What Nutritionists Cook on Busy Weeknights
Health experts—they're just like us! Well, mostly. Their crazy-day meals look a lot like ours, but with some lightened-up tweaks.
Pasta and Salad, with a Boost
When it comes to autopilot dinners, pasta with tomato sauce and a salad tops the list. But it isn't necessarily the healthiest meal—that is, unless you make it Kristin Kirkpatrick's way. The wellness manager at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute is a fan of bean-based pastas, which are often made solely with black beans. They're higher in protein and fiber, and lower in carbs, than traditional pasta. Kirkpatrick tosses the noodles with tomato sauce or garlic-infused olive oil. For salad, she uses prewashed greens, such as kale, that are already cleaned and chopped, mixes in nuts or hemp seeds and dresses the greens with high-quality oil and vinegar.
Shortcut Veggie Quesadillas
The grilled cheese sandwich of Mexican cuisine, quesadillas, make a superfast meal that can be superhealthy, too. Here's how Jen Welper, executive chef at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, bumps up the nutrition quotient: She starts with either whole wheat or multigrain tortillas, fills them with sharp cheddar or pepper Jack cheese (their rich flavors mean a little goes a long way), bell peppers (she keeps frozen ones on hand for when she's out of fresh; they defrost quickly in a hot sauté pan) and refried beans.
A Seafood Supper with a Bright Burst of Flavor
Fish cooks in a flash and is packed with vitamins and nutrients, so no wonder it's a popular supper for nights when even a 30-minute meal seems ambitious. Lori Zanini, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, keeps cod fillets in her freezer (nutritionally, frozen is just as good as fresh), specifically for these types of situations. She thaws them in a bag of cold water (though you can actually cook them frozen, too) and sautés them in a teaspoon of oil, cooking each side for about six minutes. Meanwhile, she tosses some brussels sprouts into a food processor to shred them, and sautés them in olive oil and balsamic vinegar for about five minutes. The final touch is a quick mixture of a tablespoon each of spicy mustard and red-wine vinegar, which she spoons over the cooked cod.
Taco Salad, Reinvented
Slow cookers are no longer just the domain of short ribs and chili. Zanini shows us yet another way to cook a healthy, lean protein-packed meal in this handy appliance with her slow-cooker salsa chicken. She pours in three-fourth cup fresh salsa with a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and lets the machine work its magic (it takes about four hours on high). Then, Zanini shreds the chicken and serves it over lettuce with slices of avocado, some black beans and any other veggies she has around, from onions to tomatoes, or even more salsa.
A Lighter Italian-American Supper
We were impressed when we heard that Angela Murad, a wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and mom of two, whips up chicken Parmesan on a weeknight, since it usually takes more than an hour to prepare. Here's her trick: Use chicken tenderloins, which cook more quickly than breasts. Murad breads them with panko bread crumbs, so they're crispy, as if they were fried, but bakes them in the oven, so they're better for you. She tops the cooked chicken with tomato sauce (either one she's made ahead of time, or a store-bought variety) and part-skim mozzarella, then serves it with whole wheat spaghetti.