Updated: Oct 27
A frequent frustration I hear from people is that they don’t know what to make for dinner. At the end of a tiring work day, most people don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking a meal. Most people feel like they’re in a rut of having the same things over and over (“chicken, again?”) and then end up just ordering out.
Here are some ideas that work well for me as well as a lot of my patients:
Create a Solid Base
Think about the meals you eat frequently. Are they somewhat simple to make? Do you generally have those ingredients on hand? Does the whole family like them? If you answered yes to all three questions, these meals are winners and should be your staples. No need to feel bad that these are weekly standards- if it’s not broke don’t fix it.
It sounds silly, but write all your staples down somewhere. Then the next time you’re struggling with what to make, you can just consult the list. Keep it close by when making a grocery shopping list.
Here’s a list of healthy summer and winter meals that I tend to have on a weekly basis:
Grilled chicken or fish, seasonal fruit or pasta salad, vegetable or side salad
Turkey burger on whole grain bun, corn or potato, vegetable or side salad
Salad with a scoop of tuna on top or leftover chicken
Whole grain pasta with jarred red sauce and freezer meatballs
Tuna melt on whole grain bread, soup (canned or homemade)
Baked chicken or fish, potato or rice, frozen vegetable
Try One New Recipe a Week
I personally cannot commit to following a detailed new recipe every night of the week. That is overwhelming and is going to create a long shopping list! I do feel that most people can commit to something one night a week though. Make it an event! It can be fun to try something new- play some music and put on that apron! If it turns out awful, hey, it’s one night. At least it broke up the monotony. Was it a hit? Congratulations, you just added a new meal to the rotation. If you make a new recipe every week, even if you only liked half of them, that’s 26 options to add to your arsenal at the end of a year!
Not sure where to find the perfect recipe? Obviously, the internet (especially Pinterest!) has no shortage of recipes for you to try. I have a list of websites for recipes at the office to share with patients. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and colleagues for recipes as well.
Think About the Plate Method
I often suggest thinking about the plate method when creating a meal or making a grocery list. What’s your protein going to be? Healthy protein options could be skinless chicken breast, fish, beans, maybe even a lean cut of beef once in a while. After you figure that out, add a starch and a vegetable to compliment. Healthy starch options could be starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes, or maybe some sort of whole grain like whole grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa. For vegetables, I often use frozen vegetables or bagged salad because they’re quick and easy.
This “pick one from each category” strategy seems to work well for a lot of people. There’s a limitless amount of options to keep things interesting, but the simple structure of the plan makes it easy to follow. Following the plate method will ensure you are eating a balanced meal and is great for anyone that should be following a diabetic diet.
Healthy It Up
Are your weekly staples hotdogs, macaroni and cheese and pizza? If so, some changes may be in order! How can you make your meals more nutritious? Can you add a vegetable? What about trying the whole grain version? Maybe a little less butter? Make one tweak to dinner a few times a week to make it a gradual change.
Have a Plan B (and Plan C, and Plan D...)
In a perfect world, every dinner would be made from scratch from the healthiest ingredients. I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in this world. Stuff happens, plans change and sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking.
I hear from so many people that they intended on making a healthy dinner but then ended up ordering fast food instead. I often have to remind people that there are a whole lot of middle-of-the-road options between chicken with vegetables and a double cheeseburger with fries. This is where your Plan B comes in. I personally always have some sort of thin crust frozen pizza with vegetables on hand. Yes, they’re higher in sodium, but still so much better (and cheaper) than getting Chinese takeout. Frozen meals like Lean Cuisines and Healthy Choices, canned soup, or a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich can also do the trick. If you do end up eating out, think about what healthier options you could order. Order a turkey sub rather than pizza with double cheese. Look at the nutrition facts online to compare your favorites before making your selection.