Tag Archives: recipes

Hip healthy eats: what’s trending in 2017.

fancy jerkyIs kale finally over? Do we still need to put an egg on it? If you’re wondering what new foods you should pile on your plate this year to fuel your bod and your taste buds, read on. 

Of course you can eat well with the basics. Fill your plate with broccoli and chicken every day and live your life. But I need a lot of variety in my diet and screw around with new recipes. Thankfully, I can just scroll through my social media feeds to find plenty of inspiration (aka food porn, am I right?)

If you’re doing that too, you’ve likely already noticed certain foods popping up over and over. Are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

In the interest of research and a hungry belly, I test drove a whole bunch for you. Maybe there will be some fresh ideas. In any case, find out what’s healthy and what’s just hype with the new cool kids in your grocery store.

Before I dig into my list, remember this: all foods can be part of a healthy diet. The idea of superfoods is way overblown, as I recently discussed. But still, some foods make it easier to stay nourished and well than others.

Now that I’ve covered my butt in that disclaimer, let’s move on to the fun stuff.

Haha what?

Haha what?

I didn’t sample “functional food”, like supplements you add to smoothies like spirulina, which is apparently ridiculously good for you. I also left out things that while inexplicably popular, are expensive and sound hella stupid. I’m looking at you moon dust and sex dust. Yeah, sex dust is real. I don’t know what else to say about that.

I’m also leaving out recipes for cleanses and detox drinks. Because you don’t need any of that. Your liver does that job. Plus we all know that concoctions of lemon juice, maple syrup and God knows what else is going to taste like donkey. We good? Let’s do this.  

golden milk
My turmeric latte.

Turmeric – the golden child?

It seems that turmeric everything popped out of nowhere. It’s what gives curry powder its vibrant yellow hue. And it happens to contain a compound called curcumin, which provides anti-inflammatory effects to the body.

If its popularity on Pinterest is any indication, it would seem that turmeric has the ability to help fight off disease, help your brain, and maybe fight off ninjas. But you need to keep a few key things in mind:

In order to benefit from curcumin, you need to consume black pepper with it. It contains piperine, which allows you to absorb it way more effectively.

Most importantly, most of the research that finds turmeric to be beneficial uses turmeric extract. The foods and drinks you’re seeing all over the Internet don’t likely contain enough curcumin to improve your health.

Still, I had to try. I decided to go hardcore and use the fresh root instead of the powder form.

First I tried the much pinned “golden milk” or “turmeric latte”.

The verdict:
golden milk is terrible. Medicinal. I took one sip and poured the rest down the drain. The thing is, I’m not sure it was the turmeric that tasted so bad: the drink is usually mixed with quite a bit of fresh ginger and a bit of black pepper, along with coconut or almond milk, because everyone drinking golden milk appears to dislike dairy. Turmeric root itself smells fresh. I liked that.

I gave our relationship one more chance by grating some into my morning egg, cheese, and veggie scramble. On the plus side, it made my eggs prettier. And my eggs tasted great. Except I couldn’t detect any discernable turmeric taste. 

Try if: you want to add a little spice or color to your life. Be prepared for yellow fingers and countertops if you use the fresh root.

buckwheatbowl

Buckwheat porridge.

Quinoa, why you so basic?

Ahh, quinoa, the “ancient grain” that’s still plenty popular. It’s gluten free, though it’s not the protein powerhouse that everyone swoons over.

The term ‘ancient grains’ makes all the health food aficionados wet their pants. Just because something has been around awhile doesn’t automatically make it superior. But why not branch out? There’s a world of whole grains out there that have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to both power you up and satisfy your need for a little starchy goodness.

I’ve been digging other grains like Chinese forbidden rice, which is slightly chewy and has a gorgeous deep purple hue that you can Instagram to display your fanciness.

Nutty farro and freekeh are worth tasting too. Sprouted grains will likely get more attention this year as well. The process can increase many key nutrients within grains. Some people may tolerate them better too if they have sensitivities to grain.

I tried buckwheat this week. It has a neutral flavor and texture similar to steel cut oats. Though the name might sound like it contains wheat, it’s actually a gluten-free seed, often called a “groat”. It’s filled with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and amino acids.

Most importantly, it makes a bomb porridge for breakfast. Start with this recipe to get going. 

