Holiday times can be tough, and living in a cold climate makes fresh produce availability in the winter skyrocket! (not to mention, freshness is usually seriously lacking) It is unfortunate that winter makes healthy eating tough, but over the years, I have been able to stay healthy without spending all of our money on overpriced foods.
I do switch gears in the winter, and move towards lunches and dinners being more starch and legume-based. Our meals shift from being mostly veggies to things like: brown rice, potatoes, squash(in fall and early winter), lentils, beans, whole wheat pasta and couscous, oats, quinoa, etc. These items tend to stay their cheap selves all year round, making them more affordable in the winter than fresh produce.
We also really shift towards frozen produce. I get lots of different vegetable mixes, broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, etc. and the process of flash freezing also means they really don’t lose much of their nutritional value as well. While not all of it will cook the same as fresh, they are still easy options to work with and very affordable options in the winter. Always make sure to get plain options! Seasoning your own veggies helps avoid hidden salts and fat that make frozen veggies with sauces unhealthy.
When looking for fresh produce, I look for two things. Quality and Sales/Affordability. Bananas are usually fine and always cheap throughout the winter, and are a staple in our house year round. We also check the local ads for good deals, but will only make purchases at the store if they look fresh. Winter is tough, and on occasion I have looked through 30+ packages of berries only to discover they all contain mold (YUCK!) I will never sacrifice quality of my produce for a good price. When it comes to fruits, we often have fresh fruit in the freezer as well.
For winter breakfasts, I still like my smoothies even though drinking frozen fruit may sound crazy! At least I am still inside and warm. I have these less though, maybe only three times a week.
Other options include some homemade bread with nut butter and bananas, oatmeal with some frozen fruit (thawed out) and a bit of maple syrup and cinnamon, and on the weekends we like making waffles or pancakes at least one day.
Berry Smoothie, and Chocolate Banana Pancakes with Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
For lunches, I usually have leftovers 2-3 times a week. I like being able to grab something quick, and heating up some leftovers (of a healthy dish) is awesome when chasing around 2 toddlers. Definitely a bonus for convenience, but we do not always have leftovers available.
When leftovers aren’t an option, I like to do other simple dishes. I will do a quinoa, pasta, or couscous with some veggies and light seasonings. With this I will add in a (sugar free) tomato sauce, a (low sodium) broth, a small amount of vegan butter, or a dash of olive oil. If I prepare ahead of time, I will also use this combination with rice as well. Simple grain and veggie bowls are a nice light lunch that I enjoy, and often make heartier and more complex versions for dinner.
A big favorite of mine for lunch are baked potatoes. I will usually have 2 medium russet potatoes topped with fresh pepper, pink Himalayan sea salt, a “cheese” sauce made with nutritional yeast, and broccoli. I will mix up toppings, but this is definitely my go to. If I have sauteed veggies and beans from the night before I will top it with that instead, or I may just add a bit of vegan butter and salt and pepper. As long as your toppings are healthy (and you aim to keep processed items low) you can have delicious healthy potatoes!
Leftovers: Bean and Veggie Soup, and Mac ‘N “Cheese” with Broccoli
Dinners are my favorite! I love using a huge variety of flavors and I am a big fan of ethnic flavors and spices. I try to make a variety of dishes with Italian, Asian, Indian, American, Mexican, and other regions throughout the week. Often a different country each day of the week.
A highly utilized item for dinners for me are lentils, and I love them! I often make lentil dishes in the crockpot, making cooking time little to zero on these nights as well. Some nights I will make a curried lentil dal with potatoes and coconut milk, an Ethiopian mesir wot, a french white wine lentil soup, and even some classic sloppy joes! Lentils are so versatile and tasty, making them a favorite of mine.
I also like to make chili filled with beans and veggies and hearty soups on cold days, perfect to dip homemade bread in. These items can have so many components and spices added to them, making them simple and easy dinners to make. I also like that I can make these in the crockpot or on the stovetop, and both are relatively easy prepping.
I often make the standard Italian pasta or Asian pasta, using a variety of noodles. Making bowls with rice and other grains (like at lunch), are also great options. In the winter I use a combination of frozen and fresh vegetables, and both are easy to mix in and can absorb the flavors of the dish. Making sure to have the correct spices and condiments is crucial to bringing flavor to your dish, if the flavors are not right, the dish can be boring. (Have you ever had pasta with a plain pre-made tomato sauce and nothing else??) Having a grain and veggie bowl, you can really make the dish any style you want. I usually don’t write down my recipes, I kind of just throw the flavors together, but I will post recipes on occasion.
Quick Asian Sesame Noodles with Veggies, and Lentil Dal, Kidney Bean Tofu, Curried Quinoa
Here is a list of spices I have on hand that I use often on five basic styles of food I cook: I mix and match to add my own flair and adjust to my tastes. I will do this with all recipes I use, and will never follow a standard recipe when I find them. Cooking should be all about adding your own flair and creating tastes that are unique that you love!
- Italian: Italian seasoning, basil, parsley, red crushed pepper, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, fresh ground pepper, garlic, diced tomatoes, and chunky sauces (or whatever consistency you prefer) in a jar where no sugar is added.
- Asian: Soy sauce, tamari, lime juice, orange juice, other citrus juice, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil (toasted is best), chili sauce/paste, coconut milk, miso paste, rice wine, ginger, cilantro, curry/curry paste.
- Indian: Curry/curry paste, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, vinegar, coconut milk, pepper, crushed red pepper, turmeric, sesame oil, bay leaves, cardamom, coriander, sesame seeds, fennel/fenugreek, mint, paprika.
- Mexican: Chili powder, cumin, salsa, oregano, cilantro, diced tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon, enchilada sauce, and lots of beans!
- American: Pepper, olive oil, tomato sauces and diced tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, occasional use of brown sugar, vegetable broth, nutritional yeast, vegan butter, rosemary, crushed red pepper, soy sauce.
I know I do use some processed items in my cooking, but I don’t ever use them as the base or as a primary item in a dish. They are used in small amounts to add moisture to a dish or enhance a flavor only. It is a really personal choice that each person and family will feel differently, and the choice for how you use (or don’t use) these items, is up to you. I always suggest moderation though!