26 February 2013 5 Quick and Easy Dinner Ideas to Save Your Diet

What's the worst time of day for dieting? Anyone who's been on a diet knows that your good intentions are most likely to evaporate in the evening. You've been working all day, you may have had a long nasty commute. Perhaps you even stopped off at the gym before heading home. And you were good about sticking to healthy modest food choices all day. Now you're home. You're starving. And you're supposed to spend an hour cooking a healthy dinner?

One of the weakest links in most diet plans is the obsession with cooking. Apparently losing weight depends completely on spending hours in the kitchen, fussing around with complicated recipes. Actually, losing weight is not dependent on complicated cooking. It's just that the diet part of diet books doesn't take up much space, so the books are bulked up with recipes.

Let's get back to the dinner problem. You need to eat dinner, and you need to eat something that looks like a meal. If you just grab a bag of chips or a box of crackers or a carton of ice cream, you'll regret it later. You'll feel like you've blown your good intentions. You might be thrown off your whole weight loss plan.

The first part of the solution is to avoid arriving home totally starving. A smart snack that includes a high protein food, eaten sometime in mid- to late-afternoon, will help. The second part of the solution is to have a plan for dinners and be prepared. If you've got a set of 5 easy quick dinners, you'll know what's for dinner every night.

Of course, you could rely on frozen low calorie meals, and there's nothing wrong with many of them. But that can get boring, so it's better not to rely on those more than once or twice a week. Another problem with frozen dinners is that they're stuck in the meat-potato-vegetable model. You end up with tiny portions of 3 different things, and you end up feeling unsatisfied. My preference would be either a one-pot meal or a 2-item menu, such as meat plus a green salad.

You can use the following quick healthy dinner suggestions as the basis for developing your own variations. You do need to plan ahead, and stock up on staple foods.

  1. Meat and salad: This might seem obvious, but sometimes it's too obvious. If you ate variations on this combination every night, you'd be doing yourself a big favor. The key is to have fresh salad ingredients ready to go, as well as a suitable piece of meat to saute, broil or grill. Meat could be a small pork chop, chicken breast, salmon steak, fish filet or burger made from beef or bison. Another even easier variation: scrambled eggs. As for salad, buy pre-washed dark greens, and pre-cut vegetables now available in cellophane baggies: like carrots, snow peas, broccoli, radishes, cucumbers, peppers and cherry tomatoes. The best thing about green salad: you can fill up on a big bowl. If you want to avoid salad dressing calories, just use a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
  2. Soup/Stew: Sounds complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Start with some low sodium high quality chicken or vegetable stock. You can buy these in re-sealable packages. Heat one to 1-1/2 cups in a small pot and start adding your choice of ingredients: frozen vegetables like peas, green beans and corn; greens like spinach or chard; sliced chopped onion, carrots or celery; a high protein food such as canned beans like kidney or pinto and/or cooked leftover meat; canned diced tomatoes, a pinch of dried herbs like basil or thyme, salt and pepper. Heat through until any fresh vegetables are cooked. Top with some grated cheese.
  3. Wrap (or burrito): for a wrap to be a filling meal, it needs to be loaded with vegetables. Chopped tomatoes, peppers, shredded carrots, scallions, mushrooms, greens, sprouts, cucumbers and other fresh veggies are all possibilities. Include one or two high protein foods as well: cooked chicken, cooked shrimp, scrambled egg, grated cheese, feta cheese, tofu chunks, refried beans and ground or shredded beef or pork are all good choices. If you use cheese, keep it to 1/4 cup grated. Make it interesting by buying whole grain or flavored wraps, or use pita bread. Season with herbs, salt and pepper. Another calorie-cutting option: use lettuce leaves. Pile two large lettuce leaves together and load with chicken or shrimp and fresh veggies, cilantro and season with soy sauce and a dash of lime juice for a refreshing Asian-style wrap.
  4. Stir fry: This is a one-pot meal variation on meat and salad. Any decent frying pan will do; you don't need an official wok. Brush the pan with a small amount of peanut or other oil. Cook pieces of meat, chicken, tofu or fish. Add chunky vegetables like onions, broccoli, snow peas, cauliflower, peppers, celery, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, etc. Stir everything around as the vegetables cook, until they're done but still crisp. Season with garlic, soy sauce, pepper and a dash of ginger. Other seasoning options: a dash of Asian fish sauce or hot pepper sauce.
  5. Vegetable Grilled cheese: No bread involved, and if you don't like cheese, you could try using soft tofu. You do need fresh sliceable vegetables like zucchini, yellow summer squash, eggplant, big fresh tomatoes, Vidalia onions or even apples. Another option: sweet potatoes that were partially cooked by baking or boiling. Slice your vegetable(s) of choice into large 1/3 to 1/3 inch slices (the thicker slices are best for a watery vegetable like tomatoes; thinner slices for potatoes or onions). Heat a frying pan on medium heat, and brush oil on the bottom. Put the vegetable slices in the hot pan and brown slightly. Flip over, sprinkle with a bit of herbs like dried basil, and top with a bit of grated cheese. Let the cheese melt while the bottom of the vegetable slices brown a bit. Serve hot. You can even make these into sandwiches by putting vegetable slices on top of the cheese.

Use this list as a weekly dinner template, and just change up the ingredients to add variety. Make them your own by using the meats, vegetables and seasonings you prefer. The key is stocking up on the ingredients, so you're ready to go. None of these takes more than 10-15 minutes. Your evening food decisions will be less stressful and it will be easier for you to stay on track with your weight goals.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Dinner

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