Help me eat a balanced meal
March 18, 2012 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I saw a nutritionist and she recommended for lunch and dinner I make sure that 50% of my meal be vegetables, 25% lean protein, and 25% a starch of whole grains with only a minimal amount of dressing or oil for cooking. Beans are great, but count as a starch and a protein. The vegetables can really be any vegetable except potatoes (too starchy). So far I've been (1) eating salads with chicken or pork and (2) vegetable fajitas with whole wheat tortillas and beans (maybe too starchy because it counts as two starches, but I like it). Any other ideas for these eating parameters? I need suggestions for things that I can cook at home very quickly (preparation and cooling 20 minutes or less really don't have a lot of time) and things that I can order in restaurants. Thanks!!!!
posted by bananafish to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Did she tell you how to measure the ratios? Space it takes up on the plate, weighing every portion, estimation (3 oz of meat is a playing card deck, etc.)? There's a good bit of leeway meal-to-meal with loose guidelines like these.

It might be hard to get a sandwich to 50% veggies, but if you add some kind of vegetable soup, you can get the ratios right, or if you make a vegetarian sandwich with cheese or hummus. Hummus with veggies and pita can make a quick, easy lunch that's close to your requirements.

For dinner, how about stir fries? A little bit of lean meat, lots of vegetables, served with brown rice or another grain like quinoa. I don't know your skill in the kitchen, but some stir fries can be prepped and cooked very quickly.

Soup or stew is endlessly versatile, if you can make it ahead. Veggie chili too.
posted by WasabiFlux at 4:38 PM on March 18, 2012

I have been on a collard greens wrap kick lately. Most recipes online make the wraps vegetarian, but I've been adding whatever leftover meats I've had sitting around at the time, plus veggies and spreads I think would taste good with them; leftover tandoori chicken with stewed curry spinach and chutney; leftover steak with thai pickled carrots and radishes, cilantro, greens, bean sprouts, lime juice and jalapenos; chopped leftover pork chop with lots of braised cabbage and get the idea. Sometimes I throw in some quinoa, which is both a protein and a grain.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 4:44 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I made this last night and it was incredible, and enough to serve 4.

1lb lean ground chicken
2 green onions, chopped
Half a pasilla chile, chopped fine
1/2cup cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smooshed/pressed
1tbsp grated fresh ginger

Mix ingredients and roll into 4 fist-sized balls. Fry it up in some oil or by itself on a nonstick pan, flattening the patties, for about ten minutes (no pink, juices run clear).
1/2cup plain yogurt
4-6 cardamom pods

Crack open the pods and grind up the seeds. Discard pods. Mix ground seeds with yogurt and spread it on everything.
From here you can decorate in lots of ways. Last night I made chicken burgers:

1 tomato, sliced
lots of leafy greens, your choice.

Tonight I'm gonna use the other two patties, the rest of the cardamom yogurt, some pita bread, another tomato, and a crapton of baby spinach to make pita pockets. I'll probably slice and onion real thick for it too.

As I write this out, the basic ground chicken patty thing is looking more and more variable. I think it has a lot of promise. And of course, in place of the bread you can always sub in a thick, beefy slab of iceberg lettuce. That leaves starch room for roasted fingerlings!
posted by carsonb at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is supposed to be one plate -- half of the plate veggies, a quarter whole grain, and a quarter protein
posted by bananafish at 5:05 PM on March 18, 2012

My husband and I make this fast (10 minutes at most) dinner every Monday night and I bring leftovers for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Atlantic cod, hook-and-line caught from Iceland (1/2 pound per plate)
Asparagus (4-5 spears per plate)
Couscous made from a box (one box makes 4 plates)

First, I start the water for the couscous boiling. Once the water boils I dump the couscous in the pot, boil as directed, remove from heat, and let it sit until I am ready for dinner.

Once the couscous is underway, I prepare the fish. I rinse it off, cut it into servings, put pepper on it, and put it on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and place it under the broiler.

Once the fish is under the broiler, I boil a small amount of water in a frying pan and dump in the asparagus. It cooks in 2 or 3 minutes, I like it bright green and crunchy.

