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52 Ways To Spice Up Your Favorite Piece of Protein
When cooking for family, sometimes it's hard to keep the same foods interesting. (You can only have chicken breasts so many times before you sick of them, right?) But knowing a few tips and tricks to make your go-to protein pop will make dinner fun, tasty—and, yep, healthy—again. Check out these 52 (yes, 52!!) ideas to make your next dinner even better—without too much fuss.
1. Dress it up
No doubt, chicken can be bland—but not when you let it soak in your favorite salad dressing first, advise registered dietitians Stacie Hassing and Jessica Beacom, owners of The Real Food Dietitians. They prefer bottled varieties like Tessemae's and Primal Kitchen. Let sit for 15 to 30 minutes before roasting.
2. Just add...mayo?
Yep, that's right; topping a chicken breast with a tablespoon of flavored mayo before baking makes the meat moist, juicy, and tasty, recommends Tina Haupert, co-owner of Designed to Fit, a custom meal-plan service. For a foolproof way to bake, cook breasts in a 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes.
3. Go for Greek
Sear chicken breasts five to seven minutes per side until golden brown. Add kalamata olives, lemon, artichoke hearts, and Greek seasoning, suggest Hassing and Beacom. Cover and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through.
RELATED: 7 Foods I Prep Each Week To Make Sure I'm Eating As Healthy As Possible
4. Add a dose of green
Pesto—a traditional mix of pine nuts, basil, olive oil, and parmesan cheese—makes a typical chicken breast way more exciting. Top a breast with a dollop before digging in or shred and mix together. Buy a store-bought pesto or easily make it yourself in a food processor. Store leftover pesto in an ice-cube tray so it lasts.
5. Make it lemony
Brighten up a bird by stuffing a whole chicken with two or three whole lemons before roasting, suggests Haupert (check out our easy roast chicken recipe for step-by-step help). Remember to prick each lemon with a fork to release the juices and flavors and add herbs and spices of your choice, like herbs de Provence, garlic powder, or thyme.
6. Stuff it
A big chicken breast is just begging to be stuffed. Make a slit in the middle of the breast long ways and stuff it with a couple wedges of spreadable cheese (like Laughing Cow) and baby spinach (a good food source of iron), suggests Haupert. Bake and enjoy the oozy deliciousness.
7. Add curry
For a big hit of mega flavor, dust a breast with a generous amount of curry powder—that's Jeanette Ogden of Shut The Kale Up's current obsession. Even better: Curry is bursting with the disease-fighting spice turmeric.
8. Respect the skin
You don't need to automatically go for the skinless breast. "Skin keeps chicken moist and adds flavor when roasted," says Cate Shanahan, M.D., author of . Before roasting, coat the skin with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. In the pan, add peppers and carrots to sop up some of the juices.
For more chicken ideas, here's our go-to roasted chicken recipe:
9. Boost tuna
Pop open a can of tuna and stir in some guacamole and add chopped crunchy veggies (like celery and carrots), suggests Haupert. Not into guac? Go for honey mustard or buffalo sauce instead.
10. Tuna part two
If your knee-jerk habit is to buy tuna packed in water, try tuna in olive oil, like ventresca tuna bellies, says Shanahan. Be prepared to be shocked in a very good way—it's a completely different flavor from regular tuna. Shanahan likes to mix hers with sprouted pumpkin seeds and Himalayan sea salt. "The buttery, crunchy, umami flavor from this combination will knock your socks off," she says.
11. Go for glaze
Need another reason to eat omega-3-packed salmon? How about a delicious glaze made from 1 tsp avocado oil, 1 tsp maple syrup, and 1 tsp tamari sauce? (That's enough for four salmon filets.) Broil for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork, say Hassing and Beacom. Top with sesame seeds and sliced green onions. Another maple glaze variation to try on salmon: maple syrup, orange zest, and balsamic vinegar.
12. Switch up your fish
You know you like tuna salad, so swap the tuna for canned salmon for a quick and easy way to get more omega-3s in your diet. Stir together with olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and fresh-squeezed lemon, then pile on crackers.
