I just lost the Christmas 5, but the Thanksgiving 7 still lingers
January 6, 2009 5:41 PM   Subscribe

How do you eat healthy during the winter? General tips for staving off winter weight gain?

In the spring and summer, I tend to eat pretty well - lots of vegetables and fruits (often raw or minimally cooked), complex carbohydrates, lean fish, a little meat, minimal dairy, very few sweets. Typical totally-satisfying spring/summer day:

  • steel-cut oats cooked with a chopped apple for breakfast;
  • a raw asparagus/cannellini beans/tiny bit of feta and olive oil salad for lunch
  • a hard-boiled egg and an orange in the afternoon
  • a big fish sauce and lime-dressed vietnamese salad with herbs, dark greens, whatever veggies are in the fridge, and four ounces of broiled pork for dinner.

  • But I've just moved to Northern Colorado, and all I want to eat when it's 6 degrees outside are dark, deep, rich braises and warm bread by the fistful (seriously, I never crave bread during the warm months) and short ribs and casseroles and pizzas and cream soups and cheese, omg I want to eat buckets of macaroni and cheese. The super-fresh minimally cooked diet I usually love just isn't cutting it.

    So what are your healthy winter recipes that have that satiating feeling but don't weigh you down? I tried making a caldo verde last night, and was really pleased by how satisfying it was even without cream or lots of meat. Split pea soup with a smoked turkey leg is another one that hits the satisfying/healthy balance. There are plenty of rich comfort-food type winter dishes that I love to cook, but I guess I'm looking for healthy comfort foods (no sad "lite" versions of bad-for-you things, please; if I really really wanted something traditionally terrible-for-you but delicious, I'd probably just make the real thing and stretch it out over many meals).

    General tips for fighting winter pounds are welcome, too! I run, but until the days get a little longer and I can get back outside, it's way too easy to ignore the treadmill. It's just harder to do active lifestyle stuff in general when it's so cold outside - your ideas would be much appreciated!
    posted by peachfuzz to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
    Pick up a copy of this cookbook. It is all soups, stews, and salads (and some of those "salads" are pretty hearty grain-based things). The Moosewood cookbooks are what I go to when I start thinking, "wow, I need vegetables in my diet more often," because 99.9 % of their soup recipes seem to follow the basic formula of "start with a broth, and then cram as much vegetable matter into it as you possibly can."

    A bowl of one of their soups and one of the salads on the side and you've got a very satisfying meal. They also have recipes in there for a couple kinds of bread and some idiot-proof biscuits.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on January 6, 2009

    I've been in Winter eating mode lately and for me the trick is a lot of brown rice [filling, mostly good for you] and putting everying next to a side of grilled vegetables. I also like soups which, for the most part aren't too high in calories and not just filling but warm comfy foods. I'll try to balance eating decently with maybe some cocoa at night [water and/or nonfat milk and there's hardly any calories in a marshmallow so have six, they're small!]. I also do a few active things in the winter including snowshoeing [fun and a lot of exercise] and swimming [good to be able to get nearly naked in this biting weather and stretch a lot]. And then of course get on teh scale every day and see how you're doing. It's easier to do a mid-course adjustment if you gain a few pounds than to try to take off 10-15 at the end of a season.
    posted by jessamyn at 5:51 PM on January 6, 2009

    Spicy black beans and rice do the trick for me. You could also try making roasted vegetables like butternut squash, etc, that is hot and creamy and feels rich but is actually not really fattening.
    posted by Night_owl at 5:58 PM on January 6, 2009

    I just made turkey meatballs that cooked with two kinds of squash in a garlic, onion, and tomato sauce, over whole wheat pasta. It was warm and homey and pretty good. I think you just maybe want warmer foods, and experiment with spices/herbs. For instance, Things with oregano or marjoram always taste more warm to me.
    posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2009

    Ooh, thanks for the answers so far, guys - EmpressCallipygos, I'm buying some Moosewood books as we speak.

