10 Meal Hacks to Help Beat the Cold Weather Blues
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Sweaters, colorful leaves, and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING - The fall season certainly has its perks; however, the cooler temperatures and shorter days can sometimes take a toll on our mood, motivation, and energy levels. When this happens, planning, shopping, and preparing meals can feel like an impossible task.
So how do we balance our love for fall with the cold weather blues, without sacrificing our health? I've got you covered! Below, I will discuss how to adapt our diet and behaviours to fit the cooler seasons. This includes meal planning, shopping, and cooking hacks to help plan and prepare for days when your motivation and energy levels are low and you just "CAN'T EVEN", as well as tips for adding mood-boosting ingredients to comforting seasonal recipes.
1. Think frozen.
Some fresh fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by during the cooler months, and when the items are in stock, they typically are not as fresh and can be pricey due to import and travel costs. Frozen fruits and vegetables are great alternatives, as they are frozen within hours of harvesting and maintain a lot of their nutritional quality. Frozen produce also stores much longer than fresh, so you do not need to worry about food spoilage and waste. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also save both time and energy in the kitchen, and can be conveniently tossed into smoothies, stir fries, soups, chillies, and sauces, or taken as snacks to school or work.
2. Stock up on pantry staples.
When non-perishable kitchen essentials go on sale, be sure to stock up – it’s always better to have a little extra on hand for emergencies! Combine these items with fresh or frozen veggies and toss in some herbs and spices for added flavor – you will have unlimited last minute meal options! For example:
Chickpeas + diced tomatoes + coconut milk + rice = Chickpea Curry
Black beans + canned corn + rice = Burrito Bowls
Canned diced beets + walnuts + hemp seeds = Beet Salad
Brown lentils + tomato paste + coconut milk + quinoa = Dhal
Kidney Beans + Black Beans + canned corn + diced tomatoes + tomato puree = Chili
Rice noodles + peanut putter + canned shredded carrots = Thai Peanut Butter Noodles
Tuna + pasta + canned peas and carrots = Tuna bake
Canned artichoke hearts + quinoa + white kidney beans = Spinach & Artichoke Casserole
Canned pumpkin + nutritional yeast = Creamy pasta sauce
3. Embrace the one-pot meals.
Don't underestimate just how many meals you can get out of a hearty soup, stew, chowder, or chili - these dishes are great for batch cooking. If you start to get sick of leftovers after a couple of days, freeze some for the nights you don’t feel like cooking. Bonus: all these meals can be made up in a large stock pot, so there is less clean-up after dinner!
4. Invest in a slow cooker
Speaking of one pot meals, the all mighty slow cooker is a must-have small kitchen appliance for the cooler months. Think roasts, stews, soups, pastas, chili’s, stuffed peppers, pulled chicken, and even oatmeal! Simply prepare the ingredients the night before, toss them in the slow cooker in the morning, turn it on, and return home that evening to a delightful aroma and hearty meal ready to eat. Again, minimal clean-up!
5. Make mealtimes fun with theme days!
Assigning themes to each day of the week is not only fun and mood-lifting, but it can also help with meal planning and recipe selection. For example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Sandwich Wednesday, Pasta Thursday, Take-out Friday, Build-Your-Own Pizza Saturday, Comfort Food Sunday, etc.).
6. Take advantage of your peak energy times.
We all have different times of the day when we have more energy than others. You may be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing in the morning, maybe you get a second wind after arriving home from work, or perhaps you are a night owl. Whenever that peak energy time is for you, use it to your advantage! Whip up a batch of pasta sauce, veggie burgers, or turkey meatballs and freeze for meals later in the week. Bake some muffins or egg bites or prepare overnight oats for quick grab-and-go breakfasts. Cook extra chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, or quinoa during dinner to mix and match with different meals throughout the week. Pre-chop fruits and veggies for salads or snacking. Picking away at meal prep tasks during gaps in your day and peak energy times will make meal preparation seem less daunting.
7. Have quick grab-and-go snack items on hand.
For days when you cannot bear to cook at all, or have gone too long without eating and are HANGRY, having nutritious snack items at the ready can help prevent us from going straight to the snack cupboard, drive through, or to our phone to call Uber Eats. Some off my favorite grab and go snack items include:
Individual Greek yogurt cups with blueberries and almonds
Carrot sticks, ½ whole wheat pita and hummus
Slice of whole wheat toast with banana slices and peanut butter
Apple, dark chocolate (75% cocoa or higher), and walnuts
Grapes, crackers, and cheddar cheese
Canned tuna or smoked salmon, whole wheat crackers, and cucumber slices
Boiled egg, ½ English muffin, avocado slices
8. Add mood-boosting ingredients to your meals.
It is important to incorporate foods that support your gut, brain, and overall mental health year-round, However, the cooler months may be when you find yourself needing them the most. Luckily, it is super easy to add mood boosting ingredients to classic seasonal recipes. For example:
Add antioxidant and folate-rich dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens to soups, curries, pasta sauces, buddha bowls, noodle dishes, and eggs.
Add a seasonal twist to your salads with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, roasted butternut squash or beets, dried cranberries,or crispy chickpeas for added fibre, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and potassium.
Pair omega-3 rich salmon, with seasonal vegetables, such as garlic roasted Brussel sprouts and mashed butter cup squash.
Add fresh or frozen berries to oatmeal, yogurt, and muffins for a kick of antioxidants.
Add kefir to pumpkin spice or carrot cake smoothies for a probiotic boost!
Add fibre-rich beans and lentils to soups, chilis, curries, or salads to up your intake of protein, folate, vitamin B6, iron, and potassium.
Whip up a batch of pumpkin spice energy bites with oats, canned pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants and iron.
Up your tryptophan and protein intake with turkey burgers topped with homemade cranberry salsa and a side of sweet potato wedges, which are both good sources of vitamins A and C.
Cook up a big batch of cabbage roll soup with extra lean ground beef, carrots, and brown rice for a warm comforting meal loaded with fibre, protein, B vitamins, and antioxidants.
9. Talk to a registered professional about supplements.
As the days shorten and the temperatures drop we have less opportunities to obtain vitamin D from sun exposure, which is our main source of the vitamin. Unfortunately, vitamin D is not found in many foods; however, the foods you can find vitamin D in include:
Fortified soy and rice beverages
Fortified orange juice
Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
Fortified yogurts (check the label)
As you can see, if you are not a big consumer of fish, dairy, or eggs, your chances of reaching optimal vitamin D levels during the cooler months are very low. This is concerning, as research indicates that low levels of Vitamin D can lead to depression-like symptoms and that people with depression have higher chances of having vitamin D deficiency.
Other supplements of interest that may help with the cold weather blues include Omega-3, purified tryptophan, magnesium, B-complex, multivitamins, and probiotics.
I am a big advocate of getting our nutrition from food first; however, there are certain circumstances in which supplementation may be warented.
Please make sure to consult with your family doctor, or a registered dietitian prior to taking any supplements to ensure there are no medical or medication contradictions.
10. Practice self-compassion and positive self-talk.
Be gentle, kind, and understanding with yourself when you are having an off day, rather than judging yourself harshly. Suffering, failure, and imperfection are a part of life and the shared human experience. Instead of ruminating on upsetting thoughts or events, practice positive self-talk. It has been shown that this mode of thinking can boost your confidence and curb negative emotions.
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