Building a balanced plate is easier said than done. Many people turn to foods that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat, yet low in essential nutrients like fiber. Between busy lifestyles and convenience food that's cheap and tasty, it's no surprise that prepared and processed foods beat out more wholesome meals.
One thing we can all learn from registered dietitians is that nutrient-rich foods don't have to be complicated. To give you some inspiration, we spoke to dietitians on the one dinner recipe they'd like to see more people making.
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Their suggestion? You don't have to ditch your favorite meals, but you can try to build upon them. For example, our dietitians recommend taking inspiration from classic spaghetti and meatballs. Here, we explore why zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) topped with tomato sauce, ground turkey and quinoa is a dietitian-approved dinner.
Why Dietitians Love Zoodles With Meat and Grain Sauce
This nutrient-packed dinner idea comes from Jenna Volpe, RDN, an Austin-based registered dietitian. She recommends swapping out traditional pasta noodles for noodles made from zucchini as a way to sneak in more veggies.
And no pasta dish is complete without a hearty sauce, so Volpe recommends whipping up a tomato-based sauce packed with protein-rich ground turkey and complex carbohydrate-rich quinoa.
How to Make This Meal
This meal comes together in three simple steps, and there are plenty of shortcuts (like using store-bought sauce and zoodles) that'll help speed up your prep time.
- Use a vegetable spiralizer to make your own zoodles or buy them pre-cut. You can either enjoy them raw or warm them up.
- Combine tomatoes, cooked ground turkey and cooked quinoa for the sauce. You can make a batch of homemade sauce or purchase a store-bought spaghetti sauce, such as Rao’s.
- Combine zoodles and sauce together and serve.
How to Make This Meal
Tackle these three simple steps to make zoodles topped with tomato sauce, ground turkey and quinoa, and voila! You've got a dinner dietitians love. Here's why they praise this meal:
1. It’s High in Protein
Americans aren't likely to be deficient in protein, but that doesn't mean you should skimp out on the macro. "Getting enough protein at meals helps with feeling more satiated and more energetically sustained for more time after the meal," Volpe says.
Traditional spaghetti dishes tend to be lower in protein, Volpe says. Fortunately, that isn't the case with this recipe. Both the ground turkey and quinoa serve as protein sources in this meal. A 3-ounce serving of ground turkey provides nearly 27 grams of protein, per the USDA. Plus, each cup of cooked quinoa adds 8 grams of protein, according to the USDA.
2. It’s a Good Source of Vegetables
We all know that veggies are good for us, but they can be an afterthought when it comes to weeknight dinners. Around 10 percent of U.S. adults aren't eating enough of this food group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They may not be the most popular food group, but they're one of the most nutritious. Vegetables are full of essential nutrients, such as fiber, and a veggie-rich diet can protect against diseases like heart disease and cancer, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Zoodles are a quick and delicious way to eat more veggies, and this recipe makes good use of them. It also contains tomatoes, which are technically fruits but are often treated as vegetables.
"One serving of veggies is 1/2 cup cooked or 1/3 cup of tomato sauce," Volpe says. "In this dish, you're likely to get at least 1 cup of zoodles in addition to tomato sauce, getting you close to three servings of veggies in one sitting."
You should aim for four to five servings of vegetables per day, according the American Heart Association. This dinner gets you more than halfway there.
3. It’s Lower in Saturated Fat
In the search for the leanest proteins, many people have ditched red meats like beef and pork for white meats like chicken and turkey. While red meat like beef can be part of a healthy meal plan, it should be eaten in moderation since it may increase the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular risk factors, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
This recipe is a bit more heart-healthy because it swaps ground beef found in traditional meal sauce for ground turkey. "Enjoying this meal with ground turkey will save on saturated fat compared to ground beef, while offering a similar eating experience," Moon says. The goal isn't to eliminate saturated fats altogether but minimize them where you can, she says.
4. It’s Rich in Dietary Fiber
Despite its importance for healthy digestion, most Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets. An estimated 95 percent of Americans fall short in meeting the recommendations for fiber, according to a January 2017 review in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. The amount of fiber you need depends on your age and sex. Aim to get between 25 and 30 grams per day, per UCFS Health.
Cooked quinoa is an excellent source of fiber with 5 grams per cooked up, per the Mayo Clinic. The zucchini noodles also provide some as well — a cup provides nearly 2 grams of fiber, according to the USDA.
"The fiber from the quinoa and zucchini noodles helps with feeling fuller longer, sustaining energy and supporting healthier regularity by increasing bulk in stools," Volpe explains.
Figuring out what's for dinner every night can be tiring, but incorporating more nutrient-rich recipes doesn't have to be time-consuming. This dietitian-approved dinner is chock-full of veggies, protein and grains — and it's fast and simple to prepare.
"I love that this meal puts vegetables at the center of the plate in an appetizing way," says Moon, adding that this recipe is also customizable. If you enjoy regular spaghetti noodles, you can use those instead of zoodles — just up the veggies in other ways, she says. Alternatively, you can swap out noodles for whole-grain pasta, which is typically high in fiber and other nutrients.
You likely already have a jar of spaghetti sauce on hand, so pick up some zucchini, ground turkey and quinoa on your next grocery run to make this wholesome dinner.
- USDA: “Fat Free Ground Turkey”
- USDA: “Quinoa Cooked”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2019”
- American Heart Association: “Fruits and Vegetables Serving Sizes Infographic”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Vegetables and Fruits”
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: “Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap”
- USDA: “Cooked Zucchini”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Is Red Meat Bad For You?”
- USDA: “Ground Beef Cooked”
- USDA: "Ground Turkey Cooked"
- UCSF Health: "Increasing Fiber Intake"