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By Shary Melley

How to decide what's for dinner – 3 simple steps

What's for dinner?

Practically every day those words either cross my mind or are spoken aloud by someone in my household. A weekly schedule for meals is an excellent idea for those of us trying to establish good habits and free up brain power for other tasks. However, if you are anything like me, you will have a hard time eating the same things each week.

Especially when you try to make healthy and affordable choices, the dinner question may not be an easy one for everybody to answer. This article will break down my favorite way to decide what is for dinner in three simple steps.

Step 1: Protein

What form of protein are you in the mood for? Whether you are vegetarian or a paleo-diet follower, protein is a macro-nutrient required for a balanced meal. I often choose chicken or seafood for my protein because they are tasty and low fat and the seafood has the extra addition of iodine essential for the health and balance of my thyroid.

Animal protein at every meal, every day, is not necessarily the best plan for human bodies, however. I have been experimenting with complete proteins created by vegetarian combinations. For example, if you mix a legume and a grain (brown rice and lentils, quinoa and black beans, peanut butter and whole wheat bread), this will create a complete protein and provide you with that full feeling that many skeptics of vegetarian meals worry they cannot get without meat.

Step 2: Vegetables

Pair your protein choice with a few delicious and nutrient-rich vegetables. Macro-nutrients are essential, but so are micro-nutrients. Antioxidants and minerals keep our digestive and immune systems functioning well. Also, they round out a meal with color and flavor so that you are satisfied and sated.

I tend to favor foods that are in season when selecting foods to eat with my protein-leafy greens in the spring and summer and root vegetables and squashes in the fall and winter, for example. Pay attention to the produce that is on sale, as it tends to be in-season. Or look up a seasonal freshness chart.

Don't be afraid to throw some fresh or dried fruits or fermented veggies/pickles into your dish. They can add a little zing, a little something special to your meal! Another trick is to add some nuts like almonds, cashews or pecans.

Step 3: Starch and seasoning

You may want to consider adding extra starch to fill out the meal. You could add rice or mashed potatoes or bake your meat and vegetables inside a squash. Oftentimes a meal doesn't seem quite complete without one of those "flavor transportation devices" like pasta or a dinner roll.

I shy away from wheat gluten to avoid digestive system inflammation. Therefore sweet potatoes or a spaghetti squash are excellent additions to my meals. I love to make a veggie bolognese and drop it into the de-seeded cavity of a roasted spaghetti squash, then eat it right out of the little bowl the squash husk makes. Such a fun meal.

You can season rice by cooking it in chicken or vegetable stock or by adding a tea bag to the water, any of which adds a new flavor to your stir-fry! Various Indian recipes will spice up rice by adding nuts and flavorful spice combinations, too. Think about the regional flavors you like and stick with your strengths.

There! It's as easy as one-two-three. Pick a protein. 2. Match it with a vegetable. Use starch and seasoning to round out your meal. This is an easy way to break down every meal, not just dinner. And if you keep cooking times in mind, it is easy to create healthy combinations that take only 20 or 30 minutes. Enjoy!

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