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Longing to sport the washboard abs other gym-goers flaunt? You’ve probably heard that abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym — and that’s mostly right (though these awe-inspiring ab moves will certainly help).
“The right combo of diet and exercise is key,” says registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD. “If you are working out until the cows come home but you are eating junk, you will never see those abs peeking through.”
So if your quest for a six-pack seems futile, it’s probably time to refine your grocery shopping and menu-planning habits. When planning ab-friendly meals, Manaker suggests choosing dishes that are low in sodium, unhealthy fats and refined carbs. Because high-quality protein is important, too, meats, legumes and beans should make up a healthy portion of your dish.
Here are nine meals that not only meet the nutrition requirements outlined above, but they also will keep your taste buds happy because of their flavor profiles and they are easy to make — just because abs are (mostly) made in the kitchen, it doesn’t mean you need to spend all day toiling away in there.
Abs-Solutely Delicious Recipes
Tuna Avocado Sandwich
Say hello to your perfect power lunch! “Including avocado in your tuna sandwich gives your body healthy fats and fiber, two nutrients that can help support satiety and can help with weight-management goals,” Manaker says. “Choosing whole-grain bread instead of white gives this dish even more fiber for some major abs staying power.”
Ready in 10 minutes • Makes 2 servings
- 1 large ripe avocado
- 2 (5-oz) cans water-packed white tuna
- ¼ cup each carrots, celery, red onions (diced)
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 slices whole-grain bread, cut in half
- In a large bowl, mash avocado with a fork until partially smooth. Leave chunks of avocado for texture, if desired.
- Drain tuna and mix in with avocado.
- Add carrots, celery, onions, salt and pepper to mixture.
- Spoon half the mixture onto bread to make 2 half sandwiches.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 410, total fats 17 g, saturated fat 3 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 45 mg, sodium 620 mg, carbs 24 g, dietary fiber 10 g, sugar 4 g, protein 42 g, iron 4 mg
Fish Tacos With Zucchini-Radish Slaw
High in protein and low in fat, these fish tacos are abs-approved. “Taco Tuesday can be a great addition if you are trying to see some rock-hard abs,” Manaker says. “Just skip the heavier condiments — like sour cream and fatty meats — and opt for lighter fillings like fish and veggies.” Top them with red cabbage instead of green to fight inflammation and control cravings.
Ready in 20 minutes • Makes 2 servings
- 6 oz whitefish (halibut, cod, tilapia)
- 4 corn tortillas
- ½ zucchini
- 3 radishes
- 1 small head red cabbage
- ½ cup corn, cooked and cooled
- juice of 1 lime
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp minced red onion
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Preheat oven to 300 F. Set fish and tortillas aside. Shred zucchini, radishes and cabbage with a food processor or hand grater.
- Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl. Divide in half into 2 separate bowls. Use one bowl to marinate fish; coat both sides evenly. Toss the rest of dressing with shredded zucchini, radishes, cabbage and corn.
- Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Drizzle some water on skillet. When water sizzles, place fish in skillet and cover with dressing. Cook about 3 minutes. Flip fish and cook 2 more minutes, or until fish flakes when cut with a fork.
- While fish is cooking, place tortillas on a baking tray and bake 3 minutes until crispy. You also can heat tortillas in a dry skillet to get the same effect. Divide slaw among tortillas and top with grilled fish.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 358, total fats 10 g, saturated fat 1 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 27 mg, sodium 145 mg, carbs 44 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 11 g, protein 23 g, iron 2 mg
Seared Steak With Swiss Chard and Harissa
Not familiar with harissa? It’s abs-solutely delicious! “Harissa packs a major punch in the flavor department without a lot of calories — making it a super-ab-friendly topping,” Manaker explains. “And lean cuts of steak are chock-full of high-quality protein, making it a satisfying dinner choice that may help cut the desire to overeat later on.” The iron and B12 in red meat will keep you energized, while the mint and rosemary pack a nice punch of flavor.
Ready in 20 minutes • Makes 2 servings
- 4 oz extra-lean red meat
- 1 bunch (200 grams) Swiss chard
- 4 cups romaine lettuce
- 1 cup cooked brown rice
- ⅛ red onion, cut into thin slices
- 1 red bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced mint
- 2 tsp minced rosemary
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
- Cut meat crosswise on the bias into 2-inch-long thin slices (about ⅛-inch thick).
- In a blender or food processor, combine harissa paste ingredients. Place steak slices on a plate and smear with paste. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Remove center ribs from Swiss chard, chop ribs into small pieces and set aside in a bowl. Chop chard leaves and set aside in another bowl. Chop romaine leaves and set aside in a separate bowl.
