Building a menu or meal options around new food trends and exotic flavors will excite your diners, but don’t neglect their simple favorites. Comfort food is a menu staple that diners crave for its warmth, familiarity, memory of home, and nostalgia.
Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes comfort food to them, but there are common favorites, such as: grilled cheese and tomato soup, fried chicken and waffles, pot roast and mashed potatoes, and various pasta dishes.
Comfort food is usually simple in preparation and true to flavor. It is something your diners can eat and know they will enjoy. Comfort food gets its name from the associations made with the dish, like Mom’s meatloaf or potato soup on a cold day.
The “comfort” provided by comfort food is scientifically proven. Research shows that eating food associated with good thoughts improves your sense of well-being and decreases feelings of loneliness.
With today’s stressors, it’s no wonder people are choosing mood-boosting foods. Market research shows that people are comfort eating and stress eating more in response to Coronavirus shelter-in-place orders.
Purchases of salty snacks, cookies, and ice cream are all on the rise compared to last year’s purchase data. That means people are more likely to grab their favorite doughnut, bag of chips, muffin, or bagel from a convenience store, or order a massive plate of nachos from restaurant carry-out.
Hospitals are even tailoring their menus based on patient feedback to provide healthy comfort food options, like heart-healthy chicken pot pie or whole wheat crust pizza. Experts say comfort food can aid the healing process, because patients are more excited to eat foods they actually enjoy.
If you want to integrate comfort food into your eatery’s menu, consider these favorites with options for a twist. Even small modifications to meal preparation and flavor can make these tried-and-true favorites seem new.
1. Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
There is no wrong way to prepare a grilled cheese sandwich. A classic American grilled cheese is made on country white bread with slices of yellow American cheese.
Add variation to this pairing by using sourdough bread with colby or cheddar cheese. Use any leftover bread as a sourdough crouton in the tomato soup. For an even bigger twist, add basil to the soup, or goat cheese.
Tip: This pairing works well as a grab ‘n go option!
2. Country Fried Steak & Mashed Potatoes
Meat-and-potato lovers flock to the familiar flavors of country fried steak and its distinct brown or white gravy, depending on who you ask. Gravy is the perfect smother for potatoes, but can be high in calories.
For a lighter option, use a milk with reduced fat or serve with less salt. For a change in presentation, try country fried steak fingers, which helps portion control.
3. Meatloaf With a Side Twist
The best twist to this comfort food can be to its side dish. Meatloaf goes with everything and gives you freedom to experiment with the food you have on hand.
Try serving meatloaf with jalapeno cheddar mashed potatoes, parmesan carrots, or Italian peas.
4. Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Chicken pot pie is a hearty meal that can be a lot of work to prepare (especially if the crust is homemade).
For chefs and diners who are in a rush, serve this comforting meal as a soup. Patrons won’t miss the crust at all if you serve it with a hearty slice of bread.
5. Chicken and Waffles
Versatile enough for breakfast — brunch! — lunch, and dinner, chicken and waffles are a playground of possibility for variation. Layer cuts of waffle and fried chicken on a skewer for chicken and waffle kabobs. Or, serve as a sandwich with lettuce, tomato and bacon for a chicken and waffle BLT.
Comfort food can come in all shapes, sizes and flavors for take-out diners and grab ‘n go eaters alike. Add it to your menu now to help promote its feelings of well-being.
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