Make my meals less boring!
May 22, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Need healthy food ideas with some specific criteria (food allergies, veg-aquarium). I've looked at all the other questions around this, and for one reason or another, they don't meet my needs. (Special snowflake, party of me!)

I've gained ~10lbs in the last 2 years, and was already 10lbs above where I want to be, so I need to lose ~20lbs. I used Weight Watchers to lose "baby weight" after my son 8 years ago, so I'm doing that again.

I read past questions about the program and found good ideas there, but they've changed some basics, and most of my "go to" foods don't work for me now.

My criteria is:
No meat
Seafood if it's shellfish
No bell peppers (any color, includes pimentos and most green olive relish)
No carrots
No high-fructose corn syrup
No red dye
No highly processed "frozen meals"

Those are the "absolutes" and are harder to avoid than you'd think.

"Simple" things, as I often get home hungy and tired.
No "stinky" veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)
I have yet to find "fake" food that I like (Gardenburgers, soy crumbles), but am open to ideas

Examples of what I currently eat, for context:
Low-fat swiss & reduced fat Triscuits or Wasa crackers
Caprese salad (no olive oil)
Cheese & Tomato Quesadillas
High-fiber oatmeal
Low-fat greek yogurt
Salad type stuff
Baked tortillas and fresh made salsa
Steamed asparagus, artichokes
PB&J on high-fiber flatbread
Frozen corn with lots of pepper

You can see the "cheese, corn tortilla and tomato" theme, as well as the "seriously, eat a vegetable!" issue.

I'd love some ideas - I'm worried that the "same-ness" of my choices will make it hard to stay committed.

One note - I know that a lot of people have had success on different diets, but WW is the one that meets my needs, so while I appreciate all food ideas, I'm not looking at any sort of "low-carb" or "paleo" diet.
posted by dotgirl to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My family loves roasted veggies. So easy, and you could prepare them in advance and then just stick them in the oven. For example, I'll cut up a couple of zucchini and some mushrooms, toss them with a small amount of olive oil and salt, spread them on a cookie sheet, and bake them at about 350 for 20 minutes or so. My kids (and I, for that matter) will eat many more veggies this way!

There is also a lentil stew with veggies that we love, and once you make it, can last for several days and also freezes very well! We cook it in a vegetable base which we buy (Pacific brand has a great vegetable base with lots of awesome seasoning in it), with onion and celery and whatever else you might like.

I'm not very good at adding a lot of variety to my cooking, but those two things have helped me a bit. Looking forward to reading some of your responses, as I'm looking for ideas, too!
posted by Happydaz at 8:31 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

One "fake meat" you might like is seitan. I never had seitan before they started making it a lot in my cafeteria at work, but it quickly became my very favorite fake meat. Vegetarians who've never had it before often worry they've picked up chicken by mistake. I think you could substitute seitan for chicken in a ton of different recipes, and it's high in protein and lowfat. Definitely an easy way to add protein and a little more heft to almost any snacky meal.
posted by town of cats at 8:33 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a pressure cooker? They are so fast and I love everything I've tried from Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. In the event you see a pressure cooker recipe with carrots or peppers, you can usually omit those with no problem at all. It sounds like your restrictions are manageable as long as you cook from scratch, and a pressure cooker makes it a lot easier and faster to make more exciting dishes.

Also seconding roasted veggies. Sometimes they can be kind of time consuming, but they are delicious and interesting. The Roasted Vegetable is a great book for that. There's a recipe in that book that's basically roasted green beans tossed with pasta and a little ricotta cheese and it's absolutely delicious. Another similar one is roasted winter veggies (winter squash, beets, onions... I forget what else) tossed with pasta and goat cheese and it is also awesome.
posted by pupstocks at 8:34 PM on May 22, 2012

How do you feel about coconuts and avocadoes?
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2012

The only "fake" food I like is sausage links (and at that, usually scrambled with some eggs and cheese).

You don't mention fruits on either list, but what about smoothies? You can sneak veggies in but won't be able to taste them.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:47 PM on May 22, 2012

Trying not to threadsit, but I love coconuts and avocados, as well as mushrooms.
posted by dotgirl at 8:51 PM on May 22, 2012

How do you feel about eggs? You can make a simple frittata and just weight it heavily towards the vegetables. The Minimalist has an excellent video podcast on this -- the one he demonstrated was asparagus, cheese and egg but you could do any vegetable.

