Tag Archives: healthy

Top picks for healthy fast food that doesn’t taste like a plate of sadness.

photo credit: PTBO Canada. If only we had a Tim Horton's here.

photo credit: PTBO Canada. If only we had a Tim Horton’s here.

Over the river and through the woods… with a few stops along the way for a bite to eat. But have you wondered what to order when you pull that sleigh up into a fast food parking lot?

Or maybe zombies attack. And you’re trapped at Wendy’s. Grab your machetes and a salad.

Or you’re just hangry, out shopping, and the thought of eating a plate of kale overwhelms you with sadness. 

We all find ourselves out and about and have to grab a quick bite to eat. Most of the time, whether you cook at home or find yourself cruising the drive through, you’ll feel a lot better if you make a healthy choice. Over the last few years I’ve found a few hidden gems at fast food joints. And my clients who travel a lot have unearthed even more.

One thing to keep in mind if you do find yourself eating out frequently is to watch the sodium content of what you choose. A meal here and there is no big deal. But if you’re a frequent traveler, it may impact your health.

Now for the ideas: I’m no scrooge, so I’ll share my top picks with you today. What constitutes a “healthy” meal?

Healthy is a bit of a vague idea. For me, what I choose falls best in line with my overall nutrition goals. It might not be a perfect choice, but you do the best with what you’ve got. So along come my criteria:

  • 500 calories or less – if you have more calories to play with in your day, your meals can have more food. But I’m in the “small and aging” category and a 400 to 500 calorie meal is about a third of my daily maintenance calories.
  • Protein – the more, the better. It preserves muscle and helps you feel full.
  • Veggies –whenever I can find these at a restaurant, I add them to my meal. They’ve got plenty of vitamins and minerals but also filling fiber.
  • Whole grains – if I do choose to eat some delicious carbs, I usually try to find a fiber-rich whole grain source.

Think it can’t be done? It can!

Under the Golden Arches
goldenarch
Classic fast food chains are losing ground to slightly more upscale, not-quite-so-fast restaurants like Chipotle and Panera. But if you’re traveling on the interstate, your restaurant choices become slim. If we’re on the way to grandma’s, we want to make our stop quick and snappy. Here are a few picks from places that you can find nearly everywhere.

KFC
kfcchicken

Look, fried chicken is delicious. But it’s also heavy and high in calories. Instead, go grilled. Their Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is only 180 calories and has 31 grams of protein. Drumsticks are 60 calories and boast 10 grams of protein. Add a side of green beans for only 25 calories more.

Wendy’s
azn-salad
On a wintery day, the large bowl of beefy chili at Wendy’s hits the spot. It’s 250 calories and has 23g of protein and 5g of fiber.

An even better choice is the Asian cashew chicken salad. It comes in at 380 calories, even with the dressing. Yet it also packs a whopping 37g of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

McDonalds
egg-white-delight

There’s always McDonald’s. I have a few favorites here. When you can get breakfast, the Egg White Delight McMuffin has 250 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber.

For lunch or dinner, the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken will give you 29g protein and 2g fiber but only sets you back 220 calories. And if you’re jonesing for something sweet, treat yoself to a low fat vanilla ice cream cone. The full size is 170 calories, but you can get a kiddie cone for only 45 calories.

Burger King
veggie-burger

Skip the mayo on the BK Veggie Burger and you can get a sandwich that’s 310 calories with 6g of fiber and 22g of protein. And it actually tastes good. 

Subway
subway-salad

So this surprised me. You can get a big ass salad at Subway with just about any meat you like and it’s super filling because you pile on a ton of veggies. Yet very low in calories. The Oven Roasted Chicken Salad is only 140 calories yet has 19 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Just don’t ask for a “big ass salad”. They’ll look at you funny.

If you have a craving for a sandwich, order the Rotisserie Style Chicken Sandwich. With cheese, it comes in at 360 calories with 26g protein and 5g of fiber. Skip the heavy dressings and oils and stick to mustard and seasonings – with plenty of veggies packed in.

 

Beyond the basics.

Chipotle
chipotle-salad

All my bro friends love Chipotle. I love Chipotle. I ate it so frequently for a while that I needed a break. No, it’s not authentic Mexican food. But if you’re out and about and need a quick bite, this place will help you out. You can customize just about anything here.

My standard order is a salad. I add double chicken, salsa, pinto beans, and just a tablespoon of guacamole from the big container they give. It comes in at around  520 calories yet has 70g of protein. You can lighten this up a bit by just doing a single serving of chicken. Full bros order double though. It’s science.

 

Panera
thaibrothbowl
Apparently Panera discontinued their secret menu of “power” meals. What a bummer –these were all fresh and used mostly whole foods. But there are some solid choices you can still grab. Some of their salads are seasonal and you can’t get them all year round. But most of their salads are relatively reasonable for calories and several are moderately high in protein.

