Hearty and Healthy Winter Meals

Winter officially starts this month, and if you’re like most people, the cooler temps usher in a craving for rich comfort foods. Before the frigid temperatures drive you to the pantry for a snack or meal you may later regret, take time to learn about seasonal healthy meals that will leave you and your family satisfied without the extra processed carbs, calories or fat.

Vanessa Abbood, a clinical dietitian on the medical staff at Texas Health Huguley, knows a thing or two about healthy eating this time of year — and she practices what she preaches. We asked her to share some advice about preparing hearty, healthy meals when the temperature drops.  We learned that it may be easier than you think — and good for your waistline and pocketbook, too.

“I tell patients that lightening up cooler weather comfort foods is really pretty simple,” Abbood says. “First, start by swapping out low-fat dairy in place of full-fat products to make healthier versions of your favorite family meals without sacrificing taste. This easy step alone can reduce calories and saturated fat without sacrificing taste and satisfaction.”

Abbood also recommends shopping the produce aisle for vegetables and fruits to add to favorite dishes. Healthy add-ins are a smart strategy and add filling fiber, vitamins and minerals to a variety of main or side dishes. An added bonus: extra fruits and veggies also stretch the number of servings.

The dietitian also advocates using whole-grain wheat products in place of white carbohydrates for additional fiber and nutrients — and to keep you feeling fuller longer.

Shopping for seasonal ingredients is also integral to preparing meals this time of year. Squash and other seasonal foods bring versatility and reasonable costs, and Abbood adds them to casseroles, soups and side dishes like her favorite au gratin casserole that can be slimmed down with low-fat dairy. Roasted acorn squash is another hearty option that is both eye-catching and full of great nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and magnesium.

So what’s Abbood’s “go-to” staple when the chill of cooler weather keeps her inside?

“Soups are one of my favorite meals this time of year,” she explains. “They are easy to prepare, healthy and filling, and great for sharing with family and friends. My current crowd-pleasers are butternut squash, lentil and kale soups, as well as a lighter version of potato soup where I use low-fat dairy instead of heavier ingredients. When I enjoy a meal with family or friends, I like to pair soup with a small green salad and a whole-grain roll or muffin.”

Here’s one of Abbood’s favorite chilly weather recipes:

Vanessa’s Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 large yellow onion, diced

2 celery ribs, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 small granny smith apple, peeled, cored and diced

2 tablespoons white wine

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of nutmeg

4-5 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup whole milk

salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, stirring occasionally. Cook until somewhat softened and onion is starting to become translucent, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, stirring frequently, and cook for 2 more minutes.
  3. Add the white wine and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
  4. Add the butternut squash, apple, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add 4 cups of the stock and whole milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce down to a simmer.
  6. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour, until squash and carrots easily fall apart when cut with the side of a spoon.
  7. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a stand blender and blend until completely smooth. Add the last cup of stock, if necessary, to reach desired consistency and salt to taste.

In addition to shopping the produce aisle for fresh fruits and vegetables, Abbood likes to stock up on items that she can grab from her freezer, fridge or pantry at home.  Her grocery list:

  • Frozen vegetables — peas, green beans and frozen butternut squash cubes are great to throw in soups and casseroles
  • Whole grains — quick-cooking wild rice blends and barley, for example, are shelf-stable and a nutritious addition to soups or for a side dish
  • Legumes — dried beans and lentils add fiber, texture and flavor to many cold-weather favorites — and they can stretch a dish to serve more
  • Dried herbs – add thyme, sage and rosemary to naturally flavor your dish without the added sodium or calories

Abbood offers a few other tips for meal prep during cooler months:

  • Invest in a crock pot, which is a must-have kitchen appliance for fall and winter cooking.  They’re available in a variety of sizes whether you’re cooking for two or a group of twenty.
  • Cook in bulk and freeze the extra for meals you and your family can enjoy when your schedule doesn’t allow for dinner prep.
  • Enjoy hot beverages, but instead of sugary, high-fat cocoa, make a healthier homemade version with fat-free milk, cocoa powder and a small amount of sugar or artificial sweetener.  Flavored or herbal teas are other healthy options to warm you up on a cooler day.

“No matter your menu, the good news is that a little advance planning will ensure that most any foods can fit into your fall and winter menu,” Abbood shares. “With a few healthy meal prep hacks, you and your family can enjoy the season’s heartier fare with a healthy twist that will leave you completely satisfied.”

For health information from Texas Health Resources, check out the calculators for Eating Right section of this blog. 

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