In this series of posts I am going to start by telling you one of the best “diet” tricks out there, and that is….put down the take out menu book and pick up a spatula! We are going to talk about how to cook your way happy, slim and healthy J
I like to go out to eat just like the best of them, however, one of the biggest diet traps can be ordering wrong when at a restaurant. My boyfriend, who is also my going out to eat partner-in-crime, likes to think that every time we go out to eat we should act like we are on vacation; because going to a restaurant is a treat! He is right in some respects, that going out should be a treat and you should be allowed to indulge a little here and there. However, when going out to eat with this mentality becomes a regular event, it can pack on quite a few extra calories that you may not even realize. Don’t get me wrong, I love restaurants but as we talked about before, life is about balance and the nights that you do not physically go out to a restaurant, you should know there are more options than take out!
When you cook you are in control. You control the portions and the types of the oils, butters and dairy products that make up some of your favorite dishes, thus saving many calories and grams of fat. Many of your favorite dishes can be re-created at home by swapping a few ingredients and breaking out measuring spoons! And the best part of cooking? You get to be creative, try new things and have fun doing it!
Dinner foods are some of my favorites, however many nutrition and diet experts tell us to make it one of the smaller meals of the day, as it is so close to bed-time. This is true, that is why we will focus on portions here and not forget flavor.
As we discussed in the previous snacking post, the importance of planning ahead applies here as well. On Sunday nights plan ahead. Have roommates? A family? Significant other? Take 5 minutes out of your day and plan your week together. When you know what you are either cooking or eating for the week you take away the stress of, “what should I make for dinner?” Which can often lead to snacking instead of dinner, or relying too heavily on take out. I suggest you dedicate a few hours one night of the week (Monday afternoon normally works best for me, I make my list during my lunch break and hit the grocery store after work) where you plan your menu, make your list and conquer the grocery store. Having that list created from your plan helps you avoid the temptations of the grocery store. And it is 100% true what they say – DO NOT food shop hungry, it is a recipe for disaster.
Start by picking your proteins. What proteins will you have this week? Sometimes cooking new proteins can be scary, but do not be afraid to think outside of the box here and try new things, I bet you surprise yourself.
Figure out what your base is and plan the meal around it, how will you incorporate this protein into a balanced meal?
Color your plate. How will you make sure your plate is not just beige colored?
Strive for at least 3 different colors per dinner. Your plate is your palate. The more color, the more nutrients, the more nutrients the healthier it is. And honestly the more color, the better it tastes.
Grains must be whole grains. I have recently discovered how great and easy whole grain rice or wild rice can be. (See below for a great rice recipe) Be very mindful of your portions here to keep your meal light but still get your dose of whole grains to provide you with added fiber and nutrients.
Try new ingredients, veggies, fruits, seasonings! Make a goal to try and incorporate one new item each week. Dying to try this butternut squash everyone is raving about?? It is so easy to make.
- Buy it diced, microwave it, add a little maple syrup (sugar free or regular) and eat. It’s that easy!
- Cut up brussel sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash and sweet potato mix with one tablespoon of olive oil, add in some minced garlic and put them in the oven until they are crispy (about 25-30 minutes on 400 F). Side dish, done.
- Sauté spinach and kale together with onions add some tomatoes and put this mix underneath a grilled chicken breast. Add a side of whole grain rice and there’s your dinner packed with nutrients and full of colors.
When you think of a meal and break it down into lean protein plus 3 different colors plus a little whole grain, you simplify it and then get to be an artist creating the new combinations.
Need some new protein ideas?
Have you tried chicken sausages?
- Chicken sausages are a great protein option and the best thing about them it that are so easy to cook. Thin n’ Trim brand make 70 calorie chicken sausages that have no pork casing around them. These chicken sausages give you 12g of protein per sausage with very little calories! Try any brand offered at the store. I recommend removing the pork casing from other brands. Slice them, sauté a chicken sausage with olive oil and garlic and add it on top of a salad, mixed one with sautéed or roasted veggies. How about one chicken sausage sautéed with spinach and rice? You name it, they cook very quickly and are very tasty! Sick of plain chicken? Try one of these in any one of their flavor combos, you will be hooked!
Make your own meatballs or turkey burgers!
- Purchase ground chicken, turkey or meat (>90% lean is best) grab a mixing bowl and mix your ground meat with any or all of the following: chopped spinach, kale, sundried tomatoes, feta , mozzarella or goat cheese, yellow or green onion or roasted peppers - pretty much any of your favorites will work here! Mix in minced garlic, a little olive oil and whole wheat bread crumbs and separate into meatballs or burger patties. Cook with olive oil or olive oil cooking spray to coat on a grill pan, George Foreman or a real grill and pair with a veggie. The best part of making this dinner? You can make enough for leftovers. Never underestimate the power of leftovers they make the best lunches the next day!
Beans, beans, beans.