In the winter, though, soup sounds even better to me. The new Thai Garden Chicken Wonton broth bowl is 290 calories, contains 4g fiber and 23g protein. A bowl of turkey chili contains 260 calories, 17g protein, and a hefty 16g fiber. Order the apple for your side instead of bread or chips and you’ll have a healthy spanking meal.

Culver’s
baconbleu
I associate Culver’s with delicious but greasy butter burgers. I mean, butter burger. Just say that. So I drove past Culver’s until my friend Angie tipped me off to the Cranberry Bacon Bleu Salad with Grilled Chicken. It has 360 calories and 44g of protein. And bacon. Whoa.

Starbucks

photo credit: peanut butter runner

photo credit: peanut butter runner

Aside from coffee and calorie-laden coffee drinks, Starbucks has a few healthy breakfast and lunches you can enjoy. Some locations carry more things than others. But for breakfast, I love to order a breakfast sandwich. The Egg White, Spinach & Feta Wrap has 290 calories, 6g of fiber, and 19g of protein. And it’s delicious.

The Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich is also a solid choice, especially if you’re craving some bread. It’s 320 calories with 18g of protein and 3g of fiber.

Chick-Fil-A
chicfilawrap

Grab the Grilled Chicken Wrap and you’ll be able to feast for only 340 calories – yet stay full with 15g of fiber and 36g of protein.

Other Quick Tips
You don’t always get to choose your restaurant. Maybe you have a meeting or your family outvoted you. These tips will help you make good choices wherever you land.

  • Order grilled meat instead of fried. And if it comes on a bun, either eat half the bun or ditch it entirely.
  • Look for salads – even a plain green salad can be punched up with a burger or chicken breast to give you extra veggies and a lighter but filling meal.
  • Beware of dressings on salads: they can easily add hundreds of extra calories. Don’t ditch it entirely, because your body needs a little fat to absorb the nutrients from your greens. Just order it on the side and use a small amount.
  • For breakfast, several places now offer oatmeal. If you’re looking for some good whole grain fuel, this is a good choice. Just watch your toppers. Ditch the dried fruit and extra sugar. If you can grab a banana or other whole fruit, add that instead.
  • Choose whole meats and veggies over sandwiches and pasta dishes most of the time if you’re trying to lower calories and amp up protein.
  • For soups, creamy soups are usually high in calories. Order a small cup instead of a large bowl to enjoy these and amp up your nutrition with a side salad.

Phew. We made it. Those are my current favorite finds. What are yours? Share them in a comment below!

Meal Planning Monday: December 11, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1]

It’s cold. Yeah, yeah, it’s December. It’s supposed to be cold in Iowa. But we were spoiled. So now I’m freezing my tuchus off. So this week I want mostly soups and warm stuff to put in my belly. 

Making soup is a perfect way to stockpile some extra meals – most soups freeze really well. So make a giant batch and stash some extra meals away for later. 

Here’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods this week:

Monday: The easiest Thai chicken soup – get some Tom Ka paste from an Asian market. I simmer cooked chicken with a can  of light coconut milk, 2 cups of chicken stock, a bag of stir fry veggies, and a bit of curry paste. Sometimes I add extra bamboo shoots or water chestnuts. Yum. 

Tuesday: Slow cooker pork loin with apples and sage. I might be gross because I use bottled gravy in this recipe, but it’s so good. And so easy. Come at me. I’ll serve with mashed cauliflower. 

Wednesday: Slow cooker mu shu chicken wraps. Just cook boneless skinless chicken breasts with a half bottle of stir-fry sauce for 4-6 hours. Shred, add the rest of the bottle of sauce, along with a bag of broccoli slaw. Serve as is or wrap that up in tortillas or low carb wraps. 

Thursday: Kiddo has a choir concert. So we need a quick meal: deli turkey, Greek yogurt cream cheese, and apples on low-carb flatouts it is. I will also stuff them with mixed greens and the kids will complain about their horrible lots in life. 

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: Ottolenghi’s chickpea, tomato, and bread soup. If I could cook one chef’s meals for all my days, it would be his. 

Sunday: Bouillabaise. Because I’ve always wanted to make bouillabaise, and I like saying bouillabaise. So I’m going to try it. This is a simplified version of a French fisherman’s stew. Serve with crusty whole grain bread. 

What’s on your menu this week? Leave a comment and share! 

 

Meal Planning Monday November 28, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

It’s a new week and maybe I don’t need to eat pie every day. Or maybe I do? I had quite a lot of good pie and other treats for Thanksgiving. 

