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Cooking Into a Healthy Fall

Mon, 09/26/2022 - 11:58
Charlotte Abbate, above, a nutritionist whose practice, Thrive East, brings a holistic approach to health concerns, has a number of recommendations for transitioning to fall, including a winter vegetable mac and cheese, top right, and a fig and quinoa granola, above right.
Eric Striffler and Charlotte Abbate Photos

As a board-certified nutrition specialist in private practice, Charlotte Abbate has definite ideas about how to coach her clients into a healthy fall. Much of it is based on whole foods, with an emphasis on what is still in season at East End farm stands and markets.

"A lot of my clients have been focused on back to school," which can mean many things, but for adults it's "a more regimented routine at work. And, you know, how do we get these nutritious foods in with the tighter schedule that we're working with now."

For instance, whether it's making lunches for school or taking lunch to work, "how do we increase our vegetables?" Convenience is tempting, but instead of little bags of processed 100-calorie foods, how can we opt instead for cut-up cucumber with hummus or an apple with peanut butter as better choices based on whole foods?

"That's been my main conversation with clients these past couple weeks," she said. "And how do we slow down when it comes to meals and make time to cook dinner?" This is especially challenging as kids' sports schedules become busy and social obligations also increase with happy hours, cocktail parties, and the like. Shopping for the ingredients and trying to continue buying local produce are among the time demands.

This is also a good time to try canning or freezing the harvest. Ms. Abbate has a vacuum sealer that she uses for freezing things like corn cut from the cob and steamed zucchini that can be added into soups and chilis in the winter months for some fresh summer taste. All year long, she uses the odds and ends of vegetables, too, in a stock that also goes in the freezer to serve as a base for recipes.

Something else that happens as the air temperature cools is we may start to move away from cold and raw foods to a more warming cooked diet. "The next couple of weeks mark the end of what I call smoothie season." She added, "Ayurvedic medicine and even traditional Chinese medicine all speak to having warmer cooked foods in the colder months. But I think our natural instinct kind of points us to that."

She had made herself a smoothie that morning, she said, and had to put on a sweater to drink it. At the same time, "having a salad as a lunch isn't going to be as satisfying as having, you know, maybe soup or roasted vegetables. In the summer months, a salad is easy, quick, fresh, and available." In the fall and winter, however, those bright, light, watery, and leafy greens are not as flavorful and not as satisfying.

Her clients who stick with their salads every day report that they have cravings after lunch or are not totally filled up by the meal. Switching to cooked options "is a bit more grounding and richer in a way, because root vegetables and cooked vegetables offer a little bit more substance, more chewing. That tends to help them feel better."

And she does not rule out leafy greens altogether. "I'll have them add roasted vegetables to the leafy greens, which then wilt into the roasted vegetables." The greens continue to be beneficial, but "it is important to note how our cravings change and our hunger signals change. There is definitely a huge shift when it comes to moving from summer into fall, and eventually winter."

Asked to supply some recipes to take us into the cooler months, she offered a range, including a transitional option like a carrot and beet slaw that is raw but can be put on cooked foods to enliven them and add a satisfying crunch. She notes on her website,, that certain vegetables, such as carrots and beets, and fruits can be incorporated into the diet to contribute to hydration. Other produce options that offer the same effect are watermelon, spinach, strawberries, cabbage, celery, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and cilantro. 

Her beet green shakshuka presents a new way to use the top of the beet, which many people throw away, in a satisfying meatless dish featuring vegetables and eggs. Her winter veggie mac and cheese will, as the title suggests, serve us well as the weather cools. It features "cheese" cauliflower, which has a rich golden yellow color, butternut squash, and kale in a fun and warming meal.

She pointed out that the recipe has immune-boosting nutrients, amino acids, and protein. "The fiber content will keep you feeling full as well as feed the beneficial microbes in your gut microbiome." She added that 70 percent of the immune system resides in the gut microbiome. "In order to keep our immune response strong we must provide the biome with an influx of beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli from Parmesan cheese and food for the bacteria," which comes from fiber.

"All the bacteria that live in our large intestine plays a huge role in the strength of our immune system and immune regulation." She recommends a bit of fermented foods -- a forkful of kimchi or sauerkraut -- everyday as great sources of beneficial bacteria that can easily be added into our diet.

"But at the end of the day, it's never one thing. You know, you can eat all the best food in the world, but if you're not sleeping and you're super stressed, you know, things aren't going to work the way they should."

Click here for recipes.

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