What to Eat, Part 3: What's for Dinner?

July 18, 2019

"Americans generally make dinner the largest meal of the day and breakfast the smallest, but that should be reversed."

Welcome to Part 3 of Dr Nancy Lin’s, What to Cook series! In this episode, we're talking about dinner. Dr. Nancy will discuss why dinner should be the smallest meal of the day, and, as she did in Part 1 and Part 2, give you a few yummy, nutritious, and easy (keyword: easy) weeknight dinner recipes.

Video Highlights

  • 04:39: What Size Our Daily Meals Should Be
  • 08:19: Health Benefits of a Small Dinner
  • 10:35: Tips for Dinner Prep
  • 17:40: Grilled Salmon and Butter Lettuce Taco Wraps
  • 24:21: Homemade Sushi Rolls
  • 32:30: Cauliflower Chicken Fried “Rice”
  • 42:15: Superfood Hot Chocolate
  • 45:59: Wrap-up

Do you often find yourself frustrated with the infamous family question, “what’s for dinner?” Well don’t worry, because over the course of today’s show, you’ll learn some great, healthy, weeknight dinner ideas!

What Size Our Daily Meals Should Be

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day, loaded with a balance of healthy lean proteins, veggies, and a serving of fruit. Lunch should be a bit smaller than your first meal of the day, and in Part 2 we explained the importance of taking 30 minutes to an hour out of your workday to eat lunch and to decompress for a little bit. We also mentioned that dinner should be the smallest meal of the day. 

Obviously, this is not how Americans are doing it currently. 

In fact, Americans consume for dinner over two times the amount of calories they consume at breakfast. Overall, Americans are consuming almost half their daily caloric intake at dinner alone — that’s 50% of their daily calories just a few hours before they go to sleep!

You’re probably wondering, “why is this such a bad thing?” The answer is that eating a large meal at the end of the day can be detrimental to your health and can interrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm. 

The body’s circadian rhythm is something I talked a little bit about in Part 1 as well. As we discussed, eating breakfast can help maintain the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which is the biological process that tells you when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Hormones factor into this, as well, since cortisol is released when you wake up to give you an initial energy boost to get you out of bed and then hormones like melatonin are released in the evening to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Health Benefits of a Small Dinner

Eating a smaller meal at dinner can have the following health benefits:

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improved insulin levels throughout the day
  • Reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation
  • Feel fuller throughout the day and make healthier eating choices as a result
  • Improved night’s sleep — you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep

We acknowledged in Part 2 of this series, that time is not always in your favor when it comes to meal prep, and the last thing you feel like doing when you come home after a long day is figuring out what to cook for dinner. But we have some advice!

Tips for Dinner Prep

  • Make a plan — plan out your menu for the week and stick to it. It’ll save you time in the long run.
  • Do all your shopping for the week ahead of time — you’ll be less likely to overeat or overindulge
  • Choose 2 or 3 days out of the week where you’re going to make a meal ahead of time. For example you’ll make a meal or two on Monday and enjoy one that night, and the other one later on in the week. 
  • Integrate some of the tricks we talked about in Part 2 of this series — wash and cut your vegetables early on in the week, or cook a few breasts of chicken or a few filets of salmon that you can integrate into your meals throughout the week. 
  • Follow Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory meal plan!  It contains all the foods you and your family need to ensure your family’s diet is providing the utmost protection from preventable health issues.  

It’s also a great idea to change things up a bit so you don’t get bored and grab for the closest take-out menu. Experiment with flavors and spices. A few anti-inflammatory favorites are garlic, turmeric, ginger, and a variety of herbs, including fresh oregano, basil, marjoram, and thyme. 

Grilled Salmon and Butter Lettuce Taco Wraps

This is a super easy, super light weeknight dinner option for you to try and make at home. If you love Mexican food, you have probably discovered that unfortunately, a lot of Mexican entrees are loaded with ingredients that are either processed, refined, or inflammatory. This recipe is none of those things and it’s still big on flavor. 

Here’s what you’ll need for the salmon dry rub:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in either a plastic bag or an airtight container. Now, you only need a tablespoon of this for this grilled salmon recipe, but you can use this rub on future meals. It tastes great on chicken, tuna, grilled vegetables, and even quinoa dishes. 

Here are the other ingredients you’ll need for this recipe:

  • 1-2 tbsp of the dry rub
  • 2 salmon fillets (organic or sustainable)
  • 1 head of butter lettuce, which is the same as bibb or Boston lettuce
  • 2-3 cups organic coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ½ of an avocado, diced
  • Salt
  • Mango Salsa

You can buy mango salsa, or make it at home using mango, onions, garlic, salt, and lime.

First, you want to season the salmon fillets generously with the dry rub (or any seasoning you like). Lightly pat the fillets to adhere the seasoning and drizzle with some olive or avocado oil

Heat your grill to medium high. Grill the salmon for about 5 to 8 minutes, turning once. Cook the fillets just until they easily flake but are still moist. Remove them from the grill and set aside temporarily to cool. If you don’t have a grill or the weather isn’t conducive to grilling, you can pan-fry or bake the salmon fillets instead.

While the salmon is cooling, combine the cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage in a small mixing bowl with the chopped cilantro leaves and lime juice. Season with salt to taste.

Rinse butter lettuce leaves, and spin-dry in salad spinner, or lightly blot them dry with paper towels. You’ll want to go through and select the best cup-shaped leaves to create your lettuce wrap tacos!