There’s no need to repent or detox.  But I’m craving some vegetables. This week’s dinner menu will have plenty of them. Hopefully there will be good leftovers for lunches, and I’ll throw some spinach into my breakfast smoothies or fold a few veggies into an omelet. 

Monday: Black Bean Pumpkin Soup from Smitten Kitchen with a mixed green salad

Tuesday: Feta spinach chicken sausages roasted with red bell peppers, onions, and broccoli. (Use whatever veggies and seasonings you like! I’ll sprinkle on oregano, salt, and pepper and roast in one pan at 400F until it looks nice and toasty. 25-35 minutes should do the trick. 

Wednesday: Baked ginger soy chicken from David Lebowitz, served with a big side of steamed or sauteed stir fry veggies. (Just buy the frozen ones if you don’t have fresh veg on hand.)

Thursday: Surely we have leftovers. Right? Right? If not, I’ve been itching to make the turkey meatloaf from Skinnytaste. It would taste great with a side of sweet potatoes and broccoli. 

Friday: Lentil chili from Little Broken. With a cornbread muffin, because yum. 

Saturday: Hosting a sleepover for many 4th grade hooligans. A DIY hot dog bar with fruits and veggies on the side will work for the kiddos. Turkey brats with apple sauerkraut and roasted Brussels sprouts for the grownups. Plus wine. Of course. 

Sunday: Blackened fish taco bowls from Noshtastic

Are you cooking up a favorite meal you’ve discovered lately? Tell me all about it in a comment below. Have a great week!

Meal Planning Monday for November 20, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Need some dinner inspiration? Last week I launched “Meal Planning Monday”. Although truthfully, I do most of my planning on Sunday. According to memes on the Internet, you’re supposed to plan on Monday. It must be due to alliteration. I have no idea. But whatever day you choose to start a new cycle of meals, just get a plan in place.

It’ll make your life way less full of crazy. At least 80% less of the crazy. And for this upcoming week, there will be plenty of that, at least around here. We’ve got Thanksgiving dinner to prep and one of my kiddos is turning 10. 

So this week’s dinner menu needs to be simple. I’ll make lunches out of leftovers, and hang with my favorite easy breakfasts. Happy Thanksgiving! Read on below for meal ideas.

Monday: Greek chicken wraps. Use rotisserie chicken, store-bought Tzaziki sauce, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and whatever else sounds good. A little feta would be perfect. Stuff it all inside a high protein Flatout wrap or a pita. 

Tuesday: Thai peanut chicken slaw. Use leftover chicken from last night. Shred or chop and add to a bag of broccoli slaw. Add a light peanut sauce made with PB2, toss that together, and top with a squirt of sriracha, a handful of cilantro, and perhaps a few chopped peanuts. If you’re fancy. 

Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner. Eggs inside sweet potatoes. I saw it on Pinterest approximately 5,000 times and now I need to try it. You win, Pinterest. You could try a recipe like these eggs in sweet potato boats, but you barely need one. I may try to shove 2 eggs into one sweet potato half because I want more protein in there. 

Thursday: Thanksgiving! I’m bringing many pies to dinner, including a salted honey pie that is out of this world. Use a different crust recipe from the one listed here. The filling will blow your mind. No, it’s not even a little bit healthy. It’s pie. But a small slice is satisfying for this one. 

Friday: Turkey leftovers. I think I’ll make a white chili and substitute turkey for the usual chicken. I may riff off of Ellie Krieger’s white chili but sub cannellini beans for the hominy. 

Saturday: Are we tired of turkey yet? Probably. Try black bean sweet potato quesadillas: Saute cubed sweet potato with some smoked paprika and a little cumin. Dump in a can of black beans and heat. Then fill tortillas with that mixture, top with a bit of cheese like cotija, and heat on a griddle or skillet. Serve with salsa. 

Sunday: Oven baked honey sriracha drumsticks and green salad. It’s my boy’s birthday, and this is what he requested. Drumsticks are an odd favorite food, but I roll with it. I substitute gochujang paste for sriracha because it’s not quite so spicy. Find it at an Asian market. 

What’s on the menu at your place? Leave a comment below and share your favorites. 

Staying healthy with hotel living – how to stay on track.

hotelroomEver feel like you’re in that weird place that isn’t quite vacation but still manages to launch you completely out of your comfortable routine?

I think we’ve all been there at least once. Having babies, starting new jobs, moving to new cities, getting married, getting divorced.

It doesn’t really matter what it is: it’s not easy to figure out a new normal. But possibly the most frustrating situation for those who want to keep up healthy habits is being away from our cozy, predictable nests. 

home

It might be because we’re on an extended business trip, or we’re moving, like my friend Lexy is doing right now.

