We often equate winter dinner ideas with hot and cozy meals, but not everyone lives somewhere where turning on the oven is an appetizing idea—even in the middle of January.
The good news is that, regardless of where you live, it’s totally possible to embrace the winter months without a menu full of chilis and cheesy bakes (though there’s definitely nothing wrong with going that route).
The trick is to focus on seasonal winter flavors and ingredients instead of just comfort foods. In doing so, you’ll be able to make the most of what the season has to offer culinarily, particularly when it comes to cold-weather favorites like winter greens and spices.
Whether your winter is marked by boots or bikinis, we’re sharing 20 winter dinner ideas that make the very most of the season. So ovens on (or not), and let’s get cooking.
What’s in Season? Winter Vegetables and Fruits That Should Be on the Menu
Winter vegetables like turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash can be enjoyed on their own or as standalone ingredients in a stunning winter meal.
When you’re sourcing recipes for winter dinners, it helps to know what sorts of ingredients you should be highlighting. Just like we equate summer meals with sweet corn, watermelon, and basil and fall meals with pumpkin, apples, and cinnamon, winter has its own set of seasonally inspiring flavors and foods, any of which can lead the way in helping you decide what to make for dinner.
From winter gourds to cold-weather fruits, here’s what’s in season—plus a look at the sorts of flavors that always have a place on the winter dinner table.
List of Winter Fruits and Vegetables
There’s nothing boring about winter produce. You’ve got a ton of options for seasonal ingredients, so pick your favorites and use those to guide your winter meal choices.
Winter Vegetables and Squash
- Acorn squash
- Allium bulbs (garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, chives)
- Bok choy
- Broccoli, broccoli rabe, and broccolini
- Brussels sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Celery and celeriac (celery root)
- Chicory (endive, radicchio, frisée)
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Spaghetti squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Turnips and turnip greens
- Lemons and Meyer lemons
Get Creative with Quintessential Winter Flavors
Looking at the list of winter produce above, some seasonal flavor trends should pop out right away, such as squash and citrus. Beyond fruits and veggies, though, there are many other ingredients that you can incorporate into a winter dinner, including familiar mainstays of holiday cooking that are just as tasty after the decorations are put away.
If you can’t figure out what to make for dinner, use one or more of these winter flavor profiles as a jumping-off point:
- Mulling spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice
- Toasted nuts
- Fennel fronds and seeds
- Maple or honey
- Bourbon and other dark liquors
Roasting, charring, and caramelization techniques are also popular in the winter and can be used to enhance the flavors of a winter dish.
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20 Tasty and Versatile Winter Dinner Ideas
In the mood for a winter soup? How about a comforting pasta that isn’t just mac and cheese? You’ve got plenty of options to choose from, with dinner ideas for busy weeknight meals, Sunday family gatherings, and any other time you want something seasonally inspired but just can’t decide what that something is.
Winter Squash Recipes
1. Vegan Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash
We’re starting off with some vegan excellence in the form of a nutty roasted acorn squash filled to the brim with seasonal ingredients like garlic, broccolini, celery, and pecans. It does require that you turn on your oven (sorry), but we promise you it’s worth it.
2. Thai Butternut Squash Curry With Chickpeas
There’s room for all sorts of regional cuisines in winter cooking. Case in point: this aromatic Thai curry, a one-pot dish that shows off butternut squash at its best. The curry only gets better as it sits in the fridge, so make enough for leftovers.
3. Spicy Tomato Parmesan Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
This might just be eggplant parm’s cool winter cousin—and we’re here for it. Don’t skimp on the garlic or fennel seeds for true winter flavor, and for sure don’t skimp on the mozzarella or parmesan, since it just wouldn’t be the same without that decadent layer of ooey-gooey cheese.
4. Vegan Butternut Squash Risotto
Risotto is a fantastic choice for a winter dinner, and even more so when it’s made super creamy with the addition of butternut squash. This vegan rendition can easily be modified if you prefer a meatier mix-in, but the asparagus and spinach here really do hold their own.
5. Avocado Orange Salad
Thank the guacamole gods that avocado is always in season. And not only that, it’s a wonderful complement to fresh winter citrus and hearty, peppery arugula. This salad comes together with an easy homemade lemon dressing and pairs expertly well with a ball of burrata and some nice crunchy bread.
6. Pomegranate and Feta Winter Salad
There’s nothing not to love about this salad, which features sweet, tart, salty, and spicy in every single well-balanced bite. Not a fan of feta? Blue cheese or goat cheese both make for commendable substitutes.
7. Kale and Quinoa Salad With Apples
Also referred to as Winter Happiness Salad, it’s obvious why this dish needs to be on your winter meal rotation. Happiness-inducing ingredients include apples, chickpeas, currants, and kale, plus quinoa for body and a delicious homemade lemon, miso, and maple dressing.
