Is the universal statement “What’s For Dinner?” striking almost daily terror into the heart of your busy schedule? Plus add to that your daily goal of putting together a healthy meal for you and your loved ones. Let’s even pile on further by pointing out the major inconvenience of unending days of unpredictably bad winter weather. This is a picture of our front yard last week before the partial thaw then refreeze this week:
You aren’t looking at a water main break, our driveway is still an absolute sheet of ice! (Yes, I know those are our Holiday reindeer but we’ve renamed them our “Valentine Reindeer” for the month of February)!!!
So now add to the equation grumbly, hyperactive kids that have been off school and stuck inside WAAAAYYY TOO LOONNG or if you don’t have kids, either a spouse, loved one or you are coming down with an immense case of cabin fever!
This is my husband’s answer to cabin fever: boxing with our boxer!
But the question still looms LARGE everyday, WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
I.Boosting Traditional and/or Your Old “Stand-by” Recipes into the Health Zone- First and foremost, we all know we are DONE with those days of total deprivation of the foods we love, to accomplish any of the following: always striving for a healthier body composition (notice, I didn’t say weight, weight doesn’t tell the entire health picture) or just plain maintaining the body you have or making nutritional changes because of a health threat. For regular readers of the blog, you know I played by those detrimental food games of deprivation most of my childhood, adolescence and a good part of my adulthood (see The “Perfect Day” in the “Game of Life”) always trying to attain the “perfect” body. It took my husband’s medical scare in 1997 for us both to wake up to the fact that food is truly medicine to your body and you don’t mess with it!
Now I want you to look at and compare three traditional dishes/sides and maybe your stand-by recipes for their nutritional calorie/macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) count. You might just be craving for these dinner choices right now! I’m asking you to compare the lighter, healthier versions of the same recipes. I’m also going to clue you into the swaps I made to make them more nutrient/macro friendly. Please note, I’m showing off the lighter versions with my pics to whet your palate!
Traditional Shepard’s Pie vs. Hearty Vegetable Shepard’s Pie-
The swaps for these traditional vs. hearty shepard’s pies are: cauliflower instead of potatoes (for topping), 1/3 fat reduced cream cheese instead of white cheddar (for topping), lentils instead of green peas (more fiber to keep you full), more fresh veggies (yellow squash and carrots), reduced oil for sautéing and elimination of butter in topping.
These changes showed up as a savings of 25% less calories, 47% less carbs and 41% less fat per serving!
Traditional Shrimp Scampi vs. Tequilla Lime Shrimp Scampi
The swaps for these traditional vs. Tequilla scampis are: significantly less fat (2 Tablespoons butter vs. 1 cup for the 4 servings) and elimination of buttery bread crumbs, replaced with a flavorful thickened tequila lime garlic sauce.
These changes reflected a savings of 62% less calories, and 85% less fat per serving!
Traditional Corn Muffins vs. Healthy Cornbread Muffins
The swap for these traditional vs. healthy corn muffins are:plain non-fat greek yogurt for canola oil, Lupin flour (a protein packed flour derived from the legume/peanut family) instead of white flour, unsweetened applesauce instead of white sugar and an additional egg in the protein packed version.
These changes reflected a savings of 43% less calories, 23% less carbs, 67% less fat but a boost of 63% more protein(because of the lupin)! That’s a positive! These muffins can go with breakfast too!
Below are some of the recipe lightening tips I go by, and I promise, Randy and I still enjoy every last morsel of our macro-lightened dinners!:
A. Choose Flavor Boosters Over Fat-All of the vegetables in the allium family like onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and green onions make a dish absolutely sing when they are sautéed with just a small amount of oil, turning these stinky veggies into sweet additions that you can’t usually finger in a great dish, but if it’s really great, they are probably at the base of that flavor! And, as an added big bonus, this family of vegetables is incredibly good for you, packing a powerful cancer-fighting punch (see SUPERFOOD RECIPES: Allium Vegetables)! Small amounts of alcohol that are reduced, like the Tequilla in the Tequilla Lime shrimp listed above also adds a terrific depth of flavor. And lets not forget our acids like lime, lemon, balsamic vinegar and fire roasted tomatoes with maybe just a touch of honey to balance the acid. Select spices and herbs are also key for a great dish. I’m not saying to eliminate the fat component, just reduce it and amp it up with these flavor boosters.
