As the weather dips and we welcome colder nights, we often turn to comfort foods to keep us warm. My nonprofit organization, Fare Meals, is committed to helping families navigate healthy, simple, and affordable meal solutions. Below, I’m outlining some options for healthy cold-weather staples to keep on your shelves and in your fridge to make this winter season a breeze.
To start, it is important to talk about cholesterol. Our heart health is directly connected to cholesterol. Cholesterol is a substance the body needs to build cells, vitamins, and hormones. Many of our favorite winter dishes are full of saturated fat, which directly impacts our cholesterol levels. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). A rule of thumb — our LDL cholesterol should be lower, while our HDL cholesterol should be higher. Increased LDL levels, as a result of dietary and lifestyle choices and other risk factors, can lead to poor heart health and the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Examples of other risk factors are inactivity, smoking, obesity, poor diet, and genetics. 
Nutrition provides us with preventative measures to support heart health through foods such as omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, nuts, seeds), soluble and insoluble fiber (legumes, berries, whole grains), and antioxidants (dark chocolate, cooked tomatoes, green tea). Fiber, for example, will lower LDL by attaching itself to the cholesterol in our blood and removing it in our waste. Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds — omega 3 fatty acids) in turn, help raise our HDL. The ratio of these two cholesterol numbers are important.
Here are some cold weather staples to keep you feeling warm while encouraging you to make healthy choices throughout this winter season.
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You can find ground ginger in the spice aisle, or you can take fresh ginger and grate it yourself. Ginger has a calming and warm quality and can be added to many dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles, or even teas. Ginger is very helpful in digestion, relieving nausea, and good overall immunity booster. 
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Batch cooking these dishes is an easy way to cut down on cooking time during these cold weather months. You can stay wrapped up in a blanket while you thaw out a soup on the stove to be ready in minutes. You can make your soups, stews, and casseroles nice and hearty to keep you quickly comforted through the winter. Pro tip: Legumes are high in fiber and are a great addition to make your dish heart healthy..
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Even when you are in good health, a hot cup of honey and lemon water can be very comforting and healing to the body. Honey is a less processed sweetener, so although it is digested similarly in our body as regular sugar, it does not go through as much processing beforehand, which makes it a “healthier” alternative. Honey is also an antioxidant and can be very soothing for any throat issues that pop up during the winter months. Drink honey with green tea to boost your antioxidants. 
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Whole milk is a great source of healthy fat and a great base for a hearty hot chocolate. If you follow a vegan diet, you can easily swap the whole milk for a plant based milk such as oat or almond milk. Add unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and maple syrup as a sweetener to create a complex flavor palate. Opt for dark chocolate to help support your heart health.
With winter comes a packed holiday season. Stepping out of your comfort zone as you attend parties and gatherings can be overwhelming. Take back control by focusing on creating a balanced plate full of nutrients. Look for a protein source and if available opt for a lean protein option. See what dishes offer fiber. Fill your plate with vegetables. Don’t forget the healthy fats. Breaking your plate into these components can help make your food options more manageable. 
Embrace the leftovers this holiday season by repurposing dishes and letting your creativity shine. You can even make a dish more nutrient dense. A great example is taking stuffing and mixing it into a leafy salad.
When you get cozy with a cup of green tea and honey, you’ll be grateful to use leftovers to throw together a quick, delicious and nutritious meal. Pair with one of the staples above and you will be good to go.
Join Fare Meals on December 14 for a free webinar to learn more about easy go-to cold weather staples to get you through the winter months. You can register here: