Winter is here - and so are the comfort foods best made with butter, heavy cream, salt, sugar and the like! It’s okay to occasionally indulge in these special winter favorites, but you can still eat healthy, even when low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods may not seem as appealing.
In this post, we’ll talk about how to eat healthy during the winter. We’ll discuss what great, nutritious winter foods are available and give you some tips to improve the nutritional profile of your diet in the cold winter months.
Winter Healthy Eating
Right now, depending on where you live, you may not find a full rainbow of rich colors at the grocery store, but invaluable nutrition is all around!
You just need to know what foods are in season in the winter. Seasonal eating helps support local farmers, keeps costs at bay and gives you better tasting, nutritious produce.
In the US, the following are at their peak in January, February and/or March:1,2,3,4
|Winter Fruits||Winter Vegetables|
To see what foods are in season in your location, check out this seasonal food guide.
7 Tips to Eat Healthier This Season
With less sunlight and more reliance on artificial light, limited outdoor activity, cold weather, higher prevalence of illness and the winter blues, such things can cause our sleep patterns, mood, hormones - and thus, eating patterns - to shift.5,6 Not to mention, the hormones that affect our stress response, growth, metabolism and reproduction peak in the winter-spring months.7 So, we have a lot going on!
Let’s help you make healthy eating a little easier with our top winter nutrition tips. Even though it’s great to eat fresh, in-season foods, there are so many ways to add more nutrition and variety to your winter meals.
#1 - Stock a Healthy Pantry
In some areas, winter weather may prevent you from getting to the grocery store. Plus, with less fresh food available, you’ll need to think ahead and stock up.
Fill your pantry with healthy non-perishables, such as:
- Dried beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Ancient grains
- Nut butters
- Low- or reduced sugar protein barss
- Canned poultry
- Low-sodium and/or heart-healthy soups
- Canned fish
Keep healthy items on hand so it’s easier to incorporate them into your diet. Make sure you read the labels and avoid products that are high in sodium.
#2 - Buy Frozen
Even though we’ve laid out a long list of winter produce, add more nutrients with frozen fruits and vegetables. For example: Toss frozen fruit into your oatmeal, rather than hoping you’ll find high-quality fresh fruit at the store.
Frozen produce can also be more cost-effective than fresh. Plus, it stays for months in the freezer! Just make sure to choose plain options - vegetables without sauces or cheese, and fruits with no sugars added.
#3 - Canned Can Be Okay
Canned food isn’t always recommended for a healthy diet due to added salt, sauces, oils and syrups that may be used to preserve the food. However, with some simple label reading, you can find gems in the canned food aisle!
Here is a list of nutritious canned food options that can be used to diversify your winter diet:
- Plain, canned pumpkin
- Artichokes in water
- Low-sodium canned chicken in water
- Tuna in water
- Plain, canned pumpkin
- Low-sodium canned beans
- Low-sodium stock
Try to find canned foods with the lowest sodium and lowest added sugar on the food label. Look for vegetables canned in water. Choose fruits canned in water or 100% fruit juice with no added sugars.
#4 - Don’t Forget the Grains
Fruits and vegetables should make up a big portion of a healthy diet, but grains should also be present. Many grains are rich in fiber, and contain essential vitamins and minerals. Not to mention, they’re usually available all year round!
Healthy grains that pair beautifully with cold winter nights:
- Whole grain bread
- Brown rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Whole grain crackers
Enjoy these grains in soups, casseroles and power salads for hearty, healthy meals.
#5 - Healthy Fat is Your Friend
When you get past the holidays and deeper into the cold winter months, you may be craving those rich recipes that are laden with butter and cream.
Unfortunately, butter, cream, sour cream, cheese and cream cheese are high in unhealthy, saturated fat. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and government recommendations, it’s best to limit the amount of saturated fat consumed and replace with mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.8
Switch to heart-healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters and liquid oils (olive, grapeseed, sesame). You’ll still get that rich mouthfeel but benefit from a larger ratio of healthy to unhealthy fats.
#6 - Simple Twists on Winter Favorites
The heart of winter is a great time to feed your soul, but you can still fuel your body with great nutrition. Here are some ideas to make comfort foods a little bit healthier:
- Mac and cheese (and squash): Add melt-in-your-mouth butternut squash to your mac and cheese recipe. Cook the squash thoroughly, blend into a puree and mix it into the cheese sauce, reducing the amount of cheese you use.
- Apple pie (oatmeal): Incorporate apple slices and lots of apple pie seasoning into your morning oatmeal. Add some crunchy walnuts and a pat of coconut oil for a little buttery texture
- (Healthy) hamburger helper: Make your dish hearty and/or vegetarian with loads of fibrous beans. Add some whole grain pasta for extra fiber and toss in frozen veggies.
#7 - Focus on Key Seasonal Nutrients
It’s essential to get a variety of micronutrients all year long, but you may want to pay special attention to certain ones in the winter. Try to include these key nutrients in your winter diet:
- Vitamin C: An antioxidant that is vital for healthy immune function. Found in foods such as citrus, kiwi, potatoes, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.9
- Vitamin D: A vitamin we get from sunlight and/or certain foods. Found in salmon, egg yolk, fortified cereals and fortified milk.10
- Tryptophan: An amino acid that helps to create serotonin and melatonin. Found in milk, egg whites, turkey, chicken, canned tuna and oatmeal.11
Even though it is best to get micronutrients from real food, talk to your provider about your need for multivitamins and other nutritional supplementation.
1 US Department of Agriculture. Seasonal produce guide. SNAP Education Connection Website. Accessed November 15, 2022.
2 OSF Healthcare. What produce is in season during the winter months? OSF Healthcare Website. Updated October 26, 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022
3 Bauer E. What’s in season: February produce guide. Simply Recipes Website. Updated September 7, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2022.
4 Bauer E. What’s in season: March produce guide. Simply Recipes Website. Updated September 9, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2022.
5 Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie. 2019; 23:147–156. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
6 Danziger L. How winter affects your diet and what to eat to be healthy, feel energized. The Beet Website. Published January 27, 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022.
7 Tendler A, Bar A, Mendelsohn-Cohen N, Alon U. Hormone seasonality in medical records suggests circannual endocrine circuits. PNAS. 2020;118(7). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2003926118
8 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. JADA. 2014;114(1)
9 Moore M. How vitamin C supports a healthy immune system. Eat Right Website. Published March 30, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2022.
10 Ellis E. What is vitamin D? Eat Right Website. Published February 16, 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022.
11 NIH. Tryptophan. National Library of Medicine Website. Updated February 4, 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022. Consider adding additional cite for food sources: https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-tryptophan