B. You Don’t Have To Rely On Roux!- You might not know this, but when I learned all those great techniques about sauce making, embracing the 5 mother sauces when I received formal culinary lessons as a Christmas gift from Randy in 2013, sauces were definitely my love language for quite a while. The base of the majority of these sauces is roux, or an equal mixture of butter and flour. So it’s a not surprise that I started having a significant upward weight creep when I added classic sauces to all of my dishes! This is picture of me at my daughter Sammi’s wedding in June 2017:
However, what I’ve embraced since I started my daughter’s lifestyle plan (Sammi Gregory Fitness) in 11/17, is shoring up my lifestyle choices (nutrition is the biggie here) and thus enjoying a more healthy body composition:
So I’ve been successfully tweaking my recipes to still deliver that flavor I crave but minimize the high calorie ingredients! One method is using heat and reduction methods to thicken sauces without the carload of added butter. As an example, the Tequilla Lime Shrimp has a thickened sauce of 2 tablespoons of butter, ¼ cup tequila, 2 T. lime and, along with sautéed garlic for a serving of 4 people! It was just a matter of increasing the heat after the shrimp was cooked, using the leftover butter (making sure to scrape up those the tasty bits of shrimp off the pan), add the alcohol and lime and increase the heat until the sauce is reduced, giving you that unctuous, flavorful, thickened and creamy sauce, without all of that extra butter and flour! You can do the same with a number of simple acid/fat duos, like butter and lemon or balsamic vinegar!
C. Going For Satiety? Gimme A “P(rotein)” & “F(iber)” with a small “C(arbohydrate)”!- Maximizing your protein and fiber intake naturally will definitely go a long way to curbing your hunger. So try swapping out higher protein flours, like the Lupin (legume based) Flour (I bought it at Walmart):
for regular white flour in a dish, as I added to the corn muffins. I promise, Randy and I did not know if we were eating white flour corn muffins or lupin based flour corn muffins! What do you have to lose (except maybe some weight and inches, lol)? Just experiment with it. White flour has 3 grams of protein per 30 grams as opposed to Lupin flour, boasting 11 grams of protein per 30 gram serving. Just know that a higher percentage protein flour will yield a chewier product, so it would not be recommended for cakes or delicate pastries, but for a breakfast muffin or chewy bread or pizza bottom, it might “chew” your fancy! The same can be said for choosing ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, wheatberries, barley or kamut over white or brown rice (See Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains). They are packed with much more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals! The same applies to legumes (beans) and lentils. Try a bean puree one night in place of your regular side of pasta or potatoes! I promise, it’s a delicious (and nutritious)!
D. Fat Foolers- I’ve really been pleasantly surprised by making simple swaps or adding the full fat option but in smaller portions to my lightened recipes, but then adding a little filler to sew in the gap. Here’s what I mean:
I’ve been subbing light coconut milk for heavy cream in my lightened recipes, with terrific results! I did just that with Cauliflower Risotto ( See Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You… for recipe):
and my husband didn’t even know! When I make some select sauces, I also experiment with cutting the butter amount in half and filling in the gap with chicken broth, as I recently did in my Red Pepper Coulis (See Making a Memorable Meal on a Typical Wednesday Night for recipe):
The corn muffins mentioned above had a sub of non-fat greek yogurt for the oil option.
You all know that cheese is a HUGE fat trap we can all fall into too! So try performing this a terrific cheese-fooling trick on yourself and your family too! Start by just purchasing a microplane! This is a picture of the snow of cheese you can add to a dish, yet as you can see, you actually use a very small amount of cheese (just ½ ounce in this pic) but it totally covers the dish!:
You’ll note the Tequilla Lime Shrimp that I ate myself this week has a portioned amount of pasta under it .:
Guess what? There is NO CHEESE in this dish and we didn’t miss it! There is infused garlic olive oil and pasta water (having additional carbohydrates properties itself) that the pasta was par-boiled in, that was then brought to a second boil and constantly stirred, creating silky strands of pasta goodness, without the need for cheese! BTW, this entire meal of broccoli, Pasta Aglio e Olio and Tequilla Shrimp Scampi did not break my macro bank for the day, weighing in at 637 calories, 78 g. carb, 21 g. fat and 38 g. protein!
E. Don’t Suffer From the Sugar Blues-Try experimenting with sugar substitutes for the white stuff. I recently tried substituting a small amount of stevia for white sugar in a hot bacon dressing, with great results! The corn muffins I mentioned above had a swap of unsweetened applesauce for sugar. You can also use a bulking agent like applesauce, fruit puree, egg whites, etc with a small amount liquid stevia for an even swap of bulk, i.e. 1 cup of sugar for 1/3 cup bulking agent with stevia. Just experiment with your taste buds!
