5 Fast Comfort-Food Recipes

Down in the dumps? We've got quick ways to make the foods that soothe your psyche, from grilled cheese to mac and cheese to chewy chocolate chip cookies.

February 8, 2010

It doesn't get any more comforting than this.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you think that a cookie, a cheeseburger, or a bowl of mac and cheese helps you calm down during a stressful day, you’re actually right. Comfort food really does (temporarily) halt the physiological effects of stress. According to researchers, eating sugar- and fat-rich foods helps bring down levels of stress hormones. While it’s not a healthy long-term solution for dealing with stress, in a pinch this approach sure can work. And by using your own comfort-food recipes instead of grabbing prepackaged foods, you can even make the food a little healthier.


Other studies of the food/mood link have found that eating fat can calm you and lessen your perception of pain. And carbs really do boost mood. For example, if you’re feeling down, a high-carbohydrate snack, such as a toasted English muffin with jam or some popcorn, can work wonders. When high-carbohydrate food isn't accompanied by protein or fat, it allows the amino acid tryptophan to flood your brain, where it becomes serotonin, a mood-lifting, food-craving–busting neurotransmitter that even helps you tolerate pain and can help you get to sleep.

Read on to see recipes for turkey sliders, mashed potatoes, and more comforting foods.

No matter why you need comforting, when you crave it, you want it fast. But you shouldn't have to wreck your diet to get it. To help out, we’ve pulled together the quickest, healthiest comfort-food options around, courtesy of the Rodale Recipe Finder.

#1: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Part-skim mozzarella helps reduce saturated fat in this grilled cheese sandwich, and the tomatoes add lycopene. Try adding a slice or two of lean ham to boost the protein count, helping to keep your appetite in check. Alternately, this recipe’s for cheddar fans.

#2: Turkey Sliders. Sometimes it’s just got to be meat. Make that slider or cheeseburger with turkey or with extra-lean ground beef—if you don't overcook it, it'll taste great. Chopped onions add vitamins and replace some of the moisture that’s lost when you use leaner ground meat. Whole wheat buns add a dose of fiber. For other protein-packed options, make a Philly cheesesteak or Quick Chicken Parmesan.

#3: Russet Oven Fries. When only potatoes will do, try making your own french fries. These seasoned and baked russet potato strips will hit the spot, and the recipe includes a technique that makes the fries nice and crispy without adding fat. If it’s the creaminess of mashed potatoes you’re after, make buttermilk mashed potatoes; buttermilk sounds rich but actually has 98 percent less fat than cream does.

#4: Maria’s Quick and Gooey Mac and Cheese. Stovetop macaroni and cheese can’t be beat for speed and comfort; Maria Rodale's recipe has been vetted by an actual grade-schooler. Also available in a not-quite-as-fast version with a crispy topping.

#5: Chocolate Chip Cookies. You can't go wrong with a homemade batch of everyone’s favorite mood soother—sweet, satisfying chocolate chip cookies. You wouldn't want to indulge in them every day, of course, but you can make them a bit healthier by using whole wheat flour or this no-butter recipe.

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