Welcome to The Realistic Dietitian—a column focused on healthy, delicious, budget-friendly and nutritionally balanced meals. I am a Registered Dietitian at THW(R.D.) and nutritionist, with a Master’s in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition. I consider myself a “realistic dietitian” because although I love home cooking and “health” foods, I also love foods like pizza and desserts, and recognize that not everything can be homemade all the time. My goal for this column is to answer common nutrition questions and concerns and provide healthy weekly menu and recipe ideas. I am not a chef—just a nutritionist who loves to cook! I modify almost every meal I make to lower calorie content, fat, sodium, etc. In my recipes, I’ll explain what I changed and why. I should also note that I am a vegetarian, so you’ll see a lot of veggie meals—but I also cook meat for my husband, so I’ve got something to offer meat-lovers as well. I promise to only present meals that I make for my family!
I feel like people are constantly asking me what the “secret” is to healthy eating and nutrition. Hint: it isn’t the latest fad diet. I think one of the best things you can do for you and yours is to plan meals ahead of time so you know what you’re making every night. Every Sunday (or the best day for you), take some time and make a meal plan for the week. Pick recipes, write a grocery list, and go shopping. Not only does this save money (because you only buy what you need), but it also helps prevents those nights where you can’t figure out what to eat and just end up ordering take-out as a default. With this advice in mind, each week I’ll be setting out four recipes that could all be made over seven days, along with info on nutrition and costs.
This week, I made a roasted sweet potato, corn and black bean salad with creamy avocado dressing; roasted veggies with honey balsamic chicken/tofu; roasted veggie soup; and creamy leek and lemon pasta with roasted Brussels sprouts. So here we go!
Recipe #1: Roasted Sweet Potato, Corn, and Black Bean Salad with Avocado Dressing
Servings: 4 large salads Time: 50 minutes
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mixed greens and/or Romaine Lettuce
1 (15oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Pico de Gallo salsa
1 cup frozen corn or 2 ears of fresh corn
1 large avocado, peeled and diced
1 cup red cabbage, shredded
4 green onions, chopped
2 limes, halved
Creamy Avocado Dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled
1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 pinch of sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons plain, fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fat-free milk, or unsweetened almond milk
- Preheat oven to 400 °F. Place the chopped sweet potatoes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, toss. Roast the sweet potatoes in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Toss the sweet potatoes and add the corn to the baking sheet. Roast for an additional 15 minutes.
- Place chopped lettuce in a large bowl. Top lettuce with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, tomatoes, corn, avocado, purple cabbage, Pico, cilantro, and green onions. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the salad.
- The dressing is easy: just combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
*Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod
Nutrition facts (salad with dressing): 340 calories, 15.6g fat, 0.4mg cholesterol, 263mg sodium, 47g carbohydrate, 11g fiber, 7g protein, 6g sugar
Notes: Oh look at all of those colors! Dietitians will frequently say to “eat the rainbow.” This is because more color equals a wider variety of nutrients. For example, orange foods like sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and are excellent antioxidants. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is wonderful for the eyes, immune system, skin and bones! Also, the darker the veggie the better. Deeper colors mean more phytochemicals and nutrients. For example, if you’re choosing between making this salad with a dark leafy green like spinach or with iceberg lettuce, you can’t go wrong choosing the darker option—the spinach. That’s why I used a dark green leafy mix for this salad (O Organic’s Super Greens). This salad is very rich in antioxidants, fiber and healthy, unsaturated fats. And it’s also delicious, filling, quick to make, and under 350 calories! You can also save time on weeknights by roasting the sweet potatoes and corn ahead of time.
Recipe #2: Roasted Veggies with Honey Balsamic Chicken or Tofu
Servings: 4 servings for this dish plus the veggies make enough for another 4-serving meal
Time: 55 minutes (I recommend roasting the veggies on the weekend to save time)
6 cups butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Honey Balsamic Chicken/Tofu
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves or 1 block of firm tofu
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried basil
- Place 2 baking sheets in oven. Preheat oven to 425° (leave pans in oven).
- Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; toss. Arrange vegetable mixture on preheated baking sheets. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Cool slightly; reserve 6 cups of the vegetable mixture for use in recipe #3 below (the soup).
Chicken or tofu:
- Sprinkle chicken/tofu with garlic powder and pepper. Heat oil on medium in a large skillet (or use a Foreman). Cook the chicken for 4-7 minutes on each side (tofu for only about 5 min total). Remove from pan.
- Add the vinegar, honey, and basil to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to low for about one minute. Stir frequently. Return the chicken/tofu to the pan and coat with the glaze. Serve with roasted veggies.
*Roasted veggie recipe adapted from Cooking Light
Roasted Veggie (per approximately 1 cup): 149 calories, 7g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 152 mg sodium, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 2g protein, 5g sugar
Chicken (per 5oz breast): 209 calories, 7g fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 150mg sodium, 9g carbs, 0 g fiber, 29g protein, 9g sugar
Tofu (per ¼ block): 149 calories, 7g fat, 34mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 12g carbs, 0g fiber, 9g protein, 9g sugar
Total meal: 358 calories for chicken and veggies, 298 for tofu and veggies
Notes: The best part about this meal is that once the veggies are roasted, all you have to do is throw them in a food processor or blender with some other ingredients, heat it up and baby, you’ve got a stew going! You also save time and money by using some of the veggies you roast for the soup recipe below. The roasted chicken and veggies came to about $3.20 per serving. (That’s not counting the olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar—those are staples that I recommend always having on hand!) The soup came to about $1.60 per serving.
Recipe #3 Roasted Vegetable Soup
Time: 10 minutes (if you already made the veggies)
Once you’ve done the work of roasting the veggies for recipe #2, turning them into a soup is easy! Start by heating 4 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock over medium-high heat. Place 4 cups of the roasted-veggie mixture in a food processor. Add the stock, 1 cup at a time, processing after each addition until smooth. Put the soup in a saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup plain, fat free Greek yogurt, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Serve with chopped parsley, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and crispy Italian bread.
* Adapted from Cooking Light
Nutrition Facts (per 1 ½ cup soup +1 tablespoon cheese): 194 calories, 8g fat, 0.8mg cholesterol, 415mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 6g fiber, 5.5g protein, 8g sugar
1 inch slice of Italian bread: 100 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234 mg sodium, 21.6g carbs, 1g fiber, 3.6g protein, 0 g sugar
Notes: In this recipe, I used fat-free, plain Greek yogurt to add creaminess instead of a high-fat option like heavy cream. Making this swap saves about 60 calories and 8g fat per serving. Greek yogurt is also high in protein at 15-20g per 6oz container. That’s about as much as 2-3 ounces of lean meat! High-protein foods like Greek yogurt promote fullness and keep you satisfied longer, making this an ideal snack choice. Greek yogurt can be substituted almost anywhere a recipe calls for heavy cream, mayo, or sour cream. Here’s a helpful recipe-conversion chart from Chobani.
Recipe #4: Creamy Leek and Lemon Pasta, Served with Roasted Brussels sprouts
And finally, it’s pasta night! It has been freezing here in DC this week, and nothing screams comfort food to me quite like pasta.
8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine, uncooked
2 large lemons, rind and juice
1/4 cup plain, fat free Greek Yogurt
4 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 gloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about ¼ cup)
- Boil a large pot of water and add pasta. Cook according to package directions. Drain pasta over a bowl; reserve 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooking liquid.
- While the pasta cooks, finely grate 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and squeeze 1/4 cup of lemon juice from the 2 lemons. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leek, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the leek is lightly browned and softened (about 5 minutes).
- While the leek mixture cooks, add the lemon zest and juice, 6 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, Greek yogurt, and ricotta in a blender or food processor. (If you don’t have either of these, just add to a bowl and whip with a whisk). Process until smooth.
- Add ricotta mixture to pan and cook for about 1 minute or until heated through. Add pasta and the remaining 1/4 cup parsley; mix thoroughly. Add remaining 1/2 cup cooking liquid as needed to make the mixture nice and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Plate it, sprinkle with a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and enjoy!
Roasted Brussels sprouts
You can roast or sauté the Brussels sprouts. To roast, preheat the oven to 400°. Wash and cut in half. Toss about 1 pound of Brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once.
Notes: As you can see, I used Greek yogurt again in this recipe. I also wanted to explain why I used the reserved cooking liquid from the pasta to make the sauce instead of just plain water. The cooking water from the pasta contains some of the pasta’s starch, which then helps to thicken up the creamy lemon sauce so it isn’t too thin and watery. Science!
*I got the idea for this recipe from Cooking Light (yes, again), but largely adapted it and made it my own! This recipe came to about $3.76 per serving, including the Brussels sprouts.
Pasta: 320 calories, 9.5g fat, 20mg cholesterol, 247 mg sodium, 49g carbs, 1.4g fiber, 14g pro, 5g sugar
Brussels sprouts (per ½ cup): 39 calories, 2g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 131mg sodium, 4g carbs, 1.7g fiber, 1.5g protein, 0.8g sugar
1 inch slice of Italian bread (because I’m Italian and I must have bread with my pasta): 100 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234 mg sodium, 21.6g carbs, 1g fiber, 3.6g protein, 0 g sugar
Total meal: Under 500 calories (yes, even with the bread!), under 12g fat, 20mg cholesterol, 612,g sodium, 75g carbs, 4 g fiber 20g protein, 5.8g sugar
Thanks for reading. Bon Appetit!