Many of my clients tell me they eat pretty healthfully…until dinnertime rolls around. Tired and famished, they put in a takeout order, then wolf down cheese and crackers until it arrives. Or they open a bottle of wine, which leads to a night of continuous nibbling in front of the TV.
If you find yourself in a similar rut, there is a way to break the pattern. The trick to consistently eating a healthful, balanced dinner is to think about your evening meal in advance. Here are five situations and how to eat dinner for each.
When you’re in no mood to cook
Call you local Chinese restaurant and order a double portion of steamed vegetables with steamed shrimp and a side of brown rice. Then while you’re waiting for it, make your own sauce so you can skirt the sugar- and starch-laden version that typically comes with takeout. In a small bowl, stir together two tablespoons of unsweetened almond butter, a tablespoon of brown rice vinegar, and a teaspoon of honey. Add a half teaspoon each of fresh grated ginger and minced garlic, and one-eighth teaspoon of crushed red pepper. When your dinner arrives, toss the warm veggies and shrimp in the almond mixture to coat well, and serve over a half cup of brown rice.
If you need to snack first
When you’ve already gone hours without food, it can be tough to wait to eat until dinner is ready. Try portioning out a quarter cup of almonds, and pop them in your mouth one at a time while you make a quick, simple soup.
In a medium saucepan over low heat, sauté a quarter cup of minced yellow onion in two tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth until onions are translucent. Add a half cup of additional broth, a cup of chopped kale, a teaspoon each of garlic and Italian seasoning, a one-eighth teaspoon each of sea salt and crushed red pepper, and a one-sixteenth teaspoon of black pepper.
Stir in one cup of chopped veggies of your choice, like sliced grape tomatoes and cauliflower florets. Bring to a brief boil, covered, and then reduce to a simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
Add a portion of lean protein, like three ounces of extra-lean ground turkey or a half cup of white beans and, if desired, a teaspoon of fresh dill. Stir to heat through and serve.
If you’re into meal prepping
On Sunday, whip up a veggie frittata you can reheat (or enjoy cold) during the week. Whisk a half dozen eggs, and then add a quarter cup of unsweetened almond milk, a half tablespoon of Dijon, a half teaspoon each of minced garlic and Italian seasoning, and an eighth teaspoon each of black pepper and sea salt. Set aside.
In a medium sauté pan over low heat, combine a tablespoon of EVOO, a cup of chopped kale or spinach, and a cup of chopped veggies of your choice, such as broccoli florets, onion, and bell pepper. Pour egg mixture into frittata pan. Evenly spoon in veggies, along with a cup of black beans. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 40-45 minutes.
If you prefer to graze throughout the evening
Try this combo you can eat at your leisure: Rinse three ounces of pre-cooked, ready-to-eat frozen shrimp under cold water to thaw, and dip into a tablespoon of dairy-free pesto. Make a quick salad from baby spinach or chopped romaine dressed with a combo of one tablespoon balsamic mixed with a teaspoon each of fresh lemon juice and Dijon mustard and a half teaspoon of Italian seasoning. For dessert, reach for a cup of loose fruit you can eat one piece at a time with your hands (like grapes or berries) or use a fork to eat a cup of chopped fresh fruit, like kiwi, apple, or pear.
When you need dinner NOW
Mix three ounces of canned wild salmon with one teaspoon of Dijon mustard and two tablespoons of olive tapenade. Slice a bell pepper in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and stuff with the salmon mixture. Dinner done!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.