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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Out And About

Today, one of my best friends, Regina, and I had a lunch date at our favorite little café in Point Pleasant, NJ. The Beanery is an adorable slice of heaven that serves up fresh and healthy lunches. If you're ever in the area, it is a must-taste place. They have a great selection of salads, sandwiches, soups, teas, and baked goods. You really can't order something bad here, and the service is always friendly and fast.

Lots of people ask me for advice when dining out on a diet, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to share some tips.

First, try and pick a place that has healthier options (Sorry, Applebee's and The Olive Garden don't count). If you don't have a choice of where you're going to be going, stalk the menu for something that doesn't sound like it will clog your arteries in one bite. Grilled, broiled, and baked are key words to look for—avoid anything and everything that is fried! Broiled fish, in my opinion, is the best option for dinner because it is low in calories, high in healthy fats, and high in protein.

Beware of cream and butter-based sauces because they will rack up the calories and fat faster than a Paula Dean lasagna sandwich.

If you're going to go for a salad, make sure that a non-creamy dressing is served on the side. Salads may always seem like the healthiest choice, but many can be laden with fattening toppings like cheese, nuts, and croutons. Sometimes it better to just get a full entree than a salad.

Moderation is key, even when dining out. Just because you're served a giant plate of food does not mean you have to eat it all. For years, my mother always cut her meals in half when they arrived and would plan on taking the other half home to have for lunch the following day. This is a great idea, but never feel bad for eating your entire plate if half of it is filled with veggies.

Don't be afraid to customize your meal. For example, today I ordered my veggie sandwich without the mayo, got a fruit salad instead of the chips and salsa, and took off a slice of cheese when my meal arrived. In a lot of restaurants, you can ask for extra vegetables instead of rice, potatoes, or french fries.

And most importantly, always drink water with your meal. If you don't want to overeat, I suggest drinking a a full glass before, during, and after your meal. Trust me, you will get that full-feeling without stuffing yourself with too much food.

But back to my lunch date!

I was so ready to eat when our food arrived and when I looked at my plate, all I could think was, "Wow!" My veggie sandwich featured romaine lettuce, tomato, swiss cheese, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, and sprouts. 

It was so packed with delicious and juicy vegetables that I'm pretty sure I looked like a slob trying to bite into this and having tomato juice drip down my hand. So worth all the messiness. 

And don't let me forget about that fruit! The perfect dessert to my sandwich. Everything was perfectly ripened, but I started to get full, so I ended up leaving the orange slices and a few grapes on my plate. Everything else has happy to be in my belly. 

Do yourself a favor and check out The Beanery, or try and find a cute cafe or bistro near your home and enjoy a healthy meal out with a friend!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Squirrel Food

Everyone always jokes that vegetarians eat "rabbit food," and maybe there's a lot of truth in that, but I realized today that my breakfast was definitely squirrel food.

Oatmeal with chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. Mmmm talk about a savory breakfast!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with chia seeds, yes, they are the same ones that grow strange looking grass in silly shaped ceramic pots. More specifically, chia seeds are known as a superfood and they're loaded with nutrients. What I love most about chia seeds is that they absorb water, so they make oatmeal extra voluminous. When you add water to chia seeds (I do 1 T. of chia and 5 T. of water) and stir for about a minute, you will notice that a gel begins to form around the seeds. After that gel forms, you can add your dry oats and water and cook how you normally would. Of course, chia seeds can be used as an additive in a variety of recipes, not just oatmeal. 

Adding sunflower seeds to my oatmeal is my new favorite thing. They're smaller than most nuts, but they still provide that savory nut-flavor that goes well with oatmeal. They truly are perfect. I buy unsalted, raw sunflower seeds, but if you have a salt craving, lightly salted sunflower seeds would also work well. 