I'm also a fan of many of the recipes from Delicious TV as well as all of the Moosewood cookbooks.
posted by Ostara at 8:53 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried tempeh? I love it marinated in teriaki sauce or in a soy sauce/garlic/maple glaze, and it keeps really well. It's really nice to have around to throw into a salad or sandwich, or on top of grilled vegetables or rice. Seconding frittatas, which don't need very much oil at all, and keep nicely. Do you like sweet potatoes? I know they're fairly calorie dense, but they have lots of nutrients and fiber, and they cook really well in the microwave. You can throw in hummus, cheese, salsa, barbecue sauce...anything, really. Super cheap and super easy. Also can do a big batch in foil in the oven for tasty skin + quick microwave reheats. Avocado on toast? Sprinkle sea salt, touch of chili sauce, maaaaybe some lime, and boom, done. So good.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:02 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just made a great soup from what had been a great salad:

I diced some tomatoes, cucumbers, and a sweet onion
added bit of cummin and tossed it in a very little bit of an olive oil\lemon\garlic dressing and some goat cheese.

To turn it into a soup I stuck the leftovers in a blender and added a touch of cream (light sour cream or yogurt would have probably worked) and served it cold, it was similar to gazpacho, but easier and lighter.

Oh, and precooked cocktail shrimp with pasta or baby spinach and dressed with a little olive oil and citrus juice with plenty of black pepper is a thing of beauty. You could add some avocado and oranges to the salad, and it would be pretty good.

One of my favorite cookbooks (and I'm a huge food geek and actually read cookbooks cover to cover), is A New Way To Cook by Sally Schneider which is geared towards lightening things up, and is generally pretty focused on basic techniques and their variations. It's actually where I got that recipe for the salad\soup
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:02 PM on May 22, 2012

You can cut out both HFCS and red dye by shopping at Whole Foods (full disclosure: I work with Whole Foods) -- their quality standards include vetting every product in the store for artificial dyes and artificial sweeteners, and HFCS has been banhammered under the artificial sweetener category. Added bonus: Whole Foods is often cheaper than other grocery stores, despite public perception.

Enough proselytizing, on with the recipes:

Orzo Feta Salad
30 minutes total
1 pot, 1 cutting board, 1 colander and 1 serving bowl to wash (mix everything together in the pasta cooking pot rather than a separate bowl to eliminate a dish)
1 lb orzo (whole wheat for extra healthy)
1 red onion, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half
1 bundle spinach, washed & chopped, or 1 package baby spinach
1 small package feta (I love sheep's milk feta - Valbreso is a good brand), crumbled
1 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste

Cook the orzo.
- While you are waiting for the water to boil & for the pasta to cook, do the dicing, mincing, etc. of the other ingredients.
Drain and rinse pasta with cold water.
- I like to put the spinach in the colander before I drain the pasta -- this blanches the spinach, making it brighter and less likely to make your teeth fuzzy.
Toss all ingredients together
Curry Roasted Butternut Squash
10-20 minutes prep, 40 minutes baking
1 cutting board & 1 baking dish to wash (rub the baking dish first with butter and halve the olive oil to make cleanup easier)
1 butternut squash, peeled & diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 can chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans), rinsed
~1 TBSP curry powder
~1/4 tsp cayenne
1 TBSP olive oil

Toss all ingredients in a large baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes at 425f.
posted by kitarra at 10:38 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Beans are so good! Mix a big pile of black beans (or chickpeas) into hummus and/or guacamole, add some some tabouleh (or whatever herb-y flavorful equivalent excites your tastebuds), make a big batch and stick it in the fridge, then maybe wrap some in a tortilla or piece of flatbread and heat it up for minute (or not) when you get home... Yum!

Edamame in the pod are also great, easy to buy and store frozen, and fun to munch with a nice dash of sea salt on while you're preparing a main dish. And have you tried Ak-mak instead of Wasa crackers? I'm a huge fan of sweet potatoes, too, especially roasted as "chips" with a bunch of salt and cayenne pepper. Also, if you're open to eggs, there a lot of recipes online for vegetable-heavy (and extremely customizable) mini-fritattas that you can make in muffin tins ahead of time then reheat as you like. Finally, canned San Marzano tomatoes are rich in umami, always ripe, and easy to add to just about any recipe. I also toss chopped baby spinach into just about anything.

For what it's worth, it might be helpful to track your protein and fat grams (and maybe some key vitamins?) via sparkpeople or loseit or another phone/web-based tool. in addition to your WW points. It sounds like you've been going very low-fat in addition reduced calories and carbs, and that may be difficult to sustain long-term.

