Hi everyone, Dr. Junger here.
Having dinner with my family is my favorite meal of the day. I love sitting down with my wife and kids after a long day and eating a delicious clean meal.
But it’s not always easy.
Cooking unprocessed clean meals takes time, and for newbies cooking clean can be a big change. That’s why my team and I have prepared for you our Clean Dinner Ideas. I’ve also included some tips to help you maximize your clean food preparation.
Cooking your own clean food is the greatest tool you have for your health. We hope these ideas will help you use and sharpen that tool.
The Challenge of Dinner
Eating a clean dinner consistently can be challenging. The most common story I hear from patients is about arriving home hungry from work and reaching for packaged and processed foods. My patients are tired and they don’t want to cook.
I’ve been there. Working in a busy medical practice and raising a family doesn’t always leave a lot of time for meal preparation. And yet, I still set the intention to cook a clean dinner as often as possible.
When my patients feel hungry and tired after work, I encourage them to use the uncomfortable feeling as an opportunity to focus on what’s important: nourishing themselves and their families with clean food, and putting into practice one or two of the tips I’ve listed below.
Tips for Dinner
Tips work best when we are committed to the larger idea that clean eating is essential for us. Without this important psychological belief, we may not have the motivation to follow through with changing our habits.
Here are a few of the tips that work for me:
- Plan, plan, plan. Planning is the way we author our life and strive to accomplish our desires. It takes effort to plan because we are redirecting the ship of our life, often away from habits that were passed down to us from our parents and culture. Planning doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. Once a week, simply create a rough idea of what you’ll be eating for dinner each night. Your meal plan will probably change, but the act of getting it down on paper will give you more clean food focus for the week.
- Remove processed foods from your kitchen. When we’re tired, our brains push us towards the way of least resistance. If we arrive home worn out, we’re more likely to reach for processed calorie-rich foods. Remove these foods and fill your home with fast, clean food options like fruit, nuts and seeds, sliced veggies, olives, shake mixes, and dips (hummus, guacamole). Making a shake when I arrive home is one of the ways I bring myself back into balance, so I can prepare a clean meal for my family.
- Cook more. When you prepare dinner, be sure to make more than you need for that meal. Since you’ve gone through all the effort of taking out pots and pans, cutting veggies, and cooking, you can maximize this time by making large portions to use for lunches throughout week. Cooking in bulk is especially useful if you’re making staples like rice, potatoes, or veggies. I’ll even continue to cook more staples while we’re eating dinner so I can make the most of my cooking time.
- Don’t beat yourself up. We can’t always prepare amazing, clean food. Life happens and things come up. Sometimes we arrive home late or run out of food. If you’re used to beating yourself up for these “offenses”, I’m giving you permission to use these opportunities to be kind to yourself and recommit to eating clean next time.
Clean Dinner Ideas
The Clean Dinner templates are simple ideas that can help you plan for the week. There are many more ideas on our blog, but when I asked my team about their top choices, these are the meals that were most frequently mentioned. If you are doing the Clean Cleanse make sure to modify your meals to fit the Clean Cleanse guidelines.
#1 Protein and Veggies
Practically every version of a healthy diet includes protein and veggies as staple foods. Load up on veggies for phytonutrients and minerals, and protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, lentils, or quinoa to feel satisfied. Cook all your ingredients in organic coconut oil, add some salt and spices, and you’re ready to go. View Sample Recipe
#2 Entree-sized Salad
An entree-sized salad is one of the best meal options for my patients. Not only is it satisfying but it’s a delicious way to get in lots of green plant foods. Remember, I’m not talking about a small side salad served at most restaurants. An entree-sized salad is a full meal loaded with leafy greens, veggies, protein, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds, and a clean dressing. My favorite toppings include dulse, nutritional yeast, spirulina, sea salt, and spices. View Sample Recipe
I love making stews. I describe the stew my father taught me to make in Clean Eats. He would throw a variety of veggies and a whole chicken into a pot and let it cook for days. On the fourth day of cooking, friends and family would crowd into our kitchen to get a bowl. His stew became famous in our town. If you haven’t explored making large stews, give it a try. You’ll have food for days that you can use as sides to other meals and as lunches.
Tip: A crock pot is an excellent, inexpensive investment to help you make large amounts of clean food at one time. The best part: add your ingredients in the morning, let it cook during the day, and you’ll have a tasty stew when you arrive home from work.
#4 Gluten-free Pasta with Veggies
Excellent gluten-free pasta is easier to buy today than ever before. Some varieties are made of quinoa, others are made of rice. When you add an assortment of veggies and spices to the pasta, you can easily create a deeply comforting meal. Gluten-free pasta is more processed than potatoes or rice, so we don’t recommend having it every night, but once or twice a week pasta can really hit the spot. View Sample Recipe
I’m sure many of us have had great tasting stir-fries from Asian restaurants. The problem with these meals is that they frequently are cooked in poor quality oils and seasoned with additives and toxic triggers (msg, soy sauce with gluten, etc.). You can improve upon a restaurant stir-fry by making it at home. Cook with coconut oil and use gluten-free tamari to clean up this delicious dish.
Final Thoughts: A Pill for an Ill
Our culture likes the idea of a pill for an ill. A doctor addressing our symptom with a pill seems straightforward and requires little effort on our part.
That is exactly what happened to me.
As I was finishing my six years of postgraduate medical training in New York City, I found myself so sick that I could barely function. Multiple visits to three specialists left me with three different diagnoses (allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression) and seven prescription medications.
None of the specialists asked me what I was eating at the time, let alone correlated what was happening to me as a problem that could benefit from lifestyle changes.
As a doctor, I feel that cooking your own clean food is one of the most powerful tools you have to improve your health now and in the future. Planning and cooking meals takes effort, unlike taking medications, and for that effort you are greatly rewarded.
We are going to finish up our series with clean dessert ideas. Stay tuned and have a great week.
To your health,
Alejandro Junger, M.D.