Try if: you want new textures and flavors in your whole grains.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Kale is dead. Long live other green stuff.
Okay, kale isn’t dead. I don’t even hate kale. But I predict people will branch out to discover some other good green stuff. I cooked up mustard greens, which have a peppery bite but taste less bitter than kale.

I used this quick recipe for wilted greens and onions from Martha Stewart, who probably has an entire garden of mustard greens at the ready. Of course she does. They paired perfectly with my avocado toast and poached eggs – two 2016 trends that don’t show much sign of slowing down. #avotoast #putaneggonit.

Try if: you want to feel more excited about leaves.

 

Bowl of power. Or something.

Bowl of power. Or something.

Buddha/Power Bowls
Yeah, yeah, these were a 2016 thing. But plenty of people are just coming to the power bowl party. The basic idea is just to mix plenty of veggies, a protein, and healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocado, you name it. I threw together zucchini and carrot noodles, cabbage, cucumbers, chicken, and peanut sauce. It made a perfect light dinner that doesn’t require a recipe.

Try if: you like to throw together leftovers from your fridge.

Veggie burgers that taste like burgers.

Veggie “meats” that taste like the real deal.

Eat some peas: pea protein.
Protein is my wing mate. It helps me build and keep muscle, stay lean, and feel full. Protein is also becoming perhaps too much of a grocery shelf darling these days, as you’ll see it jammed into everything from water to cereal.

At the same time, more people are looking for plant-based alternatives to meat as their protein source. Pea protein is gaining popularity as an alternative to animal sources like meat, dairy, and egg. And it’s helping producers create veggie burgers that are more juicy and meaty than ever. I don’t know what kind of witchcraft this is, but I’d wager that the vegans are excited. 

I tried the new Beyond Meat beast burger to give these a test drive. Unlike most veggie burgers, this one packs a walloping 20 grams of protein into it. It’s also 290 calories, which isn’t anything spectacular for a protein to calorie ratio.

But if you’re eating only plant based protein, it weighs in pretty well. Pea protein is also good stuff because it has a good amino acid profile, is unlikely to cause allergic reactions, and lets vegetarians back off from eating a metric ton of soy products. I also plan to try the “chicken” fajita strips. I have high hopes.

Try if: you’re a vegetarian who secretly longs for a juicy hunk o meat. Or gainz.

I didn't spiffy up my "toast" very well here.

I didn’t spiffy up my “toast” very well here.

Sweet potato toast is now a thing.
Sweet potato toast is not toast. I don’t care what you put on it. Toast is bread. This is a thin slice of roasted sweet potato that happens to be a good delivery vehicle for #thingsontoast.

Some people have roasted them in a toaster. This sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. I didn’t want to burn down my kitchen. Well sometimes I want to burn down the kitchen, but only because I want a new kitchen. But I digress.

I read up on this not-toast. Roasting at 450F was apparently the way to go. You can always reheat them in the toaster briefly. I managed to burn most of my slices because I was looking at Instagram at pictures of sweet potato toast. Oh, sweet irony.

But I won’t lie, having a thin slice of sweet potato smeared with peanut butter and apple was delightful. I’ve never been so mobile with my root vegetables. Sure, I might lose a few fingers trying to slice a sweet potato into uniformly thin pieces. But it makes a mighty fine pre-workout snack to take out the door.

Try if: you love sweet potato, are terrified of actual toast, and also have a mandoline to make these less tricky.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I'm weird like that.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I’m weird like that.

Fermented foods – sour, funky goodness for your gut.
Gut health is continuing to gain more attention. Fermented foods contain probiotics that make your gut function well and help your digestion as well as improve other aspects of your health. Research into gut health is still emerging, but it holds quite a bit of promise for helping us function better.

I’ve been eating many of these for a while. Not because I’m trying to be healthy A.F. But mostly because plenty of them are packed with flavor. Think kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and kefir.

Wall-O-Kombucha

Wall-O-Kombucha

Kombucha gets a lot of love too. Whole Foods has an entire wall. That’s impressive. For some reason I can’t get excited about kombucha. It’s just too sour and has a weird, slippery feel. Some varieties contain quite a bit of sugar, unlike most fermented foods that I eat, which are very low in calories. However, the bottles I picked up at the market were very low in sugar. So knock yourselves out if kombucha is your thing,

Try if: you love flavor-packed foods that help you poop like a rock star.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Middle eastern cuisine.
Middle eastern food isn’t necessarily synonymous with healthy food – except much of it is. Vegetables and lean meats are star players in this cuisine, which makes wise use of spices to create layers of flavor. They also love tahini, which is high in calories but can be used in small amounts to perk up just about everything.

