Aside from curling up next to an open fire, comfort foods are probably the best thing about winter.
And the good news is you don’t need to throw away your health goals – or your skinny jeans – to enjoy hearty, warming dishes during the cold months.
Coach asked Kara Landau, accredited practicing dietitian and founder of Travelling Dietitian, how to make some classic cold weather meals as healthy as possible.
“Bulk out your stews with a large amount of vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, onions, pumpkin or green beans,” Landau says. “Be sure to put a high fibre legume through the mix such as mung or lupin beans.”
Steer clear of adding too much salt or butter. Taste your dish as it’s cooking, and only add salt or butter if it really tastes like it needs it.
But don’t be afraid to add them just for the sake of saving a few calories – life is too short for bland food, and your friends will never come over for dinner again if your stew tastes like the main ingredient is cardboard.
Creamy soups are the best soups, but they tend to be the most high-calorie. To get that thick texture and satisfying taste, use Greek yoghurt instead of cream.
“Add a couple of tablespoons after taking it off the stove to boost the creaminess and protein, without adding a significant amount of kilojoules,” Landau advises. “Use non-starchy vegetables such as cauliflower as the base.”
Soup freezes well, so it’s a good idea to make a batch and store it for nights you don’t feel like cooking. Your body (and wallet) will thank you for defrosting a serve instead of ordering takeaway.
“Try and bulk out the meal with quite a few non-starchy vegetables that can be roasted alongside your protein, such as brussel sprouts, pumpkin, cauliflower, red onions and garlic,” Laundau says.
“Boost up the anti-inflammatory nutrients and flavour by adding a variety of spices, such as curry powder, cumin or cinnamon too.”
Good news: watching your caloric intake doesn’t mean you have to avoid the heaven that is a baked potato.
“Just watch your portion sizes and what you add onto it,” Landau warns — in other words, no butter (okay, fine, just the teensiest, tiniest bit). “Keep the skin on to get as much fibre from the vegetable as possible, and if you want to select a slower energy release potato, choose a carisma or sweet potato.”
Landau recommends baking it with a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil to boost your antioxidant intake and ensure you absorb the most nutrients from the meal.
If you haven’t wrapped your hands around a warm mug of hot chocolate, is it even winter?
To make a healthier version of the potentially high-sugar treat, Landau recommends using antioxidant-packed cacao with a natural, sugar-free sweetener such as monk fruit extract, stevia or xylitol as the base.
Mix with your preferred plant or animal milk such as almond, coconut, hemp or full cream. It’s a healthier way to get your post-dinner sweet fix than stuffing a block of chocolate in your mouth.
Making some minor tweaks to a classic apple crumble recipe can make it much better for you.
“Boost the prebiotic fibre content of your crumble by blending a couple of tablespoons of gluten-free green banana flour through with the oats,” Landau suggests. “Top the final dish with probiotic packed Greek yoghurt to support good gut health.”
You can also reduce the sugar content and boost micronutrients by replacing regular sugar with a mixture of natural alternatives, such as mesquite powder and monk fruit extract.
“Use a mixture of nut butters and extra-virgin olive oil to bind the crumble and enhance the fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants,” says Landau.