And of course, can you really go wrong with peanut butter? No, you can't.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Super Fast, Super Easy

Today, I had a wonderful afternoon hanging out with one of my best friends. She is just as much as a health nut and food lover as I am, so of course we always end up talking about food and cooking! She asked me if I ever got in one of those moods where you just don't feel like cooking anything for an entire day, and I actually had to take a minute to think about my answer. Usually I'm always in the mood to make something, but I definitely have those meals that I wish would magically appear in front of me instead of having to stand in the kitchen for a half an hour preparing something. Unfortunately, I'm not a wizard (still waiting for my acceptance letter to Hogwarts), but I have been able to making something delicious that takes very little effort.

Pasta is that pantry staple that cooks quickly and is really hard to screw up. People on diets generally shy away from carbs like pasta, but if you're eating the suggested portion and buy whole-grain, there is no reason to fear. Adding a ton of veggies is a great way to make a small portion of macaroni healthy and filling.

Easy Spinach and Tomato Pasta
  • 2 oz. Whole wheat or whole grain pasta, any shape, dry (I used Ronzoni Healthy Harvest)
  • 1/2 c. Hunt's Diced Tomatoes, no salt added basil, oregano, garlic
  • 2 c. Spinach
  • 1/4 c. Part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
2. When pasta is al dente, drain, and return to pot. Add tomatoes, spinach, and two pinches of cheese. Stir until ingredients are combined. 
3. Pour pasta into a bowl and top with remaining mozzarella. 
Prep time: 0 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total: 15 minutes

Nutrition: (Serves 1): Calories: 310, Total fat: 6g, Sat. fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 15mg, Sodium: 242mg, Total carbs: 52g, Fiber: 9g, Sugars: 4g, Protein: 17g 

This is perfect for that meal you really don't want to spend a lot of time on, or if you're in a hurry. Because the tomatoes are already seasoned, you don't even have to spend the extra time and pan sautéing them. Eat this with a nice salad and you've got yourself a filling meal without the effort an guilt!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Moment of Weakness

This morning, as I parked my car in front of my gym, this really in shape girl walked in front of me and I immediately thought, "Wow, I wish I could look like her." And then I stopped myself. I'm always telling my girl friends not to compare their bodies to other women's, and here I was doing just that! Making body comparisons is absolutely ridiculous because no two bodies are alike—we're like snowflakes (that was cheesy, but I couldn't resist). This girl walking into the gym had long, toned legs and the waist of a Victoria's Secret Supermodel. I, on the other hand, have short, stocky legs and they're not going anywhere.

For years I hated my larger-than-normal thighs, but I've come to terms with them. I can only do so much to get my body healthy and toned, the rest is up to genetics (thanks mom and dad). And that's why I hate it when I hear women (I rarely hear men talk about this) picking apart their bodies and "flaws" and wishing they looked like someone else.

The truth is, we all have insecurities regarding our looks. We're only human! But the important thing is to realize what you have to work with and then owning it. It's a long process, but loving and feeling comfortable with your body is one of the most important things you can do. Your opinion of yourself affects not only your attitude, but also the way people view you. I'm always making an effort to love the way I look more every day, and I can tell you that even the smallest of changes make a big difference in every aspect of your life.

But enough of that tangent, let's get on to the food. I often find, especially in the summer, that when I'm in need of a really quick meal, I'll heat up a veggie burger and call it a day. But now it's the end of July and I have become so sick of eating the same thing at barbecues. Thankfully, I have a new staple that is just as fast: Portobello Burger.

It's easy, delicious, and has a hearty, steak-like quality that is quite different from your typical Boca burger. Traditionally, portobello mushrooms are grilled when used as burgers, but if you're in a rush (like most of the world), then you can easily heat it in the microwave to dehydrate and cook it a bit. It takes about 2 minutes in a microwave safe dish for the mushroom to steam and release most of it's water. When it's done, gently squeeze the mushroom so it is dry, for the most part. It will be very hot, so it will be ready to be thrown on a bun immediately after.

I like to use whole wheat deli flats for burgers, and I dress it in the usual burger-fashion. You can cheese or any condiment to your liking, but I love to make my own with a combination of veganaise and mustard. It is an awesome combination with the juicy mushroom.

