This time of year, we like to get hygge. Fall is all about cuddling up, turning up the heat, sippin’ on cider, and getting cozy with our favorite seasonal comfort foods. It’s no coincidence that traditional fall and winter dishes are usually heavier than those you’d find in the spring & summer months – warm, rich foods are perfect for cooler temperatures and snuggly nights in.
We’re not here to tell you not to enjoy comfort foods. Because we know (from experience) that approach will backfire. And a cold salad on a cold day? Get real! It’s important to enjoy food and life, and to be kind to yourself as you work toward your fitness goals (that’s what helps healthy habits stick!) so some comfort food on occasion is totally acceptable.
But winter weight gain is real, and can be hard to come back from. To smash your fitness goals all year long, we’re sharing some healthy alternatives to classic autumn meals we love, like mac & cheese and hot chocolate, so you can indulge in comforts of rich, nutrient-dense foods that satisfy your seasonal cravings while still working toward your health goals.
Before we get to the recipes, let’s talk about what the changing season means when it comes to changes in your diet. What’s so awesome about autumn eats?
Seasonality is sexy
Year-round, eating with the season keeps us healthier and more energized, as produce that’s grown locally (read: not shipped & stored for long periods of time) is richer in nutrients. Fall makes it especially easy with veggies and fruits that are exceptionally colorful, delicious and full of diverse flavors. As an added bonus, eating food that’s in season is more affordable, and better for the environment!
We could go on for days listing the amazing bounty that autumn has to offer: apples, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, fennel, kale, leeks, oranges, parsnips, pears, potatoes, pumpkin…
Fun fact: dark leafy greens or foods with a red color are typically rich in iron. Second fun fact: fall produce runs rampant with dark leafy greens and red foods. Foods like kale, beets, and brussel sprouts are loaded with iron, a building block for the red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body (which means it’s essential for energy). Constant fall fatigue could be a sign that you aren’t getting enough iron, so stocking up on those iron-rich veggies can help boost your energy. Foods like kale and beets are also full of Vitamin C, which helps to improve iron absorption and can help prevent against that annual nasty October cold.
Health for a long time, not a good time
Comfort food might make you feel good in the moment, but after the mac & cheese glow has worn off, heavy foods can leave you feeling sluggish and unmotivated. It’s already so much harder to get up in the morning with the sun hitting its own seasonal snooze button, and adding foods high in fat, sugar and salt can make it even more challenging to rise to the occasion for your AM workout. Why?
Fatty food is hard to digest and makes us feel drained, while too much sodium can lead to bloat. Sugar and its resulting blood sugar swings can feel like mood swings (and with fewer sunny days, we’re plenty moody already). In the fall, thanks to countless seasonally-available ingredients, you can choose foods that are instead rich in vitamins, proteins and healthy fats that will help ease the transition from summer to fall.
5 Healthy, comforting fall season recipes
Instead of attempting to ban your favorite meals for the season or follow an extreme, restrictive diet, simply try subbing one of these nutrient-rich recipes for your usual autumn go-to. Because eating well in the fall months can mean more energy now, and a happier, healthier you year-round.
1) If you’re missing mac & cheese, try a white bean risotto with chard
We tried to find a healthy ingredient used for classic mac & cheese, but failed. No wonder mac sends us straight into a food coma – the body needs every ounce of energy to digest all that butter and cheese! If you’re craving something decedent, warm and rich that won’t leave you needing a nap, give our white bean risotto a go. With ricotta cheese, it’s got that feel-good creamy vibe we love, the white beans mean it’s high in protein, and chard is an autumn green packed with vitamins and minerals.
White bean risotto with chard
Preparation time: 15 min.
- 2 ¼ oz ricotta cheese (part skim milk)
- ⅔ cup white beans/cannellini beans (canned and drained) (~6 oz)
- 1 ½ cups chard (~2 oz)
- 2 tsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1 tbsp sunflower seeds (~½ oz)
- 1 ¼ cups vegetable broth (~10 oz)
- 1 onion (medium sized) (~2 ½ oz)
- 1 garlic clove (~⅛ oz)
- ½ lemon (~1 oz)
- ½ tsp black pepper
- a tiny bit of salt
- ½ tsp thyme (dry)
- Bring vegetable broth in a pot over medium heat to simmer, then set aside.
- Peel onion and garlic, mince both. Clean chard and cut into pieces.
- Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add onion, garlic and the chard. Cook for about 5 minutes, stir occasionally, until softened.
- Add half of the broth, cook and stir, until almost absorbed. Now add beans and the rest of the broth. Cook and stir for a couple of minutes.
- Wash lemon, grate the zest and juice lemon. Add ricotta cheese, lemon juice and thyme to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and more thyme if needed. Top with sunflower seeds and some grated lemon zest before serving.
2) A healthy spin on the classic roast chicken dinner: garlic chicken with beet mash & wilted spinach
The traditional roast chicken dish typically comes with lots of gravy, and little else, but a chicken dinner can be so much more flavorful when paired with seasonal ingredients. Our alternative is full of healthy root vegetables to balance out your macronutrient intake: potatoes and beets provide healthy carbs, chicken is full of protein, and olive oil provides a good dose of healthy fat.
Garlic chicken with beet mash and wilted spinach
Preparation time: 30 min.
- 1 chicken drumstick
- 1 ¼ cups beets (cooked and chopped) (~6 oz)
- 1 potato (~8 oz)
- 2 cups spinach leaves (raw) (~2 oz)
- 1 garlic clove (~⅛ oz)
- 1 ½ tsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1 tsp mixed herbs (no salt added)
- a tiny bit of salt
- a tiny bit of black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Peel and roughly chop garlic. Score the chicken, add to a bowl and combine with garlic, oil, salt, pepper and herbs. Leave to marinate (Tip: try stuffing the garlic pieces inside the cuts you’ve created).
- Once oven is hot, add the chicken legs to a lined baking tray and roast for 20 mins or until browned.
- Meanwhile, peel and cut potato. Then add to boiling water for about 10 mins, or until soft.
- Heat a pan on medium heat, add spinach and let wilt. Season with salt and pepper (you can add other spices, like nutmeg if you want).
- Once potatoes are ready, drain, add beets and either mash by hand or with a blender. Season with salt and pepper.
- Plate everything and enjoy!
3) Like a cookie, but better: apple crumble
OK, we admit it. Baking apple crumble is a bit more effort than going to the store to get cookies. But we promise it’s worth it! Unlike cookies (which are delicious and practically addictive, thanks to their sugar, fat and sodium content), this apple crumble relies on nature’s sweetness for its decedent flavor, drawing on oranges, apple and walnuts, which are all at their seasonal peak. Still potentially addictive, but at least this treat will leave you feeling great!
8fit’s Apple Crumble recipe can be found in our Healthy Christmas treats article.
4) Upgrade your hot cocoa – warm up with a turmeric latte
One cup of hot chocolate packs a whopping 25 grams of sugar, which means a big ol’ sugar crash later, along with more cravings and mood swings. Turmeric, on the other hand, is considered to be a natural antidepressant, so it can help you through those winter blues. Pair it with pistachios for a perfect sideline snack during football season or for enjoying cuddled up at home.
Pistachios, too, have tons of health benefits: they’re rich in protein, healthy fat and minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
Turmeric latte with pistachios
Preparation time: 5 min.
- 1 cup milk (whole 3.5%) (~8 oz)
- ¾ tsp honey or agave syrup (~¼ oz)
- 6 pistachios (~⅛ oz)
- ½ tsp turmeric (~⅛ oz)
- In a small saucepan on low-medium heat, add the milk and turmeric and heat gently.
- Remove from heat, add honey to taste and stir.
- Enjoy with pistachio nuts on the side!
5) Craving pizza? Go for this kale pesto version
We all know pizza is delicious. Unfortunately, it’s also typically full of processed ingredients and low on veggies. Our perfect-for-fall pizza has kale to up the nutrient content, and uses fresh mozzarella, which is lower in sodium and higher in protein than the heavily processed cheese you’ll find on most pizzas. The best part? This pizza only takes 3 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to bake.
Kale pesto pizza
Preparation time: 20 min.
- 1 100 % whole grain tortilla (~1 ½ oz)
- 1 ¾ oz mozzarella (part skim milk)
- 1 ¾ tbsp pesto (ready to serve) (~1 ¾ oz)
- 1 cup kale (chopped) (~2 ¼ oz)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- a tiny bit of salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp chili flakes
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- In the meantime, wash and chop kale and grate cheese. Set aside.
- Place tortilla on a lined baking sheet.
- Top with pesto, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, then kale.
- Bake about 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and kale is wilted.
- Top with chili flakes (optional) and enjoy!