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Hearty meals for happiness and health, according to a nutrition expert

Eating healthy is often associated with stingy ingredient lists and unsatisfied, if not downright unhappy, taste buds. But we don't eat only to sustain ourselves. We eat because food is delicious and a hearty meal can be as beneficial to your soul as it is for your body. We talked to BestReviews nutrition expert Molly Bremer about how to plan meals that are healthy, satisfying and a joy to eat.

In this article: Oxo Good Grips Glass 3-Quart Baking Dish with LidFarberware Classic Stainless Steel Stockpot and Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Round Dutch Oven, 5.5-Quart.

Planning healthy meals

There’s a reason diet culture is such big business. It’s hard to diet successfully and easy to fail. Plus, as Bremer put it, "Everyone has a different way of defining what 'healthy food' looks like to them." Instead of arbitrary rules and diets, Bremer tries to work with simpler and more flexible definitions of "healthy."

"For me, healthy food means not eating in extremes and including food in a balanced, satisfying and flexible way," she said. For example, one of her go-to meals is teriyaki salmon with rice and broccoli. "This meal is great for all seasons and it provides a balance of the macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and protein."

Don't give up on your favorite foods

Bremer also takes cultural considerations into account when she advises her clients on nutrition.

"For example," she said, "if I was working with a client who was from Mexico and enjoyed tacos, I might make the recommendation that they include more whole grains in their diet in the form of a whole-wheat tortilla or brown rice." Since whole grains are more filling and nutrient-dense than refined grains, they’re a simple, tasty ingredient switch that can make your favorite recipes healthier and more filling.

Eating healthy shouldn’t require giving up foods that you love or that are important to you. And yes, this includes dessert.

"All foods can fit in a healthy diet," Bremer said. "When we are only telling people to eat grains, vegetables, fruit, protein and dairy, some people might take that too literally and eliminate any foods that do not fit into those categories." The key is simply balance.

Healthy meal ideas

"I am a huge fan of building different kinds of bowls," said Bremer. "Most recently, I have been enjoying a spinach and rice bowl with pork belly, cucumber, shredded cabbage and a soy-ginger dressing."

Grain bowls are not only filling, they’re easy to prep ahead of time and can help you use up leftovers.

To build a healthy, filling grain bowl, start with a whole-grain base, such as brown rice, quinoa or wheat berries. Top it with a protein such as sliced chicken or tofu and some raw or roasted vegetables. Drizzle with a salad dressing or salsa and add a nutrient-packed garnish such as nuts, pomegranate seeds or fresh herbs.

Try these simple ideas for hearty yet healthy comfort-food favorites:

  • Veggie fried rice made with brown rice, edamame, broccoli, bell peppers and cabbage
  • Cheesy broccoli or cauliflower gratin
  • Spiced lentil soup
  • Black bean and turkey chili
  • Enchiladas made with black beans and sweet potato
  • Veggie curry served over brown rice
  • One-pan roasted chicken and vegetables

Best product for cooking balanced meals

Leifheit Salad Dressing Shaker Bottle

You can shake up dressings for salads or grain bowls in this glass mixer. The bottle has a 1.25-cup capacity and it's dishwasher-safe. It has convenient recipes printed on the side and an anti-tip spout to prevent spills.

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OXO Good Grips Glass 3-Quart Baking Dish with Lid

You can bake comforting lasagna, gratin, casseroles and more in this sturdy glass baking dish. It has large handles for easy lifting and its lid, which contains no potentially harmful bisphenol A, helps with storing and transporting food.

Sold by Amazon 

Farberware Classic Stainless Steel Stockpot

This sturdy 16-quart pot can be used to make stock, cook pasta or prepare soups and chilis. The stainless steel heats quickly and evenly and it's oven-safe up to 350 degrees. The stockpot can be used on all cooktops and it's dishwasher-safe.

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Lifaith Cotton Everyday Basic Terry Potholders

These potholders come in a rainbow of colors and ship in a pack of five. They're made from terry-loop cotton with a heat-resistant lining on the other side.

Sold by Amazon

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Round Dutch Oven

This heirloom-quality cast-iron Dutch oven features an iconic colored enamel coating that resists chipping and cracking. Its tight-fitting lid traps and recirculates flavor-laden steam for even tastier meals.

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Dash Compact Air Fryer

With a 2-cup capacity and a faster cooking time, this air fryer makes it possible to enjoy your favorite fried foods with up to 80% less fat. No-fuss settings, nonslip feet and an auto-shut-off timer make it safe and easy to use.

Sold by Amazon and Wayfair

Prepara Avocado Peeler and Slicer

Quickly and easily add avocado to your meal with this compact tool. It halves and pits the avocado and scooped-out thick slices to top your grain bowls and more.

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Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor

Prep vegetables, shred hard cheeses, make hummus and more with ease using this processor. It comes with slicing and shredding discs as well as a mixing blade. Its two-button operation is intuitive and simple.

Sold by Amazon and Wayfair

Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus 10-in-One Pressure Cooker

With a 6-quart capacity and 48 customizable preset cooking options, this is one of the most user-friendly pressure cookers. Use it to cook rice, whole grains, egg dishes, chili and more.

Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

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Laura Duerr writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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