Dinner is usually the meal where we eat the most calories, so in weight loss terms it is the most important meal of the day. Healthy dinner ideas and getting dinner right will put you in command of your diet, and this article is going to show you how.
We will look at the best ways to prepare your meals, what foods to add, what foods to avoid, and the best macronutrient ratios for your goals.
Getting the Basics Right
In the introduction, we mentioned macronutrient ratios, which probably had some of you shaking your heads in confusion. While this sounds confusing, macronutrients are just Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates.
Though you may have heard bad things about fat and carbs in the past (and you’re probably sick of hearing about how good protein is) all three macros are essential for a healthy diet. Eliminating one from your diet could lead to malnutrition! That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t manipulate the ratios you have in your diet to improve your weight loss (or muscle building) goals.
There are many benefits to having a high protein diet, it has been shown to have an impact on fat loss when combined with exercise. Protein can also help improve recovery after exercise which leads to increased muscle size and strength.
A study on American diets between 2000-2004 found that the average person does not consume enough protein as a percentage of their diet. So even though we all know that protein has many benefits, we still aren’t prioritizing it.
Another study found that consuming less than 30g of protein per meal was not optimal for body composition or performance. The study also found that the amount of protein should be evenly shared between the three main meals of the day (rather than getting most of your protein from dinner). So breakfast, lunch, and dinner should all contain at least 30g of protein each.
So make sure that your dinner is made up of at least 30g of protein (and hopefully more). This protein should come from a source that is low in fat and carbohydrates. For example, there is a lot of protein in peanut butter, but peanut butter is made up of more fat than protein.
Try lean meats such as chicken or turkey (even something exotic like Ostrich if you desire something a bit fancier). You can also have fish as there are a lot of types that are high in protein and also contain high levels of omega 3 (which is also beneficial for fat-loss).
For the vegetarians amongst you, there is always tofu, which is used as a meat substitute by a lot of vegetarians. Other plant-based sources of protein would work, or foods like quinoa, lentils, or even low-fat cheeses would work.
Carbs have been seen as evil by the general public for quite some time now. Diets such as the Atkins diet became incredibly popular in the early 2000s and they seem to have done irreparable damage to the reputation of carbohydrates.
But carbs still make up the majority of most people’s diets, and they are necessary for a healthy diet. The only reason no-carb diets work is simple mathematics. Say you’re consuming 2,500 calories per day, of which 1500 calories is made up of carbohydrates. If you eliminate all carbs from your diet you will be consuming 1000 calories per day. Even if you increase protein or fats you will still be on a lower calorie diet than you were before.
So it is not the lack of carbs that makes you lose weight, it’s just the lack of calories. You could take some calories from all 3 macronutrients and get the same results (but in a healthier way). Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s talk about carb sources for your dinner.
Firstly, there should be a lot of vegetables, they are full of micronutrients (vitamins & minerals etc) while being very low calorie. So you could eat a lot of them without gaining weight! One thing to be careful with is how you cook them. Eating spinach is healthy and a low-calorie option, eating spinach cooked in butter and cream is still healthy but is now high-calorie.
It doesn’t mean you can’t eat it that way, just that you need to be careful with the remaining calories to still be in a caloric deficit (burning more calories per day than you consume).
After vegetables, there should be grains or starchy carbs such as potatoes. These will make up the main part of most people’s meals. Whilst keeping these to a minimum will help with portion sizes (meaning fewer calories consumed) and as such will help aid weight-loss they are still a vital part of any meal.
For example, people stopped eating potatoes for a while because they believed that potatoes would make you fat. In some ways potatoes can make you fat, if over-eaten. Or if the potato has been made into a calorie-dense product such as fries (calorie-dense means food that is small in size but high in calories).
But, a small serving of boiled potatoes could actually help with weight loss as boiled potatoes are one of the most satiating foods there are (satiating means it will keep you feeling fuller for longer). They are also a great source of vitamin C and Vitamin B-6.
Same goes for rice and pasta, both of which have been unfairly vilified in recent times. Remember Mediterranean and Asian diets have produced some of the healthiest and longest-living people in the world. The trick is to keep portion size in check.
Before carbs were public enemy number one, it was fats. Interestingly in recent times, fats have come 180 degrees and are now seen as an amazing health choice. Sadly, nothing is ever that simple. Whilst a lot of healthy food contains fat (dairy, avocados, nuts, meat) consuming a high-fat diet can lead to over-indulging. Whereas 1g of protein or carbohydrates equals 4 calories, a similar measurement of fat equals 9 calories! This is why most fitness professionals recommend limiting fat to around 15-25% of your diet, rather than the 40%+ that some diets require.
Finding fat from healthy sources will be more beneficial than fat from unhealthy sources (well, duh). So look for fish, eggs, avocado, etc … rather than cookies, cakes, and fried foods.
Healthy Dinner Ideas
Chilli with Rice
Easy to make, filled with vegetables. Served with rice. The protein is typically high due to the meat (use lean beef if possible) and pulses. Can be made in large batches and frozen, perfect if you don’t have much time.
Can be made in as little as 10 minutes. Usually uses lean meats or seafood. Loads of vegetables, and served with noodles or rice. Again this meal can be made in large batches and then frozen. Can be very low calorie if you are on a diet.
Casseroles (Beef stew, stroganoff, chicken casserole)
Add a bunch of meat, veg and potatoes to some stock and leave to cook for hours. Can be very high in protein whilst low in fat.
Meat, vegetable, and potato combinations (steak, mashed potato, and greens for example)
We didn’t have a collective name for this type of dish but if you think about it, most of the meals we eat consist of some form of meat, one or two types of vegetable, and then either potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice or pasta.
So long as the portion sizes are controlled and sauces kept to a minimum (this is usually where low-calorie meals turn into high-calorie meals) meals like this are perfect for eating healthy.
Get Out There and Start Cooking!
Hopefully, this article has given you some great healthy dinner ideas about how to organize your weekly meals from now on. Remember at least 30g of protein with every meal, lots of vegetables, and don’t be afraid of carbohydrates. Try to keep fats to around 15-25% of each meal, and watch your portion sizes!
Try to have some variety in your meal choices (while keeping the macronutrient ratios we mentioned earlier), there are some fantastic pasta recipes we didn’t mention, or why not check out some salmon recipes such as Salmon served with stir fried noodles (soy sauce, chilli’s, spring onions, and some egg noodles).