But as we head into fall, with the holiday season coming right behind, things might get a little more challenging. Cooler weather means more high calorie comfort foods, and tasty holiday treats can derail even the most committed healthy eater. So how do you stay on track with a healthy eating plan that’s still full of flavor? Try some of these tips, and then be sure and check out our delicious and nutrient-packed Roasted Vegetables and Lentil Salad recipe in this newsletter. It’s something the whole family will love!
- Cook at home. As school activities ramp up and the days grow shorter, it’s tempting to save time by getting takeout or going through the drive-through. But with just a little more time and effort, you can make a much more satisfying meal at home – with fewer calories, better taste, and a lot less money. See last month’s meal prepping article for time saving ideas.
- Get back to basics. Plan your meals around whole foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Focus on seasonal produce. Think heartier vegetables such as winter squash, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, apples, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sweet potatoes and more. Not sure which produce is at its peak? Check this handy guide before you head out shopping!
- Embrace fall herbs and spices. Herbs and spices are a great way to pack in a ton of flavor without adding salt, sugar or fat. And the good news is that there’s a huge assortment to choose from that goes well beyond the ubiquitous “pumpkin spice” that you see everywhere. Fresh herbs that are available now that complement a variety of fall dishes include chives, thyme, basil, caraway, dill, oregano rosemary, cilantro, celery leaves and sage. Can’t find fresh herbs? Substitute dried instead. You’ll need to reduce the amount (by half or even more) called for in a recipe to adjust for the more concentrated flavored found in dried herbs. For spices think coriander seeds, cinnamon, paprika, mustard, clove, turmeric and black pepper. These herbs and spices also contain a hefty amount of phytonutrients, which can help enhance immunity and reduce inflammation.
- Avoid deep frying. In addition to adding a ton a fat, deep frying can also cause carcinogens to form on your food. Instead, use a minimal amount of heart healthy oil such as olive or canola oil to roast, bake, broil or air fry your food. Add in some herbs and spices for extra flavor and you’ll never go back to deep frying! Add more whole grains. A delicious loaf of crusty bread is the perfect accompaniment to a fall lunch or dinner. Whether you bake it at home or pick it up from your local bakery, opt for a whole grain version that will add more nutrients and fiber to your day.
- Load up on beans. There’s nothing like a bowl of hearty soup on a chilly autumn day. One made with beans or lentils is packed with soluble fiber that your gut will love – and it’s a low-cost way to celebrate meatless Monday! If you’re short on time you can start with a couple of cans of beans – such as navy or cannellini. Rinse well, then add to a pot of simmer low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock. Add in a few fall vegetables (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) and a handful or two of fresh herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes and you’ve got a delicious and satisfying soup that makes a perfect dinner.
- Minimize cream-based sauces. Pastas and main courses made with heavy cream are delicious, but far from healthy. Fortunately, you can make a few swaps and still indulge in your favorite foods. Experiment by swapping out cream or butter for healthier options such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese blended with milk, cashew cream, coconut cream, or milk and cornstarch to name just a few. You might find you even like the new version better!
Finally, focus on eating fresh, nutritious and healthy foods 80% of the time, and you can enjoy some of the fall favorites you love the other 20% of the time – guilt free!
This article first appeared in the October 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.