45 Better-For-You Comfort Foods
Comfort food isn't exclusively about indulgence. "Comfort food" simply means dishes that are special to you, and sometimes, they just happen to be covered in cheese. However, there are plenty of comforting snacks and meals that also offer notable nutritional value, or happen to be a healthier take on more beloved comfort food classics. Whether you're looking to cut out some meat or dairy, fall in love with a new-to-you soup, or just make vegetables taste good, these comforting recipes with substance are a great place to start.
Our eggplant lasagna is a delicious, crowd-pleasing dinner that results from swapping traditional lasagna noodles for slabs of fresh eggplant. Besides being a great gluten-free and low-carb alternative to classic lasagna, this comforting casserole is the perfect way to put a load of summer eggplant to good use. The best eggplant to use in this lasagna recipe are the most tubular-shaped that you can find, as these will give you the most even planks of eggplant (vs. the eggplants with large, round bottoms). This cheesy eggplant bake also gets bonus points for being make-ahead friendly. You can prepare and assemble the eggplant lasagna and refrigerate for up to two days before baking; just plan on the lasagna needing a couple of extra minutes in the oven.
Air-Fried Dill Pickle Fries With Ranch Breadcrumbs
Pickle spears are one of those foods that’s meant to be fried, and sticking them in the air fryer makes for a fun finger food. The combination of juiciness and crunch remains fantastic, while the ranch breadcrumbs bring in so much flavor you won’t need a dipping sauce.
Cashew Butter Cookies
This deeply satisfying, gluten-free take on the classic peanut butter cookie is amazingly toasty and nutty. Swapping rice flour in for all-purpose helps these cookies achieve a delightful textural balance between chewy and sandy.
Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice
The classic Creole dish, updated so you can make it in a quarter of the time thanks to the Instant Pot.
Goat Cheese Queso Dip with Vegetable Chips
This warm, tangy twist on fundido is perfect with sparkling wine; the bubbles help cut through the richness. We pair with veggie chips, but you can also serve with crudités for a fresher take.
Everything Bagel Salad
Your favorite brunch special just took on a new, heartier format. Everything here comes through: The bagels, capers, lox, raw onions, and cream cheese are all balanced out by spinach’s natural mild sweetness. This makes a lot of salad, so you could serve it as either a main or a side dish for a larger crowd. Using whipped cream cheese will make it easier to whisk. You can opt for hot smoked salmon, but cold is a classic. Since the spinach is hardy, you can make this up to 30 minutes before serving.
Fig Jam and Goat Cheese Flatbread
Using a pizza stone is the key to achieving a delectably crispy crust on this easy flatbread. While we baked ours in the oven, you could easily heat your pizza stone on the grill if you’d rather not heat up the kitchen. Featuring our easy fig jam, along with tangy goat cheese and vibrant celery and herb salad, the pizzas can serve four as a light summer entree or more as an elegant appetizer. If you want to bulk the flatbreads up with a little extra protein, try adding sliced prosciutto or shredded rotisserie chicken.
Air-Fried Grilled Cheese
If a nice, even crispiness is your priority when it comes to grilled cheese, skip the stove and try the air fryer. You'll get a uniform texture and lovely melt without having to worry about burning your sandwich or any flipping mishaps.
Dark Chocolate Avocado Cake with Chocolate Avocado Frosting
This vegan cake (no eggs or butter!) is so delicious that our kids begged for more. The frosting is silky smooth, and the cake is light and loaded with chocolate flavor, and healthy fats.
Salt-and-Vinegar Boneless "Wings"
The popular potato chip flavor translates fantastically to boneless "wings." OK, admittedly, they're basically chicken fingers, but for game day, we're calling them boneless wings. Be sure to line the baking sheet with parchment paper, as the chicken tends to stick to aluminum foil, even if it's coated with cooking spray.
A little bit of butter is great, but seasoning corn with chili powder and grated lime rind takes corn from a backyard favorite to something really special.
Three-Bean Pasta Salad
We combined two potluck classics—pasta salad and three-bean salad—to make one tasty new side dish. Blanched celery is the unexpected star in this side dish; it has a tender-crisp texture and bright green color. Swap out the canned beans for your favorite cooked field peas.
Hot-And-Sour Soup Sandwich
This isn’t your average twist on takeout: Hot and sour soup and tofu reach new heights when they’re combined and set up like a French dip, and that’s not even the best part. The mushrooms are the star of the show here, taking on soy, star anise, chili, and vinegar like the little fungal sponges that they are—they’re almost like hot and sour soup bon bons, when you think about it. Seriously, even if you don't make the whole sandwich, at least make the mushrooms. The rest of the sandwich is mild, to complement the mushrooms, but when you dip it in the jus, it comes alive. You’ll have more than enough mushrooms for the sandwich, so save the extras and transform pizza, salad, or whatever else you like.