Break apart the cooled salmon fillets either with your fingers or using two forks. Place the salmon pieces inside the lettuce wrap tacos, sprinkle each with some of the coleslaw mixture, add a few pieces of avocado, and you’re done!

Homemade Sushi Rolls

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Nori seaweed sheets
  • Organic basmati rice
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Organic imitation crab
  • Persian Cucumber
  • Avocado

Simply slice the crab, avocado, and Persian cucumber, and distribute all ingredients in the center of the nori, and roll.

Cauliflower Chicken Fried “Rice”

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 tsp avocado oil, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 2 large eggs, beaten (omit or use egg whites if you want)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger 
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 lb boneless chicken breast, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 cup snow peas, trimmed and halved
  • 4 cups cauliflower rice
  • 3 tablespoons coconut aminos
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the cauliflower rice, we recommend buying the kind that is already prepared, which you can find in the frozen food section of your local grocery store. Making your own is fairly easy as well. One 2-pound head of cauliflower should yield the necessary amount for the recipe. Simply pulse the cauliflower florets in a food processor until they look to be the same size as rice granules.

Heat 1 teaspoon avocado oil in a large wok or in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add the eggs and cook, without stirring, until fully cooked on one side, about 30 seconds. Flip them over and cook until just cooked through, about 15 seconds more. Transfer the eggs to a cutting board and cut into ½-inch pieces.

Add 1 tablespoon avocado oil to the pan along with the scallions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the scallions have softened, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Throw in the snow peas and cook, still stirring, until just tender. That should take about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer everything to a large plate. 

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of avocado oil to the pan. Add the cauliflower rice and stir until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes.

Return the chicken mixture and eggs to the pan, add the coconut aminos and sesame oil and stir until well combined. Garnish with a few leftover scallion greens.

One excellent dinner option because it’s easy in addition to being nutritious, is the one-pot or one-skillet meal. The following recipe is one delicious example.

Mediterranean Roast Chicken with Turmeric and Fennel 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 1 - 2 oranges, juice of (you’ll need ½ cup orange juice)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp dry mustard
  • 3 tbsp raw, organic honey
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 tbsp ground turmeric spice
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored, sliced
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced into half moons
  • 4 - 6 pieces boneless organic, chicken breasts
  • 2 oranges, unpeeled, sliced
  • 1 lime, thinly sliced

First, you want to make your marinade for the chicken. In a large bowl or deep dish, mix together the first six ingredients: olive oil, white wine vinegar (or stock if that’s what you’re using), freshly squeezed orange juice, lime juice, mustard, and honey.

In a small bowl, mix together the spices: turmeric, garlic powder, coriander, paprika, salt and pepper. Add about half of the spice mix to the liquid marinade and mix to combine.

Pat the chicken pieces dry and generously season them with the remainder of the spice mix. 

Add the seasoned chicken, as well as the fennel, onion, orange, and lime slices to the large bowl of marinade. Work the chicken well into the marinade. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for a few hours. If you don’t have time to do this, no worries, you can go onto the next step without sacrificing flavor.

When you’re ready, preheat the oven to 475°F. Transfer the chicken, along with the marinade and everything else, to a large baking pan so that everything is comfortably arranged in one layer. a

Roast for 40 - 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. If you like to use a meat thermometer, the internal chicken temperature should be 170°F.

Serving Sizes

Remember, dinner should be the smallest of your three meals. And if you are having chicken, fish, or protein, make sure to pay attention to how much. — you want to have roughly 30 grams of protein per meal. For meat or fish, that’s about the size of a deck of playing cards 

It’s also great to make a quick green salad and a vegetable with dinner, like lightly steamed broccoli!

Superfood Hot Chocolate

And what would dinner be without dessert? We can’t leave you today without showing you how to make one of our favorite dessert options! If you watched the recent episode about Sugar Addiction, you learned to make a few sugar-free dessert recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth: we showed you how to make Watermelon Sorbet and a few varieties of Chia Pudding. 

Today, you’ll learn how to make Superfood Hot Chocolate. This is delicious, and it’s crazy healthy and good for you, packed with ingredients that will reduce inflammation and leave you feeling good after one of those wonderful meals you just learned.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 cups non-dairy milk, such as almond, coconut, or hemp
  • 2 tbsp raw cacao or cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp raw, organic honey
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

This recipe is super simple. All you have to do is heat the non-dairy milk of your choice in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and add the cocoa powder. Give it a stir. Add in the turmeric, cinnamon, and honey and continue to stir until everything is combined. Add the coconut oil and whip it up with a whisk until the chunks are melted and the mixture becomes a little bit thick. Serve immediately!

Wrap-Up

Alright, in what is the last episode of a 3-part series, today we discussed all things dinner. Dinner should be the smallest meal of the day, not the biggest. Americans generally make dinner the largest meal of the day and breakfast the smallest, but that should be reversed. You should have a big meal for breakfast, a medium-sized meal for lunch, and then dinner should be the smallest of the three. 

Americans are getting almost half their daily caloric intake at dinner and this can contribute to:

  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • High cholesterol and insulin levels
  • Weight gain

By eating a larger meal at breakfast and a smaller meal at dinner, you might start to notice you feel better, overall. You’ll be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep, you might even notice a little weight loss, and things like blood sugar and cholesterol may improve.

In Part 2 we talked about meal prep and taking an hour or two on Sunday to prep your lunches for the week. The same can be said for dinner. Plan your menu for the week and do all your shopping for that menu in one shot — try to avoid going to the grocery store every day. That can contribute to buying things you don’t need and that are potentially not so good for you. 

Let us know if you tried any of these recipes — we love hearing from you!

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