Colour code your appetite

How to maintain a nutritious and balanced diet during the winter

Adding a dash of colour to your plate’s palette is good for your health, says Lee Fisher-Goodchild, co-ordinator of health education and health promotion programs at Health, Counseling and Disability Services.
Adding a dash of colour to your plate’s palette is good for your health, says Lee Fisher-Goodchild, co-ordinator of health education and health promotion programs at Health, Counseling and Disability Services.

Cold winter days can be dreary, but that doesn’t mean your plate has to be. According to Lee Fisher-Goodchild, co-ordinator of health education and health promotion programs at Heath, Counseling and Disability Services, adding a dash of colour to your plate’s palette is good for your health.

The food people eat during the winter often has fewer nutrients because it’s transported long distances, Fischer-Goodchild said.

Typically, the more vibrant a fruit or vegetable, the more vitamins it has. Although pale vegetables such as celery, cucumber and iceberg lettuce do have nutrients and fibre, they aren’t the best options in the produce aisle.

“If you’re going to choose only a few vegetables to eat … pick the ones that are the brightest,” Fischer-Goodchild said, adding that yellow, orange and dark green choices, such as spinach, are best.

Eating a well-balanced diet is important, especially because people often eat differently when it’s cold outside, she said.

“Whereas in the summer we’re more likely to have more fresh stuff, I think we tend to go more to comfort foods during the winter,” she said.

Foods such as soups and stews can be really healthy if they’re loaded with vegetables, but it’s important to consider other nutrients as well.

“Try to make sure that most of your grain products are whole grains,” Fischer-Goodchild said, adding that processed foods such as white bread are stripped of nutrients like fibre so eating them can actually make you hungrier.

“You digest them more quickly so they spike your blood sugar up,” she said. “You’re more likely to get hungry faster and then want to keep eating.”

Along with food choices, the climate can also affect nutrient intake during the winter, Fischer Goodchild said. Because there’s very little sunlight in Kingston between October and March, many people don’t get enough vitamin D during those months. It’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter, along with eating foods rich in the nutrient.

“We get vitamin D through most of our dairy products, so milk is probably the best, or yogurt,” Fischer-Goodchild said.

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it’s stored in fat tissue and won’t be excreted. Although it’s possible to get too much of the nutrient, it’s essential to get about 800 International Units daily, Fischer-Goodchild said. She said other vitamin D-rich options include fish oils from salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as products such as beef, liver and egg yolks.

When it comes to warding off colds and the flu, she said, foods rich in vitamin C and zinc are important. She also said it’s a good idea to take a multivitamin.

“There are those people who say they’re not necessary if you eat a balanced diet, but if you don’t eat a perfectly balanced diet or if you consider that the foods in the winter maybe don’t have the same nutrient content, then a multivitamin is maybe a good idea.”

Georgia Galt, a health educator for PROACTIVE, a research study run by the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s, is working with participants to make healthy food choices and increase physical activity. Galt said although many people find healthy eating more difficult during the summer when there are more social events, some have more trouble in the winter.

“I think a lot of people tend to crave more the comfort-type foods, which tend to be richer or more calorie-dense,” she said, adding that it’s a good idea to watch portions and replace unhealthy fats with healthy ones. For example, mashed potatoes can be made with chicken broth, milk or olive oil rather than butter or cream.

“I would say it’s kind of a harder time because there’s more treats and things around that are higher in calories,” she said, adding that it’s important to eat regular meals and snacks rather than waiting to binge at a holiday party.

But Galt said one of the most important things to remember is that physical activity is important. A lot of people have trouble fitting exercise into their schedule during the winter, she said.

“Because of the weather, the activity tends to fall off so the food tends to go up,” she said, adding that skating, walking and snowshoeing are all great outdoor activities to keep fit.

“If it’s consistent then it’s really going to help prevent a lot of the weight gain.”

Healthy eating

Easy Chili

1 pkg lean ground beef (optional)
1 dried chili pepper, chopped, or
1 tbsp pre-packaged
4-6 large tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup kidney beans
1 cup black beans
½ cup white beans
1 handful dark chocolate chips

1 tsp each basil, oregano, thyme
½ tsp each cumin and fennel
black pepper and salt to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and cook garlic until soft. Add meat until brown. Add tomatoes, beans, chilies and seasonings. Simmer with the lid on, stirring occasionally until thick for half and hour an hour). Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Goes great with a slice of fresh bread. Chili will keep in the fridge for about a week or in the freezer for
several months.

Red Lentil Salad

3 cups red lentils
1 cup black beans
1 ½ cups shrimp, pre-cooked frozen is easiest (optional)
1 large tomato, diced
handful fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small handful pine nuts
1 tbsp olive oil

Bring a pot of water to boil, salt and add lentils. Cook just until tender, about five minutes and then drain. Add cilantro, black beans
and tomatoes.

While lentils are cooking, heat olive oil in a pan and cook garlic until soft. Add pine nuts and toast just until they’re golden brown in colour. Add shrimp and toss for a few minutes (if raw, cook until they’re pink; if
pre-cooked, just until excess water has evaporated). Add to
lentil mixture.

Can be served hot, either over a bed of rice or on its own, or cold with a little white wine vinegar and olive oil drizzled on top as a dressing.

Cream of Tuna

½ cup wild or brown rice or several thick slices of fresh bread
1 can white tuna packed in water
1 tbsp butter or margarine
3 tbsp unbleached flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp basil
½ tomato, diced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkling of grated parmesan
to garnish

In a pot over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in flour, a little at a time until it makes a paste. Add half a cup of milk. Stir until smooth and creamy. Raise the heat a little and continue to add milk and stir. Stir until thickened then add drained tuna, basil, salt, pepper and tomatoes if you like. Remove from heat. Spoon over toast or rice and serve. Sprinkle with parmesan. Leftover sauce mixture will keep in the fridge for a few days. Reheat in a pot or microwave.

—Erin Flegg

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.