• Jessica Sims, Senior Writer, Ashley O'Grady

'Tis the Season for Comfort Food!

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Let's admit it, our favorite season is here. The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, the bold smell of cinnamon in our homes and pumpkin flavored everything is everywhere, literally. We've been waiting for this all year long- the festive gatherings, friendsgiving dinners (by the way UNF dining services is hosting one!), Holiday parties and family 'get-togethers'. This also means lots and lots of comfort foods filled with yummy-ness that leads into a deep sleep coma. BUT, let's not break out those stretchy pants just yet! You can still get the comfort foods you crave and love without all the extra calories.

For example, who doesn’t love creamy mashed potatoes? Well, I have a few tricks for you that will pack in extra vitamins, decrease the calorie content, and the saturated fats. The latest trend for swapping out potatoes is using cauliflower! Just take your standard mashed potato recipe and substitute the potatoes for cauliflower. All you have to do is steam the cauliflower then transfer it to a food processor. Add in olive oil, Greek yogurt, milk or milk substitute, chives, garlic, salt and pepper, and voilà! You can still get the same great flavor, comfort, and enjoyment out of that traditional holiday side dish.

Here are two great recipes you can try!

1. Creamy Parmesan Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

2. Art Smith's Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

DYK? You can add a little holiday sweetness to your vegetables? Try roasting acorn squash with maple syrup or this decadent Sweet Potato-Pecan Casserole, you will not be disappointed!

Maybe you need a dorm friendly dessert that gives you that holiday comfort? Make microwave cinnamon apples! All you have to do is slice up an apple, place it in a bowl, microwave it for 60-90 seconds (or until soft), add a dash of cinnamon, a few raisins, and a dollop of honey (or maple syrup). It tastes just like apple pie!

Since we are on the topic of comfort foods I have to say my favorite comfort meal *hands down* is spaghetti and meatballs. Below is my unique vegetarian 'meatball' recipe that may change your spaghetti and meatball game for good! It's very versatile and anyone can enjoy it, and can be made vegan if you omit the egg.

Vegetarian meatballs

Yields: 20 'meatballs'


  • 1 cup brown rice (cooked)

  • 1/2 cup quinoa (cooked)

  • 15 ounces chickpeas (drained)

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 yellow onion (minced)

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)

  • 1 teaspoon oregano

  • 1 teaspoon basil

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Heat a pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until onion is translucent (roughly 2 minutes).

  3. Once cooked, add onion and garlic mixture to a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mixture forms a chunky batter. Do not blend smooth.

  4. Roll the mixture into 20 meatballs. Place on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

  5. To get a crispy texture all around, simply fry a few meatballs at a time in a pan with a little bit of oil. Shake the pan so that the meatballs are evenly cooked on all sides.

  6. Serve with spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, or whole grain pasta and enjoy!

By the way, have you ever tried spaghetti squash? It's super easy to make and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. All you have to do is:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease it.

2. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the 'guts', and place the halves face down on the baking sheet.

3. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, let it cool, and then scrape out the squash with a fork.

If you haven't noticed by now, our dining locations on campus have an amazing selection of fall flavors and comfort food holiday dishes. The Osprey Cafe has been serving roasted brussel sprouts and loaded sweet potatoes that have been to die for! They also have been serving savory and delicious chowders to warm you up for those "cold" days we have here in sunny Florida.

You can also head over to Outtakes and scope out their seasonal snacks as well as the grab and go salads/sandwiches. My favorite is the Turkey Waldorf Apple Nut Salad. It has the right amount of sweetness from the apples but packs some healthy fats and protein to keep my energy up throughout the afternoon.

Not many students can go without a hot cup of coffee or hot latte from Starbucks. The gingerbread latte and peppermint mocha are two highly recommended seasonal comfort drinks. If you order them with skim, almond, or coconut milk you can cut down on some of the saturated fat and calories but still enjoy this tasty holiday drink. They also offer some seasonal sandwiches if you're hungry!

Another great 'comfort food made healthy' option on campus is the new pumpkin spice smoothie and smoothie bowl from Jamba Juice, created by our registered dietitian. The smoothie includes a pumpkin spice base with bananas, honey, and almond milk. The bowl has the same ingredients but they add granola and pumpkin seeds on top... tastes just like pumpkin pie but with more nutrients and less added sugar!

Our take away today, is a friendly reminder that indulging in comfort foods this holiday season does not mean you have to feel guilty by treating yourself to a great classic dish but to me mindful of your portions. Also, a lot of classic dishes can be made healthy with the same amount satisfaction and taste!

As always, Stay Healthy Ospreys!

p.s. if you're interested in more recipes, check out these tasty ones from other dietitians!

Main Dishes:

Easy, Real Comfort Foods: Meal Planning

Healthy Comfort Food: Hashbrown Casserole with Veggies

15-minute Pasta

Melanie's 30 minute pumpkin chili with ground turkey

Instant Pot Chicken and Sweet Potato Chili

Healthier Chicken Salad

Breakfast-Worthy Apple Crisp


Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Mash


Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Latte

Oatmeal Banana Cookie Bars

#Pumpkin #Fall #ComfortFoods #recipes

UNF Dining Services' Dietitian

Email Yemila: y.lowry@unf.edu

Bldg 8/1210-J

1 UNF Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32224