Summer is here, which means that there are countless diets promising to help you look good in a bathing suit. These programs claim that, if you severely restrict the amount and type of food you eat, your extra pounds will melt away like the butter you’re not allowed to taste, revealing a new and slender "beach body."
But the quest for health really doesn’t need to be that complicated or painful. We wanted to design a guide to healthy eating that is simple, achievable, and even enjoyable.
We started from three facts.
The first one is this: studies have shown, time and again, that there really is no single “best diet” that works for everyone. You can read a very compelling argument for the Mediterranean diet, and another science-driven polemic that’s diametrically opposed to that, arguing that more saturated fat is the key to health. Within these contradictory narratives are a few evidence-based nuggets that we can all agree on, and they underpin this menu: that we can stand to eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole food, and less added sugar and processed food.
The second fact: we know that really restrictive diets aren’t sustainable and more often than not backfire. So we created a menu that includes chicken, cheese, bread, butter — not much is ruled out.
The third fact: when we eat out, we typically consume about 20 to 40 percent more calories than we’d eat at home. If we found ways to cook more often — even a few more times per week — we’d be healthier and maybe even thinner. So our diet asks you to make your meals yourself.
If you’ve cooked at home more times than you ate out during the week, you’ve done your body a great favor.
We’re aware that home cooking can take up a lot of time and effort, which is why we’ve made these recipes as simple and easy as possible, with some cooking ahead and lots of leftovers.
Every recipe requires only a few steps and fewer than six ingredients (not including condiments and spices — of which we used only the most basic).
This menu was designed with assistance from nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald and obesity doctor Yoni Freedhoff, and Vox staffers tested and tweaked all the recipes before publication. We hope the eating plan will be an antidote to the insane fad diets that will hardly get you through a week, let alone a healthy life.
We recommend beginning the diet over the weekend: do your grocery shopping and prep on Saturday, and begin with the Day One recipes on Sunday. The meal plan will take a bit of work to get going, but then will be easy to follow. Breakfasts should take no more than 10 minutes to prepare, and you should be able to eat within 40 minutes (or less) of getting home at night. Dinners turn into your lunches the next day. It’s all very reasonable.
Having said all that, we know that one person’s ideal diet can be another’s worst nightmare. So please, try it out, but not religiously. Make substitutions. Play. Use frozen vegetables or another vegetable if you prefer. If you like steak more than salmon, prepare that instead. If you don’t have an ingredient, don’t fret. Improvise. If you skip a meal or two, that’s fine too. No one is judging. If you’ve cooked at home more times than you ate out during the week, you’ve done your body a great favor.
These items, and the recipes that follow, feed one person for a week. If you're feeding two, buy double; if you're feeding three, buy triple, and so on (excluding condiments and tools, of course).
Buy as many as you think you’ll eat in a week. We recommend two per day, combining fruits and vegetables from the list with proteins at each snack (e.g., oranges and almonds, cheese and vegetable sticks, an apple and nut butter, etc.).
Use your grocery list to go shopping for the week. Then prep your vegetables, grains, and proteins for later use. This will be your biggest cooking day: prep should take about an hour.
Rinse quinoa in a sieve, and place in a pot on the stove with two cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat, simmering and stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Allow quinoa to cool, then fluff with a fork. Store in a covered glass or plastic container in your fridge. You’ll be using the cooked quinoa in recipes throughout the week.
Twist off the bottom of the romaine heads, and, in a clean sink, loosen the leaves and thoroughly wash under cold, running water. Drain, place in large plastic zipper bags, and store in the fridge. Avoid tearing the romaine leaves into small pieces until you’re going to eat them. The lettuce will preserve better.
Combine ingredients in a jar and store in the fridge. Shake before use.
Pour your celery and carrots into a clean sink, washing them under cool, running water. Cut off ends, and chop carrots and celery stalks into quarters or eigths (sticks) for snacking and future recipes this week. (Peeling carrots is optional, your preference.) Place carrots and celery in separate refrigerator bags or containers and store in the fridge.
