Amidst plunging temperatures, bracing winds and rapidly-fading daylight hours, Winter is well and truly upon us! This is the season for cosy nights in with our winter warmer dishes to nourish both body and soul.
Building a balanced plate
Although tempting, many of the usual Winter suspects such as pies, creamy pastas and rich desserts are often energy-dense and lighter-on in nutrients. For this reason, they are best enjoyed occasionally.
Day-to-day, most of our meals will ideally feature lots of vegetables and legumes, lean protein, quality carbohydrates and healthy fats. Sprinkle in plenty of spices for flavour and additional nutritional benefits! This approach to eating will fill your body with nutrients, supporting a healthy immune system, and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Vegetables and legumes are wonderful sources of dietary fibre for overall gastrointestinal health and bowel function. They are also rich in phytonutrients (antioxidants) to support healthy immune function – much-needed at this time of year! Enjoy oven-roasted root vegetables like sweet potato, parsnips and beetroots, and dark-green leafy varieties like silver beet and kale. Legumes are fantastic additions to soups and mince-based dishes and can also be roasted for crunchy texture.
- Lean protein is incredibly important for building healthy tissues and muscles throughout the body. It also supports immune function and the production of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – to help prevent those Winter blues. For those of us who aren’t fully plant-based, Winter is the perfect time to enjoy slow-cooked meats like beef, lamb and chicken. Meanwhile, tofu works beautifully within veggie curries.
- Complex carbohydrates are also high in dietary fibre and support a slower release of energy, supporting sustained energy levels throughout the day. Freekeh, barley, quinoa and brown rice are some of our favourites.
- Healthy fats are wonderful for brain health, supporting memory, cognition and mood. They also critically support skin health, which can be particularly dry in Winter! Oily fish, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados are great options. Minimise saturated fats such as butter, cream, fatty meat, chocolate, ice-cream, and fried foods.
- Spices are also rich in phytonutrients, further boosting antioxidant activity for immunity. Many spices are particularly well-suited to Winter dishes due to their inherent warming properties. Try ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, chilli, cardamom, and cloves.
Why not try…
This season, seek refuge from the elements with some our favourite Winter warmers – let us know how you go!
- Slow cooked lamb ragu. This one is so easy to prepare! Simply brown your lamb (cuts like shoulder and leg work well) and add to a slow cooker or large pot, along with aromatics like onion, garlic and herbs, tinned tomatoes, and stock. Cook for anywhere between four and eight hours (depending on temperature, and the size of your meat), until the lamb is tender and falling off the bone. Once cooked, try serving the lamb alongside roasted vegetables and freekeh, or stir through pulse or wholemeal pasta with wilted leafy greens. Leftovers are wonderful in a toasted pita or roast veggie salad for lunch the next day!
- Spicy veggie curry. Vegetable curries are a fantastic, warming way to enjoy a variety of plant foods, which we love for a healthy gut! Alongside tofu, add plenty of vegetables and legumes (sweet potato, pumpkin and chickpeas is a great combination) to your base of aromatics and spices, and serve with brown rice or quinoa. Traditionally, coconut milk is often used in veggie curries, but a combination of cashew cream and milk (or your preferred dairy-free alternative) also works well and is lower in saturated fat.
- Cottage pie. Opt for an extra-lean beef mince or tinned lentils for a vegetarian option. Mince-based dishes are also a great opportunity to sneak in some extra vegetables – think finely-grated carrot, celery and zucchini, and wilted leafy greens like spinach. For something different, try topping your mince mixture with mashed sweet potato before baking in the oven, and serve with steamed greens.
- Chilli con carne. By simply changing up the spices, a cottage pie base recipe can be easily adapted to suit Mexican-style dishes. Try serving with brown rice, steamed greens, guacamole and a few stone-ground corn or tortilla chips.
- Chicken + vegetable soup. This one is a Winter classic, particularly if you’re feeling under the weather. Alongside your poached, shredded chicken and chosen combination of vegetables (leek, garlic, carrot, celery and zucchini are a nice starting point), barley and cannellini beans are great additions to make your soup a more complete, balanced and satisfying meal. True comfort food.
Tell us, how are you warming up this Winter?
For expert dietary support this season (and beyond), book your first appointment with one of our wonderful Accredited Practising Dietitians today.
Written by Caitlin Branch, Student Nutritionist, and Amanda Smith, Accredited Practising Dietitian.