- Meanwhile, reheat brown rice in a saucepan.
- Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Add a few drops water. Once water starts to sizzle, add chard ribs and onions. Saute until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add beef to same skillet and sear 3 minutes, then flip and sear 2 more minutes. Remove beef, onions and Swiss chard ribs and set aside on a plate. Keep covered.
- Use the same skillet to sear Swiss chard leaves for about 2 minutes. Divide romaine lettuce between 2 plates. Top each plate with ½ cup brown rice and half Swiss chard leaves. Add beef, chard stems and onions.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 343, total fats 11 g, saturated fat 2 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 51 mg, sodium 398 mg, carbs 34 g, fiber 7 g, sugar 4 g, protein 27 g, iron 6 mg
Heirloom Tomato and White Bean Salad With Chicken
Salads are the quintessential weight-loss and abs dish — and for good reason. “Eating veggies can help you get in a ton of nutrients without a lot of calories,” Manaker says. “Leaning on beans as a protein and fiber source makes this salad a perfect choice for those who want to shed some pounds, thanks to the protein and fiber that it provides.”
- 4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast
- ¼ cup Herb Marinade (See bonus recipe below.)
- 2 cups mesclun greens, rinsed
- ½ cup navy beans, rinsed
- 6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (Stack leaves and cut into small ribbons.)
- 2 tbsp Herb Marinade, reserved for dressing
- 1 heirloom tomato, coarsely diced
- ½ cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tbsp water
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare marinade.
- Pound chicken with a mallet to flatten. Place in a small bowl. Cover with ¼ cup marinade, plus enough water to cover chicken completely. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.
- Heat a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken and marinade to skillet and cook until chicken is no longer pink inside, about 15 minutes.
- Place washed greens on a dinner plate. Top with beans.
- Remove chicken from skillet. Set on a cutting board and slice into thin strips. Place atop greens and beans. Sprinkle with basil leaves and reserved marinade.
- Place heirloom tomatoes around plate.
- Blend all ingredients in a blender. Pour into a Mason jar to store. Use as a dressing or protein marinade. One serving equals 2 tablespoons.
This marinade is a great way to use up all your herbs!
Nutrition Facts (per serving, about 3 cups): calories 386, total fats 12 g, saturated fat 2 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 66 mg, sodium 535 mg, carbs 35 g, fiber 10 g, sugar 7 g, protein 36 g, iron 5 mg
“Salmon is jampacked with omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce chronic inflammation —which is a positive effect to support your goal of seeing those abs peek through,” Manaker explains. “Using parchment paper in the cooking method results in a moist protein-packed dish without the need to add extra fat.” It also cuts down on cleanup efforts. You’re welcome!
- 4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
- 1 red bell pepper, steamed, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 cup snow peas, halved
- 4 (4-oz) salmon fillets, skin removed
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Cut 4 large pieces of parchment paper. Fold in half and then unfold and set aside.
- Combine cabbage, bell peppers and snow peas in a bowl. Divide them equally on parchment paper squares.
- Place salmon fillets on top of vegetables.
- In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, ginger, scallions, garlic, sesame oil and pepper. Drizzle sauce over fish. Fold parchment edges to seal, and place each closed package on a large baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, or until fish flakes easily.
Bonus: This meal fights aging HOW? Salmon provides loads of omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats have recently been shown to help fend off age-related diseases and visible signs of aging by protecting chromosomes that affect life span from damage.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 230, total fats 8 g, saturated fat 2 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 60 mg, sodium 660 mg, carbs 10 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 5 g, protein 27 g, iron 1 mg
Black Bean Burger
No need to ignore that burger craving when it strikes. “Enjoying a black bean burger can give you that satisfying taste without a ton of added fat and calories,” says Manaker, who suggests reaching for a whole-grain bun instead of a refined white option for an added fiber boost.
Ready in 15 minutes • Makes 1 serving
- ½ cup rinsed black beans
- ¼ cup whole-wheat flour
- ¼ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 egg white
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- olive oil cooking spray
- arugula, to garnish
- 1 whole wheat bun
- 1 tbsp salsa
- olive oil cooking spray
- In a mixing bowl, mash beans, flour, cumin, pepper and egg white together. Add carrots and press into a patty.
- Heat skillet over medium to high heat and coat lightly with cooking spray. Cook patty 3 minutes on each side.
- Place arugula and patty on bun and top with salsa.
