Retail Foodservice

Comfort Foods Get a Health-Focused Facelift

Photograph courtesy of Potatoes USA

With near-constant reports on whether different types of foods are “good” or “bad,” it’s understandable that many consumers are confused and overwhelmed with information about diet and nutrition. But with menu changes abounding industry-wide in response to consumers’ shifting definitions of health, it’s easier than ever for operators and retailers to encourage consumers to try something new.

When asked what words best describe the foods they typically crave, 56% of consumers said “comfort food” while 49% said “savory” and 48% said “homemade,” according to Technomic’s Q3 2018 report, CIPP Snacking Occasion Opportunities. With descriptors like these taking top billing with consumers, it’s not surprising that prepared-foods departments in grocery stores are spotlighting more comfort foods. But to intersect with consumers’ shifting definitions of health, many of these dishes have been updated to be a bit more nutritious. Dishes such as mashed potatoes and pastas are getting makeovers to offer shoppers healthier options that are still delicious and craveable.

Here are three easy ways to update comfort foods to meet modern consumers’ desires.

1) Play up plant-based potential

Giving comfort foods a makeover doesn’t have to mean changing them entirely. Rather, grocery retailers can add new ingredients to an existing dish to create something different and exciting—and, add double the veggie power to their mash. For example, combining prepared mashed potatoes with veggie purees or blends creates a host of new crave-worthy flavors, plus it replaces the ingredients that would turn mashed potatoes into a high calorie dish – like butter, sour cream and cheese. Blending these ingredients also creates a visually appealing side dish that allows customers to conveniently “eat the rainbow.” Try blending these combinations with mashed potatoes:

  • Beet and dill puree

  • Butternut squash and sage puree

  • Tomato and basil puree

  • Roasted pepper and carrot puree

  • Kale, spinach and basil pesto

With colorful mashed potatoes, grocers can offer them both as a side with entrees or as a mashed potato bar that shoppers can dress up with fixings such as roasted and pulled meats, veggies, cheese, beans, sauces and other tasty toppings.

Operators can also amp up comfort food stews and chilis by incorporating additional vegetables or legumes.

2) Maximize bases

By using more nutritious bases in pasta and other dishes, retailers can give consumers a better-for-you option. For instance, swapping potato noodles for classic pasta gives consumers a nutrient-dense and gluten-free choice for their favorite dishes. Swapping potatoes, greens or whole grains, like quinoa or farro, in for rice can increase potassium, vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients in a dish. By adding ingredients that have a higher nutritional value over simple carbohydrates, consumers can enjoy comfort foods without making compromises to their diets. Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating report found that when consumers want to order healthy items, 57% look for natural ingredients on menus much more than they look for items under a certain number of calories (37%). This relatively new focus on quality ingredients, rather than foods that are just low-calorie or low-fat, means retailers can offer delicious comfort foods that customers love without having to change too much.

3) Introduce new convenience foods that pack a nutritious punch

More consumers today are eating on-the-go, and retailers are working overtime to provide customers with healthy and delicious options that shoppers can grab for a quick meal. Options like pizza, sushi and rotisserie chicken have traditionally filled this need, but new options like deli wraps with low-carb tortillas, potato pupusas (Latin American flatbread with fillings) or veggie and fruit-filled energy bars– can meet consumers’ desire for quick options that are also better for you and delicious.

From greens and grains to the ever-versatile potato, it’s easy to increase the nutrition in comfort foods without sacrificing taste. Highlight the health factor in these updated comfort food dishes to ensure shoppers know the food being served is a step above the traditional.


This post is sponsored by Potatoes USA