Related: The 7 Best Items to Purchase at Costco, According to Nutritionists
13. Remix tuna salad
Now go for the sardine version. There are lots of reasons to try this fish, including an impressive amount of omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D and calcium. KathEats calls this The Very Best Sardine Salad, and with crunchy veggies, zippy mustard, and pimento peppers, any sardine-phobe will become a total convert.
14. Tap into your inner kid
You know you loved fish fingers as a kid. By cutting a fillet into bite-sized pieces, you can turn fish (cod, salmon, tilapia) into fish nuggets or fingers. Just dip each piece in beaten egg, flour (like almond or spelt), and then in a mixture of panko, grated parmesan, and spices of choice. Bake at 350 until golden brown. Promptly dunk in cocktail sauce.
15. Find your fruitiness
Tropical fruit and fish are a perfect pairing to amp up flavor. Atop fish tacos, add grilled pineapple chunks, mango and avocado salsa, or strawberries and feta. We're also really into this recipe for coconut-lime tilapia.
16. Fill a pocket
In a piece of parchment paper, lay down a variety of veggies (whatever you have in your fridge that's begging to be eaten—peppers, green beans, summer squash) then top with a filet of salmon. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a lemon slice, then wrap up the parchment to form a closed pocket and bake. Not only will the contents come out impossibly moist, but the parchment makes cleanup SO easy.
17. Turn it up
A spice rub makes many cuts of beef better, but rather than using your tried-and-true, sign up for a monthly spice subscription box like Raw Spice Bar. For only a month, you'll get a shipment of three different spice "kits" that'll keep you inspired to try something new.
18. Always infuse flavor
Before you heat up the grill for that skirt steak, let it bathe in a marinade for as little as 15 minutes, says Haupert. (It can sit while you prep the veggies.) Haupert's go-to combination: 1 Tbsp oil (like olive or avocado), 1 Tbsp acid (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar), and 1 tsp spices (cumin, chili powder, onion powder).
RELATED: The 8 Best Things to Buy at Trader Joe's, According to Nutritionists
19. Try this steak trick
"Steak is tastier when seared on the stovetop and finished in the oven," says Shanahan. She recommends drizzling on homemade gravy and topping with—get this—two slices of naturally-cured bacon or uncured bacon (that helps you avoid nitrates).
20. Get saucy
Have you run out of ideas for ground beef? Whip up a healthy meat sauce—a la Lexi's Clean Kitchen—and use it to smother a cooked, tender spaghetti squash half. You'll get in a ton of veggies—and the little boats look adorable to eat, too.
21. Be ballsy
Think: BBQ meatballs simmering in a slow cooker all afternoon. Right? These, from Savory Nothings, get their kick from a secret ingredient that adds another layer of flavor to store-bought sauce—smoked paprika.
22. Hold it
You know that lettuce wraps are everything, but for a twist on the low-carb take, opt for a cabbage wrap, like Vietnamese Beef Cabbage Wraps from Lexi's Clean Kitchen. Her version takes sirloin steak studded with pungent fish sauce and chili paste, then blankets the meat with blistered shishito peppers before wrapping it all up into a cabbage leaf for a crunchy, juicy bite. Try it with pork too for a different flavor, like in our pork lettuce cups.
23. Try Asian inspiration
Tonight, opt for a popular recipe from Weelicious: Mix mirin, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger, sesame oil, and garlic, then pour over tofu and bake. You'll never look at tofu the same way again.
24. Get them roasty
Treat tofu just like you would your favorite veggie. Chop into chunks, spray with avocado oil, and toss with spices and herbs of your choice before roasting. Try cumin and coriander, thyme and garlic powder, or chili powder and paprika. Top with a sprinkle of salt and bake.
RELATED: 7 GENIUS WAYS TO MAKE TOFU ACTUALLY TASTE GOOD
25. Put it between bread
Who says only lunchmeat belongs in a sandwich? When you crisp up firm tofu and smother in a rich and zippy ginger peanut sauce—a la Oh My Veggies—you'll never miss it.