Grilled Chicken Wings
You can’t go wrong with this basic recipe for perfect grilled chicken wings. A grilled wing is smoky, crispy, and an all-around delicious change of pace from its fried counterpart. You can dress your grilled chicken wings as you please (classic Buffalo sauce works or even a honey-sesame glaze), but we’d highly recommend giving this lemon-pepper sauce a go. You may be surprised to see jarred lemon curd in the ingredient list, however, a savory-sweet sauce is a brilliant way to use this convenience product. (After all, doesn’t your favorite barbecue sauce have a prominent element of sweetness?) The curd delivers a rich, lemony sweetness that’s balanced with aromatic sautéed garlic, brightened with fresh juice, and perfectly matched with a well-salted, savory grilled chicken wing.
Beyond Beef Enchiladas
These vegetarian enchiladas are comforting and so, so easy. The Beyond meat adds a richness to the filling, while the sauce adds great warm spice and tang. For a gluten-free version of this recipe, use corn tortillas.
Cacio e Pepe Roasted Potato Salad
Replace your standby potato salad with this riff on Cacio e Pepe pasta. Cheese and potatoes are an indisputably good combination—and this side's sure to become a picnic, cookout, and even a weeknight favorite. Try this peppery potato salad alongside a grilled steak and be sure to serve it immediately to retain the potatoes' crispy texture.
Instant Pot Vegan Mushroom Risotto
Looking for a vegan dish that doesn’t taste like it’s missing anything? We’ve got it right here. This Instant Pot vegan risotto is creamy and perfectly cooked with a slight “bite” to it. The lemon is subtle yet bright, and the mushrooms and stock add a great savory flavor. There’s no reason to stand over a pot to make risotto—this is the best way to cook risotto now, and one of the best ways to use an Instant Pot. We used Imagine Vegan Chicken Broth, which resembled chicken broth more than vegetable broth and is ready available at Whole Foods and other health food stores.
Chickpea Crackers with Chunky Tapenade
These rustic, gluten-free crackers are addictively salty and crunchy, like a snack should be. The creamy hummus and briny tapenade are the perfect complements to create an impressive appetizer spread.
Microwave Sweet Potato Chips
When the chip craving strikes, look no further than these healthy, homemade chips. Pro tip: You'll need a mandoline to slice the potato thin enough to crisp.
Buffalo Cauliflower Dip
This meat-free twist on Buffalo dip delivers every bit of creamy, tangy flavor you crave, but it’s loaded with buttery cauliflower instead of shredded chicken. It’s a hearty, party-perfect app that everyone will love.
Steamed Jackfruit Buns
These vegan buns are just like Char Siu Pork Bao (barbecue pork-filled buns) that you find at dim sum. Not only is this an amazing vegan version of the dish, it’s an amazing version of the dish period. The filling for the bao is sweet and tangy, and the dough is pillowy and soft. Jackfruit can be found at any Asian market. Purchase the “canned in brine” rather than the “canned in syrup” for this recipe. Since it is brined, it should be thoroughly rinsed and patted dry before use.
Warm Cinnamon Apples
This simple spiced apples recipe is perfect for so many applications. The tender, brown sugar-sweetened fruit slices are great served at breakfast, make for a warm and tasty side dish (especially for kiddos), are the ideal flavor complement spooned over pork chops or a pork loin, and are an amazing seasonal addition to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. If you can't find McIntosh apples, substitute another baking apple such as Rome or Gala; or to change things up, try a crisp, tart green apple such as Granny Smith.
Air-Fried General Tso’s Chicken
This air-fryer riff on the Chinese takeout classic saves the day with nearly half the saturated fat of restaurant versions and loads less clean-up than deep frying at home. Air fryer sizes vary (hence the cook time’s wide range); if you have a smaller air fryer, commit to cooking in batches so that there’s plenty of room for the air to circulate and crisp up the chicken.
Speedy Coconut-Curry Shrimp Skillet
These skillet shrimp noodles are super easy to make at home, but their flavor rivals something you’d get at a restaurant. It’s slightly sweet from the coconut, with a mild degree of spice, and has plenty of toppings to keep things interesting, especially with the combination of flavors—but by all means, if you want to go harder with toppings, go for it. Buy the freshest, highest quality shrimp you can source, preferably from a seafood market. They’re the star of this dish, so quality matters. If you’re peeling and deveining them yourself, pat them dry as best as you can before adding them to the skillet. Wet shrimp will add steam, while dry shrimp will get a nice sear, yielding a better appearance and taste.
