Just because you’ve survived the holidays doesn’t mean the temptations of winter are behind you. While cold weather makes it harder to leave the house when you don’t have to, it also makes it easier to indulge in comfort foods like banana bread and game-day potato chips—foods that are high in calories but low in nutrition.
“This time of year starts the indulgence, where we really go in,” says Ruby Lathon, a certified holistic nutritionist in Washington D.C. “We tend to not be as active and pack on a few more pounds with the help of more decadent foods.” The solution, she says, is to avoid using food for comfort. “Instead, we need to use it as nutrition.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy what you eat, of course. Nutrition doesn’t have to come at the expense of joy, and to prove it, here are five simple swaps that will help keep your belly flat while you wait for warm weather to return.
Food Swap #1: Instead of Pasta, Eat Vegetable Noodles
Made with a Spiralizer, vegetable noodles—which can be cut from sweet potato, zucchini, beet, or other fall favorites—are a nutritional win. “Generally we don’t get the five-plus servings of daily vegetables we need in our diet,” says Lathon. “Swapping vegetables for noodles is an easy way to get rid of white refined flours that can turn into sugar in the body and contribute to seasonal gain weight.” Even better: The noodles can be as tender or al dente as you like them, depending on how long you cook them.
Food Swap #2: Instead of Traditional Chili, Go Vegetarian
A single cup of beef chili can easily cost you 300 calories—and that’s before you pile it high with shredded cheese and of sour cream. So to cut calories, swap out the ground chuck for extra beans. The exchange will give you more fiber while still providing plenty of protein. If you prefer a meatier texture, add tempeh, says Lathon. “You’ll have the exact same protein content as the original, but you’ll be removing loads of saturated fat and calories.”
Food Swap #3: Instead of Traditional Flour, Go with Almond or Coconut
Swapping out ground wheat will help you stave off pounds, and by using plant-based flours instead, you’ll add easily digestible protein and extra fiber, says Lathon. And it’s not tricky—you can use almond and coconut flours almost anywhere you’d usually use wheat. They sub in perfectly as the breading on baked chicken or the structural center for pancakes and banana bread.
Food Swap #4: Instead of Ice Cream, Reach for a Frozen Banana
It sounds crazy, but frozen bananas essentially have the same sweetness and structure of ice cream. (This is hands-down Lathon’s favorite swap.) Simply freeze a bunch of bananas, and then blend them in your food processor with whatever mix-ins you’d like—coconut flakes, cocoa powder, or a scoop of peanut butter all work great.
Food Swap #5: Instead of Potato Chips, Reach for Baked Kale
If you care at all for your waistline, you’ll stop throwing that bag of Doritos out on the table every time a football game comes on. Instead, chop a head of kale, toss it with olive oil and seasoning (try salt and paprika, if you like spice), and bake them for 10 to 15 minutes at 375°F. The result will be as crunchy as a chip, but loaded with fiber and disease-fighting nutrients—like iron and magnesium.
Looking for more meal inspiration? Download a free Spartan Meal Plan with 21 free meals.