A Collection of Easy, Appealing, Low-Calorie Dinner Ideas
Although dieting can feel like a deprivation, there's a world of tasty, healthy ingredients to help you prepare meals that are far from austere. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, provide color and texture, and they fill you up with little need for the fat and carbs that can so easily divert you from your weight loss goals. These dinner ideas are appealing enough to entice even those family members who aren't dieting, and if they still insist on burgers and pasta, the recipes are quick enough to allow you to prepare other dinner options as well.
1. Peanut-Chicken Cabbage Wraps
Using napa or savoy cabbage leaves as a shell instead of tortillas or flatbreads, these wraps combine the satisfaction of a handheld sandwich with the lightness of a vegetable-based salad, rooted by the filling protein of chicken breast. The layering of raw and cooked ingredients provides a satisfying mix of textures and colors. Saute cubed boneless skinless chicken breast, season it with a light peanut sauce and portion it into the cabbage leaves. Top it with julienned Asian pear and cucumber tossed with a light, tart dressing of rice vinegar, lime juice and chopped cilantro.
2. Baked Salmon With Southeast Asian Marinade
Salmon is a relatively lean fish, and the fat it does contain is of the healthful Omega-3 type. As a nutrient-rich food, it can help limit cravings for other, more fattening foods. It's also delicious and easy to cook, and it lends itself to a wealth of ideas for marinades and preparations. This simple recipe calls for marinating salmon fillets in a dressing of pineapple juice, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil, and topping them with an assortment of fresh fruit. The dressed salmon is wrapped in foil to keep it moist, and then baked until flaky and tender. Serve with brown rice or quinoa, or with a simple salad.
3. Baked Tofu
Tofu is a high-protein, low-fat ingredient that lends itself to a world of flavors and recipes. To prepare baked tofu, make a marinade or use a prepared, packaged sauce such as a teriyaki or curry sauce. Some ideas for simple marinades include soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar, Worchestershire sauce and mustard, or tomato juice, balsamic vinegar and basil. Prepare enough sauce to coat the bottom of a baking dish with a layer 1/4 inch thick. Cut the tofu into slices 1/4 inch thick. Dip each slice in the marinade and then flip it over so it's coated on both sides. Arrange the slices in the baking dish and bake at 375F for 25 to 30 minutes, until the liquid evaporates and the tofu slices start to brown. Serve with brown rice and steamed vegetables.
4. Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Vegetable soup is filling without making use of high-calorie ingredients. A vegetable soup that incorporates lentils as well offers the benefit of a high-fiber, low-fat protein that also adds satisfying texture and flavor. Saute onions, garlic and celery in vegetable oil, and then add stock or water, tomatoes and red lentils. Cook until the lentils start to break down, and then add fresh herbs and additional vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens or Swiss chard. Cook until the vegetables are tender and serve with a slice of rustic bread.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.