Watch for more recipes and restaurants featuring vibrantly spiced dishes like Za’atar chicken, dukkah dusted lentils, beans, tahini sauces, labneh, and the holy grail of egg-based breakfasts, shakshouka.

Try a middle-eastern vibe in your next power bowl, like this recipe for roasted sweet potato, beet, and forbidden rice with maple tahini sauce. The sauce was incredible. I added chicken for more brotein.

Pounding some seaweed.

Pounding some seaweed.

Under the seaweed.
Ever have a nori wrapper holding your sushi together? That’s seaweed. More and more seaweed products are available now in American grocery stores than ever before.

Try furikake, a Japanese seasoning, adds a dimension of flavor to veggies, meat, and fish. It’s made from chopped seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and MSG. Other seaweed based condiments are also popular in Asian cooking.

Seaweed is low in calories and  is super dense nutritionally. It’s high in fiber and vitamins and minerals,, including iodine, which regulates your thyroid; and vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegetarian diets.

I don’t mind nori wrappers when I’m eating sushi. But I took it a little too far. I grabbed these seaweed snacks. I wish I’d grabbed the furikake instead, it holds more promise. These snacks, imported from Korea, just tasted like seaweed. Crazy, right? I guess I’m not a fan.

Try if: you either get down to chow on seaweed or use this as a component in other foods to temper the taste of the ocean in your mouth.

Balls.

Balls.

More and more protein-focused treats.
From 2016-2017, the energy bar aisle exploded. Now there are vegan bars, raw bars, paleo bars, protein bars, energy bars, tree hugging bars, savory bars… you see where I’m going. It’s overwhelming.

And if you read blogs or social media, you may see just as many recipes for homemade versions, especially balls. Energy balls. Protein balls. Power balls. Hey, that’s a lottery game isn’t it?

Everyone loves balls.

While I’d rather eat a bigger snack that I don’t wolf down in under a minute, bars have the potential to be more nutritious than a candy bar. I think this is a key reason why people love energy bars. Because they want to eat candy and feel like they’re doing something better for their bodies with these.

It’s cool to eat some candy. It’s cool to put more nutritious food in there too.

Bars are “meh” on the scale of awesomeness, both with taste and nutrition. Many are little more than candy bars. The homemade versions contain fewer fillers, preservatives, and had the potential to taste good too.

What I mostly found were recipes containing a lot of nut butter, dried fruit, and honey. This might be perfect for powering up an endurance workout. But those foods don’t provide a meaningful source of protein yet also pack a ton of calories, which you might not want to spend on something so small.

I found a recipe that used protein powder, PB2 instead of calorie dense peanut butter, crunchy puffed rice and oats, plus just a small amount of honey and chocolate.

They tasted fantastic. And only 85 calories each. Except I ate three, because I was hungry and they were in front of me.

Try if: you want a portable treat that’s slightly virtuous. Just remember that even healthy treats contain calories. Damnit.

Other Trends to Track
I didn’t have time to eat all of the things. Just most of them. I think in 2017, you’ll see even more of these:

Foods prepared with bone broth. Bone broth is low calorie, nutrient dense, and flavorful. The jury seems divided on its worth so far.

-Poke bowls showing up everywhere. Poke has been popular in Hawaii for awhile. It’s a loose term for a bowl of fresh fish, plenty of veggies, seasonings, and sometimes rice. Healthy. Yummy. And eating poke on my bucket list for 2017.

-All the jerky. More fancy brands of dried meat – but also dried meat alternatives and fish jerky too. Remember the wall of kombucha? The wall of jerky is real too. I love it for a portable snack, so rock on with this.

-More matcha. The concentrated green tea powder is popular already, but with our national obsession over antioxidants, I expect to see some matcha Cheerios anytime now.

We like to over do a good thing, don’t we?

After a week of binge cooking and tasting, I’m ready to kick back with an untrendy but deeply satisfying plate of scrambled eggs and toast with no toppings. How about you? What food trends excite you, and which ones need to die? Leave a comment and share!