Side note: I tend to use portobellos a lot, so I figured I would share that I buy mine at Costco. Portobellos aren't something you find in everyone's refrigerator, but they're really versatile. I highly recommend buying them if you like mushrooms.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The End of One Chapter

I've been anticipating writing this entry for about a week now, and it's finally time for me to make this announcement. The reason I waited was because I wanted to make sure things were official and settled before I told anyone about this major change. What's the change you ask? Well, if you know me, then you know that I am a college junior pursuing an English literature degree. Actually that's a lie. I was pursuing an English literature degree, until today. Today I am officially on the path to pursuing a degree in nutrition and food science with a concentration in dietetics, so that I may become a Registered Dietitian. 

Yeah, I told you, it's a pretty big change. But this is something that I have been thinking about for a little while now, and I'm absolutely in love with the idea. I can't imagine doing anything else with the rest of my life. During and after my weight-loss, so many people joked that I should become a nutritionist, or be their personal trainer, or write a diet book, and for a while I just laughed off the suggestions. That is until I realized that deep down, it's seriously what I wanted to do. I love learning about nutrition and helping others live a more healthy life. It is my passion. 

I know the road ahead is going to be a difficult and bumpy one, littered with laborious science courses, sleepless nights, and massive amounts of stress, but are things that are worth having ever easy to obtain? No. Life is always going to be kicking me in the ass somehow, so I may as well make sure that I enjoy the end result when the assault is over. 

Since it's the end of July, I had to enroll for the fall semester at my local community college, and then in the spring I will be attending an institution that has a didactic program in dietetics. The decision to completely step out of my comfort, transfer schools, and leave my friends was not an easy one. But in the end, I realized that if fear was the thing that was holding me back, I had to dive into those fears head first. I have never been more happy or certain about a decision in my life. You always hear growing up that everyone has a calling in their life. Well, I struggled for years to figure out what my calling was, but it took me a complete life-style change, 70 pounds, and 20 years to realize what mine was. 

I'm both nervous and excited about this transition in my life, but in the end, I know it will all be worth it. Never in my life have I been more motivated and determined, and from past experience I know that that is a winning combination. I don't know exactly what the future holds, or where the winding roads on this journey will lead me, but I've got my seatbelt on and I'm ready for the ride. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Harvest

It's no secret that I love vegetables. Therefore, it should surprise no one that I love shopping at the local produce stand that is conveniently down the street from my house. So, when I saw this recipe for a summer vegetable dish, I couldn't wait to make it. 

The only problem was that when I was going to make this, it ended up just being for myself. The recipes calls for both zucchini and eggplant, but there was no way I could eat an entire squash and eggplant in the same dish. Granted, I could have easily made a big batch and save the rest for the next day, but I prefer to make things fresh and I also didn't know how well this would re-heat with the tomatoes. 

In conclusion: I decided it was best to just change around the recipe a bit and only use one zucchini. Like I've said before, work with what you have, there's no need to fuss. The original recipe was also just a vegetable dish that you could eat alone or with rice, so I decided to throw in some chickpeas for some satisfying protein.

Savory Summer Veggies with Chickpeas
(Inspired by recipe from Oh She Glows)
  • 1 Large zucchini, chopped
  • 1 Bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Red onion, chopped
  • 1 c. Tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Chickpeas (I used Goya Low Sodium)
  • 1 T. Garlic, minced
  • Cooking spray
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Spray sauté pan with cooking spray add garlic and onions and put on medium heat. Add a small dash of salt and stir frequently. After a few minutes onions should become more translucent. 
2. Add zucchini and pepper. Keep stirring and add a little more salt, pepper, and a few dashes of basil and thyme. 
3. After about 5 minutes, add chickpeas. Adjust the heat if needed. 
4. When zucchini has become tender, but still firm, add tomatoes and stir. Give it a few minutes for the flavors to blend, then serve. 

