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Comfort Foods

picture of food
TIP: Use pureed vegetables or potatoes instead of cream to thicken soups.

Get: Comfort Food Recipes

Eat for your health

by Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

Although food is fuel for our bodies, most of us eat for the pleasure of taste and experience. A creamy bowl of macaroni and cheese may make you think of lazy days with grandma.

A few slices of cheesy pizza with golden crust may remind you of all the good times you had at sleepovers or in college. During cancer treatment and survivorship, these feel-good foods can provide the comfort we need and be a great source of nutrition.

Traditionally, many comfort foods are high in calories and fat and low in nutrient-dense vegetables and whole grains. This can be easily modified so you can reminisce without remorse.

Cooking Tips

Instead of: Try:
1 cup of cream 1 cup evaporated skim milk
Cream to thicken soups Pureed vegetables or potatoes
Oil base for marinade Citrus juice or flavored vinegar
White rice Brown rice, bulgur, quinoa or whole-wheat couscous
Bread crumbs Toasted wheat germ or whole-wheat bread crumbs

Baking Tips

Instead of: Try:
1 egg 2 egg whites or ¼ cup of liquid egg substitute
Frosting Pureed fruit or a light dusting of powdered sugar
Pastry pie crust Phyllo or graham cracker crust
½ cup butter or margarine ¼ cup applesauce or prune puree + ¼ cup of canola oil, butter or margarine
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup finely milled whole-wheat flour (also called whole-wheat pastry flour)

If you're currently undergoing cancer treatment and losing weight, now is the time to indulge in comfort foods. Macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and ice cream can be great options as their high calories, creamy textures and low-fiber content make them easy to chew and digest. Indulging in these foods without modifications can help you to get the calories and protein your body needs to get you through your treatment. The nostalgic feelings are just an added bonus.

Comfort Food Recipes

Here are more specific tips on how to modify some of your favorite comfort food recipes without sacrificing the taste or the experience.

When making healthy substitutions, you can choose to make some of the suggested substitutions or all of them depending on your personal tastes and preferences.

Macaroni and cheese

Use whole wheat pasta

Reduce the amount of butter or margarine you use by half

Substitute low-fat or fat-free milk for whole milk

Substitute non-fat sour cream for regular

Use sharp cheddar in place of regular and reduce the amount used by ¼ cup

Mix in your favorite vegetable



Use ground sirloin or lean ground turkey breast in place of ground chuck

Use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs

Add finely chopped vegetables such as onions, carrots and zucchini to add flavor and moisture

Use 2 egg whites instead of the whole egg

Mashed potatoes

Leave the skin on the potatoes for more fiber

Use fat-free milk instead of whole or low-fat milk

Use soft tub margarine instead of stick butter or margarine, and decrease amount by ¼

Get creative with seasonings such as fresh roasted garlic, chives, etc. to boost flavor


Use whole wheat pizza dough or make your own

Use a low sugar pizza sauce

Top with a variety of vegetables and leave the meat off

Use half the mozzarella and sprinkle on some fresh grated Romano cheese or use only a light layer of parmesan or Romano cheese, no mozzarella

Get more tips and recipes for healthy eating year round:

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2012