Many of my patients don’t have time to cook, resorting instead to unhealthy takeout, prepackaged foods, or skipping dinner altogether.
You don’t need to turn dinner into a seven-course Martha Stewart–inspired affair, and you can certainly do just fine grabbing Whole Foods after work. But at the same time, preparing dinner needn’t feel like a herculean chore.
Ultimately, I encourage patients to forgo takeout and hot bars. Instead, I ask them to preplan a little and prep one of these three uncomplicated dinner recipes. My approach takes a simple but nutritionally comprehensive approach to dinner that takes the guesswork out of calorie-counting: Fill your plate with one-quarter protein and healthy fat, and for the other three-quarters, add a large salad or vegetable side dish.
I also try to incorporate fermented and cultured foods to support the growth and proliferation of healthy gut bacteria. These include:
- Cultured foods, such as coconut yogurt or goat milk kefir
- Fermented foods, such as Japanese fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, or kimchi
- Cultured beverages containing favorable live bacteria, such as kombucha
Eating the right foods, including cultured or fermented foods, keeps your gut healthy and prevents dysbiosis, an imbalance between favorable and unfavorable gut microorganisms that leads to leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and many other gut disturbances.
I’ve discovered a few other simple rules to follow to make every dinner gut-friendly and avoid overeating:
- If you know dinner will be late and you’re getting hungry late afternoon at the office, have a healthy snack.
- Take a moment to reflect on your day during dinner. As you strive to get a handle on your gut issues, I encourage you to keep a daily food and symptom diary. And in addition, keep a gratitude journal entry for each day.
- Slow down and be mindful with your food. Some people confess to things like reading through social media, thumbing through their favorite magazine, or checking email while eating. These actions don’t let you be present in the relaxed state necessary for smooth and easy digestion.
- If you suffer from gas, bloating, and other post-meal miseries, watch how much fluid you consume, drink less during meals to avoid diluting your digestive enzymes, and try a comprehensive digestive enzyme supplement about 15 minutes before meals. These three meals are designed to be easy on your digestive system, but symptoms can still occur if you don’t follow these rules.
- Try to finish eating dinner no less than three hours before going to bed to reduce the chances of acid reflux from undigested food still sitting in your stomach pushing acid up into your esophagus.
Here are some fun recipes to try:
Mahi-Mahi With Shallots, Lime, and Veggies in Parchment
A versatile, easy-to-prepare meal with little to no cleanup! For your guest, it’s like a surprise in a pouch. Feel free to double or triple the recipe if you’re having guests over for dinner. This grain-free meal is easy on the digestion.
- Two 6-ounce wild mahi-mahi fillets (about 1 inch thick)*
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley**
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme**
- 1 shallot, minced**
- ½ cup julienned carrots**
- ½ cup julienned snow peas**
- ½ cup julienned zucchini**
- 4 thin slices lime
* You may substitute any firm-fleshed wild white fish fillet, such as halibut, cod, or haddock.
**You may also try different combinations of herbs and vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Cut two 15-by-24-inch pieces of parchment paper. Fold in half crosswise. Draw half a large heart on each piece, with the fold of the paper along the center of the heart. Using scissors, cut out two heart-shaped pieces of parchment.
- Sprinkle the fish with the salt and pepper. Place one fillet near the fold of each parchment heart.
- Combine the coconut oil, lime zest, lime juice, parsley, and thyme in a bowl; stir until blended.
- Top each fillet with half of the coconut oil mixture. Evenly divide the shallot, carrots, snow peas, and zucchini between the two fillets, and top with 2 lime slices apiece.
- Starting at the top of the heart, fold one half of the heart over the other, fully covering the fish. Seal the edges with narrow folds. Twist the end tip to secure tightly.
- Place the parchment packets on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Transfer to serving plates, cut open the parchment paper, and serve immediately.
Stir-Fried Veggies and Shrimp Over Rice Noodles
A quick-and-easy weekday meal. This rich combination of shrimp, veggies, and gluten-free rice noodles really satisfies your palate. Made with ghee—rich in butyric acid, a source of butyrate, which is anti-inflammatory for the gut and keeps the cells that line the colon healthy—this dish is the right combination of gut-healing nutrients. Ginger, as a functional food, augments the inflammation-fighting properties of this recipe.
- 8 ounces dry rice noodles
- 1 pound large wild raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1¼ teaspoons sea salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons ghee, divided*
- 1 cup mushrooms, sliced**
- 1 cup shredded carrots**
- 1 cup pea pods**
- 2 small scallions, thinly sliced**
- 1 cup Homemade Vegetable Broth
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons molasses
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
* If you don’t have ghee, avocado or coconut oil is a great substitute.
**Use any combination of vegetables in this dish.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes until tender. Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water, and set aside.
- Sprinkle the shrimp with ½ teaspoon of the sea salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the shrimp in the skillet until firm and pink, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a platter.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee. Add the mushrooms, carrots, pea pods, and scallions. Sauté until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the vegetable broth, vinegar, molasses, remaining ¾ teaspoon sea salt, ginger, and sesame oil. Add the sauce to the vegetables in the skillet. Stir in the rice noodles and shrimp, and continue to cook until heated through.
- Sprinkle with the basil and sesame seeds and serve hot or cold.
This flavorful, lemony chicken is perfect for any occasion and quick to prepare. The dish incorporates capers, which are rich in quercetin—a plant polyphenol that helps heal the mucus barrier of the gut by promoting the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila, a friendly gut microbe associated with improved glucose tolerance and lean body mass.
- 1 pound free-range, antibiotic-free chicken tenderloins, cleaned*
- ? cup brown rice flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup organic ghee**
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons capers
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- Lemon twists, to garnish (slice lemons into thin rounds, make a cut halfway through the round, and give it a twist)
* Turkey or pork cutlets also work well in place of the chicken tenderloins.
**Olive oil can be substituted for the ghee.
- Place the chicken tenderloins in a single layer between two sheets of parchment paper and pound until about ¼ inch thick.
- Mix together the rice flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl.
- Dip the chicken tenderloins into the flour mixture, coating each side evenly.
- Heat the ghee in a large skillet on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and add half the chicken pieces in a single layer; do not crowd. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until the chicken is light brown; remove and set aside. Cook the remaining chicken pieces in the same manner; remove and set aside with the first batch.
- Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice, capers, chicken broth, and chicken pieces to the same pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Transfer the chicken piccata to a serving dish, and garnish with the lemon twists. Serve.
Tip: This dish can be made 2 to 3 days ahead; it reheats beautifully.