Eating like your grandmother

by Hazel Halliburton

When it comes to comfort food, no place does it better than the South, and whether it’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, greens or southern sweet tea, nobody cooks it better than your grandma. 


There is something about comfort food that evokes nostalgia and sentimental feelings that take you back to memories from years past. However, three months into 2016, we can also be taken back to memories of our New Year’s resolutions to be healthier and to exercise more — where there is no room for comfort food, or is there? 

While it may appear that there is no room for southern home-style cooking in a health-centered diet, according to Unity Health Dietitian Karen Szelinski, there are still ways to enjoy your grandmother’s recipes without the guilt. The important thing is to remember moderation.

“Our grandmothers may have flavored foods with bacon grease or fat, but their portion sizes were much smaller, they didn’t eat it every meal and they lived more active lives,” Szelinski said. “My grandmother would drink out of a tiny coffee cup, which held about 6 ounces and that was all the coffee she had at breakfast. She might have another cup in the afternoon or she might have another cup of coffee if she had company over, but it was much less. Their dinner plates were even smaller. 

“Now people drink 16 ounce coffees that are loaded with sugar and creamer and our portion sizes are much larger. We can still eat the way our grandparents ate and enjoy our grandmother’s recipes, but moderation and portion size are really the keys.” 

While eating organically with a health focus might not have been in the forefront of their minds like it is today, it was the norm for most of our grandparents.

“In addition to portion size, our grandparents ate out of their gardens because that’s what they had,” Szelinksi said. “There weren’t as many processed foods available, and convenient snacks such as potato chips or pudding cups were not as common. They also didn’t eat out — fast food wasn’t a thing. Most people didn’t eat desserts every day; they were for special occasions, and today’s generations eat so much more sugar than past generations.”

Szelinski adds that many of the convenient foods available in grocery stores often pack hidden sugar and carbs, such as condiments, salad dressings, processed foods and boxed meals. “The closer you can get to the natural form, the better.” 

And the more you cook at home, the better it will be for your overall health. With moderation and healthy substitutions, you can pull out your favorite family recipe that takes you back to childhood without feeling guilty. 

Szelinski recommends the following healthy cooking substitutions for added benefit. 


The U.S. government recently published the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which for the first time in history recommends a daily limit of sugar of no more than 10 percent of one’s daily caloric intake. Based on 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 10 percent is about 50 grams of sugar or 12.5 teaspoons. However, the American Heart Association suggests women keep their sugar consumption to six teaspoons a day while men are allowed nine teaspoons. 

Most recipes can easily be made with half of the sugar, so if a recipe calls for one cup of sugar or brown sugar, use 1/2 cup of sugar or brown sugar. Added spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg or flavorings such as vanilla extract can also add natural sweetness. For Southern sweet tea, try using honey, fruit or stevia for a more natural sugar form.

Butter and oil

Butter in baked goods can easily be replaced with fruit purees, which not only cuts fat content but calories as well. Instead of using 1 cup of butter, use 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of applesauce, pureed pumpkin/sweet potato, mashed bananas or pureed beans or 1/4 cup of plain nonfat yogurt. 

For one cup of oil, use one cup of applesauce, pureed pumpkin or sweet potato, mashed bananas, pureed beans or 3/4 cup of nonfat plain yogurt.

Sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese

For one cup, use one cup of nonfat plain yogurt. Greek yogurt can be used for a thicker, creamier texture. 

For mayonnaise used in chicken or tuna salad, use two parts of nonfat plain yogurt, plus one part Dijon mustard. 


Reduce or omit the salt from recipes by adding extra herbs and spices to main dishes, soups and salads.

Oven Fried Chicken

1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon hot sauce

2 1/2-3 pounds whole chicken legs, skin removed, trimmed and cut into thighs and drumsticks

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Olive oil cooking spray

Whisk buttermilk, mustard, garlic and hot sauce in a shallow glass dish until well blended. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.

Whisk flour, sesame seeds, paprika, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place the flour mixture in a paper bag or large sealable plastic bag. Shaking off excess marinade, place one or two pieces of chicken at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken on the prepared rack. (Discard any leftover flour mixture and marinade.) Spray the chicken pieces with cooking spray.

Bake the chicken until golden brown and no longer pink in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.

Make ahead tip: Marinate the chicken for up to 8 hours. No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make “sour milk” — mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.

Oven fried chicken is the healthier alternative to your grandmother’s Sunday fried chicken. By removing the skin and baking the chicken, the calories and fat content is reduced immensely. 

Makes: 4 servings

Active time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes (including marinating time)

Per serving: 224 calories; 7 g fat (2 g sat, 2 g mono); 130 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 34 g protein; 1 g fiber; 237 mg sodium; 400 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Zinc (24% daily value)

Carbohydrate servings: 0

Exchanges: 4 lean meat

*Recipe taken from