By Kristin Sidorov
Cooler weather tends to harbor a glut of delicious but fatty foods. And while fall festivities, holiday gatherings, and cold-weather favorites can be tempting (400-plus calorie pumpkin spice latte, anyone?), it’s important to realize the toll it could have on your health—and your waistline.
But who wants to give up on lasagna, chili, and apple pie? Get a wake-up call by learning the real deal behind some cold-weather classics, and learn how to make small changes by swapping fatty faves for healthier alternatives that are just as delicious. Now you can have your pumpkin bread and eat it, too—without extra calories or guilt trips.
Cold-weather favorite: cider
It may taste like fall in a glass, but on average, cider can have up to 30 grams of carbs, 30 grams of sugar, and around 120 calories per serving. Overindulge, and you could be looking at hundreds of empty calories added to your day.
Alternative: Try this organic, healthy recipe for fresh apple carrot juice (Sunny Vegan). It has the same delicious fall taste, but it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Or simply opt for a refreshing glass of apple juice—it has considerably less calories but still has a crisp apple-y flavor.
Cold-weather favorite: pumpkin spice latte
Just one of these sweet treats has more than 40 grams of sugar, 49 grams of carbs, and 320 calories. It can easily derail your entire diet, even if you indulge just a few times a week.
Alternative: With a bit of creativity, you can be sipping on your own homemade pumpkin latte (A Full Measure of Happiness) using all natural ingredients (including fresh pumpkin!). Even better, you get to control the quality of the ingredients and their amounts. Try using some low-fat or soy/almond milk, too.
Cold-weather favorite: chili and cornbread
Cozying up to a warm meal of chili and cornbread is a winter tradition, but if you’re not careful, you could be consuming a staggering amount of calories, fat, and carbs. The average bowl of chili has 500-700 calories, 35 grams of fat, and 15 grams of saturated fat, while a single piece of cornbread could have 350 calories, 46 grams of carbs, and zero fiber.
Alternative: Luckily, there are literally dozens of healthy chili varieties out there that pack just as much spicy flavor as their more fattening counterpart. Try this spicy-two-bean chili (The Curvy Carrot) for a meat-free alternative, or a great slow-cooker turkey chili (Amy Bites) for a lean meat substitute. Looking for something a little different? This turkey white-bean pumpkin chili (Skinny Taste) has all the flavors of fall wrapped up in a unique, warm stew that’s just perfect for cool nights. Whichever version you whip up, vegan cornbread (With a Side of Sneakers) with tons of flavor and fiber and zero sugar makes for a perfect side.
Cold-weather favorite: pumpkin bread
This fall classic is more like a dense, delicious cake that you can eat with your hands, so it’s no wonder that it’s a staple on chilly days. But one slice can cost you 48 grams of carbs, 29 grams of sugar, 170 calories, and fewer than 2 grams of fiber.
Alternative: Pumpkin is a nutrient-rich vegetable, packed with Vitamin A. Instead of loading it down with extra sugar and calories, try this ultimate pumpkin bread recipe (Cookie and Kate) with healthier ingredients, like whole wheat flour and natural honey instead of refined sugar for a touch of sweetness. Light, 42-calorie, super-soft pumpkin cookies (The Realistic Nutritionist) also contain all the fall-spice flavors you love without extra fat and sugar.
Cold-weather favorite: chicken pot pie
The ultimate comfort food, chicken pot pie might be the biggest calorie bomb of all, with a whopping 1,000 calories, 64 grams of fat, and 25 grams of saturated fat.
Alternative: It’s easy to slim classic chicken pot pie waaay down with just a few easy substitutions. Try a super-easy recipe for a healthier chicken pot pie (Hungry Girl) using low-fat condensed soup and reduced-fat crescent rolls, or this light take on classic shepherd’s pie (Pure Land Organic), with lean turkey, tons of fresh veggies, and wonderfully fragrant fall herbs like thyme and rosemary.
Cold-weather favorite: lasagna
Lasagna is a family favorite, with layers of flavor that leave you feeling warm and satisfied. But with nearly 750 calories, 22 grams of fat, and more than 1,850 milligrams of sodium per serving, it also leave you spiraling away from your healthy goals and packing on unwanted pounds.
Alternative: Lasagna’s flavors are a great complement to fall vegetables, so bump up the nutrient content by adding some of your favorites. This vegetarian lasagna (Kalyn’s Kitchen) is just as delicious and comforting as its meaty counterpart, but with significantly fewer calories and way more nutrients. Or if you’re looking for something different, try spaghetti squash lasagna (Skinny Taste). You won’t miss the pasta, I promise! Making simple substitutions like leaner meats, whole-wheat lasagna noodles, and reduced-fat cheese will also help shave those unnecessary fats and calories from your diet.
Cold-weather favorite: macaroni and cheese
One serving of this classic comfort food can have almost 700 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturate fat—a huge calorie load for a dish that’s commonly served as a side.
Alternative: Especially during the autumn, subbing in some butternut squash is a wonderful way to boost the nutrient content of your mac ‘n cheese without sacrificing flavor or creaminess. Try using low-fat cheese to slash both the calorie and fat content, and don’t be afraid to get creative with some delicious add-ins. This amazing butternut squash mac and cheese (Pinch of Yum) has caramelized onions, apples, and bacon (which can easily be swapped with even healthier turkey bacon). Broccoli, spinach, tomato, and even green peas are great healthy additions, too.
Cold-weather favorite: apple pie
Nothing says classic American comfort food like a slice of warm apple pie. But just one slice can have 18 grams of fat, 42 grams of carbs, and 22 grams of sugar.
Alternative: Apples are naturally sweet and delicious, so why add extra sugar? Instead, enhance their crisp, tart flavor with some spices. These whole-wheat apple ring pancakes (Karma Cucina) are genius, and have just the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus fiber-rich flax seed, whole wheat, and no extra sweeteners. Another healthy dessert sensation is this fig and apple quinoa crisp (What’s Cooking Good Looking) with all-natural ingredients and protein-packed quinoa for a nutty, crunchy topping.
Tell Us: What are you recipe-swapping secrets for healthy comfort food?