Do the words "dinner-time" make you anxious? You know that your family is hungry and you want them to eat healthy dinners, but you are crunched for time. Or do you just not know how to make a healthy dinner? Most of us cook the same old recipes and eat the same old foods that we were taught to make.
We have to learn how to cook to make healthy dinners our new routine. I am not going to tell you to never cook your Grandmother's favorite chicken recipe or Dad's favorite BBQ recipe. But I would challenge you to make those recipes a treat, maybe just once a month. The rest of the month use the 3 key pillars for making a healthy dinner:
1) CALORIE INTAKE. Size does matter! Unless someone in the family is a professional athlete or a growing child or pregnant, total calories are important. In the 1960's the average dinner plate size was 8 inches. Today, the average dinner plate size is 12-14 inches. Larger plates translate into more calories consumed at a single meal.
This leads to weight-gain and physical stress on the body since most of us are not active at night. Start using smaller plates once or twice a week to serve dinner. If someone wants seconds, let them get seconds. It is better to start small, eat what is on the plate and then go back for more. As the family gets used to this, add another day to the routine. As I mentioned, take care that children and pregnant women have enough calories per meal.
2) EAT ORGANIC. Healthy dinners start with healthy ingredients. One of the major obstacles to having a healthy body is the type of food we eat. Foods that are grown with chemicals and pesticides interrupt our digestive system, hormone (endocrine) system, immune system and respiratory system, just to name a few. When we eat foods laden with chemicals our body tries to fight the chemicals. This causes our body to become fatigued and yield to illness.
Our body wants to be healthy, it wants to fight pathogens, it wants to fight cells that have mutated before they make us sick. Without organic ingredients, we aren't giving our bodies the tools to be healthy. Think about it this way, you've gone to school to gain knowledge that led you to success at work or running the household. Yet there aren't classes to learn about the dangers of eating chemicals and pesticides. This topic is something you have to learn on your own by seeking out authorities who have learned about the dangers and wants to share the information.
The most common response I get when I recommend buying organic food is that it is more expensive. Those days are over! Organic food is so prevalent that you can easily buy organic when it is on sale and it will be cheaper than conventional foods. This week at the local grocery store organic canned beans were $0.89 per can and 1 pound of organic ground beef is $2.99. With these ingredients, you have the beginning of an organic taco night or an organic meat sauce that can be put on top of organic rice or pasta.
You may be surprised that I mentioned canned beans. I am a big fan of canned and frozen organic vegetables. They make life so much easier. They are also less expensive when fresh vegetables are not in season. While I would love to use dried beans, I also recognize the time that it takes to use them. If you have the time, by all means you will save a lot of money using them. But I don't have the time, so canned it is. When cooking healthy dinners at least 80% of the ingredients should be organic.
3) EAT MOSTLY PLANT BASED. We have to talk about the ratio of vegetables to meat in a healthy dinner. While organic meat and wild caught fish is healthier for you, the simple fact is reducing meat consumption helps your body. Studies show that reducing meat can reduce our risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. For example, "the International Agency for Research on Cancer uncovered evidence of a link between red meat intake and increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers." (Source: MedicalNewsToday)
The first concern people have when told to eat more vegetables and reduce meat is protein intake. We have a strong belief that protein must come from meat. That we can't get enough protein in a vegetarian meal. This is simply not true! See the chart below for vegetables that have high protein content. Incorporating these vegetables into dinner along with beans such as chickpeas or lentils or with grains such as wild rice, means you can get up to 30 grams or more of protein in a dinner made mostly vegetables. Shocking isn't it?
Now that we've learned the basics of creating a healthy dinner, let's cook! Below are recipes that come together in 30 minutes or less. Most will make left-overs, depending on the size of your family, which means left-overs for lunch.
Grilled Vegetables with Pasta from Happy Healthy Mama
Golden Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad from Fit Foodie Finds
Veggie Sheet Pan Fajitas from Hello Veggie
Super Simple Veggie Burrito Bowls from Veggie Inspired
Grilled Fish Tacos with Veggie Slaw from Feasting at Home
Chickpea Veggie Burgers from Running on Real Food
I hope this article showed you how easy it can be to make a healthy dinner. It will take a little adjustment but if you take it slow, pretty soon eating healthy dinners will just be part of your routine. My recommendation is to start with an organic meal and/or a plant-based dinner once a week. Once your family is used to the change, add another day. Pretty soon, you will be eating plant-based and organic at least 5-6 days a week. The weekends can be a little bit more difficult to stick to a routine but try your best. Just know when Monday comes, you can have healthy dinners again.
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