26. Boost crunch
When tofu pieces are covered in a mix of almond meal, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and spices, then baked to crispy perfection, like Alexis Joseph of Hummusapian does here, you'll never look at tofu the same way again.
27. Blend, baby, blend
When you need to add a dose of protein to a smoothie, add tofu to your rotation. Buy the silken version at grocery stores, and throw some in your blender along with fruit, nut butter, and milk (or non-dairy milk). The smooth texture of the tofu will bump up the creaminess factor of your smoothie.
28. Reinvent the wheel
Think of one of your favorite dishes; then, insert tofu. Itisthat simple. Take tofu parmesan from Homegrown in the Valley. It's covered in breadcrumbs and lightly fried for that nice crunch, then topped with marinara and fresh mozzarella and broiled until melty and delicious like the Italian original.
29. Taste the rainbow
Take carrot, cucumber, and red pepper strips, rice noodles and tofu pieces; wrap it all up in a rice paper wrapper. Voila, spring rolls bursting with color. Dip in a spicy peanut sauce for a crunchy, creamy, protein-packed app.
30. Heat things up
When you're cooking up ground turkey, add a jar of salsa, says Haupert. "This is awesome for a quickie taco salad," she says. Not only is it a great way to add an extra dose of veggies, but spicy versions contain peppers that are known metabolism boosters. Try traditional tomato varieties, green salsa, or pineapple or peach flavors.
31. Marry it with gnocchi
Anything that you can successfully pull off in 30 minutes in one pan automatically wins in our books, but registered dietitian Haley Goodrich pulls out all the nutritious-but-delicious stops with a gnocchi, ground turkey, and zucchini dish. The magic ingredient? Goat cheese. Of course.
32. Throw it in a skillet
Marrying shredded Brussels sprouts (they're still an of-the-moment veggie for a reason, after all) with ground turkey, My Heart Beets turns this one-pan skillet meal into a quick weeknight dish for those times when you come home and think you're too tired to cook.
33. Make a quick bowl
Want a quick lunch idea? Cook ground turkey and stir together with buffalo sauce, along with your favorite green veggies (kale, green beans), then top with a drizzle of ranch dressing, advises Haupert. Yum!
34. Wrap it up
This smart idea from Eat, Live, Run combines ground turkey with taco seasoning, beans, cheese, and avocado (a good food source of potassium) and is wrapped in a large tortilla for an easy burrito. Perfect for those times when you need a quick lunch to tote to work.
Related: 8 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Potassium
35. Get messy (kind of)
For those times when you don't want to slap something in a bun, you can transform it into a casserole, like these sloppy Joes from the The Gracious Pantry. This casserole version of the classic weeknight meal incorporates store-bought tomato sauce (look for one with no-sugar added) with a pound of ground turkey for all the comforting flavors you loved as a kid.
36. Stuff it
Dredged with spices like cumin and chili powder and rolled up in dough, ground turkey empanadas from Lady and the Blog are a lunchtime no-brainer. Pro tip: If you don't have time to make your own dough, buy pre-made, whole-grain pizza dough at the grocery store. (Find it in the refrigerated section near the ready-made sandwiches and snacks, or at the pizza counter if your store has one.)
37. Sweeten things up
When in doubt, add apples. Pork and applesauce is a classic combo for a reason. But rather than go for straight-up sauce, sauté fresh apples as a topping for a chop or switch things up and use peaches, pineapple, or pears instead.
38. Throw it on a flame
You might be an expert in tossing a pork loin in the oven and roasting it until juicy perfection. This time, after letting the loin hang out in your marinade of choice, throw it on the grill for a caramelized, smoky taste.
39. Set it and forget it
Pork was made for your slow cooker. Rather than throwing in a whole loin, go for pork chops, like these Slow Cooker Smothered Pork Chops from Fed and Fit. Cassy Joy Garcia combines chops with silky butter, onion, coconut milk, and spices for a pleasingly creamy finale.
