How to eat more plant foods in winter

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Simone Austin is an advanced
sports dietitian, keynote
speaker and author.

As the colder months arrive many favourite fruits and vegetables disappear for another year. How do you keep up the variety of plant foods during winter? There are plenty of ways and it is very important to do so for our health.

Research shows those who eat 30 or more different plant foods a week compared to those who have 10 or less, have a greater diversity of microbes living in their intestine. We might still have a lot to learn in the area of the microbiome, however we do know that diversity of microbes is important for gut and overall health.

The Go for 2 and 5 campaign has been around since 2002 telling us to eat 2 fruit and 5 serves of vegetables a day, it seems this is easier said than done as we know that 93%of Australian adults in our last National Nutrition Survey didn’t achieve the five serves of vegetables per day and 50% didn’t eat enough fruit. Let’s take a look at how to boost our diets with plant foods during winter.

1. Aim for 30 different plant foods a week

Counting how many different plant foods you have per week, aiming for 30 might be a novel way. Some plant foods you can easily source all year round such as seeds (e.g. pumpkin, chia, hemp, sunflower), all types of nuts (e.g. almonds, almond meal), legumes (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans, lupins), grains (e.g. oats, quinoa, brown rice) and dried herbs and spices

When variety of fruit and vegetable are lower, we can fall into the trap of buying the each week; think apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and potatoes. These are all nourishing and oranges are at their best in winter so enjoy them. Recording all the different fruit and vegetables you eat you might find you venture out more. A little competition never hurt and a family competition for who can hit 30 might be fun!

2. Eat a Rainbow. Eat with your Eyes

Much of the pleasure of eating is seeing how beautiful food is. The array of colours that have us enjoy a cooking show or flick through a cook book. This is a perfect way to eat a variety of plant foods, look for and buy a range of different coloured plant foods. Keeping to in season will help with quality and price.

Here are some ideas for winter produce:

Red- apples, radiccho, radish

Orange- mandarin, oranges, pumpkin

Yellow- pineapple (yes they have a winter season), lemons

White- potatoes, turnip, parsnip, leek, onion, cauliflower

Green – kiwifruit, silverbeet, broccoli, Jerusalem artichokes, fennel, parsley

Purple- beetroot, red cabbage, passionfruit, rhubarb

Brown- mushrooms, brown onion

Some produce is available all year round when stored correctly at the right temperature and moisture level. Almonds are harvested in Australia from February to April so will be lovely and fresh in winter, however when stored correctly in cool places will last all year.

3. Extra handful of vegetables

When the fresh fruit variety is a little low in winter it is a perfect time to increase the vegetable intake. Add an extra handful of vegetables to breakfast lunch or dinner. Look for the variety of colours. You could reduce the meat quantity in a dish and replace with extra vegetables e.g. in a stirfry, curry or lasagne. Look for textures to make things interesting. Adding in some leafy greens or crisp capsicum, onion or celery to a salad or soup and finish off with a sprinkle of slivered almonds.

When cooking a roast check the fridge for any vegetable in sight. Roasted whole cauliflower, onion, beetroot, eggplant, zucchini along with your traditional pumpkin and potatoes. Adding in a can of chickpeas or kidney beans to a soup or curry is an easy way to increase the vegetables and protein of a meal.

At snack time how about a handful of almonds with some baby carrots or thinly sliced fresh radish?

4. Meal Prep 101

Make the healthy choices the easy choices. Do a little preparation and have the foods you want to eat more of ready to go. This might mean peeling or cutting up the orange or mandarin so it is ready to eat at morning tea. Using some frozen fruit and vegetables when prices are high and your favourite summer fruit or vegetables are not around. Is also makes meal preparation at the end of the day quicker. Frozen produce is still healthy, it is snap frozen keeping the nutrients inside.

 Getting inspiration from all different cuisines to inspire you to try new foods. You may like to experiment on the weekend and have leftovers for during busier times of the week. If you have had a successful tomato or other crop during summer keep these in the freezer ready for winter.

There are plenty of plant foods to enjoy during winter. Go out and explore and your health will thank you!