How to Complement the Main Dish
BY LAUREN SEPHTON
Have you ever wondered if there was a secret to making those satisfying, nutrient-dense weeknight dinners with your busy family/work schedule? A well-balanced meal doesn’t take rocket science, just a little planning ahead to keep those busier weekdays hassle-free.
Step 1: Choose the Cuisine
More often than not, weeknights leave little room to prep for hors d’oeuvre, appetizers, and salads prior to the main course. Even if you do have some extra time on your hands, the main course remains the star of the show; therefore, you want to simply focus on creating a satisfying dish that won’t leave you craving anything afterwards.
To begin, you’ll want to choose an inspiration for the dish. This could be as simple as the kids’ favorite chicken tenders, an Italian-style pasta dinner, Mediterranean, and so on. One suggestion is to think about what you’ve been craving lately, and if you are ever stuck, then no worries! Just check out some of the meal suggestions below.
Step 2: Choose the Protein
While all three macronutrients – fats, carbs, and proteins – are important to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, studies have shown that protein-rich foods can be the most filling. The reason that protein-rich foods can help you feel fuller is partly because protein boosts levels of peptide YY and reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Based on your dietary needs, there is a variety of both vegan and meat proteins to choose from. A few meat protein suggestions include turkey breasts, lean beef, shrimp, fish, chicken, and eggs. A few vegan protein suggestions include beans (especially garbanzo and black beans), sprouted grain bread, lentils, quinoa, and oats. However, try to avoid high-protein foods that are also high in refined sugars, highly processed foods, and artificial sweeteners.
Step 3: Choose the Grains/Carbohydrates
The simple fact is that “carbs” will not necessarily make you gain weight but are actually very important to living a healthy lifestyle. Carbohydrates, especially ones rich in fiber, can aid digestion, may help lower cholesterol levels, and keep you full longer. They are also your body’s main source of energy, fueling a variety of bodily functions from the brain to kidneys to central nervous system to heart muscles. With all that said, it’s important to choose whole grains and high fiber carbohydrates to maximize the health benefits.
A few high fiber carbohydrate examples include legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Some examples of 100% whole grain carbohydrates include rice, quinoa, wheat, oats, and certain pastas. Other carbohydrates examples include bananas, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, beetroots, oranges, blueberries, grapefruit, apples, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
Step 4: Choose a Green
Contrary to belief, adding a little green to your plate can be tasty and satisfying! It can as simple as adding leafy greens and/or sautéing vegetables. To round out these four steps, a good rule of thumb is to fill one-third of your plate with a source of protein, one-third a healthy carbohydrate, and one-third a green vegetable.
Leafy Green Suggestions:
- Add spinach to a frittata
- Add arugula to a pizza
- Add Bok choy to ramen
- Add kale to pesto for pasta
- Add spring mix to tacos
- Create a fresh spring salad with fresh vegetables, like beets and fennel, to complement fish
Sauté Vegetable Suggestions:
- Complement burgers with broccoli slaw
- Complement pasta with baked parmesan zucchini and/or mushrooms
- Complement red meats with asparagus
- Complement chicken with honey glazed baked baby carrots
- Complement a variety of meats with roasted vegetables
Quick Meal Suggestions:
- Burrito Bowls with rice, black or kidney beans, chicken or beef (meat source of protein), seasoned tofu or corn (vegan source of protein), spring mix, salsa, avocado, and lime
- Lentil Soup
- A One-Pan Dinner: Oven Baked Chicken Breasts, Baked Garlic Parmesan Roasted Potatoes, and Baked Green Beans
- Skillet Fajitas with red bell peppers, onions, zucchini, rice, chicken or steak or shrimp (meat source of protein), black beans or chickpeas (vegan source of protein)
- Chicken Salad Sandwiches with avocado and leafy greens
- Turkey Burgers with Honey Glazed Baked Baby Carrots and Broccoli Slaw
Now that you’ve mastered the art of creating nutrient-dense meals, it’s time to get cooking!