She’s a badass working mom who is getting ready to move into a new house. That’s all good stuff except while they’re waiting for their new home to be ready they have to camp out in one of those long-term business hotels. The ones with only a microwave, a mini range, and a fridge.

Her kids love the pool but other than that, it’s a heck of a stressful situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar place – one where all of your normal routines felt like they’d been blown to bits?

I had an online coaching client whose kitchen burned to ashes. She had to deal with a major kitchen fire and had to figure out how to feed herself and her family for several weeks. Yeesh. 

Life is messy, isn’t it? Lexy asked me if I had ideas for how to make healthier choices while living in her situation. The good news is that there are things that she can do to feel like she’s taking care of her health; things that work for anyone who might be traveling a lot, going through a new job transition with little time to cook, or just having big stuff going on in their lives.

Remember this above all else…
If you’re nodding your head right now, you need to know one big thing. Here it is:

You don’t need to do everything just like you were when you were in your normal routine.

That’s a nearly impossible task, and it sets you up to feel defeated. It’s okay to loosen up your expectations for a time.

steinbeck

Perfect is the enemy of good; it’s so common for people to say “screw it” and just completely abandon eating well and working out because they aren’t able to do what they think they should. So first and foremost, give yourself permission to let go of what your perfect “healthy” routine looks like at home. 

Phew. Feels good, yeah?

Next. Let’s brainstorm some solutions.

Eating Well 
Lexy felt frustrated because of how often they were eating out. I asked Lexy what she thought was going well and she had already come up with some magnificent strategies:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies to keep in the fridge.
  • Family picnics in the park
  • Getting lean protein via deli meats
  • Choosing portable and easy to store fruits and veggies like carrots, celery, grapes, bananas and clementines
  • Chilling out about using some Lunchables for school lunches but choosing the kind with no extra cookies/candy
  • Pre-diced chicken
  • Microwavable veggie/pasta combos
Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically inappropriate favorite toy of my childhood.

Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically incorrect yet favorite toy of my childhood.

Lexy mentioned that making salads frustrated her in such a small space, and I don’t blame her. There’s usually an odd assortment of utensils, fewer available bowls, and in short, makes for the opposite of my Barbie dream kitchen. 

Simplicity is your new best friend.
My biggest bit of advice for eating while out of your routine is to do whatever is simple and still healthy. Pick the things that help you meet your goals yet don’t stress you out too much to prepare. And for the love of all that is holy, stay the hell off Pinterest. You’ll just torture yourself. 

Your #1 goal is to make your life as simple as possible. The fancy stuff can wait. 

peepszap

Embrace new ways of cooking:
You might not be able to grill a steak, but you can do a surprisingly large number of things in a microwave besides nuke those bags of vegetables:

1.Boil water(duh)
2. Scramble and even poach eggs
3. Zap a protein mug cake (they’re not great but passable)
4. Cook whole grains like oats, quinoa, farro
5. Steam fish like salmon 
6. Blow up Peeps. (This is a requirement at least once in your life. Clean it up though.)

chicken

Other ideas for “no-cook” meals:

  • Buy rotisserie chicken and a pre-packaged salad kit. Instead of having to chop veggies, you’ll just throw it all together.
  • Tuna + those little guacamole packets = magic. Actually anything + those little guac packets are wonderful. 
  • Use that microwave – but in steps. Nuke some sweet potatoes. Heat up a can of black beans and/or diced protein. Add salsa. Fill your belly. This works with regular old potatoes too and whatever microwaveable veggies you have. Add whatever fixings are easy to use – a little cheese is great.
  • Take advantage of pre-chopped veggies in the supermarket. It stinks to have to chop up things in a tiny space, and if this makes you more likely to actually eat some more vegetables and skip eating fast food, do it.
  • Keep portable and no-prep munchies around. Aside from fruits and veggies, I’ve found it pretty easy to nab Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese and jerky for quick snacks.
  • Oats are easy. For breakfast, oatmeal is easily microwaveable and even comes in disposable containers now if you’re traveling and have no bowls.
  • If your hotel offers a free breakfast, bulk up! Grab a piece of fruit for later. Choose yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and oatmeal over choices like pastries and cereal. 
  • Allow yourself some “pretty good” choices. These might not be your favorite go-to solutions. I don’t love daily protein bars and bottled protein shakes, but this might be a perfect time to keep some available.

Flipping your mindset.
I think the big thing here is to maintain a sense of order. Make a plan ahead of time, just as if you were cooking at home. Is Monday cold cuts night and perhaps Tuesday rotisserie chicken night? Write it down or save it in a file. 

Take more choices out of your life and it becomes easier to choose wisely.

