There are multiple factors that determine whether a meal is healthy or not, but one of the most universally recognised ways to make smarter meal choices is to pay attention to the calorie content: the units of energy contained in protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Calories allow us to see how much potential energy each meal or ingredient contains—and how much energy we need to exert to counteract it.
The issue with typically low-calorie meals is that they don't fill you up. Thankfully, there is a solution that doesn't involve a cardboard-like diet bar. The answer is reaching for plant-based whole foods. "These foods have a lot more bulk since they contain more fibre and water than the standard American 'diet' foods," Alona Pulde, MD, tells MindBodyGreen. "This bulk takes up more space, so our stomachs end up stretching sufficiently to shut off hunger signals despite our having consumed fewer calories overall."
Heeding her expert advice, we've rounded up five hearty recipes that are full of flavour and whole foods, and contain less than 400 calories. Bookmark these dinner ideas to be healthy, not hangry.
Garlic Shrimp Spaghetti Squash
Trade a traditional pasta for this Garlic Shrimp Spaghetti Squash dish—it tastes just like comfort food, minus the calories. Greek yogurt and almond milk give the squash a creamy, pasta-like consistency that'll trick you into thinking it's almost the real thing.
This simple recipe requires only 10 ingredients and takes 30 minutes to prepare. The lentil meatballs are filling, too—four balls contain 10 grams of protein. Serve on top of a bed of carrot noodles with homemade marinara sauce and fresh parsley for a light but filling dish.
Calories: 243 per three meatballs.
Curried Beet Soup with Tandoori Chickpeas
Put that Indian takeout menu away—this Curried Beet Soup With Tandoori Chickpeas is about to become your new favourite dish. Beets are rich in iron, fiber, and folate, and the recipe is also packed with other whole foods like ginger and garlic, making it a nutritious option. All-in-all, it takes five minutes to prepare (yes, five minutes!) and 25 minutes to cook. That's probably faster than getting takeway.
Pork Ginger Potstickers
Potstickers are a classic go-to for busy weeknights, but the deep-fried variety is laden with calories. This recipe explains how to make the dumpling pastry from scratch and contains garlic, shredded green cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms. Serve a handful on a bed of steamed bok choy to make this meal even heartier. It's worth noting that one-third of the calorie content comes from the pork, so swapping it for more vegetables will mean you can have a more generous serving.
Calories: 60 per potsticker.
Sheet Pan Asian Stir Fry
This Sheet Pan Asian Stir Fry is packed with protein to keep you full and loaded with fresh vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli florets, and carrots. The best part? It requires one dish, a sheet pan, to make the post-cooking clean-up quick and easy.