Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Why You Need Those Winter Comfort Foods

Everyone loves them, but most people think these hearty, warming and delicious foods must be bad for your health. How wrong can you be! It’s easy to be indulgent and healthy.

You’ve all had days of torrential rain, floods, freezing temperatures and snow. And there’s certainly more to come. After enduring weeks of going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, it’s hardly surprising that, by now, you’re feeling tired, lethargic, depressed, irritable and generally run-down.

When it comes to food, you crave soups you can stand a spoon in, great thick stews with loads of potatoes and heart-warming puddings that ooze sweetness and calories. Given the choice, you’d rather have bangers and mash than grilled fish and salad.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy all of these and at the same time boost your health, wellbeing and natural resistance. These are the foods which provide your body with sustaining protein, warming calories and immune-boosting nutrients. They fight fatigue and depression with B vitamins and natural mood-improving plant chemicals, and they feed your soul with the comfort you need so much at this time of year.

Root Vegetables

These always taste better after the first frosts of winter – and it really is a crime to ignore the cold weather benefits of these exceptionally cheap, yet nourishing, foods. Parsnips, Swedes, turnips, beetroot and celeriac are all rich in heart-protective potassium, cholesterol-lowering fibre, and natural sugars for energy and, of course, they have wonderful flavours.

Use them in soups, casseroles, diced as vegetables or even as fillings for delicious pies. They’re all wonderful drizzled with a little oil, sprinkled with herbs or baked in the oven until soft.


These deliciously sweet root vegetables are a must as they supply folic acid and other B vitamins for your nervous system, vitamin E for skin and fertility as well as essential minerals. This much maligned and sadly ignored vegetable was a favourite with the Roman emperors and highly praised by herbalists for its health-giving properties.

Eat them roasted, mashed with potatoes and olive oil or made into a truly comforting, heart-warming curried soup. For an unusual treat, try making little patties of raw grated parsnip mixed with a beaten egg and some chopped coriander leaves fried in rapeseed oil. Even the kids will love them.

Burger And Chips
Everyone feels guilty as they sink their teeth into this undeniable treat. But there’s no need if you make your own and avoid the risk of eating Shergar and loads of chemicals!

Start with the leanest sirloin or rump steak you can find and ask your butcher to mince it coarsely if you don’t have a mincer at home. Add plenty of finely chopped onion and garlic, black pepper and shape into burgers. Grill or cook in a ridged griddle pan and serve with lots of tomato ketchup, lettuce and cucumber in a wholemeal bap.

Instead of regular chips, cut chunky wedges of sweet potato, brush with a little olive oil, sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary leaves and roast in a hot oven.

The steak will give you huge amounts of sustaining and body-building protein, nerve-nourishing vitamins and masses of iron to build up your blood. There’s also heart-protective lycopene from the tomatoes, fibre from the wholemeal bap to stimulate a sluggish digestion and lots of immune-boosting and skin-protecting beta-carotene from the sweet potatoes.

The Good Old British Breakfast

There’s nothing worse than waking up to a dark, cold and wet Sunday morning. One look out of the window and the clouds of depression make you want to sneak down under the duvet and forget it all.

The only thing you crave is that Leonardo di Caprio or Goldie Hawn might just arrive with a plate full of a traditional British breakfast. In your dreams! In any case, would you dare to eat this heart attack on a plate?

I can’t guarantee Leonardo or Goldie, but you can enjoy this ultimate winter comfort food which not only tastes good, but does you good.

Buy good quality, low-fat sausages and extra lean bacon, which you grill on a rack so that any remaining fat drains away. Poach your free-range eggs together with a couple of tomatoes. Toast your wholemeal bread and smear with organic, unsalted butter. Slowly sauté some mushrooms with a tiny knob of butter in a covered pan.

Enjoy this wonderful meal, which is rich in protein, iron, B vitamins, fibre and a whole day’s supply of vitamin C from a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice.


A bowl of porridge is the best of all starts to a winter’s day – it also, by the way, makes a great quick snack when you get home from work. It’s depression-fighting B vitamins, provides masses of slow-release energy to keep you going on a cold morning. It’s also rich in the special fibre that helps get rid of cholesterol and protect your heart.