Nutrition: Calories: 350, Total fat: 10g, Sat fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 169mg, Total carbs: 55g, Fiber: 17g, Sugars: 17g, Protein: 14g

Perfect dinner. The basil and thyme added just enough flavor to the veggies without covering up their natural flavor. You can definitely add any kind of summer vegetable to this dish and it would be great. This is a great meal to make for a crowd, or as a side dish for a family dinner. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Wow, that doesn't even look like tofu!"

Observed my lovely mother as I assembled my lunch this afternoon.

I'm definitely considered the adventurous eater in my family. While the rest of my family scoffs and pretends to gag at the thought of eating "vegetarian" or "healthy" options as apposed to london broil and mashed potatoes, I'm always willing to try something new.

When I began experimenting with different foods, like tofu, I made a lot of stir-fry because it was a quick fix to just throw everything in a pan rather than trying to follow an elaborate recipe I saw online. But after a while, eating tofu the same way gets very old, very fast.

It took me a few months to realize that tofu could also be used for the protein portion of sandwiches. I mean, who knew tofu could be used for more than just vegetable stir-fry? Clearly not me six months ago.

Sandwiches make for the perfect lunch. This Crispy Tofu Sandwich is sure to satisfy any vegetarian, and even an adventurous carnivore! Baking the seasoned tofu adds great texture to the usual soft and squishy bean curd. 

Crispy Tofu Sandwich
  • 1/5 of a block of extra-firm tofu
  • 2 Slices of whole-grain bread (I used Ezekiel), toasted 
  • Small handful of spring mix (or romaine leaf)
  • 1 Red onion slice
  • 1-2 Tomato slices (all I had were plums!)
  • 1 T. Veganaise (or your favorite condiment)
  • Ground Seasonings to taste (today I used garlic, cumin, chili powder, and pepper)
  • Oil cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 450. Take serving of tofu and cut it in half so you have two thin slices. Pat dry to remove some of the water. Add seasonings and place on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with oil. Tofu will about 30 minutes to bake (adjust to your taste of crispiness), so flip the slices half-way through baking time.
2. After tofu is done baking, assemble your sandwich and enjoy!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total: 35 minutes

Nutrition: (one sandwich) Calories: 400, Total fat: 17g, Sat fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 276mg, Total carbs: 38g, Fiber: 8g, Sugars: 3g, Protein: 21g

I had my sandwich with a small salad and slices of red bell pepper. Needless to say, I will have no need to snack between now and dinner.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Morning Routine

After reading through some other health and food blogs, I figured I would share my morning routine with you guys!

I usually wake up around 6:30 or 7, naturally. I've kind of become a grandma in recent months because I go to bed early and wake up at the crack of dawn, but I love getting a lot of things done in the morning.

I eat as soon as I get up because my metabolism is that of a pubescent boy. If I'm going to the gym, I'll usually have a quick snack of cereal and fruit, or fruit and nuts. If I don't go to the gym in the morning, but I usually do, I will make my oatmeal straight away.

At the gym I do about 30-45 minutes of cardio depending on my mood, but I like to switch it up with intervals to keep it interesting. Then I do about 10-20 minutes of toning exercises, mostly for my core and legs. Three days a week I lift weights, but never consecutively.

After my workout, I eat my oatmeal and hit the shower! If I have any errands to run, I'll usually do them in the morning to get them out of the way, but if not, I like to relax for a bit and watch my favorite morning talk shows, like Kathi Lee and Hoda, and The View!

I told you...I really am a grandma.

I use to hate getting up and doing stuff in the morning, but since I've become more energized, it's become impossible for me to lay in bed all morning. I highly recommend taking advantage of your mornings because they set the tone for the rest of your day. Lazy morning = lazy day, but an active morning leads to a productive day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pie For Breakfast? Why Not!

It's no secret that I am madly in love with oatmeal; it's so versatile, you can add almost anything and you have a healthy breakfast that keeps you full for hours. 

