Eating a low calorie diet is one of the ways to maintain a healthy weight and improve overall health. However, many people experience difficulty sticking to a low calorie diet as they find the food boring or unsatisfying. It can be especially challenging to keep up with low calorie meals on a vegetarian diet. If not well put together, vegetarian meals can be bland.
But with a bit of creativity, it is possible to always cook delicious and satisfying low calorie vegetarian meals. In this article, we will share five secrets to cooking the best low calorie vegetarian dinner.
Choose Low Calorie Ingredients
When it comes to cooking a low calorie vegetarian dinner, choosing the right ingredients is crucial. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and high in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but some have a higher calorie content.
For example, leafy greens such as broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, kale, and arugula are low in calories yet packed with nutrients and fiber.
They can be incorporated into a variety of vegetarian dishes.
On the other hand, vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas are high in calories. Although they are calorie-dense due to their high fat or carbohydrate content, you do not have to avoid them together. They are still nutritious and should be included in a healthy diet.
Incorporate high-calorie vegetables and fruits within your daily calorie requirements and exercise portion control. You can also incorporate them sparingly by pairing them with a larger portion of low calorie vegetables such as leafy greens. Alternatively, you can use them as a substitute for higher calories foods such as pasta, bread, and rice.
Finally, opt for low calorie cooking oils such as olive oil or avocado oil. Also, in your recipes, use low-fat dairy alternatives, such as almond milk or soy milk.
Incorporate Whole Grains
Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet as they provide a feeling of fullness, which can prevent overeating. Whole grains are also a great fiber source, essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
Most are easy to cook. They are versatile as they can be paired with different vegetables and seasonings to create a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and side dishes.
For instance, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans or whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta are a great addition to your low calorie vegetarian dinner. They are healthy carbohydrates, and most are high in protein and fiber, contributing to well-rounded meals.
Season to Your Liking
Seasonings and herbs add flavor to your meals, yet they are generally low in calories. You can use a variety of herbs and seasonings to create different flavor profiles for your vegetarian dinners.
In addition, most herbs and spices have health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-oxidizing properties. Some great options to include in a low calorie vegetarian meal include garlic, ginger, cilantro, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and basil.
Use Healthy Cooking Methods
Instead of frying or sautéing your food in oil, try using healthier cooking methods such as grilling, baking, or steaming. These methods can help you reduce the amount of fat and calories in your meals.
Here is an overview of how the various cooking methods that can be used for cooking a low calorie vegetarian dinner:
- Steaming: It is preferable as it preserves the nutrients and flavor of the food and does not require any added oil. It involves cooking food in a steamer basket over boiling water.
- Grilling: Grilling vegetables add a smoky flavor to the food. Most recipes recommend using a high-smoke oil such as grapeseed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, sesame oil, or canola oil when grilling vegetables to enhance their flavor and prevent them from drying out. Nutrition experts recommend against using flax oil, walnut oil, palm oil, and highly-refined vegetable oils because they are not suitable for high temperatures. To keep your grilled vegetables on low calories, use a low calorie oil and apply them on the vegetables sparingly.
- Baking: Baking vegetables is a great cooking method for low calorie vegetarian meals as it does not need additional oil. It also helps to preserve nutrients. It involves cooking vegetables in a preheated oven. You may spice the vegetables to your flavor without adding many calories.
- Stir-frying: This method involves cooking food in a small amount of oil over high heat while constantly stirring. It develops flavor and a crispy texture in food. However, it adds fat to the food. The high heat can also destroy the nutrients in the food. Use a small amount of cooking oil to keep your meal low calorie. Also, do not stir fry for too long to preserve the nutrients. For more protein in this vegetarian recipe, consider making tofu stir fry with crispy tofu.
You may also consider adding raw vegetables to your vegetarian dinner recipes. Since no cooking is involved, it eliminates additional calories that may be added during cooking. That said, it’s best to balance raw and cooked vegetables in your diet, as both raw and cooked vegetables have unique benefits.
Cooking is necessary for certain vegetables to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. For example, cooking tomatoes, carrots, and kale avail lycopene, beta-carotene, and lutein, respectively. In addition, cooking breaks down the fiber in vegetables, making them more easily digestible.
Incorporate Protein-Rich Foods
Vegetarian meals can sometimes lack protein. Protein is not only filling but is an essential macronutrient. Proteins contain essential amino acids, which play a crucial role in building and repairing tissues and muscles, boosting immunity, and producing hormones and enzymes.
There are various ways to incorporate protein while maintaining a low calorie vegetarian diet, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, and vegetables with high protein content.
Generally, dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurts are high in protein and calories due to their high fat or carbohydrate content. Therefore, you can substitute them with plant-based alternatives such as soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh, plant-based protein powders, nut milk, etc.
6 Simple Low Calorie Vegetarian Dinner Ideas
Grilled Portobello Mushroom Caps
Grilled portobello mushroom caps are a popular vegetarian dish. They are delicious, nutritious, and protein-packed. They are also easy to make by grilling for 5-7 minutes on each side. Marinade and use seasonings for added flavor. They can be served as a main dish or a side dish with pasta, vegetables, rice, etc.
Cauliflower Fried Rice
Cauliflower fried rice is one of the easiest low calorie vegetarian meals to make for dinner. Simply cut one cauliflower head into florets and toss the into the food processor. Pulse the food processor to make cauliflower “rice.” Stir fry with a little avocado or olive oil and add seasonings or salt. You can also add vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, peas, or tofu for a complete meal.
Spaghetti Squash With Tomato Sauce
If you are craving pasta but want to keep your diet clean and low calorie, try spaghetti squash with tomato sauce. Roast spaghetti squash, and top with your favorite tomato sauce. If your daily calories allow it, add some grated Parmesan cheese.
Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Consider a lentil and vegetable soup for a hearty, filling, and warm soup. It is delicious and easy to make. The lentils provide a mild, slightly earthy flavor, while the vegetables (such as carrots, onions, and potatoes) bring sweetness and depth to the soup.
To make it, simmer lentils, vegetables, and seasonings in vegetable broth for 20-30 minutes. You can incorporate a wide range of vegetables, including carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes. Seasonings such as cumin, paprika, and bay leaves add extra flavor. Serve as is or put in a food processor or blender to puree.
Stuffed peppers are made by cutting whole bell peppers into halves, removing seeds and then filling them with your preferred foods. You can stuff them with cooked vegetables, quinoa, black beans, rice, etc.
You can then top the stuffed peppers with cheese, herbs and spices for a rich, creamy taste and added flavor. Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. You can use a red pepper or whatever color pepper you have on hand.
Black Bean Tacos
Black bean tacos are a delightful and healthy vegetarian meal made with black beans and your preferred toppings. Aside from black beans, you can also fill the taco with vegetables such as diced tomatoes, salsa, or other preferred vegetables. Then top with avocado, cheese, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, lime, etc. The taco shell can be hard or soft.
Low calories vegetarian meals do not have to be bland. With a bit of creativity, you can put together a tasty, nutritious, healthy, and low calorie vegetarian dinner. Try out new recipes and experiment with different ingredients and seasonings to create delicious meals that meet your nutrition and calorie needs.
In summary, to cook the best low calorie vegetarian dinner, you should choose low calorie ingredients, incorporate whole grains, and use a variety of seasonings and herbs for enhanced veggie taste and nutritional value. Also, incorporate protein-rich food for a well-balanced meal.
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