kale saladI know it’s not technically winter yet, but it sure feels like it outside! As the seasons change, it makes a lot of sense to change up our diets a little to help us adapt to the shifts in light and weather patterns.

One of my favorite stereotypical dietitian/nutritionist habits is my daily salad. It’s not a strict rule, but I do love having a big salad for lunch. It’s filling and delicious and also happens a great way to use up leftovers. The mad scientist side of me enjoys trying new flavor combinations, while my Type A side finds comfort in returning to old favorites. I also enjoy the energy boost I get from the mix of protein and fiber, not to mention all the super-food facets of the various ingredients. The mix of colors is also visually appealing, which I think goes a long way in perking you up in the middle of a hectic day.

During hot weather, a cold, crisp salad is a pretty natural choice. When things cool down, though, most of us find ourselves craving warm foods.  Carb cravings are also common during fall and winter, as our body struggles to regulate our mood and energy levels. Creamy soups and hot sandwiches and pizza start to look a lot more appealing than, say, mesclun greens. This is where warm salads come in. Essentially, it’s a salad that you serve warm. You can toss freshly cooked ingredients in with the raw greens or zap the whole bowl in the microwave if you prefer (confession: that’s what I usually do because I’m lazy/busy). Here are a few tips for creating a nourishing, satisfying wintertime meal.

*Stick to heartier greens. Kale (or baby kale) and arugula are a few of my favorites. Spinach can also work.  Basically, if you would eat it raw or cooked, it will likely translate well. Just steer clear of more delicate greens like mesclun, which are not that enjoyable when wilted.

*Keep it seasonal. In the fall and winter, foods like roasted cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and squash are delicious in salad. Pears and apple are great in sweeter salads. Enjoying produce at its peak will help you get into the spirit of the season and appreciate the present moment, even when you’d rather be frolicking on the beach.

*Pick a protein. Aside from satisfying hunger, the tryptophan in animal sources of protein like meat, fish, and eggs helps keep our mood steady-great for managing workday stress and the winter blues. This may not be everyone’s taste, but I love using chicken sausage for a change of pace sometimes. Vegetarian sources of protein like tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, lentils, and beans are great on salad. They also provide plenty of fiber plus other important nutrients.

*Dress it up. Though you could do simple oil & vinegar, warm salads are great with a little creamy dressing drizzled on top. Just keep it simple. For example, a simple miso-tahini dressing made of miso paste, tahini, apple cider vinegar, and a little water adds a ton of flavor without being too heavy. Hummus can be another tasty topping.

*Pick one add-on.  Allow yourself one “extra” item that you really enjoy. This will help you feel satisfied without overdoing it. Just remember that a little goes a long way. A few of my favorites are sliced avocado (about 1/4 of a whole) goat cheese, and hemp seeds. 2 tbsp of dried fruit, nuts, or pumpkin seeds can also be nice. Maybe you want to mix in a little brown rice or quinoa? Sometimes I might add 1/4 cup of cooked lentils if I need a little bit of carbs to round out the meal, or a hard-boiled egg if I’m craving more protein. Whatever fills in the blank for you!

 What are some of your favorite cold-weather meals? Any favorite salad toppings? 

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