Meal Planning Monday: 1.16.2017

meal-plan-monday-1

I always write these on Sunday, but Monday sounds so much catchier. Anyway, if you’re actually reading this on Sunday, high fives to you for being a go getter. 

It doesn’t even matter when you meal prep: just get it done when it works for you. 

Here’s what I’m cooking and eating up this week for dinner. I also have some badass breakfasts to share. Lunches for me are usually leftovers. I live a glamorous life, I know. 

Sunday (today): Slow cooker cider pork roast with apple thyme gravy. Serving with mashed cauliflower. This recipe is cooking right now. It smells great and was stupid easy to throw together. I skipped the apple brandy and picked up a mini bottle of apple whiskey. Boozy dinner ftw. You can freeze extra meat to use in other things if you won’t be using it up for leftover lunches and dinners this week. 

Monday: Upside down BBQ chicken bowls. The bonus of this is that you can put a huge batch of chicken breasts in your slow cooker with a little BBQ sauce. Cook that 4-6 hours and shred with a bit more sauce. You now have meat for more bowls during the week, or just freeze the cooked meat in individual portions for another day. I like that this recipe uses lots of broccoli slaw. Eat that up, it will fill your belly. 

Tuesday: Slow cooker posole(pork and hominy stew). I’m going to riff off of this Skinnytaste recipe, using the leftover pork from Sunday, though her instructions help you use fresh pork too. I don’t own a pressure cooker (wah!) so I’ll use the slow cooker instead. I’ll serve this with a fresh salad of citrus, avocado, and greens. 

Still have soup leftover? This will freeze just fine to live another day. 

Wednesday: Winter citrus butter salmon. Serving with a wild rice blend and steamer bag broccoli. This recipe sounds incredibly good. I’ll likely go light on the butter and need to sub regular oranges for the blood oranges unless they appear in the market soon. 

Thursday: Leftovers if we’ve got them: or soup from the freezer. 

Friday: Taco Friday is not #tacotuesday. But if I make a giant batch of seasoned taco meat, I can eat a taco on Tuesday and feel cool. Freeze some extra meat for tacos any time. I have tons of ground turkey in my freezer, so I’ll use that plus some low sodium taco seasoning. Or make your own. I usually opt for small corn tortillas – they’re low in calories. Lower carb tortillas work well too. And I’m perfectly happy to make a taco salad out of taco meat, tons of veggies, and a little guacamole. 

Saturday: Beef bourgignon (stew with red wine). A lazy kind of winter day meal to fill your kitchen with good smells. If you make a big batch, this freezes really well too. I’ll serve it with just a little crusty bread along with the veggies in the stew. 

Have a recipe that rocks your world? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. Have a great week! 

Meal Planning Monday – January 8, 2017

meal-plan-monday-1

It’s a new year, and a new you? Nah. Same old me and you. Except with fewer holiday treats most likely. But it feels good to get back to meals that nourish me. Yet still taste great. Here’s my winter menu for a week of healthy but delicious dinners.

Monday: Leftover lean ground beef and mushroom sloppy joes from our freezer. I still use this old school recipe that my mother cooked. Except I stretch the beef by doubling the other ingredients and adding plenty of mushrooms.  I further lighten it up by using 88% lean ground beef and light buns. Serve this with a salad. 

Tuesday: Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Farro holds promise of being fantastic. And I happen to have a shortcut: pre-cooked turkey meatballs. I’ll sprinkle a bit of parmesan from the recipe onto the soup before serving instead of working it into the meatballs. Extra salad for a side sounds good too. 

Wednesday: Maybe I still have an urge to eat Thanksgiving turkey. So I’ll roast a lean turkey breast along with honey roasted squash with cranberries and feta.

Thursday: Surely we’ll have leftover turkey breast. This autumn turkey and apple salad sounds dope. And fast. 
Friday:  Friday is usually the day when I don’t really feel like cooking. At all. The week is over, and I want something easy to make. Ordering pizza is an option, but so are Protein Up Flatbread pizzas. I have some turkey pepperoni, shredded mozzarella cheese, and pizza sauce waiting to go.

Of course, you can get a lot more creative with your pizza. Arugula, fig, and prosciutto is fancypants. Pineapple and canadian bacon is one of my favorites, and even BBQ chicken. Pizza your face off. 
Saturday: I’ve had a craving for Indian food lately that’s been driving me to distraction. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll make the labor intensive yet incredible Biriyani recipe from Food52.