II. It’s All About Your Mise En Place- Mise en place is the French culinary term for “everything in it’s place”. That would be every facet of the organizational process to complete a food task. This includes everything from planning the meal, to purchasing the food to preparing and serving the meal.
Time to get our Mise en place in high gear with a navigation system! This is how we get those great dinner meals on the table every night in a seamless, efficient manner:
This is the navigation map:
A. Store up your own vault of healthy recipes. I have my vault in two places. One, my store of recipes with ingredient amounts on MyFitnessPal:
And my store of recipes that I photo, then immediately transfer to my computer so I can call them up anytime, anywhere!
B. Have a game plan of your dinner-time meals-This will have to be whatever works for you but I’ve found that by writing out in my daily planner, what I’m going to eat for every nighttime meal during the week, writing in if we are going out, I have a game plan for the week of what I need on hand. At first, just try writing out a couple of days of dinners and see how that works for you. Then in the morning I get out all the ingredients I need for that meal, including the recipe and pans and utensils I’m going to use. I set them on, or near the stove. I just check the fridge really fast for my refrigerated ingredients too.
C. Stock up on the essential ingredients- You know what items you usually need to have on hand for most of your “go to” meals. These are some of the essential items I always have on hand to make meal preparation a snap for those healthy yet decadent meals Randy and I enjoy:
- Chicken and beef broth
- Concentrated Chicken and beef stock
- Cans of fire-roasted tomatoes
- Canned Green chilis
- Pickled jalapenos
- A variety of raw nuts; pistachios, almonds, pecans, cashews
- Cans of rotel diced tomatoes and chilis
- A wide variety of dried herbs and spices: Herbes De Provence, Fennel seed, cumin, coriander, chili powder, smoked paprika, dried mustard, steak seasoning mix, garlic and onion powder
- A variety of mustards
- A variety of vinegars
- Lemons & Limes
- Lemon & Lime juice
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- Extra Virgin Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Frozen individually packaged wild-caught salmon, cod, tuna and trout
- Honey, stevia, Real maple syrup
- Variety of salsas
- Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper
- Light Coconut milk
- Unsweetened Almond Milk
- Frozen Grass-fed Ground beef and deer meat
- Frozen Shrimp
- Cooked chicken meat (I buy a chicken per week and roast it, debone it and add it to various meals)
- Frozen chicken breasts & thighs
- Dried Ancient Grains
- Cans of Black beans, chili beans, cannellini beans and garbonzo beans
- A variety of fresh fruits & veggies
- Cans of wild-caught salmon (for salmon burgers)
- Onions, garlic and shallots stocked in a bowl in the kitchen
- Frozen cauliflower rice
- Higher Protein Flours like Lupin and Almond
D. Meal Preps For Your Piece of Mind –If you know you are having tacos and spaghetti in the week coming up, take some time to cook your ground beef on your prep day. You see in my list of essentials, I always have cooked chicken meat on hand and if I don’t think I’m going to eat it in a timely manner, I freeze it! As part of meal prep, ALWAYS double the amount of servings you need for at least one meal a week. This is so you can tap into those leftovers at the end of the week or the weekend when you don’t have time or if you’d like a home cooked meal to bring to lunch!
III. Prioritize the healthy Superfoods options for each meal- I always try to include at least one Superfood in my evening meal but sometimes it ends up being a plethora of superfoods, like this meal of Wild Caught Seared Salmon, Shallot Butter Sauce, Cauliflower Steaks and wild rice I fixed recently (See “To Grill or Not To Grill, That is the Question” for the Cauliflower steak recipe):
So What are SUPERFOODS? Well, the dirty secret is that there is no gold-standard of surefire Superfoods. What I can tell you is, I spent a great deal of time researching the impact some star foods have in significantly improving our health, positively impacting our genetic expression for the next generation (were talking epigenetics here folks). Epigenetics literally translates to “above” or “on top of” your gene expression. The symbol of a light switch conveys what it does:
You have the power, to turn on and off your gene expression (like a light switch) with your lifestyle choices. The field of nutrigenomics reflects the impact (be it good or bad) you have on your gene expression through the foods that you choose to eat.