    I think I figured out what it is exactly that I'm looking for - satisfying but relatively low-density foods. I like to eat a LOT, but can't afford the calories - so in the warm months, making fresh vegetables the bulk of whatever I eat is an easy way to eat filling quantities that aren't terrible for me. But lots of winter foods are very calorie dense - so soups and stuff make great sense, thanks!
    posted by peachfuzz at 6:19 PM on January 6, 2009

    This is a winter staple for me: Baked-tuna-risotto

    I usually bake the risotto for 15 min then add the tuna (usually a chilli tuna) and zucchinis for the last 15 min. Bonus 1 pot recipe!
    posted by WayOutWest at 6:30 PM on January 6, 2009

    I just made this Chicken Chowder with Chipotle the other day, and it was seriously some of the most delicious, satisfying soup I've ever eaten. I used leftover roast chicken and a teaspoon of already-pureed chipotle with adobo that I keep in the fridge; otherwise I followed the recipe.
    posted by peep at 6:34 PM on January 6, 2009

    I've got a black bean soup simmering downstairs and the soaker for a whole grain loaf sitting on the counter, so I hear you about winter comfort foods.

    My pasta sauce, stews and curries, and veggie and/or bean soups usually start with huge amounts of brunoise (finely diced) aromatic vegetables. If I have the time, I prep them by hand, but tonight I shoved some carrots and celery through the food processor, then hand diced the onion and peppers.

    So most of my recipes start like this:

    1) Finely dice or shred one or more of onions, leeks, celery, sweet peppers, mushrooms, and carrots, then sweat them in 1-2 tablespoons oil and some salt in an oven safe pot on top of the stove. Your pot should be almost full of veggies when you start, but as they gently cook and as you stir, they will reduce dramatically.

    2) Add an appropriate enhancement once the veggies are translucent. This is almost always thinly sliced or crushed garlic, but can also include one or more of grated ginger, tamarind paste, hoisin sauce, sliced or pureed black olives and/or a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. This needs to be cooked only until it smells great: stir often on low heat and don't let it burn.

    3) Add whole or ground spices and herbs, and a source of heat if you like it, and cook gently until they smell great.

    4) I usually add some canned tomatoes and/or pre-browned meat or poultry, cooked beans, and chopped root veggies at this point, then add some more liquid (water, broth, tomato juice, etc.) to just cover the ingredients.

    5) Adjust herbs and spices if needed, then cover and stick into a slow oven (anywhere between 250 and 350 F) and let it cook for at least a couple of hours. This frees you from having to stir often to avoid sticking and really melds the flavours.

    6) Once it seems done, you can thicken it some more by using an immersion blender to puree some of the liquid/brunoise/beans while leaving the larger chunks of meat and veggies, if present, intact.

    I generally get something healthy, tasty and not too rich this way, but it's still easy to over-eat, so packaging it in small containers for freezing or a couple of days storage in the fridge will help you maintain control.
    posted by maudlin at 6:45 PM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

    What has worked for me is using the same strategy of lots of veggies for bulk without calorie density. But you do have more calorie demand in winter and it's okay to meet it. Also, I like to eat seasonally - it feels a little odd eating cilantro and lime and red peppers in the winter, so I switch over to storage vegetables and winter greens. Great foods to work with

    -sweet potatoes/yams
    -broccoli raab
    -potatoes - the many kinds
    -spinach, fresh or frozen
    -canned goods - beans tomatoes etc.

    So one of my favorite, very filling dinners is to take 2 links of chicken sausage and cut it into rounds, then toss it with cubed butternut squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions in a little olive oil with rosemary. Roasted in the oven, it's delicious, incredibly filling, and really healthy.

    A half cup of whole-grain pasta tossed with sauteed broccoli raab, olive oil, red pepper, and a shave of parmesan cheese is heaven.

    Swiss chard, braised with white beans, garlic, and a little pancetta or bacon is delicious.
    posted by Miko at 6:55 PM on January 6, 2009

    [Icy Chicago here] Seconding the butternut squash; brown rice; and soups!