In a small pot or pan, combine oats and water, bring to a boil, then lower. Add cinnamon. Stir occasionally, about five minutes. Place blueberries in a bowl, and pour cooked oats over the berries. Top with honey and cottage cheese.
Place bread in toaster. Toss tuna (with the oil from the can), curry spice, vegetables, salt and pepper in a bowl. (For vegetarians, substitute tuna with two hard-boiled eggs and add 1-2 tbs. oil to the mixture. Combine and mash the eggs with the other ingredients in a bowl using a fork.) Scoop avocado out of its skin, and spread on toast, using a fork to mash into the bread. Place tuna (or egg) mixture on the avocado toast bread. Delicately season with salt and pepper again, to taste. Serve open face. Wrap the leftover half of the avocado in plastic with its nut, and store in the fridge.
Plate a cup of salad. Top with vinaigrette.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean the brussels sprouts removing the bottoms and the outer leaves. Dry and them cut them into quarters. In a bowl, toss the brussels sprouts in the oil. Cover a baking sheet or oven pan with parchment paper or foil, and pour on the brussels sprouts mixture. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Roast for about 30 minutes or until crispy. (At 20 minutes, open the oven and toss the brussels sprouts around.) Plate half for dinner and store half in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch.
Put water and rice in a small pot, sprinkle with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until rice is tender. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve.
Heat oil and butter in a frying pan over low heat. When melted, turn heat to medium and add chicken to the pan.Cook on medium, approximately five to seven minutes per side. When the breasts turn to white, add lemon juice and basil. Cook for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate the chicken breast you’re ready to eat and top with some of the juices from the pan. Conserve the other in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch.
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until tender. Add chickpeas and cook on medium heat until nearly crispy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add basil and lemon and cook for another three to five minutes. Stir in the cheese, and heat mixture for another minute. Plate half the chickpeas, and conserve the other half in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch.
Place bread in toaster. In a small bowl, beat eggs with a fork or whisk until fluffy. In a non-stick frying pan, heat oil and cook eggs over low heat, stirring occasionally until cooked. Salt and pepper, to taste. Take the toast out of the toaster. Scoop avocado out of its skin, and spread on toast, using a fork to mash into the bread. Season with salt. Top with cooked eggs.
In a portable lunch container, place salad leaves, leftover brussels sprouts, quinoa, celery, and chicken or chickpeas. In a small container for salad dressing, store vinaigrette. Keep in a cool place until lunch. When you’re ready to eat, toss the ingredients together.
Follow the cooking instructions on the package or: Combine water and barley in a small pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, until the barley has absorbed the liquid, about 30 minutes. Plate half the barley (about one cup) and store the other half in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut turnips into ¼ inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add minced garlic, olive oil, sesame seeds, honey, and salt: toss until well combined. Spread turnips out into a single layer in a roasting pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes turnips are caramelized and tender. Remove turnips from oven and add the soy sauce to the roasting pan. Serve turnips over cooked barley.
Adapted with permission from Naturally Ella. (The original recipe was garnished with cilantro.) Try more recipes at NaturallyElla.com.
In a blender, combine the berries, apple, yogurt, almonds, honey and milk until smooth.
In a portable lunch container, place salad leaves, cheese, barley, cherry tomatoes, and avocado. In a small container for salad dressing, store the vinaigrette. Store in a cool place until ready to eat. When ready, toss ingredients together.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place salmon on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. When oven is ready, cook the salmon for about ten minutes or until it’s opaque. Take the salmon out of the oven, sprinkle with soy sauce, and return to the oven for another two minutes. Plate one fillet, and conserve the other for tomorrow’s lunch.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tofu block into 1 inch cubes. In a bowl, mix together the oil and soy sauce. Gently toss the tofu in the mixture. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the tofu on the baking sheet, and salt and pepper, and bake until golden brown, turning the cubes over at least once, about 40 minutes.
In a frying pan, heat oil over medium for about a minute and then add the onions. Cook until they are translucent. Add the celery and carrots and cook until they soften, about seven minutes. Stir in the quinoa and sesame seeds and heat for about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Plate the quinoa and enjoy with the salmon or tofu.
