These Are the 3 Go-To Dinners of People Who Never Gain Weight

Woman who never gains weight cooking her go-to dinner

Gone are the days when weight loss and maintenance meant going hungry, and thank goodness for that. In fact, restricting calories throughout the day—intentionally or because you're so busy that you forget to eat—is actually something that commonly prompts people to over-consume calories come dinnertime. 

"If you do not plan your meals, you may find yourself eating out or ordering in," explains Julia Zumpano RD, LD of the Center for Human Nutrition at Cleveland Clinic. "When you're very hungry, you are less likely to make a healthy meal choice. If these steps continue, they can lead to weight gain due to excess calories."

In other words, it's not the act of eating dinner that can trigger weight gain but instead, not munching on satisfying meals and snacks throughout the day. Planning (for dinner and other meals and snacks) has been shown to help people with weight (if that's a goal of yours). For instance, one 2017 study indicated that meal planning helped people maintain a healthy body weight and upped food variety and quality—a win-win.

What should your dinner menu include? Dietitians served up a guide to building a great dinner if you want to lose or maintain weight (while enjoying the food you consume). 

Related: The One Diet That Will Actually Lower Your Heart Attack Risk, According to Cardiologists

What to Eat for Dinner to Avoid Weight Gain, According to Dietitians

People's tastes vary, so registered dietitians have steered clear of recommending one magic-bullet dinner. Instead, they recommend consuming dinners that are packed with fiber and protein. (Don't worry. They also provided some concrete examples to get you started.)

"Protein is responsible for muscle and tissue growth and repair, and it helps keep you full," Zumpano explains. "Fiber aids in digestion and feeds your good gut bacteria. It helps with the reduction of cholesterol and blood sugars."

When your blood sugars don't spike and crash, you'll feel more energy (and satisfaction) for longer. Plus, you'll reduce your risk of diabetes, and keeping cholesterol levels in check is critical to heart health. 

Now, picture your plate. 

"Focus on building a plate where at least a quarter of it is your protein and then fill half your plate with veggies and the rest with something starchy," says Amanda Sauceda, RD, the Gut Health Nutritionist.  

"The rest" is about a quarter of a plate, specifies Edwina Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, the owner of Edwina Clark Nutrition.  

Related: Worried About Your Cholesterol Levels? Try Incorporating These 38 Foods Into Your Diet to Help Lower It

3 Dinner Ideas if You're Hoping to Avoid Weight Gain

1. Weeknight chili

Cooking a delicious and nutritious meal can feel like a tall task when you're already balancing multiple plates in one hand. Clark can empathize—and help with a solution.

"As a working mother of twins, I'm a big fan of quick, fuss-free meals like [a] weeknight chili, which offers everything in one bowl," Clark says.

Clark's recipe is for turkey chili with low-sodium broth, veggies like tomatoes and red bell peppers, and plenty of herbs and spices. It involves five minutes of prep time and cooks for 25 minutes. Do the math, and you'll have dinner ready in half an hour (with time to decompress from your day built in while it cooks).

2. Dinner bowls

Saucedo loves the idea of dinner in a bowl.

"Have one layer be a nonstarchy veggie, then add in your starch, along with protein," Sauceda recommends.

Think chickpeas with spinach, broccoli and kale, or salmon with peppers, onions and tomatoes. 

"You can even top with a fermented food like sauerkraut," Sauceda says. "Then, if you have leftovers from your bowl, you can reassemble it the next day to make a burrito."

3. Breakfast for dinner

Of course, you can have eggs for dinner if it suits you. "Breakfast for dinner is another good option," Sauceda says.

Try whole wheat toast with eggs and a bacon strip or two if you're feeling fancy. "You could even make a scramble with your protein and then pair it with some toast," Sauceda explains. "Add some salsa on top for flavor and a veggie boost." 

Related: The #1 Food That Helps With Insulin Resistance, According to Dietitians Who Specialize in Diabetes

Other Tips for Building a Dinner for Weight Maintenance and Loss

1. Avoid fast foods and convenience foods

A trip through the drive-thru once in a while won't set you back. However, Zumpano urges people to refrain from making it a habit. That doesn't mean dinners out are off the table, of course.

"Choose a place where you can consume fresh foods with a focus on protein and fiber, such as a shrimp stir fry over brown rice, a lentil soup and salad with chicken, pasta primavera with veggies and chicken and fresh fish tacos with corn tortillas," Zumpano says.

2. Plan ahead

Meal planning is key, especially on nights when you're depleted. But when? "Meal prep on the weekends to have food for the week," Zumpano says. "Consider crock pot meals."

3. Stock your pantry and fridge with easy options

"The pantry and freezer can be your best friends on busy nights when you don’t want to spend a ton of time cooking but also want something healthier than drive-thrus," Sauceda explains.

Zumpano agrees and even offers a laundry—er, grocery—list of suggestions. She says that some items to consider grabbing during your next grocery haul include:

  • Steam bags of vegetables

  • Individually-wrapped fish

  • Frozen chicken breasts (defrost it the night before, Zumpano suggests)

  • Whole-grain wraps or bread

  • Quick-cook brown rice

  • Microwavable sweet potatoes

  • Bagged salads

  • Canned beans

  • Pre-boiled eggs

  • Fruits with longer shelf lives (especially in a fridge), like apples, oranges, pears, mango and grapefruit

"They may cost a bit more but still less than ordering in," Zumpano adds.

Expert Sources