Have a vegetarian night every once and a while. Beans are a fabulous source of protein mixed with fiber (you always knew as a kid, beans were good for your heart!) they provide new textures, flavors and an alternative to meats every once in a while. Beans provide you with plant proteins and are packed full of nutrients. Beans, including edamame, butter beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans and so on are also heart healthy!
A few new ideas to get you started:
Raw Bean Salad
My new bean obsession is beyond easy and requires no real “cooking.”
Mix a can of Large butter beans (or a can of mixed salad beans), ¾ of a cup of edamame beans, (shelled with no pods) roughly 8-10 sun dried tomatoes (diced, buy these dried, not pre-mixed in oil), minced garlic at your flavor preference, basil (the basil paste works great with this recipe) and about a teaspoon of a tasty, flavorful olive oil (or you can simply drizzle with truffle oil).
Mix together and add on top of salad greens or cut up kale with a laughing cow cheese or one serving of your favorite salad cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or lemon, or both, yum!
Keep the bean mixture in a separate Tupperware and add it on top of the salad greens, or eat alone, for lunches or dinner. This can be made on a Monday and used for meals all week! Try and make the mixture last a minimum of 4 meals, this will make sure you mind your portions. (One can of the larger butter beans has 3.5 servings.)
At Home Bikini-friendly Chicken Rollatini
I promised you before that you could make your favorite restaurant foods at home and healthy. How about an Italian favorite? Stuffed chicken rollatini! How to make this classic the healthy way? The “stuffed” part needs a little tweaking.
Ingredients for 2 portions:
2 Chicken breast (thin sliced breasts)
½ cup Cottage Cheese (1-2% milk fat)
2 Tablespoons Part skim or Fat free Ricotta cheese
¼ package of Frozen spinach
1 can diced tomato (you will use about ¼ - ½ can)
Garlic (crushed or minced or fresh)
Whole wheat bread crumbs
Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese
4 oz Skim Milk
A few basil leaves
2 tablespoons of your favorite marinara or vodka sauce
To make the “Rollatini” stuffed center:
Mix about 4 ounces of cottage cheese with 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese.
Follow the directions to thaw out the frozen spinach and add about ¼ of the package into the mixture above. Add your preferred amount of garlic and mix together.
Take your chicken breasts and dunk them into skim milk to coat, cover a plate with whole wheat bread crumbs and coat each breast in the bread crumbs.
Spray a pan with olive oil cooking spray – and lay each breast onto the pan. Put about half the mixture above on the far end of one side of the chicken spreading to about the middle of the chicken breast and fold the chicken breast over, making a side ways “U.”
Spread about one tablespoon of diced tomatoes (from a can or just a few grape tomatoes cut in half will work too, if used from a can try to drain the liquid off the tomato chunks first) on top of each piece of chicken. Add one table spoon of your favorite sauce on top of the tomatoes and dice one basil leaf to add on top of the sauce. Add 1 thin slice of mozzarella cheese on top of each piece of chicken.
You can spread yellow onions around the chicken to cook with the chicken as well for an added veggie surprise in there.
Bake on 450 degrees for about 30 minutes. A few minutes longer if needed to make sure your cheese is bubbly. If it looks a little watery, this is likely from the canned tomatoes if you don’t drain the liquid from them first, you can drain the water after taking them out of the oven, just make sure the chicken doesn’t fall into the sink (yes, this has happened to me before it’s not fun!)
Roasted brussel sprouts and broccoli make for a great side dish here, cut them up to your desired sizes and shapes, mix with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper to taste and cook them in the oven as well. These cook fast on 450 so I suggest monitoring them but start with about 20 minutes.
SUPER green and delicious rice:
Ok this has seriously become an obsession of mine. It is so easy and so tasty, make it often and love it like I do.
Whole Grain Rice (for portion purposes and because its easy – Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain brown 90 second ready rice is perfect!)
1 Very Ripe Avocado
Basil Paste (one big squeeze)
Garlic (your preference)
½ table spoon Olive Oil
1 drizzle of truffle oil
Remove the avocado from its shell and put it in a medium sized bowl, if it’s not ripe enough you can microwave it for about 45 seconds to soften it up. Mash it up until it looks like guacamole consistency. Add in the juice of ½ of a lemon, one squeeze of basil paste, garlic amount is up to you (I like garlic a lot), and about ½ a table spoon of olive oil. The truffle oil drizzle is optional, I just also really like truffle oil. Mix all together and add the hot rice on top. Mix together so the green mixture covers the rice.
Add with a chicken sausage and sautéed spinach? Delicious!!
If you use the brown rice bag suggested above, make this dish last 3-4 servings.
Healthy food should still taste good. Watch your portions, make your own creations, have fun and enjoy cooking! I hope this motivated and inspired the sleeping chef that is inside each and every one of you!
Follow me on instagram @JennaAriel to see some of my dinner creations! Hash tag #headtotoewellness on instragram or #happyslimhealthy on twitter and show me some of the creations you come up with!
- Jenna Stock, RD