With temperatures starting to drop and winter quickly approaching, our bodies naturally start to crave warm, heavier, comfort foods. Whether this is instinctual in a throwback to our primal ancestors or from deep-seated memories of a childhood home filled with treats and goodies from Halloween through Valentine’s Day, we can fight these urges to fall into a winter-long food coma with healthy twists on traditional hearty winter dishes.

Farmer’s markets have closed in most parts of the country, but it is still possible to eat a diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your healthy winter eating while taking advantage of seasonal produce, using leans meats and still paying homage to old time favorites.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and swiss chard are examples of cruciferous vegetables that are well known for their ‘super-veggie’ status. These vegetables are full of vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals and studies have shown that including cruciferous vegetables in your diet can help reduce cancer risk and may even help slow or stop the growth of various types of tumors.

Consider adding extra vitamin A to your diet with a hearty winter vegetable soup or take in some extra vitamin C with a healthy cauliflower mac and cheese casserole.

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables grow slowly underground and absorb healthy nutrients from the soil. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins C, B and iron, they help cleanse the system and fill you up with slow-burning fiber.

When considering root vegetables, go beyond carrots and potatoes and try adding parsnips, kohlrabi, and beets to your diet along with onions, yams, ginger, and garlic. These vegetables can make a hearty dish like this winter salad featuring roasted beets for some added beta-carotene and betalains in your diet or this Thai sweet potato curry for some added vitamin A. Root vegetables are versatile, so try eating them raw, roasted, steamed or sauteed.

Dry Beans

Another super food option, dry beans can easily provide your daily dose of fiber when added to your favorite dishes. Beans are well known as a vegetable protein, but less known for the equally important minerals and vitamins they add. Beans are packed with minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc and loaded with folic acid, phytoestrogens, and non-lactic calcium.

Use dry beans like black beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans and lentils for protein and fiber in a diet lower in animal proteins. Try heating up the night with a quick sweet potato and black bean chili or this lentil stew with oranges.

Winter Squash

Winter squash start to make an appearance in your local grocery this time of year. Highly versatile and good for you, winter squashes are full of healthy vitamins like A, B, and C, but are also loaded with minerals such as potassium, iron, and copper.

Squashes are highly versatile in cooking. Look for different varieties of winter squashes like hubbard squash and delicata squash, but remember to keep the more common squashes such as spaghetti and butternut in stock for healthy meals like this spaghetti squash and meatballs or a simple roasted butternut squash.

Winter Fruits

Many people associate fruits with the peak of summer but winter fruits are easy to add to your cold weather diet. Citrus season brings oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and clementines to your grocer’s produce department, along with pears and pomegranates. But remember to look for less common winter fruits like persimmons for a new and different flavor.

Citrus fruit is known for packing vitamin C, but other fruits like pears supply extra potassium and fiber and persimmons are full of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Try using fruit as a simple, healthy dessert like cooked pears with cinnamon or baked grapefruit.

Staying healthy throughout winter, despite dealing with shorter, cold days and cravings for comfort food is possible. Spend a little time planning meals and browsing in the local grocery to look for something new to add to your diet while still making hearty meals with all the comforts of home.

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/super-veggies-cruciferous-vegetables#1

http://www.nourishinteractive.com/healthy-living/free-nutrition-articles/104-fruits-by-season

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-eating-pears-4834.html

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/persimmon-fruit.html