The Ultimate Comfort Foods To Soothe You (That Aren’t Mashed Potato)

    Image of a variety of comfort foods
    Published: 25 November. Written by: Nicola Down

    Seeking comfort in the form of sweaters, sofas and super-sized bowls of spaghetti? Hold that thought…

    In times of uncertainty, it’s hardly surprising we crave food that calms and comforts, hugs and heals. More often than not, it’s not a case of ‘wanting’ melted cheese on everything, but feeling as if we ‘need’ it. 

    There are biological reasons for this: research suggests we get more serotonin – aka, the brain’s ‘happy hormone’ – when carbohydrate-rich foods are eaten. So, that mountainous pile of butter-soaked mash really can momentarily unruffle our feathers, and that gloriously stodgy sticky toffee pudding with extra custard may fleetingly soothe our stormy seas. The downside? If we massively overindulge in food that’s stodgy and rich, we often end up feeling worse – still glum but with an added I’ve-overdone-it food coma to contend with (sound familiar?). 

    And, of course, night after night of eating comfort food that’s traditionally high in fat, calories, sugar and salt, can come with a health cost, whether that’s unwanted weight gain or nap-inducing energy levels. On top of this, many of our gloomy-day favourites are low on vegetables and nutrients, which ironically has a negative impact on energy, mood and brain function.

    Newsflash: there’s a smarter way. The feel-great foods below will sustain, soothe AND nourish you, leaving you wanting to head out for a bracing walk rather than collapse in front of ‘Strictly’.

    OATS 

    Oats are great for our health as they’re rich in a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which has been proven to help lower cholesterol

    Plus, it could be that ‘real’ comfort is not only in food we eat, but also in the physical act of cooking it. As many an enthusiastic home cook knows, kneading, blending and mixing can be decidedly therapeutic, helping you forget your woes. So why not grab a wooden spoon and stir up this extra-special porridge on the hob? The end result is cold weather comfort food of the first order. 

    WE LOVE… Spiced apple pie porridge 

    SWEET POTATO

    Sweet potatoes not only satisfy our inner sloth (bung ’em in the oven and you’re done) but, unlike regular white potatoes, they count towards your five-a-day. 

    A good source of fibre and high in an antioxidant known as beta-carotene, which helps your immune system to function well, they’re the star of the show in this red sweet potato dhal –  the edible equivalent of a cosy winter blanket. 

    WE LOVE… Red sweet potato dhal 

    CAULIFLOWER

    The humble high-fibre cauliflower has recently found culinary fame as a rice and pizza-base replacement, served as a ‘steak’, or centre stage in a roast. Bravo! 

    But, if you ask, when it comes to comfort food, cauliflower cheese is always going to be king. Step forward, this lighter vegan ‘creamy’ roasted cauliflower dish, which still warms your heart and stomach, but leaves a spring in your step. 

    WE LOVE… Vegan ‘creamy’ roasted cauliflower

    BROWN RICE 

    Brown rice is a wholegrain that can contain up to 75% more nutrients than white rice. Research suggests that wholegrains could lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by 30%, as well as decrease your risk of developing bowel cancer.  

    This rice pudding comes without the usual cream and double dose of sugar, but instead uses brown basmati rice (yes, really) and gets its sweetness from fresh mango.

    WE LOVE… Mango and coconut brown rice pudding 

    KALE 

    Sometimes, only food that comes with a crunch will do. The trouble is, traditional fried crisps come with the sidekick of saturated fat and calories. This clever recipe tastes amazingly like regular potato crisps – except it’s made from kale, a member of the cabbage family. Kale is a brilliant source of calcium as well as folic acid, making this recipe perfect for healthier Saturday night sofa snacking.   

    WE LOVE… Kale crisps

    SARDINES (really!)

    Sure, some days it’s nice, therapeutic even, to spend hours in the kitchen making things from scratch, but at other times, you just want to eat something that gives you a healthy and hearty hug from the inside, sooner than later. Hello, retro tinned sardines, which have made a real comeback this year, with sales soaring by 500% at Waitrose & Partners. And that’s good news for our health, because tinned sardines (and tinned salmon, pilchards and mackerel) count as an oily fish, which are high in long-chain fatty acids, which may help to prevent heart disease. That’s why the NHS says a healthy balanced diet should include a portion of oily fish (140g) a week. And what better – or easier – way to slay your quota than by serving it on hot toast? 

    WE LOVE… Sardine pâté with sweet red onion toast 

    For more nutrition inspiration, read our blog to discover if superfoods are a superhoax here.

    As a Vitality member, you could get up to 25% cashback on Waitrose & Partners Good Health food when you get active. If you have a second eligible health insurance or life insurance plan, you could get up to 40% cashback. Excludes beverages. Log in to Member Zone for the details.