I came up with five categories of Superfoods that have the potential of positively impacting your genetic expression when eaten on a regular basis. Translation: I’m talking about lowering your risk for chronic disease and living a hearty, healthy life till you die, just by making some healthy food choices!: EPA/DHA Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Allium Vegetables, Cruciferous Vegetables, Gut Health Foods, Whole Grains and Legumes and finally Berries. With each of these categories you can learn what the positive health effects are for each group along with recipe ideas. Check out What Are SUPERFOODS?for the link to each!
Just a brief word to you to wrap things up. You know why I do this, don’t you? A powerful motivational engine in my life, that is after my husband, family, friends and community, is for me to make a meaningful impact on your everyday health through practical lifestyle advice, and healthy nutrition, tops that list of my advice to you. And with that, the importance of your primary meal everyday can’t be understated for a number of reasons. For us it’s dinner at night. The only time we (Randy and I) really have time to string two words together in a meaningful way. The main meal floats my boat because not only do you have the daily power to create a meal that is healthy for your family, but you can put your own culinary spin on your family treasure too! Your family or loved one knows if you put effort into the meal! They can tell it was made with love! With that “food” love comes meaningful family conversation that can’t be duplicated any other time. Just remember that when you are preparing for the next day’s meal, you are a part of lasting memories for your family or loved one because you prepared this meal in love for them!
Recap of : Transform “What’s For Dinner?” into “CAN’T WAIT FOR DINNER!”
I. Boosting Traditional and/or Your Old “Stand-by” Recipes into the Health Zone
A. Choose Flavor Boosters Over Fat
B. You Don’t Have To Rely On Roux!
C. Going For Satiety? Gimme A “P(rotein)” &
“F(iber)” with a small “C(arbohydrate)”!
D. Fat Foolers
E. Don’t Suffer From the Sugar Blues
II. It’s All About Your Mise En Place
A. Store up your own vault of healthy recipes
B. Have a game plan of your dinner-time meals
C. Stock up on the essential ingredients
D. Meal Preps For Your Piece of Mind
III. Prioritize the healthy superfoods options for each meal
This healthy rendition of Shepard’s Pie is a winner rib-sticking dinner for those cold winter nights we’ve been having! Please let me know if you’ve tried it! It is one of my favorite meals for it’s comfort factor AND the fact I don’t go into a carbohydrate coma after it! I feel pleasantly satiated but not stuffed! So it’s pleasing to the eyes and palate!
HEARTY VEGETABLE SHEPARD’S PIE
Portions: 4 or 6 (Nutritional Info included for both)
Equipment-Food Processor or Blender, Large Cast Iron Skillet or large ovenproof skillet
24 oz. fresh cauliflower, cut into florets- See Note (1)
6 oz. of reduced fat cream cheese-See Note (2)
1 tsp. of Herbes De Provence (or ½ tsp. of dried basil and ½ tsp. dried rosemary)
1 ½ T. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. deer meat (or reduced fat ground beef)
2 cups of small dice carrots
1 pound small dice yellow squash
1 cup of small dice onion
1 cup of lentils (lentils are right by the beans in the grocery story, but you can also substitute green peas)
3 T. wheat flour
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (save some for garnish too)
1 ½ cups of chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Preheat broiler to high and place the top rack close to the broiler.
2. Steam cauliflower either on the stovetop in a large pot with 1 inch water (with a lid) or in the microwave until soft.
3. Drain cauliflower and combine cauliflower, cream cheese and dried herbs. Process until smooth. Salt & pepper to taste.
4. Heat oil in large ovenproof skillet (I used a cast-iron skillet, it works great!) over medium heat. Add deer or ground beef and cook, stirring often, until browned. Add carrots, yellow squash, onion and lentils. Stir until combined. Add salt and cook about 4 minutes until cooked but not mushy.
5. Add flour and 1 tsp. of thyme; stir until combined. Increase heat to high and stir in chicken broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened.
6. Spoon cauliflower mixture over meat/veggie mix in the skillet; sprinkle with pepper.
7. Broil until cauliflower topping is golden brown in spots, 3 to 4 minutes (but keep an eye on it)! Sprinkle with additional thyme leaves. Then, serve it up!!!
Note (1)-You can also use 2-12 oz. packages of frozen cauliflower instead. If you do, omit step (2) and add frozen cauliflower (step (4)) to veggie mix for cooking.
Note (2)-I used Philadelphia Cream Cheese- 6 gr. of fat per one ounce serving.
Serves 4 –474 cal., 21.5 g fat, 34.2 g carb. 34.4 g protein
Serves 6- 316 cal., 14.3 g fat, 22.8 g. carb., 22.9 g. protein