5 Dinnertime Diet Mistakes to Avoid

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It's the end of a tough day and you're ready to unwind and have a healthy dinner. But all too often, it's easier to reach for for ready-made or packaged convenience foods, many of which arprocessed and contain artificial ingredients. Whether you're trying to lose weight or eat healthy for weight maintenance, choosing less-than-healthy foods can thwart your progress.

Depending on your food choices, some dinners can tack on hundreds of additional calories. Follow these tips to help keep your evening meals—and your healthy eating plan—on the right track.

Making Healthy Foods Unhealthy

It can be tempting to add extra fat like butter or cheese to healthy dishes such as cooked veggies to make them more flavorful. Although you can still get the same amount of nutrients from the veggies, unless you are following a high-fat diet, you might want to skip the foods containing higher amounts of saturated fat to keep your calories in check.

Swap butter with olive oil, choose Greek yogurt instead of mayo, experiment with fresh herbs instead of cheese, and try lemon juice instead of pre-made salad dressings. You'll find that you save hundreds of calories and quite a bit of fat just by making some simple substitutions. You might even find that you prefer the natural flavors of steamed or roasted vegetables without all the extras.

Tip: If you don't like the taste of plain vegetables because you find them bland, try herbs, spices, Mrs. Dash, spray-on olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, salsa, or pico de gallo to add flavor.

Cleaning Your Plate

You were raised as a member of the "Clean Plate Club, right?" While it's important not to waste food, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to eat everything on your plate when your body is signaling you're full.

Start to pay closer attention to how you're feeling rather than how much food is left uneaten. There is an important gap between eating and feeling full. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal. Eating slowly can help you acknowledge when it's time to stop. And you don't have to feel bad about leaving food on your plate, either. Simply pack it up and save it for later.

Tip: Before serving yourself a second helping of food, drink a tall glass of water. Thirst can easily be mistaken for hunger. Also, practice putting your fork down between bites. It's a smart way to slow the eating process.

Skipping an Appetizer

Many people skip appetizers to try to avoid the extra calories. But what if you started your meal with a healthy salad or nutritious bowl of broth-based soup? Choosing healthy, nutrient-dense appetizers can be a smart strategy to help you eat less during your meal. This is particularly helpful if you haven't eaten in more than four or five hours. The longer it's been since your last meal, the more likely you are to overeat.

Load up with plenty of veggies and dark leafy greens, which pack more fiber. The more fiber you eat, the more filling that starter salad will be. If soup is your preference, many varieties of canned soup contain around 100 calories per serving, and some have even less.

Tip: Pressed for time? Keep soup that's packed in microwave-ready containers on hand so you can satisfy your hunger in a matter of minutes.

Avoiding Healthy Fat

Have you ever eaten a low-fat meal like spaghetti marinara, only to find yourself famished within a couple of hours? Eating a meal that doesn't have some healthy fat—such as dairy, lean protein, or oils—will inevitably leave you feeling hungry later. 

Remember that fat is not the enemy. Just choose your fats wisely and incorporate them as part of a portion-controlled, nutritious diet.

Tip: Smart fats to choose are monounsaturated fats (found in canola, peanut, and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (found in sunflower, corn, and soybean oil). These have been shown to decrease "bad" cholesterol levels and increase "good" cholesterol. 

Eating Chicken Every Night

Chicken is an excellent low-fat protein source that is very versatile. Still, no matter how many ways you fix it, it can get a bit boring after a few dozen dinners in a row.

Switch things up by trying tuna, salmon, turkey breast, or high protein veggies. You can even choose a healthy, lean steak.

Tip: Sometimes chicken isn't the healthiest choice. Chicken legs or thighs are more calorie-dense than white meat chicken. And battered, fried, or panko-crusted chicken is higher in fat and calories.

A Word From Verywell

We all make eating mistakes from time-to-time. While the occasional slice or two of pizza or chocolatey dessert probably won't affect your health the long run, it's still important to choose healthy, whole foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy products, and lean protein as much as possible. By employing a few smart dinnertime strategies, you can set yourself up for satisfying and healthy meals each day, and still stay within your recommended calorie limit.

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