During the summer I always take advantage of the fresh berries that are in season, but I wanted something a little different this morning. A few months ago I think I had pureed pumpkin in my oatmeal for a solid week or two, every day. I mean, once you open the can you need to make sure you don't waste it! So now I will be eating some variety of pumpkin oatmeal for the next few days, but I'm not complaining. 

This bowl of deliciousness is going to be a new favorite of mine, Peanut Butter Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal. If you love Thanksgiving or pumpkin pie, you will fall head over heels for this breakfast. It's slightly sweet, nutty, and, best of all, extremely creamy. 

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
  • 1/2 c. Rolled oats
  • 1 T. Ground flaxseed
  • 1 c. Water (or low-fat, or non-dairy milk)
  • 1/4 c. Pumpkin puree
  • 1 T. Creamy peanut butter
  • Cinnamon
1. Combine oats and ground flax in a bowl, add water and cook according to directions on package. 
2. When oatmeal is finished to your liking, stir in pumpkin, peanut butter, and cinnamon to taste. 
Prep time: 0 minutes
Cook time: 3 minutes
Total: 3 minutes

Nutrition: (one bowl) Calories: 320, Total fat: 15g, Sat fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 85mg, Total carbs: 42g, Fiber: 12g, Sugar: 5g, Protein: 12g 

Wow, I didn't realize how balanced this breakfast was until I wrote down the nutrition information. Not only is this filled with healthy fats and protein, but twelve grams of fiber?! That's a number you're not going to find in a bowl of sugar-coated cereal. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lazy Thursday

I didn't feel like doing much today except sit around in a sweat shirt and eat. I went for a run at the resivior instead of trekking my ass to the gym and it was the change of pace I needed in my workout routine. When I got home I was ready for a hearty bowl of oatmeal to appease my belly and a piping hot shower to relax my muscles. 

I call this bowl of deliciousness Berry Almond Oatmeal. I added a tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed, blueberries, and a small handful of almonds. And as per usual, a large dash of cinnamon for extra sweetness. The flaxseed and almonds provide a solid nut flavor, which is a nice balance to the delicately sweet blueberries. This bowl of oatmeal comes in at about 330 calories. 

When lunch time rolled around I knew I had to make something with my tortillas because they will be expiring soon, but I did not want to make a wrap. I decided to try something completely different and make a Hummus Pizza. Instead of pizza sauce and cheese, I spread a quarter cup of hummus on top of the tortilla, covered it with my favorite pizza-topping vegetables and baked it in the oven. 

The hummus gives the pizza that creamy texture you would normally get from the cheese, but without the unhealthy fats and cholesterol. I only baked it in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes, but it could have used another 5 minutes to finish cooking the peppers and onions. What can I say, sometimes I'm too hungry for my food to finish cooking. My pizza was only about 250 calories, so I also ate this with a small side of black beans and steamed broccoli. 

My stomach was very satisfied! For dinner tonight I'm making something a little more complicated. I will post the recipe tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Sweet Treat: Peanut Butter and Banana Freezer Cookies

Last night, standing in my kitchen, I noticed that the bunch of bananas on the counter were on the verge of being inedible. They were too ripe to eat by themselves, but not quite ripe enough for baking. I decided to conduct a food experiment. Everyone knows that the cool, new thing to do with bananas is to freeze them and then make "ice cream," but I didn't want to do that. Instead, I wanted to make flour-less, no-bake, freezer cookies. I had never seen a recipe online for something like this, so I was really taking a gamble when I whipped these bad boys up last night.

I was so tempted to just eat the entire bowl last night, it looked and smelled like heaven. Obviously you can eat this without putting them in the freezer because it's an eggless, no-bake batter, but then you don't really feel like you're eating a cookie! I think the best part about this recipe is that because the bananas are so sweet, there's no need to add any sugar or sweetener. Imagine that, a cookie with no added or artificial sugars. These cookies truly are divine. 

