Seven healthier alternatives to your favourite comfort meals

Healthy comfort factor: Karen Martini's butter chicken skips the usual cream.
Healthy comfort factor: Karen Martini's butter chicken skips the usual cream.  Photo: Jessica Dale

For those of us who suddenly have a lot more time on our hands – and a whole lot of rice and flour in our pantry – cooking (and eating) is quickly becoming a new favourite pastime.

Kitchens across the country are cooking up hearty, nourishing meals high in kilojoules such as pies, roasts and pastas and other comfort meals.

As delicious and comforting as those dishes are, we run the risk of overindulging over the months to come. 

So if you've been scouring cookbooks and have ample ingredients to burn, here are some healthier versions of your favourite comfort meals.

Curry

When it comes to staying fighting fit, you can't go past a spicy curry. From a nutritional perspective, curries can be exceptionally high in fat, carbs and kilojoules thanks to coconut cream, rice, potatoes and fatty meats that make up your standard curry. Lighten your version by choosing vegetarian options, ditching the rice in favour of extra vegetables or vegie rice (homemade or shop bought is fine). To achieve a creamy texture and taste, use a reduced fat evaporated milk with a little coconut essence as a lower fat alternative to coconut milk and cream.

Try this: Karen Martini's butter chicken minus the cream

Jill Dupleix recipe for Good Food : Old Dog New Tricks - Lamb kofta with zucchini spaghetti Photograph by William Meppem

Swap your usual pasta for zucchini noodles. Photo: William Meppem

Pasta

Few meals are as warm and nourishing as a bowl of pasta with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan. Like any food, enjoying a small bowl of quality pasta every so often is no issue but loading up bowls with bucketloads of plain pasta minus the protein and vegetables can be a carb overload. As an alternative, check out lower carb varieties made from legumes and vegetables or  make your own zucchini noodles with a spiraliser. With few kilojoules and plenty of nutrients and fibre, zucchini pasta can be freely enjoyed with your favourite pasta sauce.

Try this: Jill Dupleix's lamb kofta with zucchini noodles 

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Shepherds Pie from Pete Evans. To be used for upcoming recipe spread by Pete Evans for Epicure/Good Food. Image supplied by Monica Cannataci <mecannataci@gmail.com>

Not all pies need pastry. Photo: Jessica Dale

Pies

With crusty pastry and rich, creamy fillings, pies have huge comfort factor. Unfortunately, puff pastry is also high in fat, containing as much as 50 grams of fat per serve, much of which is saturated. The good news is it's easy to make a healthier pie with half the fat and energy just by making some simple swaps. Using filo pastry instead of regular pastry will slash up to 30 grams of fat per serve, for example. Or you could ditch the pastry altogether in favour of mashed pumpkin or sweet potato pie tops – they're delicious with a sprinkle of parmesan or grated cheddar.

Try this: Shepherd's pie with cauliflower mash

Cr: GW 18 Food Photography William Meppem, Neil Perry recipe: Whole roasted cauliflower with lemon and mustard. 
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Whole roast cauliflower makes a showstopping centrepiece. Photo: William Meppem

Roast dinners

It's super easy to make a healthier version of your favourite roast, with plenty of leftover meat and veg to enjoy for days afterwards. Just choose leaner cuts of meat, drain as much fat as you can and try to avoid eating too much of any fatty skin. Bake a tray of lighter, nutrient-rich vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots and greens, and, if you are using the meat fat to make gravy, watch your portions as it is extremely high in salt and fat.  

Try this: Neil Perry's whole roasted cauliflower with lemon and mustard

Chipotle chicken and cauliflower tacos. Recipe from Week Light: Super-Fast Meals to Make You Feel Good by Donna Hay. Published by HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd. RRP $45. Pic credit: Con Poulos For Good Food Magazine, October 4, 2019. Photographer: Con Poulos (Single print and online use) GOOD FOOD RGB

Lighten up your Mexican cooking with Donna Hay's chipotle chicken. Photo: Con Poulos 

Mexican food

Nachos, burritos and quesadillas might be tasty but they're often loaded with carbs and cheese, which don't make them the healthiest options. Instead, try a humble taco – with a single taco shell containing just 6 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fat, a couple of tacos filled with lean meat and plenty of salad can be a great nutritious choice. Otherwise, try an open Mexican bowl packed with lean meat, salad and vegetables, plus a few corn chips.

Try this: Donna Hay's chipotle chicken and cauliflower tacos

Adam Liaw's cheeseburger lettuce wraps.

Swap your usual buns for lettuce wraps. Photo: William Meppem

Burgers

Who doesn't love a burger and fries at the best of times? Fortunately, burgers and vegetable chips can be relatively healthy options, especially when you prepare them at home. The key is to source lean beef patties, or make your own chicken or meat burgers using the leanest mince you can find. Ditch the high-fat, fried extras such as cheese, mayo, bacon and egg if you can, and (if you're super keen) ditch the bun in favour of a lettuce wrap or mushroom bun. For chips, try zucchini, sweet potato or healthy potato chips fries instead – just slice the vegies into thin strips and cook at a high temperature with plenty of extra virgin olive oil.  

Try this: Adam Liaw's low-carb cheeseburger lettuce wraps 

Simple dessert: Apple, maple and walnut pots.

Baked fruit makes for a healthier treat. Photo: William Meppem

Desserts

Long nights at home with plenty of TV can see us tempted to indulge in high-fat puddings, pastries and pies after dinner. So if you are craving sweet treats, keep in mind that a single cream or pastry-based dessert usually contains more kilojoules than a whole meal so sharing or small portions are key. Baked fruit, small individual puddings with just a spoon or two per serving or a hot drink can be just as satisfying and much lower in kilojoules.

Try this: Adam Liaw's maple, apple and walnut pots