This past week, the first winter storms are causing headaches in the Southeast and on up the Atlantic coast. My sister tells me her bones are feeling the chill of yet another gloomy, drizzly day in Ohio. Here in California the sun is brilliant, but we’re still mending pipes after a rare hard freeze a few nights ago.

Wherever you live, when winter’s chill settles in it feels good to get a pot of hearty stew simmering on the stove to warm your kitchen and your belly. You’ll warm your heart, too, when you share the meal with animal family members. With two or three months of winter still ahead, you can brighten up the long nights by experimenting with new combinations of beans, grains, vegetables, and spices. Chances are your dog will happily share most any of your favorite recipes—but give your cat a chance to try your tasty meals, too. You might be surprised to find his culinary preferences are more eclectic than thought.

Here are a few considerations to keep things easy, nutritious, and flavorful:

For meals that include larger beans like black beans, kidney beans, garbanzos, or pintos, soak dried beans in water (about 4 cups of water for every cup of beans) for eight hours or overnight. Drain the beans and rinse them thoroughly. Return them to the pot, add enough water to cover by about 1½ to 2 inches, then add a potato to the cooking water to minimize “gassiness” for all diners.

Forgot to put those beans on to soak last night? To quick-soak them, heat beans and water almost to a boil, then remove from heat and soak for one hour. Drain and proceed as above. Sauce will be slightly less rich, but your stew will still be delicious.

Smaller legumes like lentils, mung beans, adzuki beans, or split peas cook quickly, and are easy for nonhumans to digest even without pre-soaking. They’re great for last minute meals that go from concept to completion in less than an hour.

Cook beans and grains a little longer than you might if only humans were going to eat them. That way they’ll be a softer, and easier for your animal friends to digest.

Don’t overcook vegetables like broccoli, green beans, or carrots. Add them just a few minutes prior to serving to retain nutrients.

Go easy on the “heat.” While some dogs tolerate a not-too-spicy chili or curry just fine, others may experience discomfort or even diarrhea. Best to spice it up the way you like it after you’ve dished up a milder portion for your friend.

Even in winter, we all benefit from phytonutrients available only in fresh raw greens and fruits. Before you sit down to your steamy bowl of stew, toss together some fresh greens or slice a fresh pear, apple, or orange. Make a pretty salad plate for you, and chop some up to mix into your dog’s or cat’s stew.

One-pot meals are such an easy way to create healthy meals for everyone in the family, we’ve developed several favorite recipes that keep us all licking our bowls clean (at least when no one’s watching!). Here are a few we think you’ll enjoy.

(Please Note: The recipes that follow are not guaranteed to be nutritionally complete on their own, nor are they intended for use on a daily basis. But they’re wonderful choices when served in the context of a well-balanced, varied nutritional plan. For a more comprehensive meal plan, please see the Fresh and Flexible meal plan in The Complete Holistic Dog Book: Home Health Care for Our Canine Companions by Jan Allegretti.)


Black Bean and Sweet Potato Stew

  • 2 cups dried black beans (or more, depending on size of pot)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into chunks (optional)
  • 1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (or ½ teaspoon dry)
  • 1 medium red (or white) potato
  • Water
  • 2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
  • 3 cups cabbage (or more), coarsely shredded
  • 1 can sweet corn (or substitute two cups chopped fresh broccoli, carrots, or green beans)
  • Salt, to taste

Soak beans in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then return to pot and fill with water to about 2½ inches from rim. Add onion, rosemary, and red potato. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, add a cover, and simmer until beans are almost tender, about 2 hours. Remove red potato and discard. Add sweet potatoes to pot and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 or 20 minutes. Add cabbage and corn. Simmer until cabbage is tender, about 5 minutes. Salt to taste. (Optional: For extra flavor and nutrient boost, stir in soymilk and nutritional yeast at serving time.)


Root Vegetable Stew

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. Tempeh or firm tofu, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 4-6 cups root vegetables cut in ½-inch cubes (try red or golden beets, rutabaga, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, turnips, or other favorites)
  • Water
  • 2 vegan bouillon cubes
  • 1 cup quinoa

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add tempeh or tofu, soy sauce, and curry powder. Sauté until tempeh is lightly browned. Add vegetables and enough water to cover by about an inch. Stir in bouillon and quinoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until vegetables and quinoa are tender, stirring occasionally.


Couldn’t-Be-Easier Lentils and Rice

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice (or ½ cup brown rice and ½ cup wild rice)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock (or lightly salted water)
  • 1 fresh sage leaf (or ¼ teaspoon rubbed or powdered sage)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped chard or kale
  • Soy sauce

Bring lentils, rice, stock, and sage to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes, until lentils and rice are tender. Remove sage leaf. Add chard or kale, stir, and simmer uncovered just until greens are wilted. Serve with a drizzle of soy sauce on top (less for your friend, more for you).