Late Night Dinners and Moroccan Tagine

I’ve had a couple of clients come to me with questions about eating dinner late at night.  Due to various, crazy schedules or busy evenings with kids, they don’t get a chance to eat dinner until 8 or 9:00 at night.  Some have sworn off eating at that time of night.  Others find themselves famished by that point, but then feel guilty about the size or contents of their meal.

I find myself in the “late night dinner” boat several times a week as well.  Often, I’m not finished teaching music lessons until 8:00, then wrap up my notes before heading home.  What’s a person to do when they haven’t had dinner?

One of my first suggestions is to not let yourself get too hungry.  I know I will almost always overeat if I’m starving.  I’ll reach for carbohydrates or fattening foods for their satiety.  So, I try to keep a snack on hand for the late afternoon/early evening (i.e. some almonds or a protein bar or Larabar).  I don’t always get a chance to eat it, but usually I can squeeze in a minute or two for it.

Another suggestion that goes along with the first is to have your dinner for lunch.  Often times, dinner is our biggest meal of the day.  If we don’t have it, we miss it.  For me, I tend to have more time for lunch than dinner since I’m in between jobs at this point in the day.  If I was planning on having some leftovers or some soup for dinner, I’ll grab that for lunch instead.

If it does get to be pretty late before I’ve had anything substantial, I try to stick with a protein rich dinner.  In my opinion, there may be something to the whole concept of carb cycling (basically, eating more carbs first thing in the morning and transitioning to protein through the day).  Think about it, we need energy for all the activities of our day upon rising in the morning.  Where can we get lots of “energy?”  Carbohydrates.  Then, as we head closer and closer to bed time, we need to think about rebuilding and repairing our bodies (particularly, if you are exercising).  What do our bodies use for rebuilding?  Protein.

Sometimes, I’ll just have a protein shake for dinner if it’s late by the time I get around to it.  Other times, something like an egg white omelet makes a good choice or some chicken with vegetables.  I’m not saying you need to swear off any carbohydrates after 5:00 p.m., but try to emphasize protein as you head closer to bed.  Then, once you’ve had your dinner, stop worry about it!  If you are truly hungry, there is certainly nothing wrong with eating.

Here’s an example of a good, protein concentrated dinner.  I made this last night with intentions of eating lots of leftovers this week.  Notice, my meal is not completely devoid of carbs.  After all, even vegetables are technically carbohydrates, and, well, I just like carbs.  Meals feel more like meals if they include them.  However, these are good, complex carbohydrates which my body will break down slowly into nutrients I need.

This recipe is entitled “Chicken Tagine” and is taken from Cooking Light’s Fresh Food Fast cookbook.  I made several changes to the recipe.  It is very forgiving.  I think somewhere along the way I started thinking Mediterranean rather than Moroccan, so I diverged from the recipe a little bit.  All in all, it was delicious, nutritious, and a snap to prepare.  Welcome, Tuesday through Thursday, you busiest days of my week.  I’ve got fuel ready to reheat!


8 (3-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt-free Moroccan spice blend (such as The Spice Hunter)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, undrained
3/4 cup uncooked couscous
Plain fat-free yogurt (optional)
Chopped fresh mint (optional)

A note about the ingredient list.  First of all, I couldn’t find that moroccan spice blend in my grocery store.  I didn’t feel like hunting around at different stores for it, so I just used a salt-free garlic and herb spice blend I had in my pantry.  It worked just fine.  Maybe my recipe turned out less Moroccan-y, but it was still tasty.  Also, I never both to measure out the salt and pepper.  I just give the chicken a light coating and move on (the same with the spice blend as well).  I have great blood pressure, I sweat a lot in my workouts, and I’m not a huge salt on my food kind of person, so I don’t worry about it.  If you need to watch your sodium intake, by all means, measure the salt to make sure you’re not overdoing it!

My pack of chicken thighs only had six thighs in it (not eight).  Don’t bother buying two packs unless you’ve simply got that many mouths to feed.  The recipe works great with six.  Also, I used plain diced tomatoes instead of the garlic and onion variety.  I thought about substituting with another variety of diced tomatoes, but I noticed all of those kinds included ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and other artificial ingredients.  My recipe wasn’t lacking any flavor with the plain jane tomatoes, and the recipe was healthier as a result. Since I was thinking more Mediterranean the more I cooked, I through in some capers as well.  Yum!  I love anything olive-esque.

Additionally, don’t skip the yogurt or the mint!  The mint adds another fantastic (and healthy!) dimension of flavor to the dish (Thank you, fresh herbs, for all your flavor with all the health benefits and none of the calories!).  I used nonfat, plain greek yogurt.  It is so rich and creamy, you’ll think it’s sour cream!

Here is the box of couscous I used:

 This stuff looks so good for you!  I mean, organic brown rice, gluten free, mediterranean curry!  Wow!  But is it really?  Remember, even if you buy something in the health food aisle, the front side of any box is all marketing.  The back of the box is where we find all the nutritional information.  Let’s take a look:
Yep, I can pronounce all those things!  Note, dried cane syrup is sugar, and it is the fourth ingredient.  Not the best thing to see on the back of the box, but there’s only one total gram in a serving.  Not too bad at all.  Citric acid and natural flavor aren’t what you want to see on the back of the box, but they are pretty far down on the ingredient list, and something I’ve chosen not to worry about for the time being.

Okay, moving on from ingredients.  Let’s get cooking.

1.  Sprinkle both sides of the chicken evenly with spice blend, salt, and pepper.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken.  Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until browned.  Add chickpeas and tomatoes; bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until chicken is done.
2.  While chicken simmers, cook couscous according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Serve chicken thighs and vegetable mixture over couscous.  Top with yogurt and mint, if desired.  Yield: 4 servings (2 chicken thighs, 2/3 cup vegetables, and about 3/4 cup couscous).

Here are my chicken thighs, prepped and ready for cooking.  I pulled off some of the fat from the meal before cooking, but I leave a lot of it on for some extra flavor (read: satiety!) in the dish.

And here are the little guys cooking away after I added the chickpeas and tomatoes.  Note, don’t keep flipping them over and over while they cook.  After they’ve browned on one side, flip them and leave them until they’re done.

While everything’s cooking, I made (and ate!) a big salad.  This is definitely a great way to control your eating if you’re particularly hungry.  That big salad is low on calories and fills you up.  I think mine had spinach, red onion, tomatoes, red pepper, cucumbers, and feta cheese.  Yes, I put cheese on my salad.  Feta is very low in calories as far as cheeses go, and I absolutely love it.  A little bit of that stuff on top, and I will eat lots and lots of salad!

When the chicken is cooked, plate it and serve.  I always try to make an attractive looking plate.  You will be more satisfied by your meal if it satisfies your eyes as well as your taste buds.  Enjoy!


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