I serve this meal with lemon. I plate-up leftovers (fish, couscous, asparagus, lemon) in a single container and reheat them in the microwave at work for 2 minutes.
posted by kellygreen at 5:12 PM on March 18, 2012

You sure it isn't half vegetables and fruit? That would open up more options.

I've found this website helpful in coming up with ideas about what the heck constitutes a serving of vegetables, and SuperCook is good for basically saying "give me recipes that have the vegetables I have on hand."

In restaurants the key is to be all "I'm ordering veggies as sides" and also make sure to order the smaller cuts of meat. 6oz is the smallest steak I've been able to find - but that plus a salad (dressing on the side, sigh) and steamed vegetables, and then a bit of bread, is darned close to your given parameters. Restaurants are hard for making the protein small (but still present.) I suspect fajitas and salads topped with a small amount of protein are realistically your best bet. You can find more generally healthy "eating out" ideas at Healthy Dining Finder. Again, fitting that 50/25/25 thing is going to be hard - making it so that your meals average out to that over the course of a day seems more feasible to me.
posted by SMPA at 5:25 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want easy to eat vegetables at hand in your fridge at any time. I'm still making chow for myself as described here, except that I don't mix in beans and grains with it, but leave it as an option for any given meal.

So for at home meals, I just scoop out enough chow to fill half my plate as a salad, or I pour some hot broth over it and treat it as a soup. You could use chow for a packed lunch: half the container holds chow, 1/4 holds cold cooked meat, 1/4 holds cooked whole grain. (It tastes great all mixed up, too.) I made up a vegetarian version a couple of weeks ago using black beans and brown rice so I didn't even have to refrigerate it and I still got a fair amount of protein.
posted by maudlin at 5:47 PM on March 18, 2012

As far as at home? Go into the freezer aisle and find the steam-in-bag vegetables. Incredibly fast and totally brainless. Far easier at that point to just think about what you're doing as far as starch/protein and then pull a bag out of the freezer to supplement with broccoli/peas/sprouts/green beans. Might get a bit dull to do that all the time, but when I'm low on time/energy, I probably wouldn't eat any vegetables at all if I didn't have those.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:34 PM on March 18, 2012

I was amazed how much easier it was to eat vegetables once I started buying the 1-lb bags of frozen broccoli or stir-fry at the grocery store. It's so dead-easy to cook up a pound of veggies--I usually stir-fry in the skillet, which keeps things a bit crispier, but the microwave is not half bad--and dump on a little bit of sauce, like Whole Food's soy-ginger marinade (every grocery store sells this sort of stuff in the Asian section).

Fajitas? Add in a bag of sauteed onion / bell pepper strips.
Fish? Add a side of asian-ish stir-fry vegetables with a little bit of soy sauce or marinade.
Chicken breast? Add a side of frozen broccoli or french / 'normandy' style vegetable mix, with a little lemon juice and real parmesan cheese grated on top.

I had this odd prejudice against frozen vegetables, but storing, cleaning, and chopping fresh vegetables ended up being such a pain that I was eating them only a few times a week (or less). Once I started keeping a bunch of bags of frozen veggies in the freezer, it was dead simple to add them to every single dinner (and some breakfasts, too, like omelettes).
posted by iminurmefi at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

From your question, it sounds like you're thinking about this meal as a single unit/dish that has X, Y, and Z.

IMO, changing the entire way you eat is really hard and you might have an easier way continuing to eat how you usually do, but changing the focus. So if your traditional Monday night supper is a burger and fries, make a smaller burger than usual (and don't use a bun), a smaller portion of fries, and then a much larger than usual portion of, say, carrots and green beans. Pasta with red sauce and cheese becomes smaller portion of pasta with lots of veg (shredded zucchini, or spaghetti squash?) with cheese and red sauce. Etc.

Double-check with her, too, about if the vegetable requirement is actually a fruit-and-veg requirement, which would be more expected.

You might also want to think about recontextualizing what you consider meals--my life got a lot easier when I realized that a green smoothie or muesli with yogurt and fruit is a perfectly reasonable and healthy supper that takes five minutes to make.