Vegan Buffalo Tofu Tot Skillet
This fantastic tater tot dish is slathered in some delicious meatless toppings making this one vegan dish that packs a powerful flavor punch. Reminicient of totchos, this skillet dish is a comfort food item to be reckoned with. This is a big skillet with enough to serve a lot of people alongside your favorite tailgating or appetizer dishes. This dish features a layer of homemade buffalo sauce as well as a rich and creamy dairy-free avocado ranch.
Single-Skillet Cavatappi Ratatouille
With its roasted vegetables and fresh basil, this gooey, cheesy pasta skillet dinner won a lot of hearts in the test kitchen. This dish is super family friendly, as the vegetables act as a vehicle for the sauce and all the cheesy goodness you can harness in one dish. It’s also easy—all you have to do to the veggies is crush them and give them time to cook down enough so the dish doesn’t get too watery. Either way, it’s a weeknight win.
Marinated Manchego with Olives and Orange
This cheese display is so impressive, nobody will guess it barely took any effort. Meet your new favorite cheese—Manchego is a hard, semi-aged Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk with a mildly sharp, nutty flavor. And when it’s infused with olive oil, it takes on a floral flavor that pairs wonderfully with olives and almonds. Marinate your Manchego as long as you can—two hours, minimum—so the mixture can really set in. Serve as an appetizer with crackers or bread, or set it out in place of a cheese board.
Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos
This flavorful fiesta-on-a-plate involves an unlikely main ingredient: fruit! Jackfruit is an extremely versatile ingredient because it absorbs and takes on the flavors of spices and other ingredients incredibly well, which helps lend these tacos their authentic flair. The fruit itself is pale in color and has a flaky, meaty texture, which makes it the perfect meat substitute for a vegetarian or vegan dinner option so everyone can enjoy it.
Chicken Parmesan Spaghetti Squash
This family friendly spaghetti squash dinner is a delicious (and low-carb) twist on an old favorite: chicken Parmesan. Loads of melty cheese will make this dish an easy sell for the kids, and the veggie vessel means you’re packing in plenty of nutrients too. Keep in mind that spaghetti squash can vary largely in size, so it’s best to grab a couple with roughly the same weight. You want to make sure both are cooked evenly and all the way through so that you end up with tender strands. If you grab squash that are larger than what’s called for below, you’ll likely need to bake them a bit longer.
There comes a certain point every summer when the amount of zucchini you seem to constantly have on hand far outweighs you desire for zucchini. You’ve grilled it, you’ve shaved it into a raw summer salad, you’ve sautéed it, folded it into pasta, stuffed it, and zoodled it—at this point, when it feels like you’ve exhausted all appetizing zucchini options, it’s high time you enter dessert territory and make a zucchini cake. Luckily, we’ve crafted the perfect, no-fuss recipe for a classic, vanilla zucchini cake for just that purpose. Though flecked with specks of pale green, you’d never guess vegetables were hiding in this incredibly tender sheet cake. The recipe calls for 3 cups of the grated green veggie, which is roughly one large or two smaller zucchini—no need to peel them, just be sure to wash the zucchini thoroughly before grating. Because zucchini is serving as the primary source of moisture for this cake (as you’ll notice, you do not add milk, buttermilk, sour cream, etc. to the batter), there’s no need to squeeze the liquid from the grated zucchini, as some recipes for zucchini baked goods may advise. A small amount of corn starch paired with the all-purpose flour makes the cake’s crumb exceptionally soft and airy. Topped with a decadent brown butter-pecan frosting, this veggie-loaded cake feels special enough to serve as the centerpiece dessert for any occasion.
Weeknight Fried Chicken
Peanut flour gives this chicken incredible toasty flavor, while Wondra flour makes for crave-worthy crispness. It’s a Sunday supper with weeknight preparation.
Grilled Stuffed Jalapeños
Searching for that perfect, crowd-pleasing appetizer for you next get-together? Look no further than these stuffed jalapeño poppers. The rich and creamy combination of bacon, cream cheese, and cheddar nicely contrasts the muted spice of grilled jalapeño peppers. This grilled appetizer recipe is a healthy, fresh alternative to the popular breaded and fried version. If you’re looking to keep your stuffed jalapeño poppers vegetarian-friendly, you can eliminate the bacon or replace it with coarsely chopped nuts, like smoked almonds or toasted pecans.
You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy these corndogs. They taste like traditional corndogs, but with a unique and meatless twist—think that firm texture you recognize and love, paired with umami flavor, with a corn batter breading that’s both sweet and crunchy. When everything comes together, it’s a true treat and fun alternative for a meal with kids.