15 Delicious and Dollar-Wise Winter Staples
Nearly half of us make New Year’s resolutions, and among the top goals every year are weight loss and exercise. Even those of us who aren’t in this majority are likely open to eating healthier and saving money this year. You can do both by choosing fruits and vegetables that are cost-effective, healthy, and in season during the winter. (See also: Fresh Fruits and Vegetables by the Month)
People often think that finding fresh fruit is more difficult to do in the wintertime, and while that’s true to some extent, there are still several types of fruit that are at their peak during the cold winter months.
The old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away should be given particular credence in the wintertime, when cold and flu bugs abound. Different varieties of apples have their peak season at different points in the year; however, most are available virtually year-round. This is one reason why apples yield such bang for your buck — fresh apples average $1.07 per pound, while applesauce is about $0.85. Try a super easy, delicious way to eat apples today with this recipe for Crockpot Baked Apples.
According to a 2008 study in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics (via the EatingWell Blog), grapefruits contain an essential ingredient for smoother skin. You’re in luck, too, because not only are they at their peak of perfection in the winter months (October through June, depending on where you live), they also cost even less per pound than apples — $0.66 for fresh grapefruit and $0.72 per pound for ready-to-drink juice. And, at only 60 calories per serving, they’re a perfect way to start the day. For a new take on grapefruit, sprinkle yours with cinnamon and sugar and pop it under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.
Oranges, like apples, are available virtually year-round. Although the Vitamin C that makes oranges famous has been shown to have negligible effects on the common cold, oranges can lower blood pressure, are a great anti-inflammatory, and have about 10% of your daily fiber needs. Oranges contain about 80 calories per serving and cost around $0.57 per pound fresh and $0.69 per pound in ready-to-drink juice form.
Pears are also a great source of fiber and Vitamin C, and their skin is a source of disease-fighting antioxidants. Although pears cost slightly more than other fruits, at $1.04 per pound fresh and $1.05 canned, they are a good way to bring variety to your fruit diet. They’re also more widely available in winter, with peak season starting in late fall and lasting through early spring. Pears have about 100 calories per serving. One of my favorite ways to enjoy pears is in a salad with walnuts and bleu cheese (my mouth is starting to water just typing that!).
When people think of vegetables that are available in the wintertime, most think of root vegetables, such as potatoes. I’m not going to lie — there are root vegetables on this list — but there are also several other waist- and budget-conscious veggies that are at their prime during this time of year.
Whenever I stop and think about the word “broccoli,” the first thing that comes to mind is undoubtedly the classic SNL episode with Dana Carvey performing “Chopping Broccoli.” The second thing is how much I love broccoli. It’s such a versatile veggie — I throw it on pizza, in soup, or, my personal favorite, roast it in the oven. At only about $1.84 per pound fresh and 45 calories per serving, I can enjoy it knowing I’m being both frugal and healthy. Broccoli is available all year in grocery stores, but its peak season lasts from October through March.
Butternut squash is a variety of winter squash (distinguished from summer squashes because winter squashes are harvested after fully mature, when the rind is hard) that is a creamy white on the outside and orange-yellow on this inside. It costs about $2.67 fresh, but only around $1.70 frozen, and has about 63 calories per serving. Butternut squash’s growing season lasts from August through March, making winter the perfect time to try out this garlicky baked butternut squash recipe.
To some people, Brussels sprouts is a dirty word (OK, it’s two words, I know). To me, though, Brussels sprouts is synonymous with a scrumptious side dish. If you’re one of those people who’s not in love with these tiny cabbages, perhaps I can change your mind with a few fun facts: Brussels sprouts cost only about $1.82 per pound frozen (surprisingly, Brussels sprouts are quite a bit more fresh — about $3.05 per pound) and have only 38 calories per serving. They are at their peak in the winter, which makes now the perfect time to give them a second try. If you do buy them fresh, remove the outer layer of leaves, trim stems, and toss with olive oil and sea salt. If you buy them frozen, they most likely have the outer leaves removed and stems trimmed. Roast Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet at 425 degrees until nicely browned (about 15 minutes), and be prepared to change your mind about them.
