Fall comfort foods that are also good for you

October 19th, 2020

Leaves have fallen, days have shortened, the air has chilled. Fall is here, and it’s a perfect time for warm, filling comfort foods that are also good for you.

“With comforting, nourishing foods, you can satisfy your tastes and support your health through the changing weather,” said Pam Wooster, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. 

fall comfort foods that includes tomato and vegetable soups.
Soups can be an easy and healthy fall comfort food. Photo: Getty Images.

Soup season: simple vegetable 

The cool, dark evenings of fall are a perfect time for soups. From pureed soups, such as carrot ginger or tomato, to chunky soups, such as chilis and stews, there’s something for everyone.

“Sometimes people stay away from soups because they think they’re hard to make, but they’re actually very easy,” Wooster said.

For simple vegetable soup, drizzle a little olive oil in a pot and sauté any vegetables you have on hand, such as carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Brown meat if desired, and add in dried herbs and a bay leaf. Next, add in a cup of your liquid – vegetable, chicken or beef broth, or milk for a creamy soup – and deglaze the pan by scraping the flavorful bits from the bottom. Add the rest of your liquid, and you’re done.

“Different ingredients may take more or less time to cook,” Wooster said. “Potatoes and carrots may need to cook longer, but green beans and squash can be added later so they’re not overcooked and mushy.” 

Hearty salads

Shake up your salad options by starting with sturdier greens, such as kale, and chopping them up with vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and carrots. Add beans or shredded meat for protein and a little fruit for sweetness, then garnish with nuts and seeds. Dress with seasoned garlic oil and balsamic vinegar.

Or make a slaw with red and green cabbage, carrots and apples, and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar or lime juice.

“Slaws are really versatile,” Wooster said. “You can throw them on burgers or street tacos.” 

Warm oats

It’s the season to wake up to a hot bowl of oatmeal, which is easy to make with oats, water or almond milk, and toppings such as berries, nuts and seeds. The best part? Oats help support gut health, which can help you ward off sickness.

“If we maintain a healthy gut, we maintain a healthier body and won’t succumb to illness as easily,” Wooster said.

Nutritious casseroles: Harvest Chicken or stuffed bell peppers

Casseroles aren’t just about gooey cheese and heavy meats. Lighten up your favorites by replacing pasta with ribbons of eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash, or swapping in bean pasta for another nutrient profile.

Wooster recommends trying a “Harvest Chicken Casserole.” Fill a baking dish with chicken, chopped sweet potatoes, cooked brown rice, garlic, onion, thyme, cranberries, almonds and chicken broth, and enjoy the fragrant aroma as the flavors meld together.

Or stuff bell peppers with rice or farro, browned turkey meat, and beans, smother in a simple tomato sauce, then bake and garnish with herbs.

Don’t forget the, an egg-based casserole that lends itself to a variety of add-ins. For fall, try one with butternut squash, kale and sage.

Sweet comfort food

Make your own turmeric tea with almond milk, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, black pepper, turmeric and a touch of maple syrup for a warming fall drink. Or, enjoy homemade hot cocoa with cocoa powder, honey and your milk of choice.

Baked apples or a mug of apple cider are fall-worthy desserts and can fill your house with the aroma of the season.

“When you have apple cider on the stove and smell that cinnamon, it can make you think of foods you’ve enjoyed and brings back good memories, and that nourishes the body, too,” Wooster said.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.