and candy. Wansink attributes this to women's association of meal-type foods with preparation and cleanup, which they consider taking care of others, not themselves.

Unfortunately many comfort foods aren't very nutritious, so even though you are easing your stress, you're burdening your body with calories and fat. We all know what happened to Elvis!

This doesn't have to be the case, however. We've done makeovers on some favorite recipes to make them healthier, without losing the flavors that bring us that familiar, cozy comfort. Eliminating comfort foods for a healthier diet can be stressful. Diet experts agree that simple modifications help, such as substituting ground turkey for ground beef -- or using whole or low-fat milk instead of cream.

Meat loaf seems to bring back happy memories for many people: childhood dinners, grandma's house, and simpler times. Try this healthy, easy version sliced and served with garlic mashed potatoes. Use leftovers to make sandwiches.

Comfort Chicken
Another common comfort food is chicken -- chicken soup, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken -- chicken seems to be a universal soother. Add mashed potatoes, and your blues may subside, at least for a night. Here's an easy, flavorful version.

Alfredo Mashed Potatoes
If your comfort food is mashed potatoes, be sure you try this creamy, delicious version.

Chicken Pot Pie
Who doesn't look forward to sitting down to a personal pot pie, knowing it's just for you, and savoring the buttery crust and rich flavor? For many of us, it doesn't get more comforting than chicken pot pie.

Grown-up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
A grilled cheese is a classic, easy-to-make comfort food for kids. Try treating yourself and the other "big kids" in your life to a fun meal featuring their old favorite with the extra pizzazz of spaghetti sauce and different cheeses.

Macaroni and Cheese
At the top of many people's comfort food lists is the venerable macaroni and cheese. This dish offers great opportunities for substitutions to reduce calories. This recipe offers flavor and substance in a "lite" version.

Chips and dip are often a guilty pleasure in front of a TV ballgame or movie, whether you're alone or in a group. It's tempting to reach for chips instead of veggies, but you might be surprised how flavorful healthy fresh-cut veggies can be -- baby carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, green onions, cucumbers, sliced red and green peppers, green beans, pea pods. Help ensure the dips you serve with them are lower in fat and calories by preparing them with low-fat mayonnaise, low-fat sour cream, or plain yogurt.

Picante Cream Dip
Here's a favorite dip that takes minimal effort and ingredients, but provides maximum flavor.

Apple pie is so universally comforting that many realtors recommend home sellers burn an apple pie scented candle in their home before an open house to entice potential buyers.

Apple Asiago Pie
Instead of a candle, warm your house and soul with the real thing. We've added cheese to really pile on the comfort in this classic favorite. This version is tasty enough to become a family tradition.

With a bit of experimentation, you can find foods that both comfort and nourish nutritionally, leaving you a little happier and a little healthier. And don't forget the real comfort of knowing that in spite of all that's swirling around you in today's world, you can find some contentment in the kitchen preparing healthful foods for yourself and your family.

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