If I am lacking motivation for that, the Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas and Tofu from the blog Delish Knowledge should do the job too – with much less effort. I like to pair spicy Indian food with cool cucumber salads or a traditional raita

Sunday: Have you heard of celeriac? It’s a root veggie with a bright flavor that I love to mix in with mashed potatoes to make them taste amazing. I’m going to use some to make this wintery celeriac and apple soup to pair with a lean pork tenderloin. I’ll keep the pork prep simple, just roasting it with some herbs, salt, and pepper in the oven.  Sundays are my days to kick back with more cooking and food prep. 

Have a recipe you can’t wait to try or that is one of your beloveds? Your bae? C’mon now, share that in a comment below. 

Meal Planning Monday: December 18, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh hey there! Are you set for the holidays? I just realized that Christmas is only a week away and I don’t have my shiz together quite yet. Meals this week need to be simple. And warm. So warm. 

The requirement for meals this week is that they need to be light, budget friendly, and quick to prep. I’m saving up all my money and cooking mojo for Christmas day. 

Here’s what’s cooking: 

Monday: Autumn turkey burger with spicy honey drizzle. I’ve made these several times now and keep going back for more. Nom nom nom. I’ll serve with a beet salad on the side. 

Tuesday: Tuna cakes with sriracha light mayo sauce and mixed green salad. 

Wednesday: Crockpot pizza chicken and veggies. Low calorie, low cost, low time involved. Plus, you know, pizza. 

Thursday: Leftovers or soup from the freezer. One easy, budget friendly soup I make and freeze is chicken enchiladas soup. It’s cheap and easy. Plus you can throw the whole mess in your slow cooker. 

Friday: Fish tostadas with chili lime cream. I have made my own version of this with the tortilla crusted tilapia filets from Costco. Many supermarkets carry something similar. Cheat your face off and make these fast. 

Saturday: Christmas eve dinner with my family. We’re keeping it simple with a Chipotle style DIY burrito bar. 

Sunday: Christmas Dinner! I’ve never cooked a crown roast of pork before. It looks fancy, even without those weird little paper hats on the tips. Here is my menu:

Crown roast of pork with apple stuffing
My mom’s cranberry sauce
Butternut squash and rutabaga puree
Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with bacon, meyer lemon, and dried tart cherries
Chocolate peppermint ice cream cake

What’s your favorite part of holiday dinners? The main meat? The sides? The eggnog? Leave a comment and share. Happy holidays!

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 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. 

Meal Planning Monday for November 14, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh hey there!

I’m starting a new series in the spirit of meal prep. Why? Because having a plan for the week makes healthy eating way less bumpy. 

I hesitate to say “meal planning” because people think of that as a rigid set of meals that they have to eat. Eat whatever you like! But once my menu for the week is set, I can chill out and know that dinner will happen without a last minute trip to the grocery store. 

I usually work off of what I have hanging out in my fridge, pantry, and freezer when I design my weekly dinner menus. I can whip up breakfast or lunch from most anything I have in the house. But dinner takes a little more planning. 

If that all feels overwhelming, start by reading a peek inside a week of healthy meal planning. 

Then if you’re needing a bit of inspiration, check out my menu each week and nab whatever sounds yummy. I try to choose dinners that have a fairly high protein count, are reasonably low in calories, and taste great. 

Some meals take a little more prep than others. If I make soup or stew I usually double the batch and freeze one. Then I have some “no cook” nights for when the you-know-what hits the fan. 

Meal Plan for November 14, 2016

Monday: Sauteed skillet of chicken apple sausages, cubed butternut squash, and brussels sprouts. (I just cook these together with a little thyme and smoky paprika.)

Tuesday: Leftover Turkey Chili from the freezer with mixed greens.

Wednesday: Lasagna soup with mixed greens.

Thursday: Apple stuffed pork loin with Moroccan spices. Roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes on the side.

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: One Pot Red Beans and Rice with Turkey Kielbasa

Sunday: Maple glazed baked salmon with pears, Brussels Sprouts, and whipped cauliflower/potato mash. 

Have a go to recipe that you’d like to share or even your menu for the week? Lay it on us! Just leave a comment below. 

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.

If you want fat blasting workouts, technique help to get stronger, and nutrition ideas that taste way better than Pinterest cookies, sign up for my newsletter below. I share all kinds of good stuff for free!

