Warming winter foods for energy and performance

So many traditional winter comfort foods are also loaded with extra calories, but warming, delicious, comforting food doesn’t have to be calorie overload.

Certainly dancers need energy without feeling weighed down, so here are some great examples of seasonal, warming, winter foods, for energy that aren’t too rich, and a new “creamy” soup recipe at the bottom.

Potatoes are perfect

Potatoes are easily digestible, easy to cook, cheap and so satisfying. They don’t need to be fried in oil or smothered in butter. (Butter and oil have 100 calories per tablespoon.) Don’t worry about their carbohydrates. They only have about 150-170 calories per medium potato and about 35-45 of those calories from carbs. Those carbs will give you energy, and potatoes in their skins are a good source of iron, magnesium and potassium. Try baking, roasting or boiling them instead of frying. Add chopped herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme. When roasting, you only need to toss in a small drizzle of olive oil instead of chunks of butter. When making mashed potatoes, add soy milk or cashew milk instead of cow’s milk, and mix with a flavored salt. Try sweet potatoes for a boost of vitamin A (good for immune system and your skin). Try purple potatoes for a boost of antioxidants, or my favorite Japanese sweet potatoes roasted with just a bit of sea salt. They’re the perfect pre-dance snack. Potatoes blended up in a soup (see below) make it creamy without any cream necessary.

Carrots and squash

The beautiful orange color of these winter veggies contain beta-carotene and alpha- carotene precursors to Vitamin A, which is important in vision, clear skin, bone health and immune function. Raw carrots are a perfect snack in between rehearsals, but you can also steam them for 5 minutes and then toss with ¼ tsp sunflower oil, a drizzle of honey and dried dill. Chop an acorn or butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, roast, and fill with wild rice. Root veggies take center stage during the winter.

Soups, stews and chili

warming winter foods

Soups are the perfect winter food! You can pack a truck-load of nutrition in a soup or stew, and a three-bean chili is cheap and loaded with protein and iron. To make them nutritious and high-energy without extra fat, think veggies first, add a bean or lentil, and make with a broth as the base instead of cheese, cow’s milk cream or coconut cream. There are ways to make soups “creamy” without cream by blending potatoes or even a small handful of cashews. (See recipe for Emily’s Corn Chowder below.)


There must be a reason that nature made greens seasonal in the winter (kale, chard, bok choy, spinach). They are immune system powerhouses with iron, vitamin A, calcium and many phytonutrients. Greens are perfect sautéed in a drizzle or spray of olive oil with garlic (even more immune boosting there), or even sprinkled on top of soup and allowed to wilt into the soup, like bok choy and Pho. Cooked greens are more warming than raw, but both have their benefits nutritionally. When greens are cooked, their calcium and iron become more bio-available, which means your body can absorb and utilize them better.


Oranges, satsumas, clementines and grapefruit are all winter favorites, and the vitamin C in them helps boost iron absorption from other foods like spinach. Vitamin C in its natural form from fruit is also a favorite for prevention of colds and flu. Try a simple salad of raw spinach and clementines. Sounds boring, but it’s delicious and quick for busy dancers.

High-protein whole grains 

Quinoa cooks in only 15 minutes and is a good source of protein and energy-producing carbohydrates. Toss cooked quinoa with toasted pecans and dried cranberries. Bonus points if served in roasted pepper or acorn squash. Quinoa salad can also be put in a container in your dance bag for when lunches are not as long as you want. Hearty nut and seed breads provide lots of energy while also satisfying your urge for holiday baked goods. These are better choices than an oil- or butter-rich muffin or croissant.

“Creamy” Corn Chowder (without the cream)

Vegan, low-fat, high energy, easily digestible


7-8 white potatoes (depending on size), cubed any size
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 bag of frozen sweet corn (10oz size)
4 cups of water
2 veggie bouillon cubes (or pre-made veggie broth is fine)
tsp salt (or to taste)
½ tsp olive oil


In a large pot, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium to high heat until slightly browned then add the chopped potatoes. Add water, bouillon cubes (or veggie broth) and salt. Cook until potatoes are soft. Blend with a hand blender, or use a regular blender to blend until “creamy”. Add corn last, and cook for another few minutes until corn is softened. Don’t blend the corn.

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RDN, LDN of Nutrition for Great Performances for Dance Informa.

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