20 Lighter Meals for Fall & Winter
Note: This post includes a couple links to other websites and blogs, but please note that this post is not partnered with or sponsored by these other sites. The links are there so you have access to recipes I recommend based on personal experience and that I think you might like, too!
Is it just me or do our meals tend to feel heavier the further we creep into fall? It’s the season of comfort foods, of cozying up inside, wearing your favorite sweater, holding a book in one hand and something decadent in the other.
I love these foods: macaroni and cheese, lasagnas and other layered pasta bakes, creamy soups, crispy roasted vegetables, homemade baked goods. All of these speak to me on a molecular level.
The problem with all the treats that resurface at this time of year is that they can easily derail weight loss/weight maintenance efforts if they become staple meals. And while I could just say “watch your portions” and end the blog post right now, I felt that would be a bit of a cop-out, and frankly I have more to share, so on we go.
I have compiled a list of several of my favorite meals that are fresh and, for the most part, low calorie (assuming you follow the flippant “watch your portions” advice of the previous paragraph), and that are perfect for cold fall or winter evenings in. (Also, in case it's not glaringly obvious which photos were taken by me vs. professionals, each of the borrowed photos are labeled with links to their home website in addition to their link in the list!)
1. Chipotle Sweet Potato Hash: This recipe has become a regular in our weeknight dinner rotation. I love to use chipotles in adobo in place of the chipotle powder called for in the recipe. And since the sweet potato chunks almost never cook all the way through in the cooking time recommended, I've been experimenting with steaming or roasting the sweet potato cubes first (if the cubes are about 1/2 inch in size, it'll take 8 or 9 minutes to steam through, for roughly one and a half pounds of potato), to give them a head start from the rest of the hash.
2. Zuppa Toscana: I always use less cream than this recipe calls for; if you use heavy cream you probably need at most 1/2 cup, not 2 cups of half-and-half. Just add a bit more broth to make up the rest of the 2 cups of liquid.
3. Roasted acorn squash, brussels sprouts, & kielbasa sheet pan dinner: Not really an existing recipe, but you can pretty much imagine what to do here. Set your oven to 400 degrees; drizzle olive oil on your acorn squash and brussels sprouts, then season with salt and pepper; roast veg up to 40 minutes (brussels sprouts will probably be happy with just 40 minutes, but the acorn squash will need a full hour in the oven) before adding your kielbasa and roasting for another 20 minutes, then serve. To make it even lighter, swap smoked chicken sausage for the kielbasa.
4. Tomato soup: My favorite tomato soup recipe is great either with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side for dunking, or with cheese tortellini cooked in. Both versions are light, filling, and totally satisfying.
5. Chicken Noodle Soup: The vitamin-packed classic!
6. Baked potatoes – white or sweet: If served on their own with an array of toppings, baked potatoes can be a healthy, low-calorie dinner option! I like to have bacon crumbles, sour cream, and chives on my baked white potatoes, and BBQ chicken sounds like it would be a great addition on top of a baked sweet potato!
7. Chopped Kale Salad with Cranberry-chicken salad: Again, not really a recipe. Be sure to remove ALL the stems from the kale – they’re bitter and stringy and gross and nobody wants to eat them. Finely shred your hearty kale, then dress with a lemon or mustard vinaigrette and shaved parmesan. Prepare the chicken salad by combining shredded chicken with mayo, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, minced or matchstick apple, diced celery, and dried cranberries. Scoop a portion of the chicken salad onto your bed of dressed kale salad, maybe top with a few croutons or toasted walnuts, and enjoy!
8. Honey Mustard Salmon & Shaved Brussels Sprouts salad: I absolutely love salmon. My favorite way to enjoy it is simply roasting it with butter, salt and pepper. The butter gets all toasty and browned in the oven and makes a delicious sort of sauce for the fish. And this shaved Brussels sprouts salad looks amazing, with crunchy walnuts and a tangy Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
9. Autumn Cobb Salad - there are like a thousand and six variations of this salad. I'm thinking you could do a bed of shredded kale or romaine, with crispy spiced chickpeas, roasted/spiced sweet potatoes or butternut squash, beans, matchstick apples, dried cranberries, croutons, gorgonzola or goat cheese, hard boiled eggs, bacon, etc. The options are endless.
10. Chicken and Black Bean Quesadillas: My husband loves these, and they're really filling from the fiber in the black beans and the protein from the chicken. We top ours with sour cream.
11. Summer Fresh Corn and Zucchini Chowder: This isn't technically a winter dish, but zucchini is cheap all year round, and if you use a bag of frozen sweet corn, you’ll still get that sweet, fresh corn taste in the dead of winter.
12. Spaghetti (squash) and meatballs; alternatively, spaghetti squash and baked chicken parmesan: Another super easy non-recipe. Roast your spaghetti squash (halved lengthwise, drizzled with EVOO, sprinkled with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper) for about an hour at 400 degrees. When the hour is up, "shred" your spaghetti squash flesh into strands using two forks, and serve with your favorite red sauce, augmenting with your favorite meatballs or chicken parmesan.
13. Maple-mustard glazed chicken: Serve hot with that delicious garlicky glaze drizzled over the top, with a side salad or steamed green vegetable.
14. Autumn spice pork tenderloin with broccoli & butternut puree: The Kitchn has some great instructions on the best way to cook a pork tenderloin in the oven. I love to rub the trimmed tenderloin with salt, pepper, and Spice Merchants' Autumn Spice Blend, which has chilies, maple sugar, warming fall spices, and sea salt. Here's a similar blend.
16. Ina Garten’s winter minestrone: This soup is packed with flavor and has basically every vegetable you can think of – it's a light yet hearty dinner that goes so well with a side of garlic toast!
17. Tuscan white bean soup: Soups are basically life, and this one is no exception to that statement, with fiber and protein from the white beans, and a ton of amazing herbs and spices that make it perfect for a winter lunch. And again, that garlic toast would be a good addition here, to sop up the garlicky, herbed broth at the bottom of your bowl.
18. Red Pepper Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower: This recipe is totally vegan, if you follow the recipe as written, which I don't, because I am not vegan. BUT this has become a staple at my house for whenever I’m looking for a vegetarian meal to round out the week. I was pleasantly surprised to find that roasted cauliflower isn’t disgusting like raw cauliflower is – to me, anyway. I use whole wheat pasta for added fiber, but you can use lentil pasta if you’re going grain-free!
19. Chicken and brown rice soup: Making chicken soup? Instead of egg noodles, toss in a half-cup of cooked brown rice to a cup of broth, just as you’re going to eat it! It adds a good serving of complex carbs and fiber and the chewy texture of the rice is so good in the soup. I love that you can hardly tell it’s brown rice when you put it in a broth. I recommend adding the rice separately after your broth is done or else it'll sit in the broth and keep absorbing it, so when leftovers time comes around, you're just eating a pile of soggy rice. Not as good.
20. Garlic Tomato & Spinach Flatbread: I make this one year-round; it’s another great addition to the week’s meal plan, and it’s vegetarian! Wait till you smell those garlicky tomatoes roasting in your oven - it's heaven.
Are there any go-to meals in your fall and winter meal rotation? I'm always on the lookout for new ideas, and I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments below!