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Published January 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comfort foods gain popularity across country

“Mom, we had something really good for lunch!” my kindergarten-aged daughter exclaimed as she set her backpack down.

By: By Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, we had something really good for lunch!” my kindergarten-aged daughter exclaimed as she set her backpack down.

“What was it?” I asked, expecting to hear cupcakes or brownies.

“We had rice with cinnamon and sugar on it,” she said, rubbing her stomach and licking her lips.

“I think I can handle making that at home. I have a recipe for rice pudding.

“Would you like to try that?” I said.

“Is there a stirring job for me?” she asked.

I nodded and she grinned. The recipe turned up on the next day’s menu. She did a nice job stirring in the milk and cinnamon.

I was surprised that she was so enthusiastic about such a traditional “comfort food.” With the ferocity of our cold winter weather, some warm, sweetened rice with a sprinkle of cinnamon sounded good to me, too.

Comfort foods, those simple, familiar foods that conjure the image of “home,” are showing up on menus across the U.S. Home-style menu offerings are becoming more popular in restaurants.

The meaning of comfort foods varies from person to person and place to place.

For one person, it might be mashed potatoes and gravy, creamy soup or macaroni and cheese. Others might like a bowl of ice cream. When choosing food to comfort them, people often pick smooth-textured foods that are easy to eat.

Rice, pasta and potatoes often are considered comfort foods. These starchy foods sometimes are not appreciated for the economy and nutrition they provide. Not only are these foods economical, but they also provide energy, vitamins and minerals. Their “blandness” makes them versatile ingredients.

For example, long-grain white rice costs about $1.20 per pound. A typical 2-pound bag makes 20 servings, with three-fourths of a cup of cooked rice per serving. Each serving, therefore, costs just 12 cents.

According to the Nutrition Facts label, three-fourths of a cup of cooked rice has 160 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein, no fat and no sodium.

Rice is enriched with iron and B vitamins, including thiamin and riboflavin.

Although they often are given credit for giving us energy, vitamins do not contain energy. They help release energy from foods. They’re like the body’s spark plugs.

Rice and pasta also provide folic acid, a B vitamin that helps reduce the risk of birth defects and may play a role in keeping our heart and brain healthy throughout life.

When shopping, you will encounter different types of rice, including long-grain and short-grain rice. Short-grain rice is higher in starch and produces a stickier product. Long-grain rice produces a fluffy product and has grains that are easy to separate after cooking.

If you choose whole-grain brown rice, you also will have the benefit of fiber.

Brown rice, like other whole grains, includes all the parts of the grain. Keep in mind, though, that brown rice has different cooking instructions and adds a slightly chewy texture and nutlike taste to your recipes. Try it.

Uncooked white rice has about a two-year storage life, while brown rice is best used within six months because it contains some fat from the germ.

Here’s a family recipe I found in my recipe box. It was a cold-weather hit with my family. You can adapt it to suit your preference for sweetness.


Baked Rice Pudding

1 cup white rice (long grain)

2½ cup boiling water

2 tbsp. butter

¾ tsp. salt

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ to 2/3 cup sugar (to the sweetness you prefer)

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup low-fat or fat-free milk (or enough to nearly cover rice)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put rice in a 1 ½-quart casserole. Add butter, salt and boiling water. Bake 35 minutes. Fluff with a fork and slowly add milk to almost cover the rice. Add sugar and cinnamon. Stir. Return to oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Makes six dessert-size servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat, 42 g of carbohydrate and 330 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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