Comfort food is an interesting concept. Of course, its definition seems to be a circular one that includes the words you’re trying to define. Comfort food is food that you eat when you want or need to be comforted.
But that means something different for every family. Chicken soup, hot chocolate and toast might all be comforting to you, whereas for others it may be pho (a steaming bowl of spicy broth and noodles), goulash or enchiladas.
As a cook and parent, I’ve found that one of the most important aspects of comfort food is how comforting it is to me when I serve that dish to my family.
Although I always feel “the love” when I cook for my husband and kids, there is something special about making them a meal I know means something to them: a meal that makes them feel better when a test hasn’t gone well, or a project hasn’t worked out, or there’s some good news that deserves a celebration.
While there’s an entire science behind why some foods feel more comforting than others, it’s generally thought that foods leaning toward the rich, salty, sweet, soft, not-so-good-for-you side dominate the comfort-food category more than more healthful alternatives. So what’s a cook to do? You want to give the love, but not the calories, fat or sodium that might go with it.
The answer? Turkey meatloaf.
Well, meatloaf may not be everyone’s favorite comfort food, but my kids love it and I find it’s a dish that doesn’t suffer at all from a healthful remake. I simply switch the traditional ground beef with turkey, add some skim milk and lots of veggies to increase the moisture.
The result is an absolutely addictive version of this feel-good dish. Pair it with some buttermilk mashed potatoes and you have the iconic comfort-food duo. There’s an added benefit, too. The meatloaf sandwiches you make with leftovers are equally comforting and delicious.
Any dish that makes my family feel good for more than one meal is my definition of real comfort food.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.