How to Make Oatmeal like a Boss

photo credit: Daniella Segura

photo credit: Daniella Segura

Oatmeal is life.

I am partial to grandiose statements like these, particularly when it comes to food. Damn, I love oatmeal. I love it even more now that I’m coming off a long-lived fat loss cycle and now have more carbs to play with… but even when I was carb poor, I made room for at least small portions of oatmeal. It makes for a great pre-workout boost as well. 

We’re coming to the end of winter so perhaps the feeling will pass, but lately all I want to eat is jacked up, fancifed bowls of oats. I’ll get to a few recipes soon, so hang tight. Let’s take just another moment to reflect on how badass oatmeal really is. First let’s talk nutrition.

Oats are whole grains.  I can tell you that oatmeal fills you up, helps you poop better (yay!) and is filled with soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. One serving of just oats is around 117 kcal with very low fat, a healthy source of carbs, and contains protein too. It also can decrease your cholesterol and colorectal cancer risk. Good stuff all around, yes?

But let’s be honest, that’s not why I’m craving oatmeal. I’m not eating it plain. Oh ho ho, that would be silly and sad. Oatmeal is the most perfect canvas for whatever your heart desires. It works with both sweet and savory flavors, so get creative and punch up your oats with some fun ingredients.

Get Started By Using the Best Base
First of all, you need to make some oatmeal, right? There are all sorts of varieties available to you, from quick oats that cook fast to old-fashioned rolled oats, and steel cut. Let’s toss out the obvious tiny little packages of flavored oatmeal, because while those are okay in a pinch, they’re not that tasty. If I want a bunch of added sugar, it’s going to be luxurious maple syrup tapped from the trees of Vermont by a rustic syrup farmer or some shit, not a craptastic fake peach flavor.

The biggest difference among oat varieties is simply how much the oat groat has been processed. They’re all pretty similar with nutrient profile. But the processing nuances give them all their own special texture. My go-to lately has been steel cut oats. They don’t even look much like oats. They more resemble short grain rice or even quinoa. Except they taste great, unlike quinoa, which can go to hell for being overplayed and underwhelming in flavor. Quinoa is merely the current it girl. Oatmeal is O.G.

My favorite is steel cut. You might say it’s the manly man of oatmeal, with a firm body but warm and… well, that got weird. Ok, moving on.

Steel cut oats have more chew than the oatmeal most of us grew up eating. When you cook it, it becomes creamy yet has a fantastic, chewy texture that will make you a convert if you’re not already.

The only downside is the cooking time – it’ll take you around 25 to 30 minutes to prep a batch. On the upside, you can prepare a big batch and reheat it all week. It’ll still taste wonderful. And c’mon, we all have time. How many minutes do we dump every morning checking social media? Scroll through your Instagram while you give your oats a loving stir here and there. You’ll #multitask and have #instafood in no time.

How To Make (Better) Steel Cut Oats
First of all, forget all those overnight slow cooker steel cut oat recipes. They mostly blow. Usually, the outside edges burn and the middle gets mushy and strange. Gross. It’s not that hard to prep these the morning before using, or like I said, if you’re all about #mealprepmonday, make a big batch and reheat.

I should have included pictures of the step by step instructions, but I’m one of those people who scrolls directly to recipe details, so I’ll spare you that. Plus it’s so easy. Also I forgot to take pictures while I boiled oats. Please forgive me, as I have three kids who distract me with last minute math homework, can’t find socks, and fight over the Xbox. That’s life.

The Big Secret for Awesome Oats
First of all, you can chill out about the basics – the directions are on the bag. Seriously, that part is easy, and depending on different recipes, you may have slightly varying instructions. But usually directions have you boil about 3 parts of water to 1 part oats. You boil up your water and then add your oats.  You can use milk for part or all of your liquid too, though as you’ll see, I sometimes just add more milk at the end of cooking.

But back it up a bit. Here’s how you can make your oats even better – just toast them first. You can use a nonstick skillet with a spritz of oil spray or be a bon vivant and use a few teaspoons of butter. But toast them, with or without spices, and THEN add them to your boiling water. Turn down your water to moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until they absorb most of the the liquid. Watch them closely as most of it evaporates and turn the heat down even lower to finish them off.

