A warm, cozy dish with a rich flavor and some protein can be the perfect winter dinner. There are numerous healthy and comforting winter dinner recipes available online, and in this article, we share some of our favorites you can enjoy all season. Continue reading for more information on how to boost the nutritional value of your meals.
Healthy dishes are flavorful and rich in vegetables, fiber, lean protein, and high-quality carbohydrates.
Popular healthy, comforting dishes in the winter include soups, stews, baked meals, and grilled sandwiches.
If you’re uncomfortable cooking in the kitchen, consider signing up for a local cooking class to feel more confident making meals at home.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, winters are typically long, cold, and dark. It is natural to want to come home after a long day and eat something healthy and comforting. During this time, a room-temperature meal (like a sandwich or a salad may) not be enough to stimulate your tastebuds—you need something hot.
Healthy and comforting winter dinner foods that are popular in the winter include:
- Baked pasta dishes
- Grilled sandwiches
- Warm salads
- Baked casseroles
- Slow-cooker meals
Building a healthy relationship with food means including a variety of meals without feeling guilty after eating them. Therefore, there's nothing wrong with experiencing winter cravings, and you don't have to "fight" against these urges to stay healthy. Instead, focus on moderation and finding ways to add nutrient-dense foods to your plate, including whole grains and plenty of vegetables. The USDA plate model is a helpful tool that demonstrates balanced eating:
- Fill half your plate with vegetables (most of your choices will probably be cooked during the winter).
- Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein (either animal based or plant based).
- Fill the final quarter with a whole grain or starchy item.
Some people dislike cooking, particularly after a long day at work. Following a nutritionally balanced diet is much easier when you prepare your own meals. By cooking more at home, you have more control over the ingredients, portion sizes, and cooking methods (all of which can have a significant impact on the nutritional quality of your meal).
Below are two steps to make your time in the kitchen as efficient and productive as possible.
1. Meal prep
Meal prepping is an excellent way to stay organized, reduce your cooking needs during the week, and reduce food waste. To begin meal prepping, plan weekly meals and create a grocery list for your menu. Choose a day and time for meal preparation to ensure consistency.
If planning a full week's worth of food seems daunting, begin by prepping your fresh vegetables and fruits, which will make them easier to cook throughout the week. On Sunday night, for example, peeling and chopping vegetables. Roast root vegetables once a week and reheat them for future meals if you want warm vegetables in the winter.
2. Batch cooking
It’s easy to batch-cook soup and stew recipes during the winter because they require little effort compared to other dishes. In most recipes, you’ll sauté and boil everything in one pot and reheat the meal throughout the week. You can even freeze half your cooking and save it for a quick meal in the future.
Does appetite increase in the winter?
It’s been said that appetite increases during the winter to help survive the cold months by storing excess energy (which means gaining weight to outlast periods of famine or prolonged periods without food). It's unclear how much our ancestors ate to survive the winter, but modern research indicates that most people exposed to cold weather don’t have a biological increase in appetite.
Possible reasons for craving hot food more during the winter are to warm yourself up after exposure to cold weather, and because warm foods make you feel comfortable and cozy. Of course, appetite and hunger are subjective. If you’re feeling hungrier during the winter, you may benefit from including more energy-dense snacks during the day or serving yourself more significant portions at meals. Avoid ignoring your appetite because it can weaken your ability to recognize your hunger cues (your body’s natural way of signaling the time to eat).
People who ignore their hunger cues over extended periods of time may find it difficult to moderate their intake and are more likely to overeat later. Overeating occasionally is okay, but frequently consuming excessive energy can impact your health.
Switching from cold dishes
Summer salads are light, crunchy, and refreshing. They're also usually served cold, which might not be as comforting during the winter months. However, they're very nutritious and most salad recipes are flexible. You can easily modify the ingredients to create a winter-friendly version that can be enjoyed as a main dish or as a side. Steps include:
- Grill a head of lettuce on the BBQ or a gas range for 30 seconds before adding toppings and dressing.
- Serve green salad over a bed of hot whole grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, or millet.
- Warm goat cheese in the oven and roll in panko crumbs to create a yummy crust.
- Add cooked vegetables to your dish, such as mushrooms, onions, and eggplant.
Try adding a warm element
Other cold foods, like yogurt, cottage cheese, and other dairy products can still be included in your winter meals. These foods are rich in protein, vitamin D, and calcium, and are very nutritious. You can increase their appeal by adding a hot or warm ingredient, which may make them more appealing on a cold day. For example:
- Heat a glass of milk before bed. You may want to add turmeric and other spices to enhance the flavor.
- Have hot oatmeal with milk instead of cold cereal.
- Add cottage cheese to scrambled eggs.
- Add warmed fruit on top of yogurt.
3 hot dishes to enjoy
Ready to make some healthy and comforting winter dinner to enjoy?
Lentil soup with cabbage
- Heat oil in a large soup pan and cook onion, celery, and carrots. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
- After five minutes, add the cabbage and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add bay leaves, lentils, corn, tomatoes, and spices. Cover with stock and boil over low to medium heat for twenty minutes.
- Enjoy with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Bean and chicken enchiladas
- Preheat oven to 350℉. Add oil to a large skillet on the stove and heat over medium heat.
- Cook chicken, onions, garlic, beans, and seasoning. Once the chicken is cooked, turn off the heat.
- Stuff 4-6 wraps with your chicken and bean mix and place in a deep dish baking pan. Cover with red sauce and cheese, and bake for twenty minutes.
- Serve with fresh cilantro, chopped jalapeno, and avocado slices.
- Preheat oven to 350℉. Mix all your ingredients in a bowl and evenly spread your mix on a flat pita.
- Bake for 2-25 minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy warm. Optional: garnish with reduced balsamic vinegar.
Don't forget warming drinks
Hot beverages are immensely soothing during the cold months of winter. Many teas and coffees are nutritious because offer antioxidants and other vitamins that keep you healthy. If possible, try to drink them without added sugars or creamers and savor their natural flavors. If regular tea sounds boring, you can naturally enhance the flavor of hot tea by adding warm milk and various ground spices, such as turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You can even brew your own specialty batch of tea at home using fresh mint, lemon, and ginger root. This is a simple caffeine-free option that will warm you up from the inside.
Enhance the nutritional quality
A simple way to enhance the nutritional quality of your winter dishes is to add nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Here are quick ways to drive up the nutritional value of your meal:
- Sprinkle toasted nuts on your salads or soups.
- Add vegetables to sauces, soups, and stews.
- Incorporate beans into your recipes.
- Serve whole grains more often (barley, quinoa, wheat berries, etc.)
A nutritious and balanced diet includes as many whole foods as possible. It is much easier to do this if you learn to cook at home. If you are not comfortable in the kitchen, you might want to watch some cooking videos on YouTube or sign up for a cooking class in your area.
- Endocrine Connections. Mild Cold Effects on Hunger, Food Intake, Satiety, and Skin Temperature in Humans.
- Journal of Nutritional Science. The Impact of Intuitive eating Vs Pinned Eating on Behavioural Markers.