There are plenty of healthy ways to fill up with satisfying meals during the winter months without filling out your waistline. There’s no doubt, it’s an extremely busy time of year. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo healthy cooking or rely on fast food when you’re in a rush.
Winter often makes us crave hearty stews, heavy pasta dishes and homestyle favorites like macaroni and cheese. But it is possible to satisfy yourself without consuming too many calories and piling on the pounds.
One of the best strategies for surviving winter in your same size jeans is to embrace lower-fat, reduced-calorie substitutions. For example, try low-sodium chicken stock when cooking with soups or use lighter versions of cream soup bases when preparing casseroles, says Linette Dodson, Director of School Food and Nutrition at Carrollton City Schools.
When it comes to dairy, it’s easy to cut calories without losing flavor. Try low-fat sour cream instead of regular sour cream in recipes and you probably won’t taste the difference.
Cheese is another place you can reduce calories, says Dodson, who is also a registered dietician.
“Use a sharper cheese that is finely grated, but use less of it. Try a sharp cheddar,” Dodson explains. “You can cut the fat by using the finer grate because you can use less and still get that real cheese flavor.”
Another easy tip is to substitute two egg whites when a recipe calls for one egg.
Plan ahead for busy weeks by using the crock-pot. It’s an easy way to make roasts, stews, soups and more. Here are some quick and easy slow-cooker recipes. On a busy weeknight, pick up a rotisserie chicken and serve with veggies or a salad.
It’s also the perfect season to save money and time with leftovers. Lots of winter recipes lend themselves to serving a second night — or freezing and saving for later, says Dodson.
For example, cook a roast and potatoes one night and on the second night use the leftovers to make beef stew. Or, roast a chicken with vegetables on Monday and use the leftovers for chicken soup.
Whole-grain pastas, chili and soups are easy to freeze. Try doubling the recipe and making enough to save for another time. Dodson suggests the flat, rectangular plastic containers so they stack neatly in the freezer and are easy to identify.
“I try to make enough to freeze so on those busy nights, I can pull something out of the freezer and just add a salad or fresh fruit and have an easy, healthy meal,” Dodson said.
Vegetable or bean-based soups are ideal for winter because they are a low-calorie way to fill up, and they can be an important part of preventing winter weight gain, say nutritionists. Save the cream-based soups for a special treat since they have a lot more calories and fat.
For a another healthy and satisfying dinner, try adding chicken (or any leftover meat) to salad the next day.
Green vegetables do a lot more than protect your heart and whittle your waistline. They can also help you avoid a red nose from seasonal colds and flu, and their mood-boosting vitamins can chase away the winter blues.
Winter is the season for dark leafy greens like kale and chard. Try these tasty recipes for winter greens. For picky kids, try making quick and easy kale “chips.” Here’s a simple, kid-tested recipe. Skip the parmesan or seasonings and just add sea salt if you prefer.
Winter vegetables help you stay full because they provide plenty of fiber. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are some of the healthiest options in season during winter months.
Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets and turnips are satisfying and full of nutrients but light in calories. Roast them or mash them to complement your dinner, or try cooking a sweet potato in the microwave for a quick and affordable lunch.
Beets are also flavorful additions to hearty winter salads. Just roast or boil them until soft and toss with olive oil or your favorite dressing and serve over lettuce or mixed greens.
Squash is another seasonal vegetable that’s perfect for simply roasting or using to make soups. Glenn Barnett, executive chef at Sunset Hills Country Club, knows the perfect way to cook squash so it’s delicious and still healthy. His recipe uses local honey as a healthier alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup, and he chooses olive oil instead of butter to cut fat.
“Butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash can all be cooked the same way and are quite healthy when prepared like this,” Barnett said. “The honey will help enhance the natural sweetness of the squash in place of sugar, and the herbs will add another dimension of flavor in place of salt.”
If you’re really crunched for time, you can also cut a squash in half, clean out the seeds, put a dab of butter (or olive oil) on the squash and microwave it in a covered dish until soft (with a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of the dish).
Chef Barnett also recommends buying locally grown, seasonal produce for the best taste. Farmer’s Fresh CSA and the Cotton Mill Farmer’s Market in Carrollton are great places to find quality local produce in west Georgia.
Chef Glenn Barnett’s Perfect Winter Squash
- Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. (The seeds can be roasted in the oven if you like.)
- Place each half of squash in a baking dish cut side up.
- Add some local honey (and maybe some fresh sprigs of thyme or sage in the cavity where the seeds were).
- Drizzle some olive oil on the squash (instead of butter to reduce fat).
- Fill baking dish up 1/4 of the way with water and cover with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately forty minutes.
- When the squash is tender remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
- The squash can then be removed from the skin and is ready to serve.