Tips on jazzing up simple suppers

My husband and I are currently reviewing our diet and we have realised that we need to better control our evening meal portion sizes. So we’ve been concentrating on reducing the amount of meat in our evening meal, which is a good first step.

Our evening meals tend to be pretty simple, some meat with peas and corn, for example. Sometimes we’ll add some potato, but not often. It’s usually followed up with yoghurt for dessert, or a frozen Weight Watchers dessert.

Previously the meals were satisfying because there was a lot of meat on the plate. Now that there is less meat, the meals don’t feel as satisfying so I’m looking to increase the flavour rather than the quantity/calories.

For example, boiled potatoes is pretty boring. Mashed potatoes are more exciting, but I don’t want to go loading up on fattening additions like cream or butter. I’m thinking of getting a mandoline slicer so I can do thin strips and maybe bake them with a bit of milk and some crushed garlic between layers.

I’m also interested in what herbs and spices people add to their meats. The most common meat we eat is chicken. We tend to buy ready-crumbed fish fillets, but I’m open to learning more about adding flavour to plain fillets - mostly cod/haddock. We also eat lamb chops and steaks. We don’t eat pork or bacon.

Does anyone have any tips for adding flavour (but not too many calories) to simple evening meals?

My wife, who grew up in Syracuse, NY, introduced me to the wonder of salt potatoes.

Basically, they are boiled potatoes, but you add half a cylinder of salt for every gallon of water you use. Serve them hot with butter. God, they are yummy. They’re even good right out of the fridge the next day.

Please let that be an “a” missing.
Please let that be an “a” missing.
Please let that be an “a” missing.

I was gonna say…a moderator needs to choose their vowels carefully in fixing this, otherwise its liable to show up unintentionally on someone’s sick fetish google searches!

I believe you can find a few ideas here.

Acid’s (vinegar, wine, lemon juice etc) are your friend. A splash of acid in an ordinary dish will add a little bit of umph and make the whole thing taste better and brighter. This is especially true with cooked veggies but is generally true for all foods. Most home cooks don’t use acid enough. Learn to love acids.

As for herbs. Rosemary and thyme are great for chicken or lamb. Beef needs nothing but salt and pepper (imo). Dill is good for most white fish. There are tons of others to play with, but that should be a good start. Play with those and garlic, onion and acid and you have a lot of combinations of tastes available to you.

Roasting is the easiest healthiest and one of the tastiest ways to make cooked vegetables. A touch of oil (you will need *some *fat) and a sprinkle of salt on the veg, and pop in under the broiler on a baking sheet for 2-5 minutes (maybe longer depending of the food. Carrots can take forever) and you have hot fast healthy veg that is crazy tasty. You can do this with diced up potato too, but you have to cook it a bit longer on a little lower heat.

Stir fries are your friend too. Don’t be put off by the word fry, they are very light on the calories and are primarily veggie.

If you like raw greens (or, heck, even steamed ones), they can sure ‘fill up’ your plate; you can dress them with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Also, I don’t know quite where you are, but around here, berries will be in season before too much longer. A side of pretty berries, sprinkled with just a touch of sugar, adds great flavor and color to a dinner plate! Any fresh fruit will do this, of course, but berries and melons tend to be lowest in calories per serving, as well as being really high in the good stuff like fiber and antioxidants.

As for mashed potatoes, you don’t have to add a lot of calories or fat to make them taste good; use buttermilk instead of cream or whole milk. Buttermilk is very low in fat (you can even get it fat-free), but because of its tang and texture, it tastes like you’ve put cream and sour cream in your mashed potatoes. I’d still add a little butter, though.

Stir-fry is great. Loaded with lots of colorful, healthy veggies, you control the amount of meat you add. Some of the sauces are high in sodium, though, so if you use them, make sure you drink plenty of water. OTOH, even though it’s high in sodium, soy sauce is pretty much calorie-free.

You say you serve your evening meal with peas and/or corn. These are both fine vegetables, with many redeeming qualities, but are both very starchy. Try at least one low-cal veggie that you can pile on your plate until the plate looks satisfying! Carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, leafy greens, onions and squashes all qualify. If you want, you can ‘stretch’ your peas (for healthier, larger servings) by mixing in a few little herbs and some sliced sauteed mushrooms. Garlic is good with this.

Mashed sweet potatoes are very satisfying to a lot of people (including my family) and are much healthier than white potatoes. I don’t boil my sweet potatoes to mash them, because peeling raw sweet potatoes is a PITA. I just bake them, then refrigerate them 'til I’m ready to make my mashed. Then I peel the skin right off, pop them in a bowl with a splash of low-fat milk and a little butter, some cinnamon and some nutmeg, warm them in the microwave and mash them up with my potato masher.

What’s “half a cylinder of salt?” I’ve just no way to parse this without making it into just a mountain of salt. Obviously, the recipe uses a good deal of salt - they’re called “salt potatoes” - but it can’t be what I’m imagining. Could you put a better measurement on it?

Have you seen American Pie?


Probably the typical carton most salt comes in.

Can’t be…that’s way too much salt. Maybe half a standard-sized shaker?

Alton Brown did some boiled fingerling potatoes that used enough salt that a crust was left on the skin as they dried.
Found the recipe.

1-1/4 lb of salt to 2 quarts of water.