Peanut Butter and Banana Freezer Cookies
  • 2 Ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 c. Old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1/4 c. Natural creamy peanut butter
  • Dash of cinnamon
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
2. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and evenly drop six balls of dough on top (This recipe makes six large cookies, but you can easily make twelve small ones).
3. Place cookies in the freezer in position that will be sturdy and keep the tray even. Freeze for at least 4-6 hours, but overnight is best. 
4. When cookies are completely frozen, cut waxed paper and completely wrap the cookies so that they will not stick to each other (you will probably need to use more than what was originally on the baking sheet). If saving for later, store wrapped cookies in a freezer bag. Serve frozen.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 4-6 hours
Total: At least 4-6 hours

Nutrition: (one large cookie) Calories: 150, Total fat: 6g, Sat. fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 51mg, Total carbs: 22g, Fiber: 4g, Sugars: 6g, Protein: 4g

Nom! These may be the most delicious, health-concious cookies I've ever had. All the flavor, without the guilt. The frozen bananas give these cookies an ice-cream-like texture, the peanut butter provides the creaminess, and the oats add the chew that you want in a good cookie. It's the perfect size for a little treat. I think next time I'll add some dark chocolate cocoa powder instead of the cinnamon for peanut butter cup freezer cookies! I'm sure add-ins like raisins and chocolate chips would also add some great flavor to these delightful little cookies. I highly recommend trying these babies out if you've got a chronic sweet tooth like me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A New Reason to Love Sandwiches

This past weekend has been a whirlwind for me. It was both of my parents' birthdays (my dad's on Saturday and my mom's on Monday), so of course I was running around like a mad woman from all the baking, cooking, and gift buying I was doing. I'm so happy to finally have a chance to sit down and make a much needed blog post.

With two birthdays within a few days of each other, cake is the inevitable enemy that is bound to be staring you in the face, screaming, "Eat me, bitch, you know you wanna taste my sugary goodness!" And the fact that I made both cakes from scratch made it even harder for me to resist the temptation. For my dad's birthday I made a decadent version of his favorite banana cake recipe that his mother use to make for him, every birthday. After we sang Happy Birthday and cut the cake, I watched my mother and father slump into a state of euphoria as they ate the cake. I looked down at the cake, which was right in front of me, and I couldn't help but take a whiff of the fresh, banana sent. At that moment, I past the point of no return. I gave in and cut myself a tiny piece (about 3 forkfuls), and it was worth every creamy calorie. My rule is that if they're something you really want to eat, and I mean really want, live a little and give yourself a taste, but don't make treats a regular thing because then you'll just crave sugar 24/7.

For my father's birthday present I made him all of his favorite foods: lasagna, chicken parmesan, fettucini alfredo, and garlic bread. Needless to say, I was in the kitchen the entire day. I didn't want to skimp of flavor for my dad's special day to suit my dietary needs, so I made a separate dinner for myself. The lasagna was my dad's favorite, it was spinach and mushroom, and he said it was the best he ever had. Success.

For my mom's birthday cake I made her favorite, strawberry shortcake cake, from scratch. The cake looked and smelled absolutely intoxicating, but I didn't let myself have a piece. I didn't want my tastebuds to get use to the sugary and buttery treats that I was surrounded by, but that doesn't mean that it was easy for me to sit back and watch my family eat and praise the cake. As my mom finished her second piece (it was her birthday, she's allowed!) she noted, "Kathleen, you've truly out-done yourself." Hearing her satisfaction was better than any piece of cake. My family also told me that I should open up a bakery or café. Sigh, wouldn't that be a dream come true.

Amidst the busy weekend I still managed to eat healthy, and yesterday I had a lunch that was so delicious and filling, I just knew I had to share.

As you well know, I am all about eating whole grains, so you can imagine how excited I was to finally buy sprouted grain bread. If you do not know what sprouted grain bread is, it is made from sprouted whole grains, not flour, and because it is so unprocessed, it is extremely high in amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Sprouting grains is the act of growing them, so when you eat sprouts you are eating something that is alive. Even though these sprouts are made to make bread, the bread is very low of the glycemic index, meaning it won't make your blood sugar levels spike like white bread does. Those live grains and legumes are actually much easier for the body to digest, making this the ideal bread when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. I got mine, Food For Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Bread, from Whole Foods (in the freezer section because you have to keep the sprouts alive in order to get the full nutritional value), but you can go on their website to find a retailer near you, or shop online. Food For Life is a quality and organic company and they have a wide variety of products that you should really check out.

