Post-Run Comfort Foods for Cold Weather Running

bowl of mac and cheese
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After a long run on a cold winter day, nothing tastes as good as comfort foods such as chili, mac 'and cheese, or a creamy soup. The problem with many comfort foods, of course, is that many of them are extremely high in fat and calories. But comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. With a few easy tweaks, you can still get the same satisfying tastes, plus some additional nutrients that are perfect for a runner’s diet (even if you're trying to lose weight).

Here are some tips for healthier versions of runners’ favorite comfort foods, as well as some recommended pantry staples for the cold weather running season.

1. Made-Over Meatloaf

Meatloaf just screams comfort food. And it contains protein that's necessary to help repair and build stronger muscles. However, most meatloaf recipes call for ingredients that are high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat.

How to make it: For a healthier, more nutritious version of meatloaf, you can use ground turkey instead of ground beef. It’s leaner than beef, especially if you choose the 99% fat-free kind. You can also replace some of the meat with veggies such as shredded carrots, diced celery, mushrooms, and parsley. You’ll still get a flavorful meatloaf with even more fiber (to fill you up) and vitamins. To reduce the amount of sodium, use low-sodium ketchup or broth.

2. Outstanding Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a popular, satisfying breakfast choice among runners, but steel-cut oatmeal is a much healthier option than instant oatmeal.

It's a complex carb that has the highest levels of protein and fat of all cereal grains, so you’ll get much more than just a quick sugar fix from this super food. The slow release of energy from the oats helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. Runners often feel like they’re hungry, but the complex carbs and fiber in steel-cut oatmeal will help you feel fuller longer and less likely to give into post-run cravings).

How to Eat It: If you think steel-cut oatmeal is bland by itself, try adding some delicious and nutritious toppings. As you’re making it according to the package directions, mix in a mashed banana and a tablespoon of cocoa for some more flavor and nutrition. Or, sprinkle in a teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a handful of dried tart cherries. Eat with your favorite berries on top.

3. Modified Mac and Cheese

Who doesn’t love macaroni and cheese, especially after a long run in the cold? But if you make it with regular cheese, butter, and whole milk, you end up with a lot of fat and calories.

How to make it: To make mac and cheese that's lower in fat and calories, but still delicious, start with 12 ounces of elbow macaroni or other tube pasta. Cook it according to package directions. Then put two tablespoons of flour in a separate medium saucepan and gradually whisk in two cups of non-fat milk. Heat the milk and flour on medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer until the milk starts to thicken.

Stir in 1 ½ cups of low-fat sharp cheddar cheese, and stir until cheese melts. Mix in the drained pasta, stir, and serve.

4. Versatile Tomato Soup

Soup is always good after a cold run, and tomato soup is one of the most versatile soups to keep stocked in your pantry all winter long. Look for all-natural, low-sodium versions to get the most nutritional bang for your buck.

How to Eat It: Try pairing tomato soup with a few whole-grain crackers and some low-fat cheese or turkey breast for a quick and healthy lunch.

Tomato soup is also the perfect starter ingredient for delicious and easy slow cooker meals, such as low-fat turkey chili. For an easy meal, combine a can of low-sodium tomato soup, one pound of browned lean ground turkey, two cans of kidney beans (drained), one can of black beans (drained), and a chili seasoning packet in the slow cooker and cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.

5. Lightened-up Potato Soup

A creamy, cheesy potato soup sprinkled with bacon bits can be a satisfying and tasty post-run lunch. But all those delicious ingredients contain lots of fat and calories.

How to make it:  You can use your favorite potato soup recipe, but make some smart and healthier substitutes. Replace one-third of the potatoes with the same weight of cauliflower. It won’t change the taste or consistency much, but you’ve save a ton of calories. Use a low-fat cheese to reduce the calories and fat even more. And don’t think you need to completely cut out the flavor-packed bacon. You can use turkey bacon, since it’s lower in fat and calories than regular bacon.

6. Healthier Hot Cocoa

Ok, so it's technically not a comfort "food", but nothing is quite as comforting and delicious as hot cocoa. And it’s always motivating to think about a post-run mug of hot chocolate during the last mile or two of a run in the bitter cold. Unfortunately, store-bought packets of hot chocolate aren’t the healthiest option – they’re loaded with sugar and preservatives. By using skim milk, bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa powder, you'll get a healthier, tastier version.

How to Make It:  Heat two cups of skim or low-fat milk over medium heat. Whisk in two ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate, one tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, one tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Turn heat down to simmer for one minute, stirring until well-blended. Turn off heat and pour into two mugs.

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