One of the best ways to make your diet healthier, and cut down on your grocery bill at the same time, is to start cooking chicken more often.
This is a concrete, achievable goal that anyone looking to get into better shape can start working on right away, and it's not the usual kind of dieting "gimmick." Those are usually focused on cutting out your favorite foods, while this method focuses on adding healthier food to your diet in the form of cheap, protein-packed chicken.
This subtle psychological shift allows you to look forward to eating again, instead of dreading your hunger pangs all day.
Below are four easy steps to get started.
Step 1: Start Buying More Chicken
The first step is to add poultry to your grocery checklist, right up there with the basics like milk, eggs and cheese. While that sounds like rudimentary advice, making chicken just "one of those things" that you have to pick up at the grocery store is the simplest way to make sure its always in your refrigerator, ready to be cooked daily.
Chicken is not expensive. You can pick up 3-5 meals worth of breasts, thighs, drumsticks or wings for about the same cost of two "value meals" at a fast food restaurant.
Chicken fills you up quickly, and keeps you full for a long time. For example, there is no way you could power through a plate of chicken as fast as you could a quicker-digesting carb, like french fries.
Steaks and beef are delicious, but are simply more expensive and a less efficient form of protein to buy. That is what makes chicken such a great core to build your diet around.
Step 2: Keep the cooking simple
So, what are the obstacles to increasing the amount of chicken in your diet? The first might be a general lack of knowing how to cook. It really never has to be any more complicated than taking out your chicken, sprinkling salt and pepper on both sides, pouring a little olive oil into a pan, dropping the chicken into the pan, searing each side for around ten minutes on medium-high heat, and eating.
There are two basic rules you can follow to make sure that simple cooking doesn't turn into bland cooking:
1. Slice and dice:
The more surface area you have to salt and pepper, the more of that delicious "crust" you will have to eat. Simply slice your chicken breast into three or four patty-like shapes and suddenly that big lump of white meat won't be so boring, and will look more like something you'd get at a restaurant. Careful: you don't want to cut up your chicken too much, as each cut will increase the dryness and decrease the juiciness of the meat.
2. Shake and bake:
Also, keep some breadcrumbs around, along with other simple seasonings like garlic or italian spices. It's so simple, but will make a huge difference in how your chicken tastes in the end. You can also pat down your chicken with flour, panko crumbs or even crushed up cornflakes. The calories from "breading" your chicken are negligible if you end up replacing many of your meals with protein-packed chicken plates, anyways. For example, you're much less likely to snack mindlessly after eating a home-cooked plate of chicken. If it takes you a hundred calories of breadcrumbs to stay away from a thousand calories of cookies later, that's a good trade.
Step 3: Mix it up
Another thing you can do to make chicken more appealing is to add variety to your recipes. While the breast is the leanest part of the chicken you can cook, you can also try the thigh or even drumsticks, which can be baked in the oven. My personal favorite is baking chicken breast with a parmesan crust and serving with some pasta.
Don't be afraid to experiment with side dishes at the grocery store, too. Everything from mac and cheese to teriyaki vegetables goes great with chicken.
Step 4: Use the leftovers
Chicken is fairly simple to cook in bulk, and makes a great addition to lunch and dinner throughout the week. Simply store leftovers wrapped in tin-foil in your refrigerator and keep low-calorie hamburger buns around for a tidy, filling meal that can be easily heated at home or on the go.
A final word: just because you're making chicken the core of your diet doesn't mean you can't have fun other nights with steaks or turkey burgers or even pizza. The fact that most of your meals are now healthier and you are snacking less means you can have more fun on your "off" nights. Chicken's not flashy, but it's a great, blue-collar protein to build your weekly meals around.