01/22/2013 08:14 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Lighten Up Your Winter Diet

During the long winter months, you may find yourself craving heavier meals and comfort foods. Maybe it's because the cold weather keeps you indoors and comfort foods are more convenient, or you feel nostalgic for certain foods when winter rolls around. Whatever the reason, it's completely natural! But it's also important for you to still enjoy the foods you love without letting them totally sabotage your healthy eating efforts. Take these tips into account when your comfort food cravings strike.

Eat More for Less with Fruits and Veggies

You may have realized by now that fruits and veggies are an important part of a balanced diet. They contain a dose of fiber and antioxidants, which help boost your immune system during the winter months. But including more fruits and veggies also allows you to eat more for less, meaning fruits and veggies help bulk up meals on fewer calories:

  • Pair your entrée with a winter vegetable or salad, such as beet salad or a side of Brussels sprouts.
  • Reduce your pasta portion and add in mixed vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots or spaghetti squash, to fill your bowl.
  • Reduce your creamy mashed potatoes portion and supplement mashed, roasted cauliflower for another flavor.

Warm Up to Soup

Having soup as an appetizer to a meal can help you keep your appetite in control when delving into the main course that is often dense with calories. A bowl of soup pairs well with a half of a sandwich for lunch and can be a vehicle for fiber, which keeps you fuller longer. Just steer clear of soups that are cream-based or laden with rice or noodles, which add excess refined carbohydrates. A broth-based soup with beans, veggies, and whole grains -- such as barley, brown rice, or quinoa -- are great bets, add variety, and give you a healthy dose of the carbs you crave during winter. To save on sodium, make your own soup at home or choose low-sodium varieties at the store.

Make Healthy Swaps

You can improve the nutrition profile of your favorite recipes just by making swaps for common ingredients. Plug in your favorite recipe at to see how swaps can change the recipe's nutrition facts label.

  • In dishes such as chicken pot pie, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, fried chicken: Instead of using full-fat milk, cheese, or buttermilk, try low-fat versions to save on calories and saturated fat.
  • For casseroles or chicken cutlets: Instead of bread crumbs, use crushed rolled oats to add a serving of whole grains and reduce sodium.
  • For meatloaf, dishes with meatballs, or when you crave steak: Use ground white meat turkey or chicken and choose leaner cuts of red meat, such as sirloin.

Go Ahead, Eat Dessert

Last year, researchers in Tel Aviv found that people who ate dessert with breakfast -- a piece of chocolate cake or a cookie, for example -- actually lost more weight than those who didn't. When you completely avoid your favorite sweet treat, you end up feeling deprived. In fact, you may end up eating more or even indulging in that exact food you tried to give up. You don't have to have it for breakfast, but you're better off budgeting for dessert instead of pretending you can really give it up forever. My advice is to pair it with more nutrient-dense foods -- for example, a cookie plus a glass of low-fat milk and piece of fruit -- for a bigger snack so that you're less tempted to grab cookie number two from the bag. Using these tips, you can have your cake, and eat it too, all winter long!

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