As the days get colder and your schedule gets more stressful, it's only natural to crave comfort foods. Instead of depriving yourself of the flavors you love, try healthier, more nutrient-dense alternatives. You might find that they are just as satisfying but make you feel better in the studio and onstage.
Lentil or bean-flour pastas have a similar taste as traditional versions, but pack a bigger nutritional punch. All have energy-producing carbohydrates, but for the same portion size, lentil and bean-flour pastas have twice the protein and significantly more iron, zinc and fiber. Or, use a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles. Skip the cream sauce in favor of a fresh tomato sauce loaded with veggies and greens.
Cashew cheese is a delicious, satisfying alternative for your favorite cheesy comfort foods. Both dairy cheese and cashew cheese have protein and minerals, but cashews have zero cholesterol and more heart-healthy monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats. You can find different varieties in stores or make your own (see sidebar at right).
Potatoes aren't bad—it's the cream, butter and sugar that we add that's the problem. A medium baked potato has 4 grams of protein, good carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc and vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are packed with immune-system–boosting vitamin A. Avoid gooey marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes by roasting them in olive oil and herbs instead, or baking the purple Japanese sweet potato, which doesn't need extra sugar.
The average milkshake can have as much sugar as 70 jellybeans and more fat than a quarter-stick of butter. Instead of having an ice-cream–based milkshake, indulge in a shake made with raw cacao powder, ice and a plant-based milk, like fortified soy milk (which has the same amount of protein and calcium as cow's milk). Add a spoonful of blended flax- or chia seeds for a sorbet-like consistency and inflammation-lowering omega-3s.
Pancakes can be excellent energy food. Swap refined white flour for a homemade blend of almond flour, oats, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and buckwheat flour. You'll get more protein, iron, omega-3s and fiber.
Josh Reynolds makes potato pancakes to give him energy during long days at the theater. PC Réjean Brandt Photography, Courtesy Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet soloist Josh Reynolds brings these potato pancakes with him on harder days at the theater.
In a large bowl, mix 2 cups potatoes (mashed), 1/4 minced onion, 1 tsp. minced herbs, 1/4 cup flour, and salt and pepper to taste.
Using a little spray oil on a skillet, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture and brown on each side.
Soak 1 cup cashews for 1 hour or more.
Drain and blend with 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt and enough water to create desired creaminess.
Alternative: You can also grind up almost any raw nuts with nutritional yeast, salt, herbs and garlic for the perfect “parmesan" seasoning.
More recipes can be found in the Nutrition for Great Performances Resource Book by Emily C. Harrison, MS, RD, LD. Find her book and DVDs at dancernutrition.com.