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Easy ways to make winter comfort food healthier

Dietitian Simone Austin shares some tips for nourishing winter favourites – healthy soups, and delicious toasted sandwiches.

Healthy and comforting winter soup

When lunchtime rolls around or afternoon hunger kicks in over winter, our bodies often crave something hearty and nourishing. A warming soup or toasted sandwich are two of my favourite cold weather meals. Here are my tips for packing soups and toasties with ingredients that’ll make your tastebuds and immune system happy.

Soup

A hearty soup is the perfect winter go-to, and with the right ingredients it can be a nourishing, immunity-boosting meal. Here are some essential elements to include:

  • Lots of vegetables. Adding plenty of vegetables is an easy way to pack in the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Protein. Lean meats and bones are a great source of protein for aiding the immune system, muscle building and recovery, as well as for satiety (that comforting feeling of fullness and satisfaction). Satiety is particularly important over winter when we are indoors a lot more, and often eating for comfort or to keep warm. For a vegetarian option, try adding different legumes like chickpeas or lentils.
  • Herbs and spices. Add warming herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger to your soups, and get more immunity-boosting benefits.
  • Complex carbohydrates. Soups containing complex carbohydrates can be a great source of energy. Try adding barley, rice, pasta, legumes, corn, sweet potato or potato, or serve with a slice of wholegrain bread.

The liquid of soup and stock also helps keep us hydrated – we sometimes forget about hydration during winter but it’s still important, particularly if you work in a heated office where evaporation and loss of water through our skin occurs.

Toasted sandwich

Another winter (or anytime!) favourite is the classic toasted sandwich. The most popular toastie is obviously ham and cheese, and the football players I work with eat it almost daily. I keep encouraging them to go beyond this! I also encourage you to think about what else could be added to your usual toastie, both to give it extra flavour and to help your immune system.

A rule of thumb I have for toasted sandwiches is that they must contain one or two protein sources and three or more vegetables. If you fill up the sandwich with more ingredients, one sandwich is generally filling enough. If you need more to eat, you can balance the meal with some fruit or yoghurt afterwards or a bowl of delicious soup.

Here are my guidelines for the perfect toastie:

  • Smart bread choices. For a perfectly balanced toastie start with a healthy bread. Choose a wholegrain, rye, or even sourdough bread for extra dietary fibre, B group vitamins and minerals like magnesium and zinc.
  • Plenty of vegetables. Add loads of vegetables like capsicum, tomatoes, avocado, spinach, mushrooms, onion, zucchini, carrot and beetroot.
  • Lean protein. Choose a protein source such as lean meat, sardines, tuna, salmon, eggs, ricotta or feta cheese, baked or kidney beans or tofu.
  • Herbs and spices. And to top it all off, add some extra flavour with antioxidant-packed herbs and spices like oregano, chilli, basil, garlic or paprika.

In Australia, many of us don’t eat the recommended five servings of vegetables each day. Try to reach this goal by adding extra veggies to soups and sandwiches, especially in winter when your immune system really needs them most.

For more on healthy eating, contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian – they provide practical, tailored advice based on the latest science, and can help motivate and support you to take charge of what you eat.

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