Do you find it hard to eat a healthy diet in the winter? Do cold, blustery days make you crave comfort food?
You can find a satisfying balance with a little planning.
“It shouldn't be all that much harder to eat healthy in the winter than in the summer because there are always some fresh fruit and vegetable options available,” says Troy Mueller, a registered dietitian who works with patients at Carilion Clinic’s Cardiac Rehab Center. “It's just a matter of choosing to use them and understanding what to do with them.”
“One great option is to roast various veggies in the oven with olive oil and garlic powder,” he says. “It's always better to choose fresh veggies, but if they are not available, frozen is the next best option. And if this is not available, even canned veggies can be used.”
Look for and enjoy what’s in season, including:
- Winter squashes such as butternut, pumpkin and acorn squashes
- Veggies like Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, kale, beets, onions, turnips, collard greens, rutabagas, sweet potatoes and cabbage
- Fruit including apples, oranges, bananas, mandarins, grapefruit, pomegranates and kiwi fruit
For added variety, feel free to supplement with frozen or canned veggies. “I suggest rinsing canned vegetables to remove about half of the sodium that you will see listed on the label per serving size,” Mueller says.
“The idea is to continue to get at least two servings of fruit and three servings of veggies per day year-round, with as much color and variety as possible,” he says. “This is part of the key to meeting all of our basic micro-nutrient and fiber needs.”
Who says healthy winter meals aren’t “comfort food?” What could be more comforting than a hot casserole or hearty soup?
Here are some nutritious dishes that are sure to satisfy:
- Warm, hearty salads with roasted vegetables and nuts or grains like quinoa
- Chili chock full of veggies and beans
- Cheese-topped casseroles with winter vegetables and rice or other grains
- Steaming-hot soups with herbed veggies
- Mashed white or sweet potatoes with carrots, turnips, parsnips or rutabagas (and add a swirl of butter!)
- Baked fruit tarts, pies and puddings using winter’s bounty
You can also season your dishes to add warmth, nutrients and flavor. Think paprika, cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon, for starters.
“One great side dish idea that I use is canned, rinsed green beans mixed with chopped tomato and avocado with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sesame seeds drizzled over it,” Mueller says. “You can even add some finely chopped jalapeno for a spicy twist.”
Watch those Carbs
Cold weather often makes us crave carbohydrates, but eating a breakfast high in protein can help keep you energized so that you’re less apt to fixate on carbs. Keeping healthy snacks nearby for any late-afternoon dip in energy will also serve you better than splurging on refined carbs with “empty” calories.
Mueller advises against eating too many heavy, “comfort” meals at this time of year. “Many people put on five to ten pounds over the winter due to less physical activity and more hot meals that potentially have more calories,” he says. “All it takes is 500 more calories per day to put on one pound per week.”
“Weight is easy to gain and very hard to lose,” he adds, “so keeping a close eye on your weight over the winter months is important. Extra weight can impact all of the important numbers— blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.”
If you have to eat fast food, choose the grilled chicken sandwich, wrap or salad or a turkey or chicken 6-inch sub. “Even Wendy's Chili is reasonably healthy,” says Mueller. “The chili poured over a plain baked potato and a small side salad with light dressing is a good option.”
For great winter dishes, check out Carilion Living recipes like this Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad.