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Surprising Ways to Slim Down Comfort Food Favorites

You know better than to attempt to live without sweets, cheese, or brunch hash browns—it’s just not going to happen, and if you decide to take a shot, it’ll likely backfire in a binge. While these meals and snacks are all decidedly un-diet, there’s no reason to associate them with a wider butt. A few smart recipe tweaks will not only slash calories, they also inject valuable nutrients. Sure, you’ll notice a difference—when you look in the mirror.

Hamburger

1. Trade your empty-carb heavy bun for a light whole-wheat English muffin. They’re slightly less dense than regular English muffins, but not so much that you’ll notice a difference, and you'll save as many as 50 calories and add filling fiber.

2. Most patties are way bigger than they need to be. Use the thickness and width of your palm as a rough guide, or measure about three ounces of ground beef on a food scale. Although the meat will cook down a little, by using the muffin, you’ll still get the same satisfying texture and flavor you crave in each bite.

3. Swap some of the ground beef out for blueberries. Use about a third of a cup of blueberries, pulsed in the food processor, for every pound of chopped lean beef. It not only cuts saturated fat and calories, it also adds moisture and antioxidants.

RELATED: Fire up the grill and try these five guilt-free burgers from around the globe.

Pancakes

1. Stir in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin per 1 cup batter to add fiber and vision-protecting beta carotene while subtracting calories from each flapjack.

2. Pour a bag of frozen blueberries into a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Use the added-sugar free, antioxidant-packed sauce in place of maple syrup.

Fried Chicken

1. Dredge in flour first and then in egg white before you dip your bird in breadcrumbs to ensure your coating sticks without requiring a lot of oil.

2. Instead of breadcrumbs, coat with crushed cornflakes to help create the crunch you crave without the need for frying.

3. Now you can skip the pool of oil and simply bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet for perfectly crispy un-fried chicken that’s lower in calories.

Ice Cream

1. Make super-healthy, one-ingredient “ice cream”: Peel a banana, cut into bite-sized pieces, and freeze. In food processor, blend banana, scraping down sides as necessary, until it has the texture of ice cream.

2. Swap sugary peanut butter sauce for a sprinkle of peanuts. You’ll get the same flavor for far fewer cals, plus a guilt-free dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

1. Trade some or all of the spaghetti for zucchini, using a vegetable peeler to cut thin strands to mimic the shape of the noodles. Gram for gram, the squash has about one fifth the calories and carbs, plus it adds vitamins such as immune-boosting C and B6, and ensures that dinner is super filling.

2. Chop portobello mushrooms in a food processor and use them to replace up to a third of the ground beef in meatballs. Good-bye calories and saturated fat; hello cancer-fighting antioxidants selenium and copper and blood-pressure lowering potassium.

Muffins

1. Decrease the sugar by 25 percent—most standard recipes are sweet enough that your taste buds won’t detect a thing. For a recipe that makes a dozen muffins and calls for 1 cup sugar, you’ll save around 15 calories per serving. Not huge, but any amount helps.

2. For pretty round tops and less rounding of your hips, fill muffin cups about half way. Since each batch will go farther, store extra baked goods in the freezer—you’ll have to thaw one at a time as you’re ready to eat them, making it harder to gobble too many at once.

3. If your recipe calls for chopped apple, blueberries, or other fresh fruit, add about 25 percent more to bulk up your batter for few calories and loads of fiber and vitamins.

Pizza

1. Scatter whole roasted garlic cloves evenly on top of your pie—with tons of rich flavor and only 4 calories per clove, you can use less cheese and higher-calorie add-ons such as pepperoni and sausage without feeling like you’re missing a thing.

2. Be selective about your sauce since jarred varieties can be an unexpected source of added sugar. Look for one that doesn’t have any added sweeteners (check the label for sugar, agave, corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, and the like). We like Cucina Antica, Monte Bene, and Ragu.

Cookies

1. Use mini chocolate chips and only half of what the recipe calls for. You’ll still get the same number of chips per cookie for about 20 fewer calories per treat.

2. Replace up to half the oil with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana. Both fruits add moisture, fiber, and nutrients like potassium while cutting fat and calories. The texture will be about the same, though you’ll have to test it out on your recipe to be sure.

Hash Browns

1. Add chopped onions and red and green bell pepper to your potato mixture to downsize the carbs and infuse fiber and vitamin C, which your body needs to build muscle and bones.

2. Cook in an egg ring to create a perfectly portioned, individual-sized hash brown cake.

Mac and Cheese

1. Replace the butter and cream in your favorite recipe with nonfat Greek yogurt. You'll reduce heart-unhealthy saturated fat and boost satiating protein and bone-building calcium, and find the flavor just as rich.

2. Replace about half the pasta with a steamed bag of frozen California blend vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) so you end up with equal parts pasta and vegetables cup for cup. The vitamin-packed veggies stretch the sauce, giving you a big bowlful of cheesiness for fewer calories—you can save close to 100 per serving.

3. Use whole-wheat pasta and prepare it “al dente,” or a bit firm to the bite. Doing so decreases the glycemic index so the carbs are released more slowly into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar on a more even keel.