For an extra nutritional bonus, use half ordinary milk and half soya milk, for natural bone- and cancer-protective plant hormones. Add a few chopped ready-to-eat dried prunes and apricots to the finished dish and leave to stand for a few minutes.

Chill Out
Can you think of a more warming meal than a bowl of hot, spicy chilli? This is the greatest winter comfort food which, at the same time, has enormous health benefits.

The American Institute for Cancer Research advises that the herbs and spices used in chilli have a powerful protective action against some forms of cancer – especially cancer of the breast and liver. When made entirely of beans instead of meat, the health benefits are even greater as there’s no animal fat and all the natural chemicals in beans, which protect against heart disease, breast and prostate cancer and infection.

A portion of this is also rich in protein, fibre, folic acid, vitamin B6 and lots of minerals.

Use plenty of onions and garlic, canned tomatoes, sweet and hot chillies, chilli powder, cumin and a mixture of well-rinsed kidney, black-eyed and white beans. Add plenty of red and green peppers, coriander leaves and, an unexpected but delicious bonus, a big chunk of dark, organic chocolate

This recipe is a veggie’s dream, but even the most committed carnivore won’t miss the meat.

Go On – Spoil Yourself

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb . . . The earliest forced rhubarb is in the shops now. I’m lucky enough to grow my own and have already enjoyed the first delicious tart which my wife, Sally, made last week.

Originally from China, where it has been valued for it medicinal benefits, rhubarb is a traditional and gentle laxative, which is surprisingly rich in bone-building calcium, contains lots of potassium and manganese and virtually no salt. So it’s good for anyone with heart or blood pressure problems.

Rhubarb Tart
Chop some rhubarb into small pieces. Line a pie dish with ready-made puff pastry and cover with the rhubarb.

Mix together some caster sugar, a heaped tablespoon of wholemeal flour, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a quarter of a pint of crème fraiche.

Pour the mixture over and rhubarb and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes. Serve hot, with custard made with whole milk – it’s only 4 per cent fat.

Bread pudding . . . This sounds like the most unhealthy, fattening and indulgent winter treat you can imagine – but it isn’t.

The spices are traditional winter warmers, which boost the circulation and natural resistance. Nutmeg is one of nature’s great mood boosters as it’s a mild hallucinogen and gives you the feel-good factor.

The dried fruits are an excellent source of iron (for your blood) and cancer-protective natural chemicals. The wholemeal bread provides fibre and B vitamins, and the milk contains bone-building calcium.

Use half white and half wholemeal bread, orange and lemon peel, currants, sultanas, dried blueberries and cranberries and chopped dried apricots. Add plenty of allspice, nutmeg and olive oil instead of the traditional suet.

This wonderful pudding is equally good hot or cold – and, for a real treat, you can enjoy it with a little fresh cream.

Okay, it’s a little bit naughty, but very nice.


Thick, heart-warming soups are everyone’s favourite after a winter’s day out. You can turn almost anything into a nourishing and sustaining meal that costs very little and provides lots of the essential winter nutrients as well as the psychological benefits of a feel-good food.

Almost every soup starts with sweating finely-chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until just soft. Then add whatever vegetables, meat or poultry you’ve got, cut into bite-sized chops. Stir with the onion and garlic until coated with oil. Season with herbs, curry powder or spices to taste.

Stir until the mixture coats all the ingredients. Add home-made or any of the good quality stocks available in most supermarkets. Throw in a couple of handfuls of rice, pasta or lentils to add extra protein, warming energy and protective plant chemicals. Simmer until the contents are tender.

You can then either serve with the ingredients left whole, or liquidise for a smoother soup.

It’s no accident that onion, and leek and potato soups are such great winter favourites. They’re both effective traditional remedies for coughs, colds and bronchitis.

Here are some more recipes – all tried and tested tasty treats to beat those winter blues:

- Leek and Potato Soup
- Raspberry Bread And Butter Pudding
- Chocolate Covered Rhubarb Ice Cream


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