Nutrition Facts: calories 370, total fats 2 g, saturated fat 0 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 48 mg, sodium 496 mg, carbs 69 g, fiber 13 g, sugar 4 g, protein 18 g, iron 6 mg
Grilled Raspberry Salmon
Simple fish dishes can be the ultimate ab-friendly meal thanks to the low amount of calories and high amount of nutrients that it provides. “Skipping creamy sauces and instead making a homemade light raspberry marinade helps keep the calories low and the flavor robust and satisfying,” Manaker says. “Serve this over a bed of whole grains and a sauteed veggie for a balanced meal.”
Ready in 1 hour • Makes 4 servings
Tip: Less is more when it comes to marinating seafood. Usually, half an hour is enough time to add flavor to a delicate piece of fish. Less time is needed if you are using a strong acid, such as lemon juice, in the marinade.
- vegetable oil, as needed
- 1½ lb wild-caught salmon fillet(s)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp raspberry vinegar
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- ½ tbsp low-sodium tamari or light soy sauce
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- Prepare grill on medium-high heat. Oil slotted or vented grill pan.
- Rinse salmon and pat dry. Set aside in a small baking dish.
- Mix together marinade ingredients and pour over salmon. Cover and refrigerate 15 to 30 minutes.
- Remove salmon from marinade. Rub skin side with sea salt and place on grill pan skin side down. Spoon marinade over fish.
- Grill 7 to 10 minutes, or until just barely done.
- Remove from grill and let fish rest 1 to 2 minutes to finish cooking.
- Garnish and serve.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 330, total fats 18 g, saturated fat 2.5 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 95 mg, sodium 840 mg, carbs 6 g, fiber 0 g, sugar 5 g, protein 34 g, iron 7 mg
Apple Chicken Over Spicy Lentils
This no-added-sugar Moroccan-inspired dish is slightly sweet thanks to the orange juice and apples that are included. “Chicken is a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition, providing nutrients like high-quality protein, vitamin B12 and iron to help people feel energized and satisfied,” Manaker says. “Lentils are an excellent base for dishes, providing satisfying carbs, protein and fiber.”
Ready in 30 minutes • Makes 1 serving
- olive oil cooking spray
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ginger
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ apple, chopped
- 4 oz chicken breast, thinly sliced
- ½ cup cooked lentils
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 cups kale, chopped
- ¼ avocado, sliced
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly spray a small dish with olive oil cooking spray.
- Mix orange juice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and chopped apple in a small bowl. Place chicken in baking dish and pour ingredients from bowl on top. Bake in oven. Turn over after 10 minutes. Cook for another 10 to 12 minutes.
- In another small bowl, mix lentils, white pepper and cayenne pepper.
- Heat olive oil in skillet over medium to high heat. Add in kale. Sautee kale until it starts to turn bright green. Add in lentils and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.
- Plate skillet mixture and top with chicken. Garnish with avocado slices.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 485, total fats 14 g, saturated fat 2 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 66 mg, sodium 448 mg, carbs 57 g, fiber 14 g, sugar 21 g, protein 39 g, iron 6 mg
Curried Shrimp Kabobs
“Shrimp kebabs are a light dinner that is a great choice for people who are not salad lovers,” Manaker says. “Packed with high-quality protein and low-calorie veggies, enjoying these skewers will support your health journey in a totally delicious way.” If you aren’t a fan of shrimp, any protein will do — even tofu for a vegan-friendly dish. Feel free to get creative with the veggies, too.
Ready in 25 minutes • Makes 4 servings
- ¼ tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp cumin
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp garlic (finely minced)
- 24 jumbo cooked frozen shrimp
- 2 large yellow onions, cut into large chunks
- 16-20 cherry tomatoes
- 8 large wooden skewers (soaked in water for 10 minutes)
- Preheat tabletop grill or outdoor grill.
- In a large bowl or large zip-close bag, mix curry powder, turmeric, cumin, salt, pepper and garlic.
- Add shrimp and onions to spice mixture. Coat shrimp and onions thoroughly, being careful not to break up the onion chunks.
- Thread 3 shrimp onto each skewer, alternating with tomatoes and onions.
- Spray grill with nonstick cooking spray, and cook until brown and onions are tender, about 8 minutes. (Flip halfway through if using an outdoor grill.)
Optional: Serve over brown rice.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 209, total fats 2 g, saturated fat 0 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 199 mg, sodium 411 mg, carbs 23 g, fiber 7 g, sugar 14 g, protein 26 g, iron 6 mg
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