When the weather is cold, something gets woken up in a lot of us: time to take comfort. Along with more quilts, blankets, sweaters and jeans, you may see an interesting transition in your food cravings as well. Celebrate the natural change of seasonal eating by incorporating the colors of vegetables and fruits into your favorite comfort foods.
Not sure where to begin? Simply add vegetables and fruit to recipes for more nutrition thanks to vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidant-acting compounds while offsetting excess calories, total fat, added sugars and sodium.
Here are just a few popular comfort food must-haves to inspire you in finding winning combinations in your kitchen this season:
The ultimate in veggie potpourri, soups across the board beckon the addition of more color, flavor and texture thanks to vegetables, herbs and pulses such as dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas.
Use pulse-based pastas made with lentils and chickpeas in place of traditional pasta.
Whether using sheets of semolina pasta or opting for sheets of zucchini and yellow squash, adding vegetables such as fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, peeled carrots and frozen spinach to this traditional meat and cheese dish expands its flavor and nutrition.
Macaroni & Cheese
Add in texture and color with the likes of broccoli, cauliflower, frozen peas, shredded carrots or diced squash, pumpkin or sweet potato.
Take an already delicious celebration of potato and layer in flavor with the use of unpeeled smaller creamer style potatoes and vegetables like mashed steamed cauliflower and broccoli.
Top scrambled eggs with corn, mushrooms, kale, asparagus or onion for an instant omelet.
Tacos, Nachos & Quesadillas
Mix sliced onion and bell peppers, in addition to black, pinto and kidney beans, into your favorite taco, nacho and quesadilla fillings for additional flavor, vitamin C, protein and fiber. Adding beans into the mix will add more to your food dollars as well, thanks to bulking up the volume of food to enjoy over the course of a few days.
Baking your own French fries is a huge first step to meeting comfort without excess fat. In addition to traditional white potatoes, try other root vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots to add more flavor and additional nutrients.
Change up your go-to sauce with pesto made with leafy greens like spinach or kale; Add as many colors as you can with a variety of veggies such as bell peppers, mushrooms, olives, spinach, fresh tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce and more; Get creative with cauliflower crust to change things up.
More than a childhood favorite, grilled cheese sandwiches are leveling up to adult taste buds thanks to the addition of sliced apples and tomatoes and herbs like fresh basil.
Dips, Dips and More Dips
Guacamole, hummus, tomato-based salsa, fruit-based salsa, Greek yogurt mixed with shredded cucumber and onion— all of these dips taste great with veggies, whole grain crackers and as sandwich condiments.
Peanut Butter & X
A favorite in my household isn’t nut butter with jelly, it’s nut butter and raisins or chopped prunes! Try it out yourself—either with dried fruits and fresh like Macintosh apples and banana.
Make a smoothie with frozen fruit, leafy greens, chia seeds and milk for an added sugar free alternative to your favorite frozen fruit drink.
Pancakes & Waffles
Added right into the batter or decorating the top, fresh peaches, berries, shredded apple and mashed bananas take the ordinary brunch to extraordinary.
Blend frozen banana and other frozen fruits for an instant frozen treat to replace higher fat, higher sugar ice cream and gelatos.
Fold in canned pumpkin or applesauce for chewy texture and bit less fat and/or added sugar.
Brownies & Chocolate Sweet Breads
Mix in avocado, shredded zucchini and beets for improved texture.
Sundae & Parfaits Toppings
A sprinkle of berries and chopped banana can change the whole experience!
Remember: When you’re having a hankering for your favorite comfort food this season, keep it healthy and delicious and #HaveAPlant!
About the Author: This column was written in collaboration with Kerri Watkins, Nutrition Student from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Carrie Taylor is the lead registered dietitian nutritionist for the Living Well Eating Smart program at Big Y Foods and has been trained as a yoga teacher, mindful outdoor guide and Journey Dance apprentice. Have a nutrition question? Email [email protected] or write Living Well at 2145 Roosevelt Ave, PO Box 7840, Springfield, MA 01102.