We know getting weeknight dinners prepped, cooked, and ready can be as daunting as confronting a difficult client or meeting a tough deadline at work. At Blue Apron, we help busy people get dinner on the table by delivering recipes and ingredients to their homes, and in the process, we’ve heard about every manner of dinner dilemma.

So in this column, we’ll be sharing the solutions we’ve cooked up to all your meal predicaments.

Dear Blue Apron,

I end up going out for lunch with colleagues a lot, and often eat midday meals that are bigger and heartier than I intend. What's a good way to make dinner satisfying while keeping it light in order to balance this out?


Dear Full,

Dinner has gained a reputation for being a meal where the plate runneth over with meat and potatoes—which in turn makes your stomach runneth over with way too much food. But in times past (think Downton Abbey), people would actually sit down for a big meal in the afternoon and a smaller one at night.

Not only does this habit mesh well with your eating-out-at-lunch lifestyle, it’s actually better for you since you have plenty of time to digest your hearty meal and you won’t go to bed stuffed.

With this idea in mind, check out these tips for making your evening meal instantly lighter, while still being a satisfying end to your day.

1. Make a Salad

A base of greens is immediately less filling than pasta, rice, potatoes, or bread. For a super quick, super light meal, just throw together whatever you have lying around: chopped baby carrots, a handful of nuts, leftover quinoa, or some grated cheese. You can even make it a little fancier using more unusual vegetables like baby artichokes and beets.

You can easily make your salad more substantial by taking inspiration from your favorite sandwich—minus the bread. For example, adding ingredients like a chopped chicken cutlet, cucumbers, and red cabbage will create a main course that will satisfy your hunger without weighing you down.

2. Go Vegetarian

Most vegetarian staples are less calorie-dense than meat, which means you can eat almost the same amount of food as you would normally, but you won’t end up as full. Try making the main event of dinner some yummy roasted vegetables, or mix a bunch of veggies into a tomato-based soup.

Even if you’re not normally the type to fill your dinner plate with plants and only plants, skipping the meat for one meal a day can ease your hunger without stuffing you to the gills.

3. Skip the Carbs

If you still want meat at dinner, eat it without the carbs. Remember the Atkins diet? For a couple of years people were filling up on tons of meat and still not feeling insanely stuffed. While we’re not advocating that you eat pounds of bacon after work, it’s worth remembering that starchy foods will often leave you feeling far fuller than their protein-centric counterparts.

Fish can be an especially light choice for dinner. Try baking polluck “en pappillote” or topping a trout fillet with a peach and arugula salad (sans the potatoes) for light meals that deliver tons of flavor.

4. Halve the Portions

This may sound obvious, but you can still enjoy your usual dinnertime favorites by just eating less of them. Plus, this allows you to take care of two meals at once. For example, if you eat just half of your bread-and-meat-heavy Chicken Banh Mi in the evening, you can pack the rest for lunch the following day.

A potential bonus: toting a packed lunch into work might reduce your likelihood of accepting next time all your colleagues head out for burritos and enchiladas. (Though, if there’s fun to be had and networking to be done, by all means go for the burritos.)

5. Graze

There are some evenings when you really aren’t that hungry, and you really don’t want to cook anything. Don’t feel obligated to have a traditional full-plate dinner on nights like this, and instead, allow yourself to graze. Munch on some carrot sticks, a few olives, some sliced cheese, or a piece of toast spread with goat cheese. Just remember to stop grazing when you’re full—it can be easy to get in this snacky habit and keep it up all night long.

Despite American tradition, dinner doesn’t have to be the main meal of the day. Allow yourself to enjoy your heavier lunches, and then keep these tips in mind to make a light dinner that will still end your day on a delicious note.

Photo courtesy of Blue Apron.

Updated 6/19/2020