The Dietitian Dish: Eating for the Season

December 06, 2017

By Saba Zahid, RD, LDN
Patient Experience Manager, Unidine Corporation

As the leaves change color and the temperature outside gets cooler, we all look forward to the comfort foods that make us feel warm on the inside. However, many traditional comfort food recipes call for lots butter, cream, and sugar, adding unnecessary calories and fat to your diet. In turn, all those calories and fat lead to weight gain through the colder season. However, there are ways to enjoy the seasonal comforts without the added calories.

One of the easiest ways to stay healthy during the cooler months is to take advantage of the seasonal produce. Produce is tastier and riper when it is in season. Additionally, by enjoying seasonal produce, you are not only adding variety to your menu, but you are also incorporating a wider variety of nutrients into your diet.

The freshest produce this time of year is apples, Belgian endive, butternut squash, pumpkins, pears, and pomegranates, according the Produce for Better Health Foundation. While you are probably familiar with traditional preparations of these produce items, there are many other delicious and healthy ways to enjoy them. You can even incorporate seasonal produce into a traditional comfort food recipe for a healthier twist on an old classic.

Apples: When we think of apples, we tend to think of apple pie. However, apples can be used in a variety of ways. They can be added to oatmeal or salads. If you are feeling really ambitious, you can even make your own homemade applesauce or apple butter. An easy but still yummy alternative to traditional apple pie is a baked apple. Core the apple and sprinkle in some brown sugar and cinnamon, and add a dab of butter. Bake the apple in a pan (with some water at the bottom) for an hour at 375 degrees. Sweeten your apple to your taste to control the amount of sugar.

Seasonal greens: Take advantage of flavorful and nutrient-rich seasonal greens, such as endive, radicchio, and chard and combine them with fall fruits such as apples, persimmons, pomegranates, and grapes. Throw in nuts, some cheese, and dress with a vinaigrette, and you have an easy fall salad. Or, sauté your seasonal greens with some mushrooms and garlic for a side for dinner.

Pumpkins: If you are on the pumpkin-spiced-everything bandwagon (and even if you’re not), try pumpkin-spiced oatmeal for a healthy way to enjoy pumpkin. Add a couple of tablespoons of pureed or canned pumpkin to your oatmeal along with some brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Again, you can sweeten the oatmeal to your liking to control the sugar content.

Pumpkins are packed with beta-carotene, vitamin A, and antioxidants. It is important to note that not all pumpkins are meant for eating. Look for varieties like Small Sugar, New England Pie, and Long Island Cheese, or simply purchase pureed pumpkin.

Seasonal squash: There are a variety of squash available during the fall season – acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash to name a few. Squashes bake easily and can be a simple side dish. To prepare fall squash, slice open the squash, scoop out the insides and seeds, season with olive oil and seasonings, and then bake until golden and tender. Spaghetti squash can be used as a low-carb alternative to actual spaghetti. Simply run a fork through the cooked squash to create spaghetti strands and serve with marinara sauce.

Butternut squash is one of my personal favorites. I love to make butternut squash macaroni and cheese. The butternut squash replaces most of the cheese sauce, making it much healthier while still giving me that comfort food feeling. Check out the Unidine recipe for butternut squash mac and cheese on our website: https://shoremedicalcenter.org/sites/default/files/page_attachments/chefs_choice_mac_and_cheese.pdf.

As you begin to plan your holiday meals, consider tapping into the fresh, seasonal produce like those we shared. Comfort food doesn’t have to mean fattening. When we choose to eat more fresh and seasonal produce at the holidays, we can also find comfort in knowing we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and our loved ones.

Saba Zahid, a registered dietitian from Unidine Corporation, is the patient experience manager for Shore Medical Center’s food and nutrition services. She oversees the medical center's patient food service program, clinical nutrition programs, and community nutrition initiatives.

Unidine is a dining management company that provides food and nutrition services to Shore Medical Center. Undine is committed to fresh food and scratch cooking for all of the clients it serves in healthcare, senior living, and business settings. To learn more, visit www.unidine.com.

We would love to help you reach your nutrition and wellness goals in 2018. To schedule an outpatient nutrition counseling appointment with one of our registered dietitians at Shore Medical Center, contact us at 609-653-4600, opt 5. To learn more, visit our website at www.shoremedicalcenter.org/nutrition-counseling.