Lexy also shared that she didn’t much she found foods creeping into their hotel room that she never had around at home. Again, loosening our expectations a bit is probably wise for our mental health, and yet it’s easy to see a transition time as vacation.

But if that vacation is 4-8 weeks long, we might begin feeling not so great about what we’re putting into our bodies on a regular basis. Lexy was wise to attempt to curb the creep here.

It’s not vacation. It’s your life – your real life, just in a slightly different spot than where you’re normally at. Vacation mentality won’t necessarily make you feel less out of sorts; it might erode your peace of mind as well as those routines that keep your body and mind humming.

Photo Credit: Minitime

Photo Credit: Minitime

Working out when life is nuts.
Again, doing fitness if you’ve just moved to a new place or are going through a crazy period can feel rough. Don’t have a gym? No biggie. If you’re talking about 3-4 weeks of upheaval, take a deep breath. You won’t lose all your progress.

But I encourage you to do SOMETHING. Every small, positive action reinforces more positive actions that help you care for yourself. Exercise is a huge stress reliever, and if you’re in the weeds, taking 20 minutes to do a very basic workout will go far in helping you feel good. If your hotel has a gym, that’s fantastic, but there are plenty of body weight routines that you could do just about anywhere. Investing in a suspension trainer like a TRX is another wise idea if you’re a frequent traveler.

But really, don’t sweat the details too much. Go for a walk. Just move your body, because it will make you feel like you’re on track. And that thought will piggyback into you doing more things to put yourself on track. 

Here’s a “do anywhere” quick set that will keep you strong and centered: 

Motel Muscle
Instructions: Complete 5 rounds of the following moves, resting when you need to, preferably at the bottom of a set. 

Circuit:
1.5 Bulgarian split squat – 8 reps/leg (all the way down, half way up, down, then all the way back up for one rep.)
Pushups – 8 (add a pause at the bottom if they’re easy for you)
Lateral lunge – 8/side
Russian twists – 8/side

Living in limbo is a weird place. Whether it’s for a week-long business trip or a month-long stop on the way to somewhere else you’d rather be, it’s maybe not what you expected, but you can absolutely still do things that not only help you be healthier but make you feel a little more at home. 

Do you have strategies that have worked well for your own crazy weeks (or months!)? Leave a comment below and share! 

You need poblano pepper egg boats in your life.

eggs-in-pepper-boats

I eat eggs for breakfast almost every morning. You’d think that would get boring, but I haven’t hit my breaking point yet. My 9 year old is on Team Runny Eggs with me, and is game to try just about any way of eating the mighty egg: poached, scrambled, fried, soft boiled, hard boiled, whipped into oats… you name it. 

Eggs are a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Plus they taste mighty fine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I stumbled upon a recipe for poblano pepper egg boats from Jacques Pepin, one of the OGs of fine cooking.

Sup, Jacques? Photo Credit Tim Hopkins

Sup, Jacques? Photo Credit Tim Hopkins

Jacques knows what’s up. His recipes calls for some cooking oil in the water that you use to steam your peppers before you fill them with eggy goodness. This seemed unnecessary to me, especially if I used a nonstick pan. Not that I’m dissing Jacques. But Jacques probably doesn’t give a flying French fry about calories. So I was off to modify this. 

By the way, you can use any large-ish pepper for this. Some people have used big banana peppers, but the ones I always see are so narrow that I figured they’d become a huge mess. Pick the pepper that pleases you.

Scroll down for a printable recipe, or get some how-to help here.

Begin by carefully cutting your peppers horizontally and scrape out the seeds and extra bits.

Begin by carefully cutting your peppers horizontally and scrape out the seeds and extra bits.

Fill a nonstick pan with some water - around 1/3 to 1/2 cup should be enough. Sprinkle in around 1/4 tsp of salt and let your peppers rest in there, cut side up. Heat your pan on medium heat and when it begins to warm up, cover the pan and set a timer for around 4 minutes.

Fill a nonstick pan with some water – around 1/3 to 1/2 cup should be enough. Sprinkle in around 1/4 tsp of salt and let your peppers rest in there, cut side down. Heat your pan on medium heat and when it begins to warm up, cover the pan and set a timer for around 4 minutes.

Jacques said to turn them while cooking, but I pretty much forgot. Oops. I was checking Facebook. They were fine. Whateva. Take the lid off, and you’ll notice that the water evaporated and it looks a little sketchy. Move onward. Your pan will be dirty but your peppers won’t stick.

Fill each pepper half with a tablespoon of cheese. I used 2% colby jack, but I can think of way more luxurious ideas. It's just what was laying around in the fridge. Then carefully crack an egg into each pepper half. If it oozes out a little, it's no biggie. It'll all be wonderful, I promise.

