It happened. You blinked and summer turned to fall.
The days get shorter, the weather gets colder and we want to sleep more. We spend more time inside. We move around less and are burning fewer calories. We also start craving richer, warmer foods that haven’t crossed our minds much since spring sprang a few months ago.
Soon, we’ll be welcoming the holidays, and foods we haven’t seen for a year will begin to appear in copious amounts on the buffet table, at office parties and at our door when well-meaning friends come knocking with a tray of homemade holiday treats.
In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of cooking to do. It’s time to serve up those meals for cold weather and break out some fall dinner recipes.
How We’re Wired in Winter
Our autumnal gluttony is hard-wired in our brains, according to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Exeter (U.K.).
“The urge to maintain body fat is even stronger in winter when food in the natural world is scarce,” the study’s lead author said. “Storing fat is an insurance against the risk of failing to find food, which for pre-industrial humans was most likely in winter.”
You can offset the seasonal stuffing these rich foods bring, though, by planning ahead and making healthy choices. Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, CSO, LDN, CNSC, of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, says to break out the slow cooker for some scrumptious one-pot meals. These workhorse cookers do most of the work for you, so they’re great for making marvelous, nutritious meals happen while you sleep or while you’re at work.
Appreciate the Versatility
“The slow cooker is just another tool in your kitchen, ideal for meals for cold weather,” Carithers said. “Because it cooks food in one step at a low temperature, it’s perfect for bringing out the best flavors of roasts, stews, soups, casseroles, meats and ‘football food’ like pulled pork.”
Carithers notes that slow cooking isn’t just a cold-weather activity or limited to fall dinner recipes. These appliances do their culinary duty all year long. If you haven’t used one yet, fall and winter are ideal times to try one out and build up your recipe repertoire, she says.
Cook the Whole Thing
Pork butts and shoulders and beef chuck roast and brisket are slow-cooker favorites, says Carithers. Short ribs, lamb shanks and turkey breasts also cook up beautifully, as do large pieces of salmon fillets. But Carithers’s favorite slow-cooker protein is a whole chicken.
“Trim the fat before you cook, although skin will fall off during cooking for easy removal,” she said. “This entrée can be used throughout the week in so many different meals when you start prepping and cooking on Sunday.”
Once it’s done cooking, cut the chicken up and bag it (this is a great opportunity to practice your portion control). Put some bags in the refrigerator and some in the freezer, she says. Fat from any broth you freeze will rise to the top of the container, and you can scrape it off.
“The carcass can be used again with all that broth and some rice for a delicious soup,” Carithers added.
The chicken can star in many delectable dishes — in a curry, on top of pasta, in chicken tacos or gracing a bountiful salad.
Don’t Forget Those Winter Veggies
Whatever you’re whipping up in the pot packs twice the nutritional punch if you add seasonal vegetables, Carithers says. Sure, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams always make great pairings, but don’t forget parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, cabbage and aromatic vegetables such as onion and garlic.
Sauce It Sparingly
All that flavor-infused broth makes a superb gravy without any additional ingredients. But if you’re compelled to make a more traditional gravy, make your own roux with a bit of butter and flour. Just remember to not eat the entire contents of the gravy boat in one sitting, Carithers says.
Take a Smart Approach to the Holidays
Those heavier cold-weather meals signal that the holidays are coming. Holiday feasts present the temptation to eat foods that we don’t normally consume — and eat more of them. While research has shown that most people gain only about a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, it’s still smart to make sure you’re keeping up with healthy habits.
“A holiday is one day; it’s not a ‘holimonth,'” she said. “Limit your indulgent eating — and the guilt — to just one day. Return to your regularly scheduled eating plan, and make sure you’re drinking plenty of healthy fluids, especially water, during the extended holiday period.”
Carithers says to think of this period as a great time for the convenience of one-pot meals. All the time you’ll get back will leave you with more time to shop, decorate and enjoy those holiday gatherings and time spent with the ones you love.
For more information on one-pot meals and eating healthy through the colder months, speak with your Lahey Health provider.