At this point, add your fixings- whatever your little heart desires. Worried about calories? Try cooking some diced apples separately with a bit of cinnamon to intensify their sweetness, then add them in at the end of cooking. Small amounts of banana pack quite a bit of a sweet hit. Go easy on the added nuts – they add calories rapidly, yet very small amounts still add crunch and can be a healthy, delicious addition to your bowl. 

If you want to beef up your oatmeal with more protein, whisk in some egg whites to improve the protein profile. You won’t taste them, and in fact the addition will make them creamier. I’ll share a few variations that rocked my socks. You ready for the fun part? Here are my favorite recipes. Let’s do dis.

Sweet and Spicy Buttermilk Oatmeal with Peaches and Blueberries

7f62bc3d-eb95-49e8-91ab-43a252c798fa
I adapted this recipe from Saveur Magazine, decreasing the fat and sugar a bit by going easy on the butter and choosing a mix of unsweetened dried fruit and fresh berries. Instead of adding nuts to the mix, I choose to sprinkle them on as I eat a bowl so they remain toasty and crunchy. I never know what to do with leftover buttermilk from recipes – here’s a delicious solution. 

Ingredients:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup steel-cut oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 tsp. ground green cardamom
14 tsp. ground star anise
1 (1”) piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste (I used 2 tsp of refrigerated ginger paste, which I found next to the fresh herbs in the grocery store). 
12 tsp. kosher salt
34 cup buttermilk
14 cup whole milk
1 tbsp. honey
12 cup unsweetened dried peaches, chopped (I had some of these on hand as a treat. Sweetened dried fruit is basically candy in terms of sugar content. This is a bit better. Better still would be fresh peaches, but I was fresh out. Boooo.) 
12 cup fresh blueberries
Orange marmalade or raspberry jam, for serving (optional – if I do this, I use low sugar jam. The oatmeal is already fairly sweet.)
1 tsp of chopped toasted pecans per bowl, for serving.

Instructions:
Melt your butter in a 4 to 6 quart saucepan. Pour in your spices, oats, and ginger.  Toast for a few minutes until everything smells fantastic and the oats are a bit toasted. This will seriously only take a wee bit of time, so don’t wander away.

I know I said to add your oats to boiling water, but in this recipe, just stir your salt and water right into the pot you are using for the oats. Bring it all to a boil and stir until the oatmeal is thick and tender. 

Next, add your milks and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the oatmeal is thick again. Toss in your fruit, give it some stirs for another minute or two, and serve with optional toppings. 

Serves: 4-6 depending on how big you like your bowls.

Lemon Ricotta Oatmeal
1456840608944
I wasn’t sure if I’d like this. I adapted this recipe from an idea I found in Cooking Light magazine awhile ago.  Mint in oatmeal seems weird – yet it’s in dessert all the time. It meshes beautifully with the lemon. I prepare the ricotta mixture separately and then just dollop a few tablespoons into my oats each time I eat them. 

Ingredients 
1 bowl Prepared, plain steel-cut oatmeal
2 Tbsp Ricotta blend:for the blend, mix 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, the zest and juice of a lemon, plus a tablespoon or two of honey, depending on how sweet you like it. Taste it and adjust. Store extra mix in the fridge for another day’s bowl. Or later that day – I’d never judge you for that.

Instructions:
Scoop 2 tablespoons of your ricotta mix on top of your oats, and garnish with mint, you fancy pants. I think this would be lovely with fresh berries added too. Go crazy. 

Shakshuka on Oats
shakshuka

I’m enamored with shakshuka lately, the North African dish that is super popular all over the middle east, and more recently in the states too. It’s a spicy, tomatoey egg dish that will blow your socks off. My favorite recipe for shakshuka is from David Lebovitz, so check that out here to get the recipe for the sauce and his instructions. I prepare batches of the sauce ahead of time and make single serving portions. Traditionally, the runny eggs and sauce should be mopped up with wonderful bread. But if you have plain oatmeal to use, why not spice it up with a serving of shakshuka? Just slide a prepared serving right onto your bowl of oats. 

Other savory options include topping with a poached egg and sliced green onions, a fried egg and sriracha or really whatever leftovers you feel like reheating. If you think of plain oats like rice you’ll get more ideas. It sounds a little odd but it makes for a tasty and healthy breakfast. 

Hungry yet? Get more recipes, fitness tips, and extra motivation when you sign up for my insider newsletter. I’ll send you my free e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, too so you can eat well without going broke.