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Comfort food alternatives

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When it's pouring outside and the wind is howling through the eaves, it's tempting to call in sick, curl up on the couch in front of the TV, wrapped up in a warm blanket with a big, steaming bowl of chili or mac and cheese in hand, and just indulge a little.

But let's face it — once the weather starts to turn warmer again and it's time to get ready for swimsuit season, we certainly don't want to look like we've been indulging in comfort food all fall and winter. That's why The Daily Meal has come up with slimmed-down versions of a few favorites, as well as some alternatives to the usual calorie- and fat-laden dishes.

Love chicken pot pie, but can't face yourself in the mirror after stuffing your face with it? Then don't miss out on this Slow Cooker Chicken Pot Pie Soup, which dispenses with the most fattening elements — the crust, the butter, and the milk — but retains that familiar, comforting flavor.

Or perhaps the mention of that big, steaming bowl of chili caught your attention. In which case, do try the Vegetarian Chili from Tosca Reno, author of the Eat-Clean Diet series of cookbooks. Four different types of beans; toasted, smoky cumin; and a secret ingredient might make you forget all about the calorie- and fat-laden meat versions.

Last, but not least, Recipe Rehab, a healthy cooking show on ABC aimed at helping families transform their eating habits with healthier versions of down-home favorites, tackled fried chicken their first week, and we are happy to share a recipe for Baked Southern Fried Chicken with Barbecue Sauce from one of the chefs.

Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken and Orzo Soup
Forget about opening that can of soup from the store, laden with sodium, mushy vegetables, and limp noodles. Instead, fire up that slow cooker that's been gathering dust since last year and enjoy a freshly made soup with ease. And it will taste like it's been cooking all day — because it has. With just 164 calories and 1.3 grams fat per 1 ½ cup serving, it's easy on the waist, too.

BBQ Chicken Mac and Cheese
Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Speedy Sneaky Chef, cuts down on calories in this comfort food favorite by using low-fat dairy and a vegetable purée instead of heavy cream or whole milk as a thickener. At just 255 calories and 3.2 grams of fat per serving, it's a dream come true.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Parmesan and Cinnamon
Take a break from buttery, fattening mashed potatoes and gravy and try these baked sweet potato fries instead. Taking the fryer out of the equation means that these fries are as healthy as can be, and sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as fiber.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Leek Soup
While some versions of butternut squash soup pile on the calories and fat with butter, milk, and heavy cream, this lighter version uses chicken stock to keep all the flavor while dropping the calorie count. At just 116 calories per 1-cup serving, it's a featherweight.

Cumin-Crusted Oven Fries
Not a huge fan of sweet potato, but don't want to give up the health benefit of oven-baking fries? Then try this fantastic recipe from Viviane Bauquet Farre, author of the award-winning blog Food and Style.

Slow Cooker Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Jennifer Drummond, author of the blog Peanut Butter and Peppers and creator of this soup, says, "It's thick, creamy, and does taste like chicken pot pie without the crust!" The best part? Just 147 calories and 1.9 grams fat per serving.

Vegetarian Chili
No roundup of comfort foods would be complete without chili. Tosca Reno, author of the Eat-Clean Diet series of cookbooks, has come up with a vegetarian chili that's healthier than the traditional meat-based versions and sure to satisfy meat lovers at the same time with its smoky, toasted cumin flavor, four different types of beans, and a secret ingredient.

See more recipes for comfort food here 

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