Dinner Makeover: We Need Healthy Dinner Ideas
"I Need Dinners That Are Healthy and Delicious"
Kori Smith, 35
When Kori met Jason, now 35, back in 2007, she was captivated by the medical salesman’s good looks, sharp mind, and big heart—as well as his fried catfish and grilled peaches. “We fell in love over food,” says Kori, an elementary-school assistant principal. She fondly recalls how the two of them would constantly try buzzy new restaurants in nearby Atlanta. Six months ago, that all came to an abrupt halt after Kori’s doctor told her that she had developed insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Although her condition is increasingly common—more than one in four Americans have insulin resistance, according to the American Heart Association—Kori felt alone. “My doctor just told me to cut down on carbs, since they can spike my blood sugar,” she says. “I panicked and started eating nothing but plain chicken breasts, steamed spinach, and salad.” It didn’t take long before the two gourmands became “bored out of our minds.” Both of them want to learn how to cook in a way that’s good for Kori’s health and tasty, to boot. “But we don’t know where to start,” says Kori.
The Real Simple food team called in Laura Cipullo, a New York City–based registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, who explained to Kori that she could still enjoy most of the foods she loved as long as she ate them alongside more nutritious options. Then Real Simple staff food editor Charlyne Mattox gave Kori a hands-on cooking lesson and showed her and Jason how to plan nutrient-rich meals packed with flavor.
Balance Your Diet (Without Sacrificing the Foods You Love)
- Kori’s condition is serious: Left untreated, insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and is associated with heart disease and kidney failure. So she needs to reduce her carbohydrates, especially refined ones (white bread, white rice, pretzels) and sweets. But it’s not only Kori who will benefit from doing this; Jason will, too, says Laura: “Most Americans consume too many carbs. Rebalancing your diet is healthy for anyone, insulin-resistant or not.”
- Laura recommends that the couple fill their plates with the following food groups: lean proteins (chicken breasts, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, tofu); high-fiber or whole-grain carbs (wild rice, lentils, fruit, vegetables); and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocados). Jason and others without insulin resistance should shoot for 50 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent healthy fats. Kori should have slightly fewer carbs and more protein and healthy fats. She can partake of dessert now and then, says Laura, but if she eats a slice of cake, she should make up the rest of the meal with healthy protein and fat.
Spice Up Lean Proteins
Kori could barely look at another piece of chicken before Charlyne showed up. “I had been using just salt and pepper for seasoning,” she says. “All my cooking tasted so bland.” Charlyne gave her three spice blends to kick up the flavor of any lean protein—from a fish fillet to a pork tenderloin.
Get the recipe for Cumin-Oregano Rub.
Get the recipe for Sesame-Lemon Rub.
Get the recipe for Paprika-Garlic Rub.
Go for the Greens
These vitamin-packed vegetables are key to a healthy diet. Charlyne showed Kori a prep and cooking technique that works for chard, kale, and collards.
See How to Cook Greens.
Bulk Up Pastas With Vegetables
“I missed pasta following my diagnosis,” says Kori. So she was thrilled to learn she could still enjoy it—as long as she combined whole-grain noodles with a lean protein and lots of vegetables. Charlyne offered her three tasty recipes.
Get the recipe for Pasta With Chicken and Mushrooms.
Get the recipe for Spaghetti With Feta and Broccoli.
Get the recipe for Pasta With Salmon, Spinach, and Olives.
Move After Meals
If Kori follows up dinner every evening with a brisk walk, she can actually lower her blood sugar significantly, says Laura: “And when you have less sugar to process, you need less insulin.” Another bonus: A walk is a nice way to wind down after dinner instead of flopping on the couch to watch TV. “There’s a park I like near our house that I have been wanting Jason to explore with me,” says Kori. “This will be a good excuse.”
Two Weeks Later…
“Laura gave me hope, and Charlyne gave me the confidence to start cooking,” says Kori. She has been trying new dishes and bringing back old favorites (like pasta) with healthy twists. She has also managed to keep off the 17 pounds that she has lost since her diagnosis.
“The biggest thing I learned is that I will be fine,” says Kori. “Eating healthy is not about deprivation—it’s about choice. I went out for lunch with my mom and had a salad, a quinoa burger, and even some of her fries!” The change is palpable at home, too. “Jason and I both learned so much,” says Kori. “I have more courage to experiment with new flavors. Like the other night, I made sautéed kale, cumin-spiced tilapia, and a grain pilaf. It was great! And I was really proud of myself.”