Fill each pepper half with a tablespoon of cheese. I used 2% colby jack, but I can think of way more luxurious ideas. It’s just what was laying around in the fridge.

Then carefully crack an egg into each pepper half. If it oozes out a little, it's no biggie. It'll all be wonderful, I promise.

Then carefully crack an egg into each pepper half. If it oozes out a little, it’s no biggie. It’ll all be wonderful, I promise.

You'll sprinkle a bit more salt on your eggs, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat another 3-5 minutes. 5 was just about right for the acceptable amount of runniness in my eggs. You want the yolks to still be runny but the whites to be white. Otherwise, you'll get "snotty eggs", as my kid calls them. He's so gross.

You’ll sprinkle a bit more salt on your eggs, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat another 3-5 minutes. 5 was just about right for the acceptable amount of runniness in my eggs. You want the yolks to still be runny but the whites to be white. Otherwise, you’ll get “snotty eggs”, as my kid calls them. He’s so gross.

Anyway, when they’re done, all you do is plate them, sprinkle on a little cilantro to be fancy, and eat them up. Enjoy! Serve this with some roasted tomatoes and a little whole grain toast and you’ll be breakfasting like a boss. 

Recipe below! What’s your favorite way to eat eggs? Leave a comment and share. 

 

Poblano Peppers in Egg Boats
Serves 2
A pepper stuffed with cheese and an egg is a healthy way to breakfast.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 poblano pepper
  2. 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
  3. 2 Tbsp 2% colby jack cheese
  4. 2 large eggs
  5. 1/4 tsp salt plus a bit more for sprinkling
  6. 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
Instructions
  1. Cut pepper in half horizontally, removing seeds.
  2. Add peppers, cut side down, to a nonstick pan. Add water and salt, then heat over medium heat.
  3. When water begins to heat up, cover the pan for approximately 4 minutes, or until pepper is a bit tender.
  4. Uncover pan. Make sure the cut sides are up. Sprinkle cheese into peppers.
  5. Carefully crack eggs into each pepper boat, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cover pan again.
  6. Cook covered over medium heat for another 3-5 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs. Egg yolks should be a little runny but the whites should be set.
  7. Serve and enjoy!
Notes
  1. This recipe serves 2, but I'm not saying you should stop at one half. Eat all the peppers. A pan will accomodate around 4 halves at a time.
Adapted from Jacques Pepin
Adapted from Jacques Pepin
Amy Dix http://amydix.com/

10 delicious ways to give your meals a healthy makeover.

healthy

Think eating healthier means saying sayonara to your favorite flavors? It really doesn’t have to feel like a drag to eat well. Let’s talk about how to make it easier (and yummier) today.

As I changed the way that I eat to lose weight and maintain better overall nutrition, my day-to-day choices began to look much different than they had in the past. It’s not that I never allow myself to have super rich, cheesy, decadent things: but they’re more the exception than the rule. When I do, I enjoy the hell out of them and then get back to the regular scheduled programming.

But I’ve also found myself doing things that I never used to do – making completely painless tweaks to my meals that don’t diminish them at all. In fact, I think many of the changes make for even tastier dishes. Here are 10 biggies to try:

#1. Lighten up on cooking oil.
Even though fat isn’t the enemy, using a lot of it to cook our meals can pack on a bunch of extra calories. So it’s wise to scale back.

I’ve begun using nonstick sprays quite a bit more the last few years. Don’t go crazy spraying your pan – unlike what the label tells you, nonstick sprays aren’t calorie free. Who actually sprays for a quarter of a second? But it’s still a viable tool. Either with a nonstick spray or with a thin veneer of your favorite oil, scale back on how much added fat you use for sauteeing.

I see so many recipes that use a few tablespoons of oil to just help veggies not stick to the pan. I’d rather use that oil in something that I can actually enjoy. A nonstick pan with a little spray can easily shave off significant numbers of calories without us missing any flavor. My caveat to this is that sometimes a sauce actually needs a little fat in it to round out the taste of the dish: I’d rather save that for a small amount of butter added to the end rather than making my food not stick.

#2. Greek yogurt instead of mayo or sour cream.
Yogurt in tuna salad. Yogurt on a potato. Yogurt in your chili. Yogurt on yogurt. It’s high in protein, low in calories, and serves as a perfect stand in for heavier condiments as well as making your morning breakfast bowl more wonderful.

#3. Cereal vs. granola for sprinkling.
This one pains me, because I love the flavor and texture of granola. And it might surprise you to see this one listed. After all, granola has a rep for being wholesome and virtuous. Sure, it has some whole grains and nuts. But it’s also crazy high in calories and has bunch of extra sugar and fat that I’d rather not spend on such a tiny amount of food. Granola is usually a topper for my yogurt. I began switching it out for a little cereal, because the main reason I like it in yogurt is for the crunch.