But back to my lunch! I went on that rant about bread because I used it to make a veggie sandwich that was absolutely delicious. Usually when you go out to a café or chain restaurant that sells a veggie sandwich, they use thick slices of cheese and a creamy, dressing-like condiment, completely defeating the pursue of a vegetarian option being the healthier one. Obviously you can add cheese to your veggie sandwich, but it should be a low-fat kind, and only an ounce. If you don't use cheese, then you can use some low-fat dressing or light mayo (I always use veganaise), but putting both on your sandwich will rack up the calories and fat faster than you can say Kirstie Alley. If you use cheese, I hope you like mustard because it is the healthiest condiment in town. I usually do a mix of veganaise and mustard on many of my sandwiches, a kind of faux honey mustard. But besides that, you can load up your veggie sandwich with any kind of vegetables you want, the more the merrier, as long as you can fit it all in your mouth!

Classic Veggie Sandwich
  • 2 Slices Ezekiel sprouted whole grain bread
  • 1 Tbsp Veganaise
  • 1 tsp Spicy brown mustard
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Red onion, sliced
  • Spinach (or romaine, spring mix, etc)
  • Micro-greens (optional)
1. Let loaf of Ezekiel bread defrost on the counter for a few minutes, but not completely. After about 5 minutes, remove two slices and let those finish defrosting (you could also use a toaster to defrost/ toast slices). Return loaf to freezer.
2. Add veganaise and mustard to one slice of bread. Top with spinach, cucumber, tomato, onion, and micro-greens. Viola!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Total: 10minutes

Nutrition: (One sandwich) Calories: 290, Total fat: 10g, Sat. fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 311, Total carbs: 39g, Fiber: 9g, Sugars: 3g, Protein: 10g

Simple and delicious. I had a whole bell pepper, sliced, and a half of a cup of black beans to go with this lunch. Protein, vegetables, complex carbs, healthy fat, and fiber. What else do you need for a healthy lunch? That's right, nothing!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hear Me Out On This One...

I love soup. It doesn't matter is it's the dead of winter or a sweltering summer day; I'm always up for a hearty bowl of soup. I rarely make my own soup from scratch because it's an all-day event, and then the containers take up so much space in the fridge. The problem with buying canned and other pre-packaged soups is that they are loaded with sodium, and the lighter versions usually leave me feeling unsatisfied. 

During the school year I eat soup so often that I recommend everyone buy stock in Healthy Choice at the end of August. I bought so much soup last semester that I wound up bringing a few containers home, but they have been neglected because I am too busy stuffing my gob with fresh vegetables and fruit. Yesterday, I was determined to get a steaming bowl of soup in my belly, but, of course, I needed to put my own, crazy spin on it. 

When I got this idea, even I thought that I had lost my mind. My plan was to take a carton of portobello soup, cook brown rice in said soup, then add broccoli and an actual portabello mushroom cap, and let everything simmer in the pot. And guess what...I did just that, and it was delicious! 

Okay, okay, so it's not the most beautiful thing that I've ever made, but didn't your Mama ever tell you not to judge a soup before you tried it? Or maybe she said something more to the effect of, "Shut up, and eat it." Either way, if you're not an experienced cook and you're looking for something healthier than a microwavable pizza, soup is the way to go. I added a bunch of vegetables and a serving of brown rice to this simple soup, and it was as satisfying and filling as a hearty winter stew. 

