When the weather is gloomy and cold, we instinctively reach for comfort foods to warm us from the inside out. Unfortunately, the things we crave, such as mashed potatoes or cheesy pastas, don’t do us much good – they’re often heavy in saturated fat, which is hard on the heart and waistline.
Make winter healthier by whipping up comforting meals that are rich in nutrients and low in fat. Here are a few ideas for quick and easy dinners that feature seasonal and local vegetables.
Nutrition notes: Squash’s creamy texture and subtly sweet flavour make it a perfect comfort food. What’s more, this veggie delivers a bounty of nutrients, including potassium and beta carotene – a phytonutrient your body converts into eye-protective and immune-boosting vitamin A. Squash also serves up fibre, which helps lower cholesterol.
How to make it: Sauté chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Add your favourite herbs, brown rice (use leftovers if possible), diced bell peppers and tomatoes, some nuts, such as walnuts or pine nuts, and salt and pepper, says Nancy Guppy, a registered dietitian and chef instructor at Chapman’s Landing Cooking Studio in Nipissing, Ont. Pierce a few holes into an acorn squash, cut off the top, scoop out the seeds, then fill it with the rice mixture. Replace the top and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour or until squash is soft.
Nutrition notes: This hearty dark leafy green veggie is at its best during the chilly months. Loaded with nutrients, it strengthens your immune system so it can fight off germs, and it may help prevent diseases such as osteoporosis. “Kale has a lot of calcium and iron…and a cup of boiled kale provides 2/3 of our daily vitamin C and all of our vitamin A,” says Guppy.
How to make it: Soak raisins in balsamic vinegar. Remove the stems and chop kale into small pieces. Sauté chopped onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add the kale, chopped red pepper and carrots and cubes of extra firm tofu or chicken breast. Cook until the vegetables are tender but not overdone. To finish, stir in the raisins and a splash of balsamic vinegar, says Guppy. Serve over a fast-cooking whole grain, such as millet.
Nutrition notes: Pumpkin is a versatile vegetable. It’s great in pies, soups and casseroles, and it’s delicious on its own as a side dish. However, what’s best about pumpkin is its nutritional profile. “It’s high in vitamin A, somewhat high in vitamin C (immune boosters) and offers a good deal of fibre,” says Guppy. “It also has many other nutrients like potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.”
How to make it: Simply follow this recipe by Nancy Guppy, RD. Makes 6 servings.
*To easily cube a pumpkin, use a sharp knife to pierce five or more holes into the flesh. Put it in the microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes – more if the pumpkin is large. This softens the pumpkin. Remove the seeds. Cut into larger pieces and remove the outer peel. Dice into cubes.
Aileen Brabazon is a freelance writer based in Toronto who's work has appeared in glow, Hello! Canada, Viva, Oxygen, Rouge and on homemakers.com. Her favourite things to write about are nutrition, alternative health and green living, which isn't a surprise considering she's also a certified holistic nutritionist. Between writing, helping clients improve their diets and wellbeing and teaching children with autism, Aileen loves to cook organic foods, hike in nature, volunteer at Evergreen Brick Works farmers' market, unwind with yoga and meditation and dance to Stevie Wonder and Al Green. You can reach Aileen at email@example.com.