True, carrots may seem dull and unexciting on the surface, but there’s actually a lot to appreciate about them. Carrots only cost $0.77 per pound (whole, fresh), and can also be found in darling baby form for about $1.40 per pound (those ones are actually adult carrots peeled and cut into baby form, hate to say) or a convenient frozen form for about $1.19 per pound. Carrots are available year-round. Don’t enjoy snacking on raw carrots? Boil them instead, and cook briefly with honey, butter, and lemon juice, and you’ve got yourself a delightful glazed-carrot side dish.
Cauliflower gets a bad rap in the vegetable world as the less-attractive sibling to broccoli (if that’s possible). However, it’s got credentials that broccoli can’t even begin to touch, including lower cost ($0.55 per head fresh or $1.42 per pound for frozen florets) and fewer calories per serving (25). Cauliflower is more plentiful in the fall, but it can be found in stores all year. Try warming up with a little cauliflower comfort food this winter in the form of a yummy cauliflower gratin.
I have a friend whose brother is named Kale because her mother heard someone say “kale” at the store and liked the sound of the word. No lie. More on point, however, kale is a healthful and economical winter vegetable staple. Although kale can be found in supermarkets all year, it is actually more flavorful and prolific during the winter. It’ll run you about $2.19 per pound fresh, and only $1.91 frozen, and has 33 calories per serving. If you haven’t tried kale before, start with something easy, like as a sautéed side dish.
A lot of people don’t know what leeks are, let alone how one might go about making a meal out of them. Leeks are actually a member of the lily family, but have a very vaguely onion-like taste. They cost about $2.60 per pound and are a very respectable 34 calories per serving. The peak season for leeks is fall to early spring. Probably the most well-known way to enjoy leeks is the French-born potato leek soup, which involves leeks, potatoes, and delicious-but-un-waist-friendly cream. Make over potato leek soup with this delicious, healthy soup recipe that omits cream altogether.
Ah, another one of those root vegetables. You just can’t escape them, can you? No matter; I happen to love sweet potatoes. Not only are they, well, sweeter than a potato, they also add variety when I get in a meat-and-potatoes rut. Sweet potatoes are actually not technically a winter vegetable (sorry to mislead you — they’re harvested August through October), but they can be found in supermarkets all year. They cost about $0.90 per pound fresh and have 100 calories per serving. Next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a few for yourself and give one of these sweet potato recipes a try. There are a ton of good ones to choose from: oven-roasted sweet potato fries, maple sweet potatoes, and chile-garlic roasted sweet potatoes. Oh my!
In addition to fruits and vegetables, I’ve included a few healthy, economical proteins that lend themselves well to being wintertime staples.
True, turkey has no “season,” per se, but given that over 30% of the nation’s turkeys were consumed on Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2010, I’d say that places the turkey squarely within winter’s domain. Turkey is also one of the healthier proteins, with calories per ¼ pound ranging from 118 (deli turkey) to 266 (ground turkey). Try varying your turkey consumption from the old stand-bys of turkey sandwiches and roast turkey with one of these 10 quick fixes for ground turkey.
Lentils are a type of legume, which makes it part of a class of one of the most healthful and versatile foods to be found. Lentils are typically only found dried, cost about $1.02 per pound, and are packed with iron, fiber, and protein. I personally love a good, hearty lentil soup in the winter. Try it for yourself and see!
I first became hooked on edamame after trying it as an appetizer at a sushi restaurant, and took my love of the healthy snack and side dish home with me (figuratively, I should note — I did not steal any physical dishes). Edamame is actually young soybeans, harvested before they become too tough to eat (and become things like soy milk and tofu). The beans are difficult to find fresh, but are available frozen all year for about $4.49 per pound. Each antioxidant-rich serving has around 130 calories. My favorite way to eat these little pods is boiled (about 3-4 minutes) and seasoned with sea salt. Pop the pods into your mouth — you don’t eat the skin — and enjoy!
See anything that I left off the list, or do you have thoughts about the foods that were included? Share your comments below!
All the calorie data below for vegetables comes from SELF’s Nutrition Data site, which allows you to plug in a food and see the relevant nutrition data. Calorie data for fruits is from the CDC’s Fruit & Vegetable of the month website, although what’s in season depends, of course, on your particular area. To find specifically when a fruit or vegetable is in season in your area, try this interactive map from Epicurious. Information about average cost per pound for fruits and vegetables is available at the USDA website.