HEALTH & WELLNESS Nutrition  >  Eating in Winter

Eating in Winter

Eating in Winter
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BY KITT WALSH

Harvest season is almost over in most parts of the country. Pumpkins, apples, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, pears, corn, wheat and soybeans are being gathered in. I recently went to the Midwest for a quick business trip and, in addition to regular traffic signs, there were many “Watch Out For Tractors. It’s Harvest Time” signs.

Fall is the time livestock is also being harvested. They spent the whole summer fattening up and now, before the cold weather makes their care more difficult, they are being slaughtered—so fresh meat also becomes rarer.

But with all this frenetic activity comes the sad truth that a lot of fresh food will be going away until spring. From New York to Oregon, farm stands and CSAs are closing and farmers markets call it a day until warmer weather. Even your garden (unless you’ve got some winter crops like garlic and kale) is already put bed for the dark months of winter.

Cold weather affects how we eat, not only what we eat. It is in our nature to pack on a few pounds, like a hibernating bear, and to favor comfort foods (usually hot and filling like hot chocolate, warm bread and hearty stews.) So how do we keep eating (and hopefully eating well) all winter long? And how can we support our farmers who face this half of the year with basically no money coming in?

Here’s some ideas for both problems:

Find (or organize) a Winter’s Farmers Market: Find a church basement, grange hall or even a community center and invite local farmers to participate weekly or monthly. They can provide frozen meat, cheeses, winter’s squash, onions, garlic, leafy greens, and root crops. They may even have grains and beans and some prepared foods. But don’t stop at the farmers. Contact church groups, ladies and civic organizations, 4-H, Young Farmers of America, Girl and Boy Scouts and ask for pickled things, homespun yarn, quilts and crafts, candles, honey products and whatever else they make with their hands to sell.

Check for CSA shares in your area: Some farmers continue to offer these co-op CSA share programs through the winter. Or they might offer special winter shares for things like beans, grains (and other storable goods) as well as animal products, meat or eggs. In warmer states in the South, farmers can still be harvesting items all year-round and therefore probably sell their shares all year round. It is worth looking around your region.

Find “Fill Your Pantry” events: In your town, farmers may be setting up this one-time event to clear out the bulk of their harvest. You get to fill your pantry with root cellar or larder items. At these events, sometimes you can barter or get an additional discount if you pre-order or buy in bulk. You might come away with baskets of apples (mmmm, fritters) bulk bundles of frozen meat, bags of potatoes or sacks of dry beans, Bring your own baskets, bags, sacks and cash—all these events are heavy into doing cash business. No, they usually don’t take a card. Check this link for CSAs in your area.

Set up an event: Barn dances with farm snacks (don’t forget the cider), pie sales, farm dinners, workshops on spring planting, what to do with herb classes (soap, candle and potpourri making), meat butchering class, quilting, canning or baking workshops. All will help keep the farmer economically stable during the winter and you get to benefit from some delicious food and great crafts.

Now, back to the fact that when the fresh produce is gone, we often find ourselves curled up on the couch with our favorite unhealthy comfort food instead of cooking fresh meals and hitting the gym. We gain extra weight and feel sluggish during the winter months. But we can learn to pay more attention to our health—winter or no winter.

Getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D in your diet is important. The Adequate Intake (AI) levels for vitamin D range from 200 IU-600 IU per day, depending on age. Vitamin D gets produced naturally in our body when we are exposed to sunlight. When we hide out inside, that limits our exposure to sun and we might not be getting enough. Signs of a Vitamin D deficiency include bone pain and muscle weakness. If the deficiency goes on long enough, the lack of Vitamin D may even lead to cancer or cardiovascular disease. Drink plenty of milk (Vitamin D enriched) and eat salmon and tuna and consider taking a Vitamin D supplement while it is dark out there.

Because its cold and we really want to snuggle inside instead of exercise outside, our serotonin levels drop in the winter and serotonin is the neurotransmitter that relays our brains messages to other parts of the brain. Unfortunately what triggers serotonin to be produced are carbohydrates—you know, the kind that are in those comfort foods, the ones that go directly to your hips? Instead of giving in to cravings, try to get your carbs in healthier ways, with whole grains and sweet potatoes.

There is also some seasonal produce to fill up on. Besides apples (have I mentioned fritters?), there are cranberries and oranges (this pair make a fabulous holiday bread or delicious scones) and brussel sprouts, sautéed with a little lemon and butter, then roasted, taste great and are full of vitamins. Remember, eating in season helps us and the farmers.

Stay warm and healthy this winter.

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