What Should I Eat For A Healthy Dinner


What should I eat for a healthy dinner? Well, that depends on what your definition of healthy is. If you’re going to count calories and stick to a certain diet, healthy might mean something completely different than if you were to go on a specific diet.

When it comes to dinner many of us are asking ourselves “What should I eat for a healthy dinner?” That’s a good question. You see, there are many meals that you can cook up that will be delicious and fit your health goals.

What you should be eating for dinner, according to dietitians

eating salad
When it comes to making a healthy dinner, it’s all about balance. 
  • Overeating or eating the wrong foods can lead to trouble sleeping.
  • Three registered dietitians shared their specific dinner recommendations.
  • A balanced meal consisting of foods you actually enjoy will keep you satiated and less likely to reach for a late-night snack.

When it comes to dinner, overeating or eating too much of the wrong kinds of food can lead to trouble sleeping. On the flip side, a meal that is less than satiating can leave you wanting more and result in reaching for an unhealthy late-night snack even closer to bedtime.

INSIDER consulted with three registered dietitians to get their input on their favorite dinner choices.

An ideal dinner features a balance of vegetables, protein, grains, and healthy fat

Grilled salmon provides omega-3s and protein. 

“The ideal plate is one-half vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter starches, such as grains or starchy vegetables,” said Rizzo.

She listed grilled salmon with quinoa and roasted vegetables, and a vegetable bowl with brown rice and tofu as prime examples. Healthy fats can be incorporated by cooking vegetables in extra-virgin olive oil or adding avocado.

Make your one-pot dish a hearty side for your healthier meal 

mac and cheese
Consider serving mac and cheese as a side dish rather than the main course. 

As nice as it is to have fewer dishes to wash, a one-pot dinner can increase your likelihood for reaching for something else later. Kathryn Riner, pediatric dietitian and founder of Healthy Kids Nutrition, encourages people to include more than one food at dinner.

“I know mac and cheese can be a family favorite,” said Riner. “[But] instead of having a one-pot meal, perhaps mac and cheese can be a side dish to chicken or salmon with broccoli. Cut up a few apples and serve milk as a drink, and you have a balanced meal the entire family can enjoy.”

Other sample meals she recommended are salmon with broccoli and brown rice, and black bean and sweet potato quesadillas made with whole wheat tortillas.

Overall, your dinner should include foods you enjoy and find satisfying

burger chips
It’s OK to occasionally treat yourself to your favorite foods. 

Depriving yourself can lead to overeating, late-night snacking, and mindless eating and it’s for this reason that Riner encourages people to indulge in “fun” foods every once in a while.

“In order to avoid late-night snacking and cravings, it is important to include some fun foods (or what one may perceive as off limits) every once in a while,” said Riner. “Meaning, if we always order the healthiest thing on the menu but come home and graze on chips, perhaps we really wanted the burger and should have just enjoyed it in the first place.”

This dietitian-approved vegetarian meal incorporates protein and complex carbohydrates

Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes make a healthy side to a protein-filled meal. 

Meredith Price, MS, RD, CDN, a vegetarian, typically eats a big side salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers dressed lightly in olive oil and balsamic vinegar), two to three pieces of baked BBQ tofu, and a side of baked sweet potato fries for dinner, with a big glass of water.

“Having a balanced meal like [this] one will reduce cravings because you’re giving your body what it needs — a healthy balan

The Best Healthy Dinner Foods

6. Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that contributes plant-based protein (more than double the amount in tofu), healthy fats, and important vitamins and minerals to your diet. It also contains prebiotics, which contribute to gut health. “Tempeh is more versatile than tofu, too. It absorbs the flavors of your dish, making it a great option for many different meals,” says Stefanie Di Tella, MScFN, RD, Owner of Fuel with Stef. Tempeh be chopped to replicate the texture of ground meat, grilled or baked in strips for a sandwich, marinated and seared on top of a bowl, or cubed and added to a stir-fry.

7. Wheat berries

If you haven’t tried wheat berries before, they are a whole grain that offer a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture, and can be used in place of most other whole grains. A half-cup (cooked) serving offers 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein, which is why they are digested more slowly than refined grains and even some other whole grains. This makes them particularly beneficial for people trying to manage blood sugar, but great for anyone who wants to avoid that post-meal energy spike and crash. Eating whole grains may reduce your risk of heart disease, improve insulin sensitivity, and contribute to a healthy gut.