When I do have it, it’s just a few tablespoons – definitely not an entire bowl. I’ve found a few exceptions – Mamma Chia granola is relatively low on calories and high in nutritional value. I found some at Target recently. It’s definitely not as sweet or decadent as most granola I’ve had, but it’s satisfying.

Grilled bok choy and plums with pork chops is mind blowing and amps up your nutrition too. Nom nom.

Grilled bok choy and plums with pork chops is mind blowing and amps up your nutrition too. Nom nom.

#4. Flip flop your veggie to starch ratios.
A good rule to follow when putting together a dinner plate is to cover half of it with veggies, include a portion of lean protein, a small portion of starchy carbs, and a wee bit of fat.

That’s a great rule: except that becomes tricky to do with many recipes, especially soups, stews, and casseroles. An easy way to make your meal look more like what I described is to just double the amount of veggies in the recipe and halve the amount of starch (especially if the recipe includes a lot of it). 

This makes for a meal where you still get to enjoy your family’s favorite “epic pasta meal” but can usually make it a little less calorie dense. You’ll squeeze in more nutrient-packed vegetables this way too. Win/win. 

Gonna marry this.

Gonna marry this. 

#5. PB2 vs peanut butter.
PB2 was a slowly-burning love affair for me. This is the most popular brand of what’s essentially dehydrated peanut butter. At first I just added it to smoothies. Then to Greek yogurt. Those were my gateways into full PB2 obsession. Now I rehydrate it with a little water and add it to oatmeal, pancakes, or just eat it like peanut butter: with an apple, celery, or on a spoon. It’s so much lower in calories than peanut butter and it’s shockingly good.

#6. Lemon and a drizzle of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil vs. packaged dressing.
I end up using less dressing this way and my salads actually taste fresher. Try it! Sherry and balsamic vinegars are intensely flavored and make another good sub for lemon. I end up needing very little additional oil. Just enough to help absorb those nutrients in the greens.

#7. Fresh fruit instead of dried in pretty much everything. 
Ugh, I love raisins and dried cherries. But I can get so much fuller from using fresh fruit on way, way fewer calories. Dried fruit is calorically dense, often contains added sugar, and makes me sad when I measure out the tiny 2 TBSP serving. I use it sparingly or as a treat. Most of the time, I’m team #freshfruit.

#8. Bulk up a casserole with plant-based protein.
Mushrooms are extremely low in calories, boost a bit of protein and minerals, and have a meaty texture that plays well as either a stand-in or addition to meat in many meals. They’re also usually easy to find at a low price.

Now that my 3 boys eat enough food to feed a small army, bulking up our casseroles with foods like beans, chickpeas, and mushrooms not only gives them a more diverse source of nutrients in their diet; it also sometimes shaves off calories and saves us money. I don’t mind going totally meatless some days – my kids prefer me adding at least some meat to the dish, so I just do half meat/half plant stuff.

photo credit: the belle vie blog. The autumn turkey burger is kickass, by the way.

photo credit: the belle vie blog. The autumn turkey burger is kickass, by the way.

#9. Turkey brats/Italian sausages/ground turkey or chicken instead of ground pork.
I feel like a traitor, because I’m from Iowa, the pork capitol of the world. I really don’t feel like turkey or chicken is a sacrifice in most of these forms; there are so many insanely yummy sausages out there now too. Turkey and chicken varieties contain less fat and protein than their porky counterparts. My only exception is bacon. Turkey bacon is barely better for you than pork and pork bacon is just too good to swap. Come at me, turkey bacon. 

#10. Smaller corn tortillas or burrito bowls vs. white flour tortillas.
Tacos are life. It’s also Tuesday, so I thought I’d wrap this up with a taco tip. Those tortillas we use to wrap up our yummy fillings can really pack on a ton of not-all-that nutritious calories. Corn torillas are flavorful, smaller, and help control portions.

Sometimes I skip them completely and just serve my filling on top of greens, which shaves off calories and helps me get more servings of veggies into my day. This is one example of a thing I don’t really miss all that much.

Do you have any swaps you use? Share them, pretty please? I’m always up for new cooking hacks. Do me a favor and leave one on my Facebook pageLet’s start a conversation about it. Have a great day!

 

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Could this nutrition buzzword be killing your fat loss goals?

healthycookiewhat

I just told my business coach, a.k.a “harsh taskmaster,” that I was busy doing research for an article. And by research, I mean baking cookies. I wasn’t exactly lying, because I baked these cookies to confirm my hunch about something. It’s about the idea of “healthy food”.

