The winter months can be quite humdrum when it comes to fresh produce. How many carrots, potatoes, apples and bananas can you eat without getting bored?
This winter, try some of Mother Nature's less-famous gems. You'll love the taste, and your body will reap the benefits of a vast array of vitamins and minerals. Below you'll find a list of some fabulous fruits and veggies to incorporate into your winter meal plan. You won't believe how many surprises are hiding in your grocer's produce aisle!
Here are four tasty vegetables to add to your lunch and dinner plates. These low-calorie nutritional powerhouses are sure to keep your food rut at bay while you melt the pounds away.
There are a few different winter squashes to choose from, and they are all delicious. Two of the most flavorful winter squashes are butternut squash and acorn squash. These satisfying vegetables are a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
When purchasing squash, look for one that is heavy for its size and has thick, unblemished skin. You can store them in a cool, dry place for up to one month.
The easiest way to prepare these vegetables is to halve them, remove the seeds, and season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the flesh is soft and tender.
Per cup of acorn squash:
2.5 grams protein
30 grams carbohydrates
0 grams fat
This versatile vegetable isn’t always received with fanfare, but when prepared correctly it can please even the most finicky palates. Both red and white varieties of cabbage are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, and are miraculously low in calories.
When shopping for cabbage, look for crisp leaves that are tightly packed to the head and avoid heads of cabbage that have bruised or torn leaves. You may store cabbage in your refrigerator for up to one week. If it begins to wilt, tear back the top leaves, and you'll find crisper leaves underneath.
Cabbage can be cooked in a variety of ways. It can be shredded by hand or in a food processor and then added to salads and slaws. You can also roast it in the oven: slice it into wedges, season with salt, pepper, and olive oil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. And you can't go wrong by adding cabbage to your favorite chicken and vegetable soups.
Per cup of shredded cabbage:
3.5 grams carbohydrates
0.8 grams protein
0 grams fat
The hearts of these prehistoric looking vegetables are often hidden in salsas and other dips, but when prepared whole, their flavor will surprise you. And contrary to what you may think, they are easy to cook and can spruce up an otherwise boring meal. Artichokes are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, and a good source of magnesium, folate and potassium.
Select artichokes that feel heavy for their size and have tightly packed leaves. Avoid artichokes that have wilting or dried leaves. You can store artichokes in your refrigerator for two to three days, but you'll find that they last longer if you trim the stems and then submerge the stem ends in water.=
The easiest way to prepare artichokes is to steam them for 30-40 minutes. Serve with lemon juice or olive oil or a combination of both drizzled over top.
Per whole artichoke:
13 grams carbohydrates
4 grams protein
0.2 grams fat
This cousin of broccoli has so much to offer! It is a wonderful departure when you've grown tired of plain old broccoli florets. This interesting-looking vegetable is a good source of vitamin C and iron, which isn't always easy to come by, especially when you are limiting your intake of red meat.
When shopping for broccoli rabe (pronounced broccoli "rob"), look for crisp leaves that are bright in color while avoiding faded looking leaves and flowers. To store your broccoli rabe, wrap it in slightly moist paper towels and then place in a plastic bag in the fridge to maintain the moisture. It will last for three to four days.
Before cooking, rinse the florets and leaves a few times to remove any sand and dirt, and cut away any tough, thick leaves. After cleaning, sauté in a nonstick skillet with a small amount of olive oil and sliced garlic and season with sea salt and pepper.
Per cup of chopped broccoli rabe:
4 grams carbohydrates
2.5 grams protein
0 grams of fat
And for your sweet tooth, here are three fabulous winter fruits to tempt your taste buds.
Once sliced open, this beautiful fruit will wow you with its vibrant color and flavor. It is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber, especially if you are adventurous enough to eat the whole fruit; yes, the skin and seeds are edible as well.
A good kiwi yields to slight pressure but does not have soft spots. You can store your kiwi at room temperature to ripen — often two to three days — then refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to two weeks.
Kiwi can be sliced into a fruit salad with or without the skin. You can also easily enjoy them by slicing them in half, and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.
Per medium-sized kiwi:
11 grams carbohydrates
0.7 grams protein
0.3 grams fat
For some reason, pears take a backseat in popularity to the ever present apple, but give them a try! They are super sweet, have a great consistency and can add lots of life to a green salad or a plate of gourmet cheese. Pears are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, and have a smaller core than apples, leaving more edible fruit.
When shopping for pears, look for ones that yield slightly to pressure and that are void of any thick cuts or bruises. A few scratches or blemishes to the skin are normal. Pears will most often need to ripen for two to five days at room temperature. Once soft and ripe they can be enjoyed immediately, or refrigerated for one to two days.
Pears can be enjoyed whole; sliced into green salads, fruit salad or salsas; made into soups; or cooked into cakes and fruit tarts. In order to prevent discoloration after cutting the pear, squeeze lemon juice over the flesh.
Per medium-sized pear:
25 grams carbohydrates
0.6 grams protein
0.6 grams fat
Clementines are a true winter gem. They are most often void of seeds, and are much easier to peel than other citrus fruits. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber and folic acid.
When picking out clementines, choose ones that are heavy for their size and are slightly soft. They may be stored in your refrigerator for up to one month.
Simply peel the skin and eat the segments of the clementine, or toss them into a green salad.
Per small clementine:
8 grams carbohydrates
0.4 grams protein
0.1 grams fat
Sara Ryba is a registered dietitian, certified dietary nutritionist and a contributor to The FIRM Believers Club website, an online community that helps you reach your fitness, health and weight loss goals. With maximum-efficiency home workouts, support and motivation from The FIRM Master Instructors, daily tips, personalized workout rotation calendars, and access to other members through discussion boards, The Club provides all the tools you need to get in the shape you want.
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