A chopped onion adds a lot of flavor and goes well with almost anything. Shallots are even better if you can get them.

Also green onions. They’re only 10 calories.



Thank you to the moderator who corrected my dodgy title!!! :smiley:

Done… carefully.

You’ll probably need to come up with new side dishes as much as adding flavor to what you already make, honestly. Things like corn, peas, and potatoes just don’t fill you up very well, and they really don’t keep you full. You’re gonna need some protein and fiber to make this work long term.

Our four most common side dishes are roasted broccoli +/- other veggies, greens, sweet potato oven fries, and quinoa pilaf. On average, they’re about as much work as making mashed potatoes. The broccoli just gets cut up, tossed with a little olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper,and a touch of cayenne pepper, then parked in the oven while everything else cooks, and finished with some lemon juice and maybe a touch of parmesan. The greens get steamed with salt, pepper, and garlic, then finished with a healthy swig of cider vinegar. I disremember what exactly goes in the quinoa pilaf because I’m never the one making it, but you toast some onions and frozen corn niblets in a pan, then add the quinoa and water and let it steam. The sweet potatoes just get cut up in sticks, then tossed with olive oil and whatever seasonings we’re in the mood for (I favor garlic, paprika, and cumin) and popped in the oven.

Beans are a good option, either as a side dish or as a main. They’re cheap, simple to cook, full of protein and fiber, take to any sort of seasoning you care to put in, and they come in a dizzying array of sizes, colors, and flavors. One of my go-to cold-weather dinners is pasta e fagioli, which sounds fancy but is just bean soup with potatoes and pasta in. Soak a bag of any kind of beans you want overnight, then boil them up with whatever seasonings you like, and when they’re close to ready you throw in a couple of cut up potatoes and a half cup or so of pasta. I tend to favor cranberry beans with onion, garlic, a touch of bacon or liquid smoke, rosemary, and whatever else I find that sounds good that day, cooked in chicken broth. And about a tablespoon of butter at the very end to give it a really rich, creamy mouthfeel.

We have a lot of soup in cold weather, usually made with some sort of hard squash and whatever we happen to have lying around that needs to be used up. It usually takes about half an hour or so to make

Play with mushrooms.

Some swiss cheese-mushroom tartlets are always yummy.
Try the coarsely diced potatoes shaken up with some oil and onion soup mix then roasted.
Use different veggies… Leeks and carrots is always popular and usually not common.
Try a crusted cauliflower… Steam it a bit, then pop it whole into the oven, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with bread crumbs (two or three times during the bake) and serve.

Add some simple things to the plate… A good loaf of bread, some assorted cut up cheeses, and mustards (I’m partial to horseradish mustard here) go well with almost anything.

Don’t overlook simple things like rice or noodles either. I have a half a dozen different kinds of rice in my cupboard, and make all kinds of quick sides with various rices.

Meant to say earlier, thank you so much for your suggestions so far! Lots of inspiration here!

Rough guesstimation - I’d say 3 cups of salt.

Nonsense. They’re called Salt Potatoes for a reason.

They are not for the faint of kidney.

Experiment with fresh veggies. For a long time, I took vegetables for granted, but nowadays I realize they can really make a blah dinner into something great. Simple glazed carrots, for example, or braised brussels sprouts. Don’t get too overzealous on the fat quotient; a little butter on a veggy makes you want to eat it, and trust me - filling up on the vegetables, even if they have some fat on them, is WAY better than filling up on carbs/meats/etc.

Try vegetables you normally don’t eat - beets, turnips, ramps, leeks, whatever. Chances are you’ll find something you like that you didn’t previously know about.

An easy way to health-up mashed potatoes is to mash 'em half and half with other root vegetables, like parsnips or turnips. Parsnips are especially yummy, in fact, I rarely do plain mashed potatoes anymore, because they’re really much better with some more flavorful vegetables thrown in. I use this recipe, only change the proportions so it’s more evenly half and half potatoes/veggies. You can also cut the half & half (use milk) and butter if you’re concerned about that.

I’ve done a similar thing with scalloped potatoes/potatoes au gratin. Use a mixture of celery root & potatoes, and line the bottom of the dish with cooked spinach (frozen works fine). Suddenly instead of a heavy potato side, you have something that is somewhat potato-y but light and healthy. Once again, I like this preparation better than straight potatoes. It simply tastes better.

As far as the meat portion of the meal, experiment with roasting and braising. A roast whole chicken is simple, but delicious. And you get a ton of leftovers if it’s just two of you - roast chicken, chicken salad, chicken sandwiches, chicken soup, etc. Speaking of soups, you don’t mention those. It’s super easy to throw together soups on the fly if you have some good-quality stock in the pantry or freezer. Just throw stock in the pot, add meat, vegetables, herbs, voila insta-dinner.

I don’t know if you guys do chili in NZ, but that’s a great easy healthy dinner as well. I’m talking chili as in a combination of hamburger or sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers, a bit of chili powder (a spice mix, I can list the various ingredients if that’s not a common mix where you are), and beans. (I know there’s a lot of other types of chili out there, I’m just listing mine!)

Mushrooms and greens come to mind first. Mushrooms give you the “meaty” tastes, and greens fill up the plate and provide great nutrition. I like a mix of collards, mustard and turnip greens flavored with pepper vinegar.