I kind of hate the word healthy. Ok, that’s not completely true – it’s an okay word to describe things that help our bodies live longer and better. Nothing wrong with that, right? But the word is used so often and so broadly that it’s not all that helpful to us – especially for managing our body comp. Want to lose fat or keep yourself from gaining it? You probably consciously think about eating “healthy food”.

But what does that mean, exactly?

It took screwing around on social media looking for recipes to realize that many of us don’t have a clear picture of what “healthy” means as it relates to managing our weight. I saw breakfasts full of wonderful, nutrient rich ingredients that were also 500 kcal or more and mostly carbohydrate with little to no protein. If you’re trying to lose fat, that may not be the best breakfast option.

I also saw recipes labeled similarly that contained staggering amounts of coconut oil and high calories to boot. Interestingly, the search also turned up an images of a really bizarre, glowing picture of an intestine coupled with a woman in a sports bra. Yeah, “healthy” on social media can get pretty weird.

wut

Mostly, I found recipes for baked goods that looked so pretty and yet seemed virtuous. I mean, the caption always reads something like “no sugar treat” or “yummy fat loss snack!”

So I made some cookies. Here was my inspiration:

oatmealpinterestcookie

Hmmm. The caption says “sugar free”. I found the recipe while searching for ‘healthy’. Who wouldn’t want a healthy cookie? Or any cookie? Check out these ingredients though:

-3 bananas
-a half cup of raisins

This recipe isn’t sugar free. Sugar isn’t something to get your knickers in a knot about, by the way. It’s the total amount of sugar that we have in our diets that matters most. But bananas have sugar. And raisins are not only very concentrated sources of calories, they almost always contain added sugar.

Still, fruit is also coupled with fiber and nutrients that make it an excellent part of our diet.

However, the recipe also seems woefully lacking in basic components of a baked good. Where’s the leavener like baking powder or soda? Why aren’t there any binders like egg, even if the recipe’s author chooses to leave out fat? Fats aren’t the enemy of good health either. But they’re high in calories and eating too much of them, just like too much sugar, isn’t wonderful for our bodies. Moderating them can help both our calorie balance as well as our health. We don’t have to avoid them entirely.

Beyond lacking “truth in advertising”, these cookies sounded pretty terrible. So of course I had to bake them to see if these could actually work.

At the same time, I wondered how they would stack up in terms of both nutrition and flavor with my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook. To make my experiment as sciencey and fair as possible, I used the same 2 inch scoop to make uniform cookies and logged all the nutrition info into my recipe creator on Myfitnesspal.

Any guesses on my results?

Here’s how they came out:
comparingcookies

In my bake off, the two cookies were nearly identical in calorie count – close enough for me, at least.

“Healthy” cookie nutrition: 117kcal|29.6g carbs|2.5g protein|.9g fat|9.5 g fiber|7.9g sugars

“Decadent bakery cookie” nutrition: 138 kcal|21.5g carb|1.8g protein|.9g fiber|13.7g sugars

Where they diverge the most is in fiber count – with the extra fruit and whole grain, the Pinterest recipe had an impressive amount of fiber for one cookie, as well as less overall sugar than its traditional counterpart. The banana also gave the cookie a good boost of potassium.

So what’s the problem? It tastes like… I’m not sure I can fully describe to you just how bad this cookie tastes. There’s no sweetness, despite it containing so much fruit. It tastes almost like nothing, and the texture is just awful: it’s gummy and rubbery and when I threw it against the wall, it bounced back onto the plate. That can’t be good, right?

Meanwhile, the Flour bakery cookie tastes like a perfect oatmeal cookie: lightly perfumed with nutmeg and cinnamon, chewy in the middle and crusty around the edges. Mmm, cookies.

The real deal is this: if I really need some fiber, I can think of about 10 things I’d rather eat than “healthy cookies”: a banana, a bowl of raspberries, or some oatmeal. In fact, I’d rather eat a plate of kale than this cookie. It’s that terrible.

Cookies have ingredients like sugar, eggs, and butter for a reason: they make cookies taste good. They’re not meant to supply us with our vitamins and minerals. They’re supposed to be a treat. So from my day of cookie adventures, I’ll share the biggest takeaways:

  • Be wary of “sugar free” and “healthy” labels on recipes. While many recipes labeled this way may have good nutrition, they can be just as high or higher in calories as anything else. Eating them with abandon with the perception that they’re good for us can impact our weight.
  • Calling something a healthy treat may lead us to overindulge because we perceive that it’s good for us.
  • The differences nutritionally between cookie imposters and the real deal may be more minimal than we think.
  • For fat loss, calories still matter the most.
  • If you’re going to eat a cookie, make it a really good one: raisins optional. Have some spinach on the side if you’re looking for more whole foods.

I’ll be pawning off cookies for a few days now.

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