by Rheanna Kish
Eating healthy in the summer is a no-brainer; markets are bursting with farm-fresh produce and the long, hot days beg for light, fresh, veggie-filled meals. But when old man winter comes a-knockin’ so, too, does the desire for carb-laden, calorie-rich, comfort foods. Of course, the holidays don’t make it easy either. How can one be expected to resist that second plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, or that third melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookie?
That being said, it is possible to maintain a healthy, veggie-rich diet all winter long. The key is diversity and thinking beyond mac & cheese, beef stew and an extra glass or two of wine with dinner each night. Take these simple tips and tricks into consideration to keep your good health in check all winter long.
Load up on winter greens – When the snow flies, salads are the first to go from your recipe repertoire. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, switch up leafy greens from the airy varieties of summer to hearty winter greens, such as, kale, chard, escarole, collards, mustard greens and rapini. And don’t forget Asian greens, like bok choy and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). Enjoy them raw in salads, or wilted by a warm vinaigrette. Try them in soups, stews, stir-fries, even gratins for your daily dose of green.
Don’t forget to hydrate – Drinking enough fluids every day is essential for maintaining optimal health. Staying hydrated controls your body temperature, aids digestion, carries nutrients around your body and a myriad of other functions. Just how much you need depends on age, gender and activity level, but a good recommendation is 70-100 oz per day. Don’t forget this includes all liquids consumed in the course of the day, but water is best.
Stock up on beautiful winter veggies – Sure, market stands and produce aisles don’t have the same sexy appeal as in summer, but winter vegetables are among the best if you open your heart to them. There are the obvious favorites like carrots, potatoes and onions, but don’t forget about cabbage, celery root, winter squash, rutabaga, turnip, beets, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and sweet potatoes. Variety is the spice of life, and with this many vegetable options, you really never have to eat the same thing over and over all winter long.
Choose seasonal citrus for the win – One hit of tart grapefruit, or juicy orange is a like a bolt of sunshine on a blustery winter day. Plus, citrus fruits are loaded with vitamin C—with one medium orange delivering almost 100% of the recommended daily intake.
Cook more – It’s no surprise that cooking at home is healthier than eating out. Not only do you have full control over what goes into your dish – from the type of fat, to the kind of protein and the amount of salt – but the act of cooking itself often brings pleasure. So, turn up the lights, turn on the music, brew yourself a nice cuppa and get chopping!
Ladle out the soup, soup and more soup – One of the healthiest, easiest foods to prepare and consume all winter long is soup. Not only does it warm the soul, it’s also a really great way to get a variety of vegetables, legumes and whole grains into your diet every day. As long as you (mostly) stay away from heavy cheese- or cream-laden varieties, that is. Plan to make at least one big batch of veggie-dense soup every week and use throughout the week for lunches, quick dinners or even healthful snacks mid-day.
Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Soup
The secret to this flavorful take on traditional chicken noodle soup is the quick homemade broth. Use chicken thighs with the bones in for that rich made-from-scratch flavor. Find the long, thin, woody stalks of lemongrass in the produce section of most grocery stores. If you like spicy, add a drizzle of Sriracha or a spoonful of chili garlic sauce.
6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs, about 2 lb
6 cloves garlic
6 slices (about 1/4-inch thick) ginger
3 shallots, halved, plus 1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 stalks lemongrass
2 pkg (7 oz each) fresh udon noodles
1 tbsp coconut oil
8 oz/225 g shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp packed organic brown sugar
1 tbsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
¼ tsp sea salt
6 oz mini Shanghai bok choy, washed and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp lime juice
Place chicken, garlic, ginger, halved shallots, lemongrass and 10 cups water in a large soup pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to bowl. When cool enough to handle, remove chicken from bones, shred and set aside. Strain broth and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water for three minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain well and set aside.
In same large soup pot, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Cook sliced shallots, stirring often, until softened, about two minutes. Stir in mushrooms and carrots and cook, stirring, until mushrooms are tender, about two minutes. Add brown sugar, soy sauce and salt and cook, stirring, for one minute.
Stir in reserved broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about eight minutes. Stir in bok choy and cook for two more minutes. Stir in reserved chicken and cook for another two minutes. Stir in cilantro, lime juice and reserved noodles and heat through. Garnish with additional lime wedges and cilantro, if desired.
TIP – For a vegetarian version: Substitute chicken in the broth with 1 pkg (0.5 oz) dried mixed wild mushrooms, or 1 pkg (0.5 oz) dried shiitake mushrooms. Strain and discard with the other vegetables in the broth. Continue with recipe as directed, stirring in 1 pkg (12 oz) medium firm tofu, cubed with the noodles.
For a gluten-free version: Substitute cooked rice noodles (of any width) for the udon noodles.
Fish & Fennel Soup
This soup feels utterly decadent and company-worthy, but comes together on a whim and is brimming with hearty winter vegetables. If desired, garnish with additional lemon wedges, chopped dill and fresh cracked black pepper. Simply omit the cream if dairy is not an option. But crusty bread on the side is a must!
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup finely diced fennel
2 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
¼ cup dry white wine
6 oz mini yellow-fleshed potatoes, quartered
1/2 small celery root (celeriac), peeled, halved and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into ¼-inch thick rounds
1 strip lemon zest
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 bottle (8 oz) clam juice
1 lb/450 g wild-caught haddock fillets, cut into about 1-inch pieces
¼ cup whipping cream, 35% (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat.
Cook fennel and garlic, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender, about two minutes. Stir in wine and cook until almost no liquid remains, about three minutes. Stir in potatoes, celery root, parsnip, lemon zest, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for one minute.
Add clam juice and four cups water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender-crisp, about eight minutes. Stir in haddock. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fish flakes easily when tested, about five minutes. Stir in cream and dill.
Rheanna is a chef, recipe developer and writer who’s happy to call Clarksburg, ON her home. When not creating in the kitchen, you’ll find her chasing (or being chased by) her boys on skis or bikes. Rheanna is currently working with a team of local food lovers to create a South Georgian Bay Community Cookbook.