So you’re getting eight hours of sleep each night, meditating in the morning, writing in your journal, downing a protein drink for breakfast, eating a turkey-on-whole-wheat sandwich for lunch, taking a fruit drink in the afternoon, drinking plenty of water, and exercising an hour a day. Your system is clean, and you feel great.
Only one thing remains to complete your consumption schedule, and that is to make a menu plan for evening meals. A healthful dinner rounds out the food day and puts the final touch on your effort to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.
The following dinner suggestions are ones I rely on regularly. While many healthful meals exist, these are standards I fall back on when I don’t have the time or energy to be more creative.
In planning your evening meals, it’s best to avoid sugar, caffeine, white bread, white pasta, butter, lard, cheese, cream, red meat, processed foods, and soft drinks. Once you’ve removed these items from your shopping list, plenty of other wonderful foods are available for you to purchase and prepare. I suggest these main courses for a routine week:
Dinner Suggestion #1 – Tofu (bean curd) and vegetablesTofu is made from coagulated soy milk and ranks among the foods that are highest in protein. Once you become accustomed to its texture, you will almost certainly grow to like it.
• Tofu – one block
• Onion – one large, chopped
• Green pepper – one large, chopped
• Fresh spinach – one large package
• Ginger root – several coins, chopped
• Stir-fry vegetables – one large package
• Peanut or olive oil – 1/8 cup
• Oyster sauce – 6 tablespoons
• Soy sauce – 6 tablespoons
• White rice vinegar – 1 tablespoon
• Hoisin sauce – 2 tablespoons
• Peanut oil – 1 tablespoon
• Garlic, finely chopped – 2 cloves
• Cornstarch – 2 tablespoons
• Slice the block of tofu into ¾-inch (1.9 cm) cubes.
• Fry the tofu cubes in peanut or olive oil until golden brown on two or three sides. (This takes a while, so be patient.)
• Remove the tofu from the pan (or wok) and set it aside in a bowl.
• Using the same pan, add a small amount of oil (4 or 5 tablespoons will do), and then add the spinach and cook it down.
• Add the stir-fry vegetables, and cook them until nearly done.
• Add the tofu and sauce, and stir gently.
• Dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of water, and stir it into the other ingredients until it thickens. (If you prefer, you can also add the dissolved cornstarch to the sauce, and then pour the mixture over the other ingredients.)
• Cover for one minute, and serve with rice.
[Note: You can get creative with the sauce, and the good news is that making bad sauce is nearly impossible. I keep the following ingredients on hand for inventing my own: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, duck sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, rice vinegar, garlic-ginger sauce, Chinese mustard, plum sauce, oyster sauce, curry, ginger, peppercorn, bouillon, garlic, and cornstarch for thickening.]
Dinner Suggestion #2 – Chicken
Chicken is a fine source of protein and is basic to thousands of recipes. Selecting a single dish magical enough to represent the group would be impossible, so I’ll simply give a general explanation of what I do with it in standby situations.
Sauté chopped onion and chopped bell pepper in a small amount of olive oil, and then add pieces of chicken. Once the chicken is nearly done, add vegetables, either ones you have prepared or a package of stir-fry. You can make a sauce to go on top and include brown rice as a side.
Dinner Suggestion #3 – Turkey burgers
I adore hamburgers, and I’ve discovered that ground turkey makes delicious substitute burgers.
Finely chop an onion, a bell pepper, and three cloves of garlic, and mix them (by hand) with ground turkey, a raw egg, bread crumbs, cilantro, diced tomato, oregano, black pepper, and paprika (for color). Grill the paddies or fry them in olive oil, and serve them on whole-wheat buns with lettuce, onion, tomato slices, mustard, and ketchup. Ground turkey makes delightful burgers that are not at all inferior to their red-meat cousins. Sometimes I prepare black beans mixed with diced tomatoes or boiled sweet potatoes with string beans as an accompanying dish.
Dinner Suggestion #4 – Fish
Tilapia, salmon, orange roughy, red snapper, trout, tuna, and other fish make tasty, healthful main courses. I usually buy the filets and grill them or fry them in olive oil. Steaming a vegetable (asparagus is my favorite) to serve along with brown rice rounds out an agreeable evening meal.
Dinner Suggestion #5 – Chinese
Restaurant-prepared Chinese food often contains excessive amounts of MSG (monosodium glutamate). Unless you add it yourself, the Chinese food you make at home will be mostly MSG-free. The magic of Chinese dishes is that they contain a lot of vegetables, and if you don’t overcook them, the health benefits are substantial.
I use an electric wok for making Chinese dinners, but a large pan also works fine. One secret to making an appetizing Chinese meal is to cook the meat separately from the vegetables.
Some Chinese cooks recommend first sautéing the vegetables in peanut oil and then wiping out the wok with a paper towel before adding more oil and cooking the chicken. Marinate the chicken in teriyaki sauce and pepper overnight, and then fry it in a moderate amount of oil. Once the meat is cooked, add the vegetables, stir, and heat.
The preparation process is identical to that of #1 above, so I’ll refer you to that rather than repeat it here.
Dinner Suggestion #6 – Soup
Soups are easy to make and, if prepared properly, rank among the most healthful dishes you can serve. You can create them with any meat base, but I favor chicken, and I usually boil a whole hen to obtain the broth. I prefer homemade broth, because the canned variety is high in sodium.
Once I’ve boiled the chicken, I cool it in the refrigerator overnight and the next day carefully skim the fat off the top of the broth with a large spoon. Then I remove the chicken, debone it, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I use a large pot and put the entire chicken in the soup.
• Chicken – 1 large hen
• Chicken broth – boil the chicken in two quarts of water
• Onion – one large, chopped
• Green bell pepper – one large, chopped
• Garlic – 3 cloves, chopped
• Fresh spinach – 1 large package (some chefs prefer to remove the stems)
• Kidney beans – 1 can
• Black beans – 1 can
• White beans – 1 can
• Butter beans – 1 can
• Brown rice – 1 cup
• Whole-wheat pasta – 1 cup
• Cream soup – 1 can, any flavor, low sodium
• Olive oil – small amounts, for cooking
After boiling the chicken, empty the broth into a container, remove the chicken, and in the soup pot, sauté onions, green peppers, garlic, and fresh spinach in a small amount of olive oil before adding the broth and chicken. Add brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, along with a couple of vegetables. String beans and other green vegetables are excellent additions, as well. I like to use several varieties of beans and a can of cream soup. If you prefer, you can substitute a rutabaga or a sweet potato for the rice or pasta. Carrots and celery also add color and taste. The requirements are flexible, and that is what makes crafting soups interesting.
Once a week (sometimes twice), I allow myself to dine at a restaurant or a friend’s home without thinking about what I eat. On these sacred occasions, I consume anything and everything my heart, stomach, and palate desire. I’ve found that relaxing the rules on a regular basis helps me maintain the self-discipline I need during the rest of the week.
These dishes fit wonderfully into a healthful diet. In combination with a protein drink in the morning and a fruit-and-vegetable shake at midday, they deliver fantastic results. Good luck with designing flavorful and healthful evening meals that fit your taste and health needs.