How to Transform Southern Comfort Food to Healthy Fare
Sunny summer weather can inspire luscious but light dishes, and it’s a perfect time to try out healthier takes on classic southern foods. Southern Mississippi is known for decadent dishes such as bread pudding, biscuits and gravy, and on the coast, gumbo. Happily, there are ways to lighten up even the most indulgent dishes.
It’s easy to make some switches resulting in fare that’s just as hearty and sometimes even more tasty. For example, baking okra instead of breading and frying it can still deliver a satisfying texture and crunch.
I spoke with Melanie Baker of The Kind Cook website, who recommended a healthier take on macaroni and cheese, saying, “Mac and cheese sauce can be made using all manner of healthier ingredients such as sweet potato, carrots, cashew cheese sauces and cauliflower.”
So, are there any general rules of thumb when it comes to adapting lush Mississippi favorites into healthier meals?
“There are a multitude of easy switches parents can do to make recipes healthier,” Baker said. “If your child is anything like mine, you may need to try the slow and steady approach and use half and half of current ingredients with your switch ingredients to help them adjust to different flavors.”
“But every healthier choice makes a difference,” she added, “so I encourage parents to experiment.”
Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence, authors of “The Southern Vegetarian,” also weighed in. According to Burks and Lawrence, “We use different types of flour and try to think about other ways of sweetening things other than using sugar. We’re always keeping our eyes peeled for the next trendy flour. We’ve had some success lately with sorghum flour and oat flour in muffins and pancakes. Maple syrup, dates, and honey add so much flavor along with sweetness, so these ingredients are perfect to swap in for granulated, white sugar.”
Burks and Lawrence add major flavor to dishes by “cooking the blended aromatics first to make a flavorful paste that livens up the whole dish. It’s a great way to get the whole family to eat a big bowl of vegetables. But don’t tell them that; it tastes so awesome, they’ll never guess how vegetable-packed it really is.” The Kind Cook Melanie Baker provides these top tips for making healthy switches for your kids:
● Hydrate with water instead of juices, cordials, and soft drinks. Make drinking water fun and the norm. Add ice or frozen berries in ice. Use cute bottles, cups, or bendy straws.
● Switch from store-bought to homemade as much as your schedule allows.
● Swap packets for whole foods. Instead, offer snack plates with a variety of fresh fruits dried fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetable sticks, and healthy dips like hummus.
● Cheese sauce can be made using nutritional yeast (an inactive yeast), nuts, and plantbased milks. Your mac and cheese, lasagnas, and Mexican dishes are then filled with B vitamins.
● Instead of meat products, substitute lentils or beans in bolognaise sauces and pot pies.
● Sweeten recipes such as porridge, muffins and smoothies with fruit or less processed foods such as dates.
“We are in such an exciting time with food where we literally can have our cake and eat it, too,” Baker added. “The ingredients we have available to us are diverse, and there are so many ways you can make your favorite meals by adapting recipes.”
Robin Raven is a children’s book author who was born and raised on the Gulf Coast. She often has her feet on a dance floor, her nose in a book, or her arms around a rescued animal.