The best intentions can go by the wayside when you’re tired, hungry, and have precious little time to cook.
There’s nothing wrong with ordering takeout or making a quick trip through the drive-thru, but it usually costs more, and people tend to eat more when meals are prepared away from home.
You can stay ahead of the curve by planning quick, nutritious, and low-calorie meals in advance. When you take the time to plan out menus and draw up a grocery list, you can use leftovers creatively, buy only the food you need, and save time and money.
Meal planning also keeps you from grabbing high-calorie fixes for unexpected hunger attacks. Stock up on foods like vegetable juices, dill pickles, low-calorie snacks, veggies, fruits, and light desserts so it’s easy to find healthy options in your kitchen when you need a quick fix.
The real trick to enjoying low-calorie, nutritious meals is watching portion sizes. Eat large portions of foods like vegetables, beans, and salads, and smaller portions of lean meats, fish, whole grains, and dairy products to feel satisfied on fewer calories.
Also watch your liquid calories: Drink sparkling water flavoured with citrus, iced tea (unsweetened or sweetened with artificial sweetener), water with lemon, low-fat or skim milk and, on occasion, a glass of wine with dinner.
Finish off your dinner with fresh fruit; low-fat sorbet, frozen yogurt or ice cream; or frozen fruit bars. Or, try adding fruit to low-fat pudding or sugar-free gelatine, or whip up a fruit smoothie with fruit, low-fat yogurt, ice, and fruit juice.
Here are 10 quick dinners suitable for the whole family, any of which can be assembled in less than a half an hour.
Pick up a cooked rotisserie chicken at the supermarket. Add a roasted sweet potato (you can bake one in the microwave in a few minutes), steamed broccoli with lemon zest, and a green salad loaded with artichokes, shredded carrots, and sliced radishes and topped with light dressing.
Chicken Caesar Salad Pull off the remaining chicken from last night’s dinner, and toss it into a large bowl of chopped romaine lettuce, chopped apple, celery (or any other veggies). Lightly dress with grated Parmesan cheese, whole-grain croutons and a light Caesar dressing. Have a whole-grain roll and a fresh fruit side salad to round out the meal.
The American Heart Association recommends two fish meals per week, and nothing is easier and better received than grilled salmon. Lightly season the salmon with fresh or dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Toss it on the grill or pop into the oven for quick cooking, and finish your dish with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a handful of toasted pecans. Heat a pouch of Uncle Ben’s® Ready Brown Rice in the microwave, then toss a can of drained Mandarin oranges, a package of broccoli slaw, and toasted sliver almonds with a light, sweet vinaigrette for simple and satisfying side dishes.
Treat yourself to a 4-ounce filet mignon flavoured with a grill rub (such as McCormick’s Grill Mates®) and grill. Bake a small potato in the microwave, and top with fat-free or light sour cream and chopped scallions or chives. Steam cauliflower and sauté mushrooms in cooking spray for a healthy side dish combo. Toss together a spinach salad with sliced strawberries, toasted walnuts, and light berry vinaigrette to round out this yummy meal.
Pork Tenderloin Asian-Style
Marinate pork tenderloin the night before or in the morning with a bottled teriyaki marinade, then grill it when you’re ready to eat (if you forget to marinate, no problem: simply baste the tenderloin with a honey mustard mix while grilling). Add some pineapple and quartered bell peppers to the grill for a wonderful complement to the meal. Cook up a box of couscous or any other quick-cooking whole grain. For an Asian-style veggie, steam green beans and toss with sesame seeds and a drizzle of bottled ginger dressing.
Mediterranean Vegetarian Frittata
Preheat your to 350 degrees. Put a combination of two whole eggs plus four egg whites or 1 cup egg substitute into a bowl, and whisk to blend. In a cast-iron skillet coated with vegetable oil spray, lightly sauté mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, and onions until soft. Add vegetables and 1/2 can drained and rinsed beans or chickpeas to egg mixture. Pour into the skillet, top with a sprinkle of low-fat cheese, and bake in oven until set. Round out the meal with crunchy coleslaw with fat-free dressing, and a whole-wheat sourdough roll.
Mexican Fajita Salad
Preheat your broiler. Slice lean sirloin into strips, season with chili-style fajita seasoning, and broil until done to your liking. Mix meat with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, a can of drained and rinsed black beans, chopped red bell pepper, chopped red onions, and salsa. Top your salad with a few slices of avocado and a dollop of fat-free or light sour cream. Serve with a low-fat, whole-wheat tortilla. Serve with a cup of refreshing gazpacho, made with low-sodium tomato or vegetable juice mixed with beef broth and chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and bell peppers, finished off with a sprinkle of fresh basil and the juice from a lemon and lime.
Tilapia With Mango Salsa
Grill or bake tilapia or any firm fish on the grill, griddle, or in the oven until flaky, then top with a purchased or homemade fruit or vegetable salsa. For a side dish, broil tomato halves topped with breadcrumbs, parsley, a little cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with a Greek salad made with mixed greens, cucumbers, chopped red bell pepper and red onion, and fat-free feta cheese, and topped with light vinaigrette. A few whole-grain bread sticks make this a colourful and nutritious meal that’s worthy of company.
This is a great way to use up leftovers and stray vegetables in your freezer or refrigerator. Start with a jar of your favourite tomato sauce and a box of 100 per cent whole-wheat or whole-wheat blend pasta. Lightly steam a variety of fresh or frozen vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onions, and peppers) until soft. If you like, add cubed or sliced cooked meat, fish, chicken, or tofu to the veggies. Toss vegetable mixture with cooked pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve with mixed greens topped with sliced pears, chopped nuts, and light vinaigrette.
Who says you can’t have a sandwich for dinner? Pick up a whole-grain baguette on your way home from work. Then start by slicing an eggplant, brushing the slices with light balsamic vinaigrette, and grilling on both sides until tender. Open and drain a jar of roasted red peppers. Slice the baguette and layer on the eggplant, red peppers, some part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced tomato, fresh basil, and mixed greens. Drizzle with light balsamic vinaigrette for a light and delicious sandwich. Serve your sandwich with fruit kabobs made with pineapple, strawberries, melon, and grapes, plus vegetable crudities (baby carrots, jicama, and celery) accompanied by fat-free ranch dip.