Hope it goes great for you!
posted by argonauta at 10:40 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guacamole, bean salad, non-"smelly"-vegetable and some kind of dip (ranch, hummus?). Fruit plate. Pita veggie sandwiches? Kale. Collard greens. Homemade veggie burger (google recipes) - much better. With everything on it you want.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 11:03 PM on May 22, 2012

Quinoa! Garlic, curry, neverending selection. Seconding edamame. Whole wheat pasta with tomato basil sauce? Not sure if this is allowed... Greek food like falafel and stuffed grape leaves. High-end thin crust pizza. Not sure if this is allowed either. For salad type stuff buy a mix of nuts and berries to throw in there - makes it SO much better.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 11:09 PM on May 22, 2012

I have some similar dietary preferences, except for I like a lot of fake meats. My favorites are the Bruschetta Gardenburger, Morningstar chik'n strips, and Boca breakfast sausages (the Boca sausages are awesome). Highly recommend. I also like Tofurky italian sausages as an addition to pasta sauces to add more protein. You can cook them with some garlic and sun dried tomatoes. Yum.

They also do sell non-breaded eggplant burgers that are pretty good. If you like burger type stuff but don't like the kind that come from the store, there is this book "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" that has all sorts of good recipes. I also recommend How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

I have similar problems with getting enough plants in my diet. Suggestions:
- Add berries or pineapples or orange slices to the Greek yogurt
- Carrot sticks, celery sticks, or even broccoli with peanut butter
- Lettuce wraps. I would do this with tuna fish because I eat fish, but maybe for you, tofu with peanut sauce and shredded carrots? If you like kimchi that's pretty easy to make at home
- How about a vegetable korma (you can use the yogurt you have to make the sauce creamy)
- Tofu stir fry with veggies you like in it (baby corn, green beans, snap peas, zucchini?)
- Red curry with tofu and veggies you like, can be made with half light coconut milk and half skim milk
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:28 PM on May 22, 2012

Shrimp and avocado salad
Kale chips - look up several recipes and try different preparations, they vary a lot. Even if you don't usually like kale, you may like these. Easy to make in the toaster oven as a side dish while your main is in the oven. Very easy once you get the recipe you like.
Roasted chickpeas - again, recipes vary a lot, experiment until it's how you like. Very easy.
Chana masala - you can make a big batch and freeze.
Kasha - I haven't tried freezing this, but I'm sure you could.
Clam chowder (homemade, use skim milk)
Chili - another one for freezing. You can add extra vegetables.
Stir fried rice with shrimp and vegetables
Sweet potato fries (you can bake them so they're not fatty)
Mashed sweet potatoes with interesting spices (curry is nice) - I think these freeze.
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Cucumber, tomato and feta salad (olives optional)
Hummus (freezable)
Pasta with tomato sauce, I like to add mushrooms or zucchini to this.
Some people have success with freezing guacamole.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 12:23 AM on May 23, 2012

OK, I thought of more:

Cold cucumber yogurt soup - easy with a hand blender. A hand blender makes smoothies easy too.
Thai or Japanese style cucumber salad
You can dip raw vegetables in hummus, or you could make a yogurt dip.
Dulse is a seaweed you can eat as a snack. It's expensive, but nutrient dense and some people love the taste.
Miso soup, although making it without bonito might not be as good. You can add vegetables and tofu.
Frozen peas are certainly easy, and I like them with a little parmesan.
You can caramelize a lot of onions in the crock pot and use them throughout the week on different dishes.
You can roast whole heads of garlic and eat the whole thing. Obviously, not for everyone.
Noodles, peanut sauce, vegetables. You can make a big batch of peanut sauce and keep it in the fridge.
Baked potato with yogurt and chives. Or, topped with chili.

If you run your diet through Fitday or a similar site that checks your nutrition, you may be low on some things.
If you are low on zinc, eating a can of smoked oysters a week will help. (expensive)
If you are low on iron, canned smoked clams can help. (also expensive).
If you are low on selenium, eating Brazil nuts can help.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 1:05 AM on May 23, 2012

Fast, easy chickpea salad:

Mince some garlic and ginger and cook them in a little vegetable oil until they smell good. Toss in some cumin/ chili powder/ whatever you like. Add a can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed) and cook for a couple of minutes just to warm them up. Take off the heat and add a diced red onion.
posted by Jeanne at 3:34 AM on May 23, 2012

Sweet potato black bean tacos are a go-to in our house. Roast 2 sweet potatoes. Chop into cubes. Add a can of rinsed black beans and the sweet potatoes into a pan on the stove. Add about 3/4 package taco seasoning and the appropriate amout of water for taco seasoning. Cook down until no longer watery. Low fat, high protein, high fiber, delicious, and freezes/keeps in the fridge wonderfully. We eat it in a tortilla with leftover salad. Doesn't even need cheese.
posted by betty botter at 4:06 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm on WW (and did it once before so I am familiar with the program differences), and one of the great changes is that all fruits and most veggies are zero points. Try branching out and trying new fruits and veggies. I love roasting and/or stir-frying vegetables, particularly zucchini and yellow squash. Yum!

