8 of Southern Kitchen's best recipes for healthier Southern comfort food

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Though we don't expect Americans to give up their classic pizza, fried chicken and mac and cheese any time soon, healthier versions of favorite foods are certainly trending. Food trend prognosticators Baum + Whiteman think 2022 will be the year of plant-based chicken, burgers and even faux seafood products.

Whether fake chicken nuggets are any better for you than the real deal remains to be seen, but it's true that healthier versions of classic soul food dishes remain some of the most popular posts on Southern Kitchen.

Here, we've rounded up some of your favorite healthier Southern dishes, including (hat tip to Baum + Whiteman) a version of Nashville hot chicken, only made with tofu. 

The vegan recipes

Nashville style hot tofu nuggets.

Vegan Nashville hot tofu nuggets: All of the heat, none of the meat. This crispy baked tofu gets tossed in a vegan Nashville-style hot sauce for the perfect appetizer,  potluck dish, or just for when you have a craving for spicy food. This recipe, courtesy of Rabbit & Wolves, requires only about 15 minutes of prep. Get the recipe

Vegan quinoa meatloaf for a meat-free main dish: We love this "meatloaf" with either mashed potatoes or rice. It just depends on what’s in your pantry. Fresh green beans and salad would take this meal to another level. This recipe comes from Blackberry Soul chef Rene Johnson, author of From My Heart to Your Table: Vegan and Traditional Soul Food Cookbook. Get the recipe

Vegan Peach Cobbler from Orchids + Sweet Tea.

This Southern Peach Cobbler has a secret: It's entirely dairy-free. This beautiful rendition of a classic cobbler has a true Southern touch with sweet maple-cinnamon biscuits for the topping. You won't miss the dairy one bit. This recipe is courtesy of Orchids + Sweet Tea. Get the recipe

Virginia Willis’ smoky vegan collards aren't just for New Year's: These classic Southern greens, which are abundant in tailgate markets right now, get a rich and smoky flavor from chipotles. We suggest using the tomato juice the recipe calls for, which deepens the flavor of the stewed greens and adds an acidic sweetness. Get the recipe

Better-for-you, meat-based classics

Chicken fried chicken with much less sodium.

This healthier chicken-fried chicken with country gravy cuts the fat and sodium: Here, chicken breasts get a light coconut milk batter. They're then pan-fried in just enough sunflower oil to get crisp and perfectly golden. The gravy is thick and rich with just a fraction of the usual fat. This recipe is courtesy of "Healthier Southern Cooking" by Eric and Shanna Jones. Get the recipe

These pork chops with lady peas and tomatoes are dairy-free: This easy one-pot meal comes from chef Linton Hopkins of Hopkins and Company. Though Hopkins is well known for his smash burgers, à la H & F Burger, he also has a deft hand with vegetable-forward Southern fare. This rustic dish, which Hopkins describes as somewhat of a quicker, lighter version of cassoulet, serves four and has only two tablespoons of vegetable oil. You can substitute real butter if you'd like. Get the recipe

Grain bowls or bust

Shrimp and Farro Grain Bowl with Lime Vinaigrette

This grain bowl is refreshing and light: Grain bowls are on restaurant menus everywhere, and they can get pretty pricey. They're economically friendly to make at home, however, especially if you're buying dried grains in bulk. Think of this recipe, which uses farro as a base, as a template. You can use any grains, sauce, vegetable, or protein you'd like. Here, shrimp, fresh vegetables and lime vinaigrette come together for a refreshing warm-weather meal. Get the recipe

Vivian Howard's one-pot pilaf was inspired by a family meal a Dominican prep cook cooked up in a cafe where Howard once worked as a butcher.

This one-pot pilaf gets dinner on the table in less than an hour: Vivian Howard's one-pot pilaf was inspired by a family meal a Dominican prep cook prepared in a cafe where Howard once worked as a butcher. Made with black beans, rice, cilantro stems, toasted cumin, garlic and lime, it's a one-pot meal on its own, or could be served as a side dish to spice-rubbed chicken. If you don't have time to make the preserved citrus the recipe calls for, add a bit of lime juice and lime zest at the end instead. Get the recipe

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com