It's possible--though not certain--that many vegetarian frozen foods (and restaurant entrees) will fit this requirement, as well.
posted by MeghanC at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm really not a big fruit person, but she does want me to eat two cups of fruit a day. I have fresh fruit at work, so we agreed that I would have fruit with breakfast or as an in between meal snack. Hence not so much fruit at dinner and lunch.
posted by bananafish at 7:02 PM on March 18, 2012

Stir-fry and frozen vegetables have made this a cinch for me. Every meal I cook (for two people) is half vegetables (usually a pound of something frozen, stir-fried, although something like these dijon brussels sprouts is a favorite of ours too). The other half is either rice, rice and beans, pasta, or fish/other lean protein.

It's as easy as anything. I usually defrost the veg for a few minutes in the microwave (2-3 minutes, say) while I cut up my garlic and/or ginger and/or onion, start whatever other dish I'm making, and heat the wok. Throw the ginger/garlic/onion/chilies in, stir fry for a bit, throw in the vegetables, add some soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sometimes sesame oil, and it's delicious. Traditional stir-fry calls for a wok over high heat (most nonstick woks have instructions not to heat them hotter than medium heat, so I use a steel wok which I've seasoned with oil) but you can also get a pretty darn good dish just by cooking the vegetables all together in a skillet.

Roasted vegetables are also really good - might not make your time limit, but for when you have more time, roast broccoli and cauliflower are really delicious (salt them well).

Some other good dishes include stews - say a butternut squash or sweet potato centric stew. Maybe have it with a piece of bread. If you're comfortable branching out into more strongly spiced cuisines, Indian and Thai or Malaysian vegetarian recipes are also fairly easy to find and have a ton of vegetables in them.
posted by Lady Li at 9:33 PM on March 18, 2012

Preheat your oven to 230oC with a baking sheet inside. Add half a plate's worth of asparagus, some cherry tomatoes and a large flat mushroom. Add a 150g piece of salmon drizzled with lemon juice and a little cracked pepper. Give it 15-20 mins, depending on how well done you like your salmon. Microwave some brown rice.

Make a bowl's worth of dashi in a pot. Add lots and lots of shiitake mushrooms and your choice of young Asian greens. Add a block of silken tofu, diced, or a can of drained soybeans, and 150g sliced chicken, salmon or pork. Simmer til done, about five mins.

Heat a pan. Throw in roughly cut courgettes and pumpkin, a can of chickpeas, a can of tomatoes, and 150g of your choice of meat, diced large, and a little water to cover. Stir in a generous tablespoon of curry paste. Simmer until done, about 20 mins.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:37 PM on March 18, 2012

If you miss eating pasta dishes, try squash:

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash, hard-shell, that you have to cook on its own (in the oven, in a pressure cooker, in the microwave, etc) but instead of having smooth pulpy flesh like pumpkin pie filling, it's a pale stringy texture, like someone stuffed the squash shell full of angel-hair pasta. So when you scoop out all the squash, you have a pile of spaghetti that you can eat with tomato sauce or any sauce you like, in a casserole, with more vegetables, with hunks of protein, etc.

Zucchini can be cut into ribbons or strings and cooked like noodles. With sauce or as a side dish.
posted by aimedwander at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2012

You could make a big pot of chili at home to eat as lunches throughout the week -- time consuming at the beginning but only a few minutes of heat up time a day. Use some combination of beans and ground beef or ground turkey, fill it out with diced tomatoes, green peppers, onions, corn/hominy, whatever else sounds good. You could eat it with a small green salad if your proportions are looking a little heavy on the protein/starch end.
posted by jabes at 2:50 PM on March 19, 2012

Adding on to the chili idea - we started making vegetarian chili by putting onion/carrot/celery/mushroom in the food processor to make it tiny bits (about 2 cups total), then saute that in olive oil until softened. Use that as your "meat" and make your favorite chili recipe like normal. Since you are supposed to have meat anyway, you can saute the vegetables along with a pound of ground beef and go from there. A big pot of that will last for several days and will cover your meat and vegetable requirements; serve with a starch and you're all set.

I'll also comment that in my house we started doing a weekly cook of several recipes, then eating leftovers all week long. So your requirement to make the vegetables in a short timeframe wouldn't apply. We love roasted vegetables, and having a big bowl already cooked and ready to eat has made us much more likely to include vegetables in our daily meals.
posted by CathyG at 4:13 PM on March 19, 2012

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