Chicken Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Garlic: Meal Prep
As we move from breakfasts to lunches with the chicken pasta, I want to make a disclaimer:
I do not support dieting.
I do not think you should ever restrict food, deprive yourself, or make certain foods “bad” and other foods “good.” It just doesn’t work that way!
I DO support making positive changes to your permanent way of eating.
And when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to confuse the two.
In other words, when you are first starting to meal prep and pay attention to food groups and macros, it may feel a lot like “dieting.” You may feel like you’re not eating enough, or that you can’t have your favorite foods.
However, it all depends on your starting point, which affects your perspective. If your set point is typically overeating and relying heavily on carbohydrates and fats for most of your calories, moderating your intake of rich food and supplementing your diet with vegetables may feel restrictive.
But here’s the difference between dieting and making permanent, positive changes:
Dieting naturally fizzles out, because by its very nature, you’re eliminating something that you need, either for nutrition or for pleasure.
Permanent, positive changes actually become easier over time instead of harder, because a “new normal” shifts into gear and you find pleasure, satisfaction, and reward from your new routines.
Why is it so important to say this up front? Because routines that initially seem overwhelming and difficult, like cooking your food, packing your lunches, and eating at home more, do become easier over time. You need to find your own personal “happy place” when it comes to these routines, because everyone’s life and schedule is different, but in general, you will find the most success if you:
- Cook 90% of what you eat
- Eat 90% of your evening meals at home
- Pack 90% of your snacks and lunches when you work or go out
- Focus on eating foods that don’t come out of packages
- Eat the correct portion size
- Balance out your macros each day for your goals
If you’re new to this, that may seem like an overwhelming list. But once you get the hang of it, it’s simple and easy to maintain – much easier, in fact, than any fad diet or superfood trend. So hang in there!!
When we “put it all together” next month, you’ll see how meal prepping and planning your food can make a tremendous difference in your health, weight loss, or physique goals.
Having a plan and being prepared is worth it.
So let’s get started!
Garlic Chicken Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Parmesan
This is a great meal if you like mac and cheese. It has the creaminess and saltiness of mac and cheese, but has some extra bite from the broccoli rabe.
Never tried broccoli rabe? In all honesty, I used to hate the sharpness and pungency of this bitter green. It is definitely an acquired taste. Culturally (meaning, in the U.S.), we have lost our taste for bitter flavors – we favor salty, sweet, and other mellow shades of taste. But bitter greens and vegetables, including broccoli rabe and other greens like kale and dandelion greens, are excellent for your health – they moderate hunger and help the liver to produce more bile for digestion (this is a good thing!).
My tip for incorporating more bitter tastes into your palate is to include them in otherwise mellow, rich meals. This cheesy and garlicky Italian-inspired dish will take the edge off of the pungency of the broccoli rabe and allow you to explore the novel flavor in small doses.
The Shopping List
- 1 lb. pasta (I use brown rice fusilli – it’s up to you!)
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 6 oz. hard parmesan shaving cheese
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe
- 1 sweet onion
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 large bag of spinach
- A little coconut oil for sautéing
This dish comes together rather quickly, and makes six servings. The following three steps can be done concurrently:
- Put pasta water on to boil on high heat.
- Pull apart the head of garlic and crush the individual cloves with the flat part of a knife. Then peel the garlic cloves.
- Cube the chicken breasts and saute over medium heat, using a bit of coconut oil if needed.
- In a shallow saucepan, toss the crushed and peeled garlic cloves over medium heat, and add a little coconut oil to allow for browning.
- Once the pasta water is boiling, put the pound of pasta into the water and turn it down to medium heat. Cook the pasta until it is al dente (still with a small bite of toughness – not mushy), and then drain it.
- Chop up the broccoli rabe and add it to the sautéed garlic once the garlic has become brown and slightly translucent.
Once the pasta is cooked and drained:
- Combine the cooked pasta, sautéed chicken breasts, garlic, and broccoli rabe. Stir together gently.
- Add 6 oz. of grated hard parmesan cheese, and allow it to melt. Fold it into the mixture gently.
- Add the bag of spinach, and continue to very carefully fold the mixture (so as not to destroy the pasta), and allow the spinach to wilt from the heat and humidity in the dish.
Remember, the best way to meal prep is to cook the entire dish, and then immediately separate it into the correct portion sizes before eating any of it. Why? Serving food family style (directly out of the pot onto plates for a meal) encourages overeating. Portioning it ahead of time ensures that you will eat the correct size for your energy needs. Unfortunately, we tend to train our stomachs with our eyes. The positive side of that is that you can also train yourself to be satisfied with the appropriate portion sizes.
Most people are shocked at the smallness of correct portion sizes. Remember what I said, that cultivating better habits might feel like dieting at first? This is a great example. The dish above makes six servings. Many of my clients, when first starting out with meal prep, end up eating the entire dish in one dinner with their spouse.
Pre-portioning helps stave off mindless overeating. Do it!
Finally, many of my clients know that I eat a 100% gluten-free diet. The story is too long to get into right now, but suffice to say that I eat this way because of my husband’s dietary needs and it has been advantageous for me as well. One day there will be a long blog post about it, but not today!
Just a short note: whether you eat white pasta, whole wheat pasta, or gluten-free pasta, pasta is pasta when it comes to carbohydrates and calories. There is no magic bullet, no superfood, and no diet that will cause pasta to be anything other than a grain-based carbohydrate (excepting, of course, spiralized zucchini). This means that there is no way to moderate the carb load and the glycemic index of pasta except portion control.
In other words, if you are eating gluten-free, do not eat gluten-free carbs like they don’t count. They are still carbs, and sometimes they are actually less healthy than their wheat counterparts! Read labels and eat intelligently.
You can do it! And it’s worth it!