I've got a question. Why does the all best comfort food have to be so packed with butter, sugar or bacon? (And sometimes all three.) Don't get me wrong, I love my sweet treats but unfortunately the feeling is not mutual. As a mother of two small children with one more on the way, heartburn and fall-asleep-at-my-desk-fatigue are just special parts of my personality these days. Plus, this body's already got an increasing number of lumps and bumps, so I'd love to keep any extras to a minimum. What I need is great food without so much sugar and fat, but with tons of flavor. And this goes double for the little guys. Last time our two-year-old had an ice cream cone, she was bawling before her last lick was through. Dreaded sugar crash, you are my nemesis.
So when all the food sites came out with their lists of the most popular recipes for 2011, I couldn't wait to click through for new ideas. Some seemed great -- chicken enchiladas, slow-cooked spaghetti sauce -- but most were the same old love-handles-waiting-to-happen recipes we've all seen a million times. That's when I decided to put my Barefoot for Babies techniques to work. (On Foodlets, one of my favorite sections is about recipe makeovers: family-friendly versions of formerly decadent dishes. What started with Ina Garten's greatest hits has become a regular installment featuring a new cook every month.) None of these ideas are radical but most of them make a big nutritional difference, leaving everyone with more energy afterward. Plus the habit of eating fresh and healthy food becomes a natural part of these family meals. No cajoling, no bribes. Just good food that happens to be good for you.
5 Comfort Food Makeovers Worth Trying
Bacon and Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese. It was the number one most popular recipe on iVillage for 2011. Unfortunately this kind of dish has almost no nutritional value and more fat and calories than most people should eat in an entire day, let alone one serving. How to make it healthier: use whole wheat pasta, reduce cheese by one cup, add half a cup of pureed white beans and one cup of finely shredded carrot. Not as crazy as it seems, carrots are a natural fit for this kind of baked cheddar goodness.
Banana Bread. The funny thing about banana bread is how little banana is actually involved. Instead, this breakfast treat is usually packed with a full cup of sugar and at least as much oil. How to make it healthier: Add another banana, use whole wheat flour, reduce the sugar by half and substitute half the oil (or melted butter) with applesauce. Add even more nutrition by replacing a quarter cup of flour with wheat germ or millet. Yes, millet.
Meatloaf. The varieties are endless and while every family has a favorite, most recipes could use a little lightening up. How to make it healthier: use ground turkey (or a combination of turkey and beef for diehard red meat eaters), double the amount of sauteed veggies called for, such as carrots, and throw in a half cup of pureed spinach for an extra nutritional boost. You'll never, ever notice it. Also substitute old-fashioned oats instead of breadcrumbs.
Peach Cobbler. Paula Deen's version of this summertime favorite was one of the biggest hits on the Food Network website last year. How to make it healthier: Use whole wheat flour instead of white and reduce the sugar by half. For an extra shot of fiber, replace a quarter cup of flour with oat bran.
Pancakes from a Box Mix. Another breakfast favorite that usually ends in a food coma. How to make it healthier: This one is simple. Add half a cup of low-fat yogurt and a quarter cup of wheat germ, increasing the amount of milk to your batter as needed. Also throw in a cup of your family's favorite fruit: bananas, frozen peaches, diced apples all work beautifully. Round out this meal, especially if it's Breakfast-for-Dinner, with a protein-packed side of scrambled eggs and salmon.
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