Eat your heart out: Healthier comfort foods

Eat your heart out: Healthier comfort foods

Valentine’s Day is a day to show appreciation for your favorite people; it’s a time to celebrate friendships, loved ones, and yourself.

For better or worse, certain foods have an effect on our mood and how we feel. As the term implies, comfort foods give us a sense of well-being and temporary relief, but they’re notoriously high in carbohydrates, sugar and/or fat. Studies show that the overall effect of comfort food is partly psychological and partly biochemical. Some foods have the power to take us back to our childhood, where we had a sense of feeling secure and belonging.

Comfort eating and the relationship between food and mood is complex and depends on many factors, but we do know that a balanced meal that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats will provide the nutrients necessary to keep you feeling good — physically and emotionally.

This year, whether you’re cooking for one or two, prepare a meal that includes mood-boosting foods that will be sure to keep everyone happy and healthy, because isn’t that the most important thing of all?

Here are 2 recipes for comfort foods that are usually considered unhealthy — pizza and chocolate walnut brownies — that incorporate healthy substitutes to help you feel less guilty about indulging.


  • 1 1/2 pounds whole-wheat refrigerated fresh pizza dough
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 small red onions, each cut into 12 wedges
  • 1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into thirds
  • All-purpose flour (for dusting)
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup low-sodium marinara sauce
  • 5 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces and divided (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Cooking spray
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup whole-grain pastry flour (or see note about using oat flour)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional



Note: You can roll your own dough or buy a whole-wheat crust at the grocery store — or try using whole-wheat pita bread or tortillas to save some time.

Roasting vegetables:

  1. Divide dough in half. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes. 
  2. Place 2 heavy baking sheets in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees (keep pans in the oven as it preheats).
  3. Coat another pan with cooking spray and add in mushrooms and onions, then bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. 
  4. Add asparagus to the pan, then bake at 500° for another 15 minutes. 
  5. Remove from oven; let cool.
  6. Roll each piece of dough to a 15 by 9-inch rectangle on a lightly floured work surface. 
  7. Carefully remove baking sheets from the oven; sprinkle with cornmeal. 
  8. Arrange dough on baking sheets; coat with cooking spray, bake at 500 degrees for 8 minutes. 
  9. Spread 1/3 cup sauce over each crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border. 
  10. Top evenly with vegetable mixture and cheese. 
  11. Bake at 500 degrees for 5 minutes. Rotate, then continue baking for 5 to 6 minutes.
  12. Combine oil, vinegar, and pepper in a small bowl; drizzle over pizzas. Sprinkle with basil and salt. Cut each pizza into 8 slices before serving.


Note: For added fiber, you can use oat flour. To make oat flour, place old-fashioned oats in a blender or food processor and blend or process until the oats resemble flour. Measure the oat flour after blending — not before. If you want to lower the calories and fat, you can also eliminate the walnuts.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Coat a 9 by 13 dish with cooking spray. 
  3. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, stirring occasionally.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda. 
  5. In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs and brown sugar until smooth. 
  6. Add yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
  7. Whisk the melted chocolate mixture into the wet ingredients until blended, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. 
  8. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and sprinkle with walnuts, if using. 
  9. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a toothpick through the center of the brownie. If it comes out clean, it’s done. 
  10. Cool completely before slicing.

Nutrition information (per serving)

  • Calories: 356
  • Total fat: 9 g
  • Saturated fat: 3 g
  • Sodium: 486 mg

Brownies (per serving):

  • Calories: 160
  • Total fat: 9 g
  • Sodium: 55 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 17 g