Dinner is the time to be creative and give the taste buds a treat.
Base the meal around a lean protein like skinless, boneless chicken breast, fish, or shrimp. Beef and pork should be used a little less frequently – like once a week.
I’ve gravitated toward Asian style cooking because it’s quick, lean, and highly nutritious. On a given week I’ll alternate between spicy peanut chicken, pork tenderloin, baked salmon, shrimp phad thai, terriyaki chicken, beef or pork bulgogi, sweet and sour chicken, and blackened chicken. Most of my meals take less than 30 minutes in the kitchen.
For vegetables, keep it simple – stir fry with green beans, onions, and peppers or baked/steamed broccoli or roasted brussel sprouts or asparagus. Make vegetable dishes as colorful as possible – it’s great presentation and the different colors are indicators of different nutrients. Another great side is spinach quinoa with cherry tomatoes and chick peas. Very colorful and tasty. I use a teaspoon of butter, vegetable oil, or olive oil to saute vegetables.
Steaming is another great method and saves the 100 calories and 14 grams of fat used when sauteing. Green beans, broccoli, peas, greens, artichokes, and cauliflower are awesome steamed and provide quality complex carbs, fiber, and vitamins. Avoid boiling vegetables as much of the vitamins get lost in the cooking water. You can use a traditional steamer or lighly saute the vegetables in oil, add some water to the pan (just a few tablespoons), cover it, and steam until tender.
Serve at least 2 servings of vegetables with dinner. Vegetables are very low in calories and contain loads of nutrients and fiber. Eliminate or minimize butter on your vegetables. Over time, your tastes will change and the butter will be unnecessary.
Olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter used for cooking are all fat – choose the oils versus solid fats. Saturated fats found in butter and lard should be minimized and trans fats eliminated. Actively minimize the usage of oils used in cooking. I’ve found that most recipes call for much more oil than is necessary. For example, I make Spicy Peanut Chicken regularly. The recipe for the peanut sauce called for ¼ cup peanut butter, ¼ cup Soy, ¼ cup olive oil, and 3 tablespoons of sugar. The original recipe made the sauce very oily. After experimenting a few times, I found that no oil was necessary and 1 tablespoon of sugar was all the sauce needed.
Lean Cuisine and similar prepackaged meals are designed to be less than 30% fat content and less than 500 calories. The problem with them is that they are not as flavorful as cooking your own and are loaded with salt to give them flavor. That being said, they are a fairly decent option. Without a doubt, learning how to cook at home is absolutely the best option to sustain a lifelong healthy lifestyle.
Foods to avoid
Avoid dishes like lasagna, anything with ground beef, spaghetti, pizza, and fried chicken. Avoid coating anything with bread crumbs – try it blackened or baked instead. Experiment with seasonings to replace breaded meats and sugary or fatty sauces.
Some inexpensive dinner options
Chicken leg quarters are a great low cost meal but be aware that the skin is a huge source of fat. Better to take the skin off and debone them before baking or grilling to avoid the temptation of the chicken skin. After all, chicken skin is pretty darn tasty.
Fried rice is an excellent choice for quick dinners. Not the take out variety – make your own using 3/5 Rule rice. Start with a serving of instant brown rice (½ cup uncooked). Cook the rice. Cut a chicken breast into 1 inch or smaller cubes and saute until cooked through. Saute some onions, peppers and broccoli in a little vegetable oil or butter. Add the cooked chicken and cooked rice to the sauteed vegetables. Break an egg over top of the mixture, add some soy sauce and cook until done. Mix it up with shrimp, fish, or lean beef. Try different vegetables. Try other sauces like Hoisin or Terriyaki. Add some chili paste. In short, be creative.
Whole wheat pasta in tomato sauce with a lean meat and vegetables is also a quick, healthy choice. However, eliminate fatty cheese sauces, like Alfredo, with pasta.
Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is another great option – prepare it with your favorite sauce, add some veggies, and done.
Skip the dessert
Desserts should be eliminated. If you must have something, choose frozen yogurt and cut up fresh fruit to put in it. Or, better yet, just plain fruit.
The 2-1/2 hour rule
Do not eat anything 2-1/2 hours before bedtime. Late night eating is a deadly habit and a huge contributor to weight gain. If your normal bedtime is 11, don’t eat anything after 8:30. Late night snacking is one of the hardest bad habits to overcome. If you are feeling like a snack, try drinking water instead.
- 1 to 2 servings lean protein
- 2 servings vegetables, preferably colorful
- 1 serving 3/5 Rule Bread or Grain (optional)
- 8 ounce glass of 1% milk, water, light beer, or wine
- Minimize or eliminate dessert