In a bowl, combine oats, orange juice and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge overnight.
Stir honey into muesli. Top with yogurt, berries, and almonds.
In a portable lunch container, place salad leaves, cucumber, and avocado. In a small container, combine lemon, oil, salt and pepper for salad dressing. Place salmon or tofu in a plastic bag or wrap. Store in a cool place until ready to eat, then toss ingredients together for lunch.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Use cooking spray to lightly mist a cast-iron skillet; place skillet in oven and heat for at least 10 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together crust ingredients, chickpea flour, olive oil, salt, and water, until there are no lumps. Remove hot skillet from the oven. Pour batter for crust into skillet. Return to oven for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine spinach with eggs, feta, cottage cheese, and salt. Mix well. Remove skillet from oven, and reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Spread spinach filling evenly over crust, sprinkle with black pepper, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing into six pieces.
Republished with permission of VeloPress from Racing Weight Cookbook. Try more recipes at RacingWeightCookbook.com.
Plate a cup of salad. Top with vinaigrette.
Place bread in toaster. Slice banana. When bread is toasted, spread with almond butter and top with banana slices.
Place a cup of salad in a lunch container and store about a tablespoon of vinaigrette in a separate small container. Pack up a piece of spinach and feta pie from last night’s supper. Store in a cool place until lunch, and then enjoy the pie with your salad.
In a large pot, boil water with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and cook the spaghetti to the directions on the package, about ten minutes. While the pasta is boiling: In a pan on the stove, combine lentils with 1 ⅓ cups of water, bringing water to a boil and then lowering the heat to a simmer, about 12 minutes. When lentils are cooked, drain off any excess water, and then stir in olive oil, sliced artichokes, and the juice and grated zest from half a lemon. Combine over low heat for about a minute, and then stir in basil and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate half the pasta and conserve the rest for tomorrow’s lunch.
Plate a cup of salad. Top with vinaigrette.
In a small pot or pan, combine oats and water, bring to a boil, then lower. Add cinnamon. Stir occasionally, about five minutes. Place berries in a bowl, and pour cooked oats over the berries. Top with honey and yogurt.
Pack up the rest of last night’s pasta for lunch. In another container, pack salad and vinaigrette. At lunch, reheat the pasta and enjoy with the salad.
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until they are translucent, stirring occasionally. Add celery and carrots to the pot, and cook over medium heat until they are soft, about five to seven minutes. Add the beans, vegetable broth, and tomatoes with their juice, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, add basil, and allow the mixture to reduce, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. When it's ready, ladle a portion into a bowl and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Pack up the rest for tomorrow's lunch.
Plate a cup of salad. Top with quinoa and a tablespoon of vinaigrette
Place the oil and butter in a non-stick pan on your stove over medium heat, and when it’s warmed, add the potato. Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes have turned golden. Add onion to the pan, and stir gently until onion has also turned golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the artichokes and add salt and pepper to the mixture, turning the heat to a simmer. In a bowl, crack the eggs and whisk with a fork. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. When the mixture is beginning to set, gently scramble. Season with salt and pepper. Plate half the scramble, and reserve the other half in the fridge for a future meal.
Place the salad on a plate if you are eating at home, or in a portable containter if you are taking lunch to work. Slice the cucumber and cherry tomatoes over the salad. If you are eating at home, top the plated salad with cottage cheese and a tablespoon of vinaigrette. If you are taking lunch to work, pack the cottage cheese and vinaigrette in separate containers and assemble the salad when it is time to eat.
In a pan, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the chicken turns white, about seven minutes. (For vegetarians, add chickpeas instead of chicken and then move on to the next step.) Stir in coconut milk, spices, tomato paste. Bring to a boil, on high. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for another seven to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving with your rice and a small salad. You’ll have leftover curry for tomorrow.
Put water and rice in a small pot, sprinkle with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes, or to your taste. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve.
Plate a cup of salad. Top with a tablespoon of vinaigrette