What’s for dinner?

If you need inspiration, here are some heart-friendly suggestions from Harvard cardiologists.

Published: April, 2021

Even if you enjoy cooking, chances are you find yourself wondering what to make for dinner once in a while — especially if you're trying to eat more healthfully. And maybe you or someone in your household avoids all animal products or follows a low-carb eating style. Perhaps you need an easy meal for a quick weeknight supper or something a little fancier for a special occasion.

No matter what your family's preferences, there's a wealth of options when it comes to following a diet that promotes cardiovascular health. The two main guidelines: include plenty of plant-based foods (especially fruits and vegetables), and choose mostly unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Below, five cardiologists who treat patients at Harvard-affiliated hospitals share their favorite meals, along with some of the inspiration for their choices.

Dr. Thomas Gaziano

"My Italian-American mother taught all five of her sons to cook. Our Catholic tradition of having fish on Friday nights lives on in my family. We often pan-sear Norwegian salmon with olive oil, salt, and pepper and serve it with couscous and an arugula salad tossed with olive oil, Parmesan cheese shavings, and fresh lemon juice. But my all-time favorite is cioppino, a seafood stew with a base made with olive oil, onion, garlic, fresh fennel, parsley, crushed tomatoes, white wine, and seafood stock. We add whatever is fresh at the fish market, but our version often includes clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, calamari, and a white fish such as cod or halibut."

Dr. Michelle O'Donoghue

"Most people would call my diet vegan, but I think it's important to point out that a vegan diet isn't necessarily healthy, because a lot of junk food is technically vegan, meaning it contains no animal products. I make it a point to focus on including only healthy ingredients in my family's meals. One that my family loves that's also very simple to prepare is a Mexican burrito bowl. I start with a base of brown rice and quinoa and add black beans sprinkled with cumin, corn, chopped lettuce, and chopped tomatoes, and top it off with guacamole and salsa. My family can't get enough of this dish, and it takes very little time to make."

Dr. Randall Zusman

"For me, a typical dinner is a salad made with cucumber, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans, topped with an oil-and-vinegar dressing, and a bowl of soup, either vegetable or tomato soup or fish chowder. Or I might have baked or grilled chicken or fish with lemon juice, with a vegetable such as spinach, broccoli, green beans, or cauliflower. Normally, I have fresh fruit for dessert, but I enjoy ice cream on special occasions. Although I encourage my patients to follow a low-salt, low-fat diet, I also tell them that they can eat whatever they want on their birthday. It's hard for even the most dedicated person to follow a highly restrictive diet without some hope for relief."

Dr. Malissa Wood

"I am the mother of four very athletic young adults, and three of them are vegan. I am not going to lie: it's not always easy to prepare delicious, protein-packed meals while respecting their preferences when they're all home for the holidays or other special occasions. I have gravitated toward several favorites, including a delicious vegan lasagna that features spaghetti squash and a homemade tomato sauce full of fresh herbs. Another is a quinoa-stuffed butternut squash with a garlic-and-shallot balsamic reduction glaze."

Dr. Stephen Wiviott

"Over the last several years, I have found that a diet that is similar to a paleo or Whole30 diet has worked very well for me. These diets emphasize lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lean meats, and limit processed foods, particularly carbs and sugar. We always keep a lot of cut fresh fruits and vegetables on hand for easy and healthy snacking. In the summer, we love to grill lean steak or chicken breasts with a simple marinade of olive oil, ginger, and garlic, accompanied by a grilled or steamed green vegetable such as brussels sprouts, asparagus, or broccoli. Another favorite side dish is thinly sliced sweet potatoes prepared with a little olive oil, salt, and rosemary, either grilled or baked in the oven."

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