8. Italian Chopped Brussels Sprouts Salad
Brussels sprouts are a winter staple best enjoyed roasted, fried, or, as in this case, shredded in a salad. You’ll find all of your standard Italian chopped salad ingredients here, including salami, pepperoncini, and not one but two types of cheeses. And when combined with Brussels sprouts, it all comes together into a salad that is in no way just sitting on the side.
9. Curried Parsnip Soup
Cauliflower and carrot are classic choices for a winter soup, but parsnip absolutely deserves the same level of recognition. This sweet and starchy root vegetable holds up beautifully to a coconut curry base, creating a vibrant soup that just might make you forget summer is still so far away.
10. Carrot Lentil Ginger Soup
How does something so rich in flavor come out of just ten simple ingredients? We don’t know, but we do know that this soup has layers upon layers of umami, thanks in large part to winter ingredients like carrots, shallots, and garlic. It also calls for plant-based Yondu sauce, but you can use soy sauce instead if you don’t have it on hand.
11. Potato Bacon Leek Soup
There’s no better time to make a leek-based soup than when leeks are at their peak freshness. Leek and potato are a classic pairing made even better with the addition of bacon. Just top your soup with some winter chives, and you’re good to go.
12. Roasted Broccoli Soup With Melted Cheddar Croutons
The modern spin on broccoli and cheddar soup that you didn’t know you needed. Broccoli is one of winter’s most beloved veggies, and it doesn’t disappoint in this creamy soup that’s simply begging you to double up on those cheesy croutons.
13. Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Lots of people use their spaghetti squash as a stand-in for noodles, but we think it’s better to just remove all pretenses and enjoy it for what it is: a nourishing winter squash that just so happens to be the perfect foil for decadently creamy sauces. For evidence, look no further than this spaghetti squash winter casserole with a coconut milk-based garlic sauce that’s as good as it sounds.
14. Winter Squash and Quinoa Bake
There’s an air of nostalgia to this flavor-forward winter bake—perhaps due to the buttery crouton topping that takes us back to the Ritz Cracker-lidded broccoli bakes of yore. But there’s also something quite modern about this indulgent dish, made unforgettable with sun-dried tomato pesto and a not-so-small serving of gruyere.
15. Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Casserole
Cabbage is one of those winter ingredients that once you start cooking with it, you want to find a way to start including it in every recipe. And you’re in luck, because this winter casserole is super cabbage forward, with beef, tomatoes, and lots of Hungarian paprika in there for good measure.
16. Winter Lentil and Roast Veg Bake
Cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and carrots all make an appearance in this ultimate winter bake, but they’re far from the only ingredients that make this dish such a winner. This winter casserole is as good for lunch as it is for dinner, so consider making it as part of your weekly winter meal prep—or just setting aside extra.
17. Sweet Potato Alfredo
Any alfredo pasta is worthy of winter eats in our book, but we’re especially fond of this version, which celebrates seasonality with the addition of freshly blended sweet potato in the sauce. It’s just as creamy—and just as addictive—as its basic alfredo cousin, and maybe just healthy enough to justify a second and third serving.
18. Butternut Squash Pasta With Sausage and Goat Cheese
This pasta is creamy, cheesy, and spicy, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a hit for a winter dinner. The sausage is a must in here, but you can use plant-based sausage instead and get equally amazing results.
19. Pasta al Pomodoro
Aside from garlic and onion, there aren’t really any seasonal winter ingredients in this dish, but pasta al pomodoro is true Italian comfort food, and for that reason it just had to make it onto our list. Don’t forget the parmesan!
20. Tuscan Roasted Red Pepper Pasta With Winter Greens
It’s a good thing that getting your greens in doesn’t have to happen at the expense of enjoying rich and creamy pasta. The recipe calls for Swiss chard, but you can use mustard or turnip greens in a pinch.
Helpful Tips for Delicious Winter Cooking
Hopefully, you’ve found plenty of winter dinner ideas to suit your tastes (and your outdoor climate, whatever it is). Before we wrap it up, though, we’ve got a few final tips that you can use to create winter weather dinners that really exemplify the flavors of the season:
- Use a slow cooker. A slow cooker is one of the most efficient ways to impart loads of flavor into your food. As an added bonus, it’s also a way to get a break from turning on the oven or stove; ditto for the Instant Pot and air fryer.
- When in doubt, roast. Go to your local market and pick up whatever vegetables look good—then just roast them for that comfort food quality that so defines winter dishes. You can take your roasted veggies up a notch further by drizzling them with honey or maple syrup halfway through, then topping them with freshly crumbled goat cheese as soon as they come out of the oven.
- Stock up on spices. Spices are the backbone of any good winter meal. This includes the seasonal mulling spices mentioned above, but also less obvious (but no less warranted) pantry must-haves like dried orange peel, za’atar, ras el hanout, and curry powder.
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