A recent conversation with a good friend got me thinking about the hell we tend to put ourselves through, trying to eat a frigid salad in 30ºF weather just in hopes of "making healthy choices." ...Knowing fare well that it doesn't feel natural and, in all honestly, it leaves me feeling empty and full of sorrow.
Okay, I'm being dramatic. BUT I KNOW YOU FEEL ME ON THIS.
The truth is, as humans, we naturally want to eat the heavy stuff and store fat as winter approaches (1). Why? Because it's a natural way of "surviving" the colder months--as our ancestors once did (and as many animals still do), preparing for hibernation season is a real, tactical thing.
So as we start to approach the endless months of snow and negative temperatures (at least for my fellow Midwest friends), know this: you are not wrong in wanting to avoid raw veggies and only eat garlic bread. Albeit not the healthiest choice, it is a real, human *instinct,* so give yourself some grace. And then take a deep breath and try one of these winter veggie tactics to help keep your plant consumption up.
I promise you: your body, mind, and overall health with thank you for not chucking all of your hard summer work to the wind for a 3-month bender on pizza and bon bons.
1. Keep it warm
One of the main reasons we tend to reach for non-veggie foods is our craving for something comforting: Mac-and-Cheese, piping hot casseroles, anything with potatoes...And while all of these things do seem provide a food-like hug, we all know their benefits (if that's what we are calling them) tend to be short term. Almost immediately after consuming your grandma's famous butter biscuits with a side of extra-thick gravy, do you often find yourself ready for a nap (aka winter's inevitable hibernation)? Totally fair, totally fine.
But this season, I challenge you to try a different approach: try feeding your craving for comfort with a warm, nutritious meal instead (sorry, Grams). Maybe a big bowl of my Dairy-Free Broccoli Cheddar Soup, or a healthy serving of my favorite Sweet Potato Chili? If soups and stews aren't your thing, try a plant-based take on an old favorite like my Spaghetti Squash Lasagna!
Whatever you do this winter when it comes to battling the cold weather comfort foods, try to keep it veggie heavy--but don't force it. As long as you're serving up something warm (and nutritious), I promise you will find it much easier to avoid the post-meal crash AND still keep your health in check.
2. Stay sneaky
Do you remember when your mom used to try and "hide" vegetables in your favorite foods? Like putting bright green, ever-assualting broccoli in your Mac-and-Cheese?! Or sneaking a slice of tomato on your favorite ham sandwich?! The nerve.
Well, try to forget those trying times for a moment because we are about to do the same sneaky things...to ourselves.
When it comes to staying plant-based in the winter (as in: keeping most of your meals filled with plants instead of the send-you-straight-to-bed Shepard's Pie you'd typically crave), sometimes it takes a little sorcery to stay on track.
Don't worry, we won't be replacing the bread on your sandwich for a collard green wrap (although delicious...). Just a few tweaks to what we love and crave this time of year to keep the veggies at a high.
One way I like to fake myself (and my husband) out with some extra vegetables on our plate is: the magical ways of Cauliflower.
As trendy and annoying as this vegetable has somehow become, it is still magic in my book and I refuse to let it die.
Things like mashed cauliflower (instead of mashed potatoes), cauliflower rice (instead of grain rice), or even cauliflower-based pizza crust (instead of the real deal) are a simple, sneaky way to inject more plants on your plate.
If cauliflower isn't your thing, try a few of these swaps and sneaky additions instead:
Add a handful of chopped sautéed spinach to your pasta sauce
Substitute zucchini "zoodles" for pasta noodles on spaghetti night
Use red bell peppers as a base for your morning avocado toast instead of bread
Puree some [cooked] broccoli and mix it into your winter-staple Split Pea Soup
Use spaghetti squash as a noodle replacement in your baked pasta dishes (like my Spaghetti Squash Lasagna)
Lastly, sometimes it just comes down to a simple compromise with what we want and what we need.
Look, we are all adults here. If you've gotten this far in the post, I assume you either struggle with keeping veggies in your winter diet as well and are willing to try something new to make the change ...or you just really like reading my words.
And because of these facts, we have to also accept the truth: vegetables are an important part of our diet and offer irreplaceable health benefits. So buck up and work with me on this one ;)
If you find that you just *have* to have that salami and cheese panini at lunch to help get you through the freezing afternoon, let's compromise. Instead of pairing this gooey, heavy duty sandwich with a bag of chips or a side of creamy soup, let's go for some veggies.
YES, EVEN IF YOU HATE THEM. Find a way that you can borderline enjoy them (carrots and ranch dip, a salad with your favorite dressing, or even sautéed as a *warm* side) so you can compromise with that had-to-have-it grilled sandwich, mmkay?
Truthfully, compromising is actually a tactic I use for myself all. the. time.
Believe me, if this vegan could life off of Oreos and Better Made BBQ Chips, uh, she would. But knowing my gut and immune system would suffer, I tend to find compromises in my own meals every day.
One helpful tip that seems to work for me is: eat the veggies FIRST. So if I have a salad with dinner, I scarf that down before digging into the rest of my meal. Or if I brought a bag of raw veggies and hummus with my lunch, I finish those before diving into my sandwich. Why? Because it not only fills my belly with the nutritious stuff first, but it gets me in the habit of making vegetables a staple to each meal.
Now, I can't say that tactic is what turned me vegan in the first place, I can tell you it probably played a part in making it a less scary transition since I was pretty familiar with a variety of vegetables through this compromising.
I truly hope some of these tips and tricks help pull you out of your winter woes and position you to have a more vegetable-filled season. I know it's not easy, I know vegetables aren't always our first (or second) choice on the menu. But I bet if you start sneaking them in or warming them up, you'd be surprised with the boost in your energy levels, immunity to winter's nasty colds, and your ability to feel great and confident as you make your way to warmer seasons.