    Speaking of soups, Pacific Natural Foods makes some very rich-tasting, low-ish fat soups like corn chowder and red pepper tomato (look for it in a soft, rectangular cardboard box) available at Whole Foods as well as many standard supermarkets. (My favorite is the red pepper tomato, to which I often add a dash of sherry, pinch of cayenne pepper, and top with bit of grated parmesan = AWESOME.) These creamy soups taste decadent, but aren't.

    PASTA: Whole grain pastas have become easier to find (Barilla makes a line now--yellow boxes) so I've also been making pastas with non-cream-based sauces, or just tossed with zucchini, a little olive oil, garlic, etc.

    PIZZA: We've been enjoying healthy, crispy, homeade pizzas made on whole wheat tortillas, and they're super easy. Lightly spray whole wheat tortilla bottom with oil, add pizza sauce (I use Pastorelli, I don't know if that's a national brand) fresh basil or other spices you like, veggies and sprinkle on some cheese and bake in the oven at about 350 till they look done.

    MEAT: As for the pork cravings, have you tried switching out the pork for salmon?

    SWEETS: And if you have a sweet tooth, I would recommend frozen blintzes!--available in the kosher section of many large supermarkets. They come in various flavors, e.g. apple, blueberry, cherry, and cheese (kind of like ricotta cheese). The individual blintzes heat very quickly the microwave and taste like pie or cheesecake, but with modest calorie/fat counts.

    ...You didn't even mention beer or wine. Lucky you! (That's my winter weakness.)
    posted by applemeat at 7:07 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

    How about chili? With a nice meat substitute (I recommend smart ground) you can make a crock pot of chili that's 2000 calories for the whole pot. Real meat will cost extra calories, but is sometimes worth it. Soups are nice, but chili is a meal by itself.
    posted by valadil at 7:20 PM on January 6, 2009

    I forgot carrots and parsnips...both good roasted or pureed in soup
    posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2009

    PIZZA: Do you spray the bottom with oil and put it on a pan, or spray the bottom with oil and it put it on the oven rack?
    posted by troybob at 8:16 PM on January 6, 2009

    general strategy that has worked for me this winter:

    -getting in a rut of choosing from only 3 options of food i enjoy for lunch (reasonable portions) . the routine part of it ensures i'm containing the calories, the enjoyable part ensures i don't yet want to get out of the rut .
    (my 3 options are: jambalaya, noodle soup, and a one slice cheese sandwich with olive tapenade or honey mustard + apple)

    -staying warm and active inside the house after work . i've found a lot of cleaning/organizing activities to do at home, and i wear a coat all the time . this keeps me eating as much as i would were i cold and stationary .
    posted by hellogoodbye at 4:58 AM on January 7, 2009

    ugh, i meant, --this keeps me FROM eating as much as....--
    posted by hellogoodbye at 5:00 AM on January 7, 2009

    Troybob, the pizzas come out the best when baked directly on the oven rack.

    Depending on what kind of wheat tortillas you use (i.e. their size, thinness, and how floppy they are) it can be difficult to get the intact pizzas onto the rack. When working with floppier tortillas, I will assemble the pizzas (with their bottoms oiled) on thin baking sheet and pre-bake them on the sheet for 5 mins or so until they are easier to move, then gently slide them off the sheet onto the bare oven rack for the remaining time.
    posted by applemeat at 7:22 AM on January 7, 2009

    Squashes and kale dishes are very filling and healthy. Orangette has one of my all-time favorite recipes which I would eat three times a week if I could: boiled kale with a fried egg and toast. It's delicious and much more hearty than you might expect.

    I also love soup made with white beans, kale, potatoes, and fennel.
    posted by min at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2009

    Fantastic, fantastic ideas everyone, thanks. I always forget how much I like root veggies...I'm thinking I'm going to make a warm roasted vegetable and quinoa salad tonight, maybe with sweet potatoes and onions and feta and some wilted beet greens...and a big pot of healthy chili tomorrow night...and some sort of wilted kale thing the next night...with many more ideas filed away! Thanks again!
    posted by peachfuzz at 2:02 PM on January 8, 2009

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