Healthy versions of comfort foods taste as delicious as the real deal

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Have you ever thought that you could enjoy your favorite family-friendly comfort foods without the cost and calories associated with them? Lighter, healthier versions can taste as delicious as the real deals.
No one will guess that these home-cooked, delicious classics are lightened versions of your favorites. Just as satisfying, and without all those bad nutrition stats, you’ll learn to love your favorite comfort recipes all over again. So why not start saving some money, and pounds, and make some of your favorites updated to a healthier version?

White Bean Chili with Turkey
Whether it’s beef, turkey, chicken, or vegetarian, homemade chili is always great for feeding the multitudes. This one-pot dish combines veggies, protein, and fiber for a filling and healthy meal option. Add as many ingredients as you want to suit your taste.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey, lean
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 Tbsps. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 can (28-oz.) whole tomatoes in juice, squeezed or chopped
1 can (19-oz.) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup low-fat shredded white cheese
In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high until hot. Add ground turkey and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until turkey loses its pink color throughout, about 10 minutes. Add chopped onion and cook another 3-4 minutes. Stir in chili powder and cumin; cook another minute.
Add tomatoes with their juice, beans, and 1/2 cup water; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle chili into serving bowls. Makes 8 servings.

Healthy, Low-Fat Meatloaf
The fat is reduced by using 93 percent lean ground beef. Fat-free milk will still keep the meatloaf tender. Another alternative is to use a meatloaf mix (lean ground beef, pork and veal). Either way, you won’t have to give up your favorite ketchup glaze.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 lbs. lean ground beef (or meatloaf mix)
1/2 cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs, whites only
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil, and then add celery and onions. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook another minute. Transfer veggies to a large bowl; allow to cool slightly.
In the same bowl, add ground beef, breadcrumbs, milk, Worcestershire sauce, egg whites, 1/4 cup ketchup, salt and pepper. Mix until well combined
In a separate cup, mix mustard and 1/4 cup ketchup.
In a 13-inch-by-9-inch casserole dish, shape mixture into a loaf (about 9-inch-by-5-inch). Spread ketchup mixture over top of the loaf.
Bake for 1-1/2 hours or until meat thermometer inserted in center reaches 160 degrees. Allow meatloaf to stand 10 minutes to set juices for easier slicing. Transfer meatloaf to a platter and cut into slices to serve.

Breaded Chicken Thighs
Instead of that crispy, fried chicken from a take-out, try this version using thighs for some extra flavor. Chicken thighs are less expensive than chicken breasts, and you still get that same crunch with breadcrumbs right from your pantry.
2 Tbsps. rice-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. hot-pepper sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a resealable food-storage bag; add vinegar and hot-pepper sauce; blend well. Add chicken. Seal bag and toss to coat chicken. Marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.
Mix breadcrumbs, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl. Drain chicken, and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly brush thighs with mustard, and then coat in breadcrumb mixture.
Spray a large ovenproof nonstick skillet with olive oil cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add chicken. Cook one side for four minutes. Flip thighs over and then place skillet in the oven. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and coating is crisp. Serve with parsley potatoes and coleslaw. Makes 4 servings.

Spinach Lasagna
Great for large families or freezer-friendly leftovers, this Italian favorite pairs perfectly with a side salad for a hearty dinner. By replacing the meat with spinach, you’ll save on calories and add some nutrition, too. The use of low-fat milk and cheese will also help to lower the calorie and fat count.
12 large lasagna noodles
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 bunches (1-1/2 lbs.) spinach, rinsed well
Olive oil
1 container (32-oz.) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
2-3/4 cups low-fat milk
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
Prepare lasagna noodles as directed on box. Add two teaspoons salt to the water.
Meanwhile, remove any tough stems from spinach. In a large skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons oil and cook onion until tender, but not browned. Add spinach and a little salt. Cook over high heat until spinach wilts; set aside.
In medium bowl, mix ricotta, Parmesan, nutmeg, eggs, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; set aside.
In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, add two tablespoons oil and flour; cook for about a minute. Gradually stir in milk, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish, arrange one-third of lasagna noodles, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta mixture over noodles. Drain off liquid from spinach, if any, and spoon half over ricotta mixture; then, top with one-third of the sauce. Repeat layering. Top with remaining noodles, and then remaining sauce.
Bake lasagna, covered, for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove lasagna from oven; allow to stand 10 minutes until set. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Makes 8 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.