40. Go cheesy
Make a slit in a pork chop with a knife. In the pocket, stuff a couple tablespoons of good crumbled blue cheese or Gorgonzola and sauté in a cast-iron skillet. Boom: a super flavor-packed chop that makes a weeknight or weekend din something special.
Related: What One Nutritionist Ate for an Entire Week (in Pictures)
41. Love loin
Health-minded folks are into loin because it's super lean—but that's exactly why the cut has a reputation for being dry and tasteless. Not when you make like A Sweet Pea Chef and crust it with mustard, thyme, and tarragon before roasting it to juicy perfection, though.
42. Switch it up
When you think about ground meat, don't count out ground pork. To mix things up, add it to one of those dishes that you make time and time again. Think pork enchiladas (when you usually use ground turkey), or add ground pork to your next stir-fry, curry, or even sloppy Joes.
43. Fire it up
The grill wins again. But this time, cilantro, lime juice, chipotle peppers, and cinnamon make a to-die marinade on a pork tenderloin from The Organic Kitchen. And know that studies show covering it all in antioxidant-rich herbs and spices is the healthiest way to grill it.
44. Remix leftovers
When you have leftover pork, use it to make the best ramen of your life. This recipe from How Sweet It Is, teaches you how to make the flavor-packed broth on your own, then asks you to fill it with noodles, scallions, cukes, and all the toppings your heart desires.
45. Make a non-mayo egg salad
You'd like egg salad...if it weren't made with mayo. Try Haupert's easy fix: Mix chopped hardboiled eggs with flavored hummus (add Sriracha for a spicy kick). Top on a piece of whole-grain toast for a yummy open-faced sandwich.
46. Throw them together
For those times when you have a bunch of eggs and veggies nearing their prime in the fridge and no plan for them, make a veggie egg bake, say Hassing and Beacom. In a greased baking dish, combine eight whisked eggs, three cups of chopped veggies, and cheese. (Plus, salt, pepper, and herbs.) Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes. We also like this Greek-style frittata loaded with spinach, feta, and tomatoes.
Related: 5 Foods with More Protein Than an Egg
47. Try BFD
That's breakfast for dinner. Combine two whisked eggs with one mashed banana, then fry in a pan with coconut oil like a pancake. When done, top the cakes with your fave nut butter, Greek yogurt, berries, and coconut flakes.
48. Perfect the poach
Cook two pasture-raised eggs in a pan in 1/4-inch chicken bone stock, suggests Shanahan. (She likes the brand.) Buying pasture-raised eggs is "an upgrade that delivers more flavor than the conventionally-produced counterpart," she says. (Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight withWomen's Health's.)
Learn how to poach an egg perfectly every time:
49. Whip them up
You'll never guess the secret ingredient in Peanut Butter Fingers' oats: egg whites. Whipping together egg whites, banana, oats, almond milk, and cinnamon yields creamy, protein-packed oats.
50. Embolden them
When you have no clue what's for dinner, eggs should be your go-to. All you need is a half dozen, plus tomato sauce and feta, to whip up a dish called Shakshouka. Oh, and don't forget the crusty bread to dip. Our version of Shakshouka only requires 30 minutes to get on the table.
Related: 'How Many Eggs Is it Really Safe to Eat Per Week?'
51. Go green
Don't be afraid to go for a little green eggs action: toss a handful of baby spinach into a couple of scrambled eggs and let wilt. Stir in a generous dollop of pesto and mix. Pair it with a couple of slices of sprouted-grain toast with grass-fed butter and you've got an Instagram-worthy breakfast or lunch.
52. Build a bowl
If you've ever caught Nourished By Kale's Insta account, you know she's a fan of big veggie bowls with a seven-minute soft-boiled egg crowning the top. Here, you can use your imagination to fill the bowl to the brim with whatever veggies you're loving at the moment, like she does with zucchini, beets, and sweet taters.
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