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.