Some of my "go to" WW foods are:
- Laughing Cow light cheese wedges
- Whole Wheat pita bread
- Flat Out wraps
- Fiber One bars (2pt or 4pt varieties)
- VitaTops (they're frozen but without preservatives)
- Boiled or stir-fried shrimp
- Canned kidney beans
- Fantastic brand vegetarian chilli (mix in a box, in the veg or ethnic aisle)
- Quinoa

I just bought shiritaki noodles on suggestion of my WW leader but haven't tried them yet. They're tofu noodles that are either 0 or 1 point and supposedly a good substitute for pasta.

My mom is a vegetarian so I have tried a lot of veg stuff. I find that the best fake meats are the ones that are supposed to taste like the more processed real meats - bologna, pepperoni, etc. - as opposed to less processed meats like turkey.
posted by radioamy at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2012

These are all great suggestions! Some stuff doesn't work for me because I'm way pickier about food than I like to admit in public, but there are enough good ideas to keep me going for a while.

posted by dotgirl at 9:43 AM on May 23, 2012

I was thinking that you could make some Falafels, instead of frying them, spray with some olive oil and toast in the oven. Serve with all the yummy falafel stuff.

Beans can be your friends. Make a nice pot of bean chili.
Make some 7 layer dip with fat-free refried beans, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, green onion, tomatoes, black olives and low-fat sour cream. (okay, that's 8, but still, yum!)

Cheese Enchiladas.

Corn tortillas
Shredded longhorn cheese (or mild cheddar) You can use a 2% cheese if you're worried about fat
Enchilada Sauce (it's easy to make, Mild Chili Powder, garlic powder, onion powder, tomato sauce, broth (veggie if you like) and a roux to thicken.

You can roll the tortillas around the cheese, or make it Sonora-style by layering it, Sauce, tortillas, cheese, sauce tortillas cheese, etc.

Bake in the oven a 350 until it's warmed through.

Another thing I love is a chile relleno.

1. Get Anaheim Chiles at the supermarket.

2. Score the waxy outer skin and then roast them on an open flame, a barbecue works well, so do the burners on your stove.

3. Get the outside good and charred, then stick them in a plastic bag to cool down.

4. Once warm/cool enough to touch, rub the charred parts off.

5. Slice open and get the guts out of them, if you want them milder (they're pretty mild as it is) cut out the white membrane.

6. Stuff with a mixture of shredded cheese and low fat sour cream. Throw some green onion in there if you like, if you like it (I don't) cilantro and tomatoes. Go nuts.

7. Whip egg whites until white and foamy.

8. Beat egg yolks.

9. Gently fold yolks into whites, it will lose volume, but still be light and airy.

10. In a warm pan spatula a little bed for your stuffed chile. Put him on there and cover with more foam.

11. You may have to cook it on 3 or 4 sides to get the eggy part all brown.

12. Once done, cover in enchilada sauce, serve with a side of refried beans and a salad.

12. Try not to sound too orgasmic as you devour.

Make a bunch of these and freeze them, they reheat wonderfully.

I also like to make a rice salad as a side dish that has a lot of veggies in it, it could work with Quinoa as well.

Brown Rice, cooked, but warm or room temp
Chopped spinach, steamed a bit
Chopped fresh or sun dried tomato
Chopped olives
Chopped, peeled cucumber
Toasted Pine nuts
Fresh basil
Olive Oil
White wine vinegar
Salt/Pepper to taste

Toss and dress.

How about shrimp fried rice? That's easy too!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:39 AM on May 23, 2012

Mmmm... this smashed chickpea sandwich from Smitten Kitchen is awesome. Easy, quick, and great with a fried runny egg on top, or dotted with hot sauce.

I had sandwich a while back when kitchen pickins were slim: lettuce, avocado, tomato, red onion, mayo, dijon, salt, lime juice on a toasted bun. Really good and would be great in a wrap too. Might swap out the dijon for some tex-mex style hot sauce instead.

Grilled or baked portobella caps with some cheese crumbled/shredded on top is a quick and tasty dinner. Roasted cauliflower is so good, and really nothing like "stinky" cauliflower.

You can get a lot of veg in by doing a sort of faux bi-bim-bap: basically, you saute spinach and a bunch of julienned veggies (broccoli stems, zucchini, green onions, mushrooms, whatever you like... you can "dry saute" a lot of these if you're worried about oil calories). This goes on top of a bowl of rice. Add a fried egg, mix it all up with a wee bit of sesame oil and red pepper paste (aka: gochuchang: check for coloring-free versions). Delish, and can keep in the fridge a few days so you only have to cook once. If you're trying to go low carb you could sub in chopped up roasted cauliflower for some of the rice.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 2:54 PM on May 24, 2012

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