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But is the fall season really our enemy? While seasonal affective disorder is in fact a thing—in which the autumn and winter months bring on a “seasonal depression” that saps energy and increases consumption—it is combatible with a proper diet. While it’s easy to associate fall foods with high fat and calorie counts, the harvest brings a plethora of fruits and vegetables rich in fiber and vitamins.
Seamus Mullen is the chef/owner of Tertulia in NYC, and author of Hero Food, a health cookbook released last year. Mullen is well aware of the “comfort food” tendencies that accompany fall, simply from observing his customers. “We definitely gravitate towards longer evening meals in the fall,” says Mullen. “We see it in the restaurant all the time—people come in earlier for dinner and have longer meals. There is something ‘hearty’ about eating a large meal when it’s cold and dark outside.”
While we all love having a nice hearty meal on a cold night, Mullen encourages eating most of your calories during the day while making an effort to have lighter, more digestible meals in the evening. This is so our bodies can rest and recover while we sleep, rather than work hard to break down a huge meal.
“It takes a lot effort to remind ourselves to curtail unhealthy habits like overeating at night, but once a good habit is set in place, it becomes so much easier to maintain,” says Mullen. “Breaking the habit is the hardest part.”
According to Mullen, the best way to steer clear of bad habits is to embrace stews and braises, as well as all the wonderful fall vegetables that come into season. “The one thing to be aware of is that many of the root vegetables, like beets, parsnips, and rutabaga, while delicious and full of nutrients, are also rather high on the glycemic index,” says Mullen, “so its good to balance them out with some cruciferous greens and vegetables from the brassica family, like Brussels sprouts.”
For choice meat cuts, fall is a great time for lamb and pork, according to Mullen, which if naturally raised, are great sources of good fats and proteins.
And how does a little bacon sound in your fall diet? “Lately, I’ve been really into making warm bacon vinaigrettes,” says Mullen. “Good bacon is good for you in moderation, and a bacon vinaigrette is a great way to maximize the bacon flavor, without eating a pound of the stuff.”
Just dice up some bacon, render it in a pan, and add a little mustard, honey, and cider vinegar, while whisking in a little olive oil, and you’ve got a “terrific warm vinaigrette to drizzle over a salad of shaved apples and shaved cabbage,” says Mullen. “Healthy, tasty, seasonal.”
Here are some fall meal recipes rich in seasonal ingredients and flavor, compliments of Chef Mullen.