Use wheat berries as the base for a grain bowl, in a chili, in a soup or to create a grain salad for a filling side dish.

8. Olive Oil

If you make one change to the way you cook, let it be using olive oil more often than other fats. “A staple in many Mediterranean dishes, olive oil is an unsaturated fat, which is linked to a number of health benefits, including reduced blood pressure and lowering LDL cholesterol,” says Di Tella. Beyond its many cardiovascular benefits, it’s also full of antioxidants and may reduce inflammation. Olive oil can be used both in cooking and for finishing a dish. A drizzle of high quality olive oil or an olive oil-based dressing can really elevate the flavor of your meal, while also boosting the nutrition. It can even be used in baking, like in these Olive Oil Chocolate Chunk Blondies, because who doesn’t love an after dinner treat?

9. Tomatoes

Along with important vitamins and minerals, tomatoes provide a big dose of lycopene, a phytonutrient that is linked to lower cholesterol, reduced risk of stroke, reduced risk of cancer, and even possible protection from sunburns. Cooked tomatoes may provide more lycopene than raw tomatoes, but both offer valuable nutrients, so enjoy whichever you prefer. Better yet, eat raw tomatoes in summer when they’re in season and stick to tomato sauce and other cooked tomatoes the rest of the year.

Lycopene from tomatoes is better absorbed when consumed with fat, so drizzle some olive oil on your summer tomatoes (try our Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette). In the winter, make a tomato sauce that includes olive oil for a powerful duo (make our Quick Tomato Sauce for a fast, healthy sauce).

10. Cabbage

This humble vegetable offers a surprising number of health benefits. “Cabbage is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family that may contribute to a lower risk of various chronic diseases, including certain cancers, thanks to its abundant fiber and phytonutrient content,” says Stark. Eating cruciferous vegetables may reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and purple cabbage in particular, which contains flavonoids, may be good for your heart. (Read more about why cabbage is so good for you.) Red, green, and purple cabbage all offer a slightly different antioxidant profile, and “incorporating cabbage, in any color, is an easy way to change up the nutrients you get at dinner,” adds Stark. She recommends trying different cooking methods, too, including roasting and stir-frying. Try our Balsamic Roasted Cabbage, Sauteed Cabbage, or our Spicy Cabbage Slaw to get started.

Don’t love cabbage? Other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts offer similar health benefits.

Building a Healthy and Balanced Diet

Make most of your meal vegetables and fruits – ½ of your plate.
Aim for color and variety, and remember that potatoes don’t count as vegetables on the Healthy Eating Plate because of their negative impact on blood sugar.

Go for whole grains – ¼ of your plate.
Whole and intact grains—whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta—have a milder effect on blood sugar and insulin than white bread, white rice, and other refined grains.

Protein power – ¼ of your plate.
Fish, poultry, beans, and nuts are all healthy, versatile protein sources—they can be mixed into salads, and pair well with vegetables on a plate. Limit red meat, and avoid processed meats such as bacon and sausage.

Healthy plant oils – in moderation.
Choose healthy vegetable oils like olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut, and others, and avoid partially hydrogenated oils, which contain unhealthy trans fats. Remember that low-fat does not mean “healthy.”

Drink water, coffee, or tea.
Skip sugary drinks, limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day, and limit juice to a small glass per day.

Stay active.
The red figure running across the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is also important in weight control.

The main message of the Healthy Eating Plate is to focus on diet quality:

  • The type of carbohydrate in the diet is more important than the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, because some sources of carbohydrate—like vegetables (other than potatoes), fruits, whole grains, and beans—are healthier than others.
  • The Healthy Eating Plate also advises consumers to avoid sugary beverages, a major source of calories—usually with little nutritional value—in the American diet.
  • The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to use healthy oils, and it does not set a maximum on the percentage of calories people should get each day from healthy sources of fat. In this way, the Healthy Eating Plate recommends the opposite of the low-fat message promoted for decades by the USDA.

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