To my own complete annoyance, I have a tendency of getting into a food-rut from time-to-time. Either I find a few dishes and make them every few days or so for weeks on end, or things just get so busy that it’s easier to just stick to the one dish each lunchtime than spend time being creative to come up with something new. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m eating toast every day, but I’m certainly not getting the wide variety of foods that I know would be of more benefit to me health-wise, as well as keeping life interesting. The reality is, really, I just get into a headspace where everything seems ‘too hard’, or takes ‘too long’ to be worth the effort.
It’s funny, because while all this is going on, I’m annoyed because I actually don’t enjoy eating the same thing day-in, day-out. That’s why the whole ‘Sunday cook-up’ ‘meal-prep’ thing just doesn’t work for me. I know that some of you couldn’t survive without that ritual, but my food habits and tastes are much more spontaneous than that, so having the same meal for every lunch and dinner each week is by far the last thing I could do on purpose.
The wider variety of foods that you eat, the wider array of nutrients you eat. It’s a food mantra that (for the most part) inspires me to try new things, be creative and be mindful of the food I have in my kitchen. So when it hit me that I’ve been having the same gluten-free instant noodles with soup and mackerel for lunch every day at work for the past six weeks, I knew I had to snap out of it, be purposefully aware of my habits and find inspiration to shake things up.
So here are my favourite tips to shake up your winter menu (without all that weekend meal prep fuss!):
1. Take advantage of cooler temperatures and eat lots of warming herbs and spices
Ayerveda (the ancient Indian health practice) often encourages the use of warming herbs in the diet because not only do they help you keep warm, they stimulate your circulation, encouraging blood flow to your digestive system. This can increase your ability to break down and absorb nutrients and excrete wastes as your digestive enzymes and smooth muscles of your digestive tract are stimulated. It also means that your fingers and toes will be warmer as warm blood circulates out to your extremities.
Warming herbs and spices include cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, ginger, garlic, mustard, horseradish, star anise, rosemary, oregano, nutmeg, asafoetida and clove.
I often look to Indian, Sri Lankan, Moroccan and Turkish cuisines for inspiration around this time of year, and they all just so happen to use a heck of a lot of these spices in the most delicious combinations.
2. Add protein “toppers” to your favourite vegie soups
There are a lot of tasty vegie soups out there, but unfortunately, a lot of them are pretty deficient in protein, a crucial source of energy for our bodies and our emotional wellbeing. I like to remedy this by adding protein as a “topper” for my soup, that way it can still be different each time I eat it.
Favourite toppers of mine include poached eggs, precooked chicken, lamb, or other roast (either from a barbecue chook I’ve purchased or a roast I’ve cooked earlier in the week), or tinned fish (mackerel is my favourite for this), while vegetarian options that are just as delicious (if not more) include a decent helping of dukkah, hummus, nut cheese, tahini or nut butters, cashew cream, three bean mix (thoroughly rinsed), refried beans, oh the options, they truly go on and on…
3. Sprout your wings…
or any dish for that matter! Although we are incredibly lucky in most parts of Australia to have access to fresh produce on a daily basis, in some countries the ground is too snow-covered for anything to grow. In these countries, it’s pretty common to sprout seeds, grains and legumes on a windowsill, or even in a jar to get a bit more variety of nutrients (especially vitamin C) and texture in meals, as well as the added benefit of “activating” the grains, seeds and legumes, which makes them easier to digest.
I love the idea of this, and have been experimenting by sprinkling either store-bought or home grown sprouts over the top of curries and casseroles, or adding them to a side salad for a bit of variety and freshness.
I recommend the sprouts of chia seeds, mung beans, peas, lentils, sunflower seeds, fenugreek, broccoli and alfalfa to either grow yourself or buy already sprouted. Although sprouting them yourself is much nicer, because you get to have this gorgeous bunch of greens growing right on your kitchen bench.
4. Speaking of legumes, when was the last time you ate some?
In my experience, legumes (the group that includes chickpeas (hummus, y’all), lentils and beans) are overlooked by many of us as a delicious food source. Perhaps because the preparation involved seems very, well, involved, or the taste/texture isn’t something you’re used to. The fact is that lentils are actually pretty easy to prepare if you can turn a tap on and off, and they are an incredible source of fibre, B vitamins including folate, protein and carbohydrates.
A photo posted by Miranda Partridge (@mirandaswellness) on Jul 11, 2016 at 8:32pm PDT
Legumes are a ‘slow’ food. They need to be soaked (for at least 8 hours, if not 24-48) and rinsed thoroughly before being consumed, but in my opinion this makes them all the better. Eating legumes or any of my most favourite winter foods all take time. Roasts, casseroles, soups, curries; the best ones are cooked slowly and infused with flavour over the hours that they are prepared.
Regular legume consumption is associated with lower levels of bowel cancer, obesity, heart disease and blood cholesterol levels, and they are tasty too! Think Mexican dishes with kidney beans or black beans, felafel with a decent helping of tabouli and hummus, dahl curries, hummus, hummus, and did I mention, HUMMUS?!! Even if you just add a cup of legumes to a vegie soup or casserole, they are definitely worth adding to your diet.
What are your favourite winter dishes? And what foods do you eat to keep away the winter blues, or even the flu? Share your tips and recipes down below.