Creamy Portobello Soup with Broccoli and Rice
  • 2 c. Organic Imagine Creamy Portobello Mushroom Soup (1 container)
  • 1/4 c. Trader Joe's brown basmati rice (any dry brown rice will work)
  • 1 Portobello mushroom cap, cut into 1/2-1 inch chunks
  • 2 c. Broccoli flowerets, raw, stems cut off
1. Add entire container of soup and brown rice to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir constantly so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom. Once soup boils, bring down to a medium, medium-low heat, keep stirring.
2. Once rice has finished cooking (about 10-15 minutes), bring down to the simmer and add broccoli and mushrooms. Stir contents for few seconds, then cover pot. 
3. Remove lid and check broccoli to see if it has cooked through. If not, stir and return lid. When broccoli and mushrooms are soft, and the flowerets are a bright green, remove from heat and pour into a bowl. 
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Total: 25 minutes

Nutrition: (Makes one serving) Calories: 410, Total fat: 7, Sat. fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 848mg, Total carbs: 71g, Fiber: 12, Sugars: 6g, Protein: 18g

I had no idea how filling this was going to be, I felt like I was eating a meal made for a lumberjack. Cooking the rice in the soup made it extra creamy, and it had an almost risotto-like texture, just with a little more liquid. I love Organic Imagine soups, and I highly recommend buying them. They're not very high in sodium, and even though it is a 'creamy' soup, there is no cream used, which means zero cholesterol! Trust me, if you're a busy on-the-go person who doesn't have time to cook a roast chicken every night, a hearty bowl of soup like this will keep your hunger at bay for hours. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"What smells like french fries?" "Cauliflower!"

Last night I decided to use up the head of cauliflower that had been sitting in my fridge all week. When I first started cooking them, my mother came upstairs and noted how good they smelt (and they really did!), and then right after they were done, my father moseyed into the kitchen and asked, "What smells like french fries?" I smiled to myself and answered, "Cauliflower!" 

The roasted cauliflower I made may have smelt like french fries, but they tasted better and were a lot more filling than the greasy things you get at your local fast food joint. This is the perfect side dish for any meal, and it is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Even the most picky, vegetable-fearing eaters will be coming back for second helpings. 

Roasted Cauliflower
  • 1 Head of cauliflower, with flowerets cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp Grated parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil spray
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried rosemary
Makes 4 servings
1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse cauliflower and then pat dry. Spread flowerets out on a baking sheet. 
2. Lightly spray cauliflower with cooking spray. Sprinkle grated cheese, evenly, over flowerets. Then do the same with the garlic powder and rosemary. 
3. Place baking sheet in the middle of a rack in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until edges of the cauliflower start to brown. 
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Nutrition: (1 cup serving) Calories: 50, Total fat: 3g, Sat. fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 1mg, Sodium: 51mg, Total carbs: 5g, Fiber: 3g, Sugars: 2g, Protein: 2g

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Recipe Makeover: A Childhood Staple

If you've been keeping up with my latest blog posts, you know by now that cheese and I have a dark and troubled past. But as I transition out of diet-mode and into maintaining my healthy lifestyle, I'm trying to give my old diet staples much needed makeovers. 

Growing up grilled cheese was something quick my mom could cook up for my picky palate, and it was one of the first things I started to cook for myself as a child. For a fast, no-fuss dinner, I use to eat two grilled cheese sandwiches with a big bowl of tomato soup. Yikes! If I could build a time machine and apologize to my young arteries, maybe I could also educate 13-year old me on the dangers of a high-sodium diet. But, alas, I don't have the brain power, so I'll just have to continue on my healthy living quest. 

What's the easiest way to make a meal healthy? Load it up with vegetables. Yes, even if it's grilled cheese. There are so many different variations of the classic sandwich now, you can customize it to accommodate anyone's taste. My secret with this sandwich is that I brush each slice with a little bit of olive oil. You still get the same crunch that comes from frying, just without the cholesterol and trans fats of butter or margarine. 

Feel free to use whatever vegetables, fruit, and cheese for your "grown-up" grilled cheese, but vegetables and firm, white cheeses are the healthiest options. As always, use whole-wheat or whole-grain bread.

Grown-up Grilled Cheese with a Kick
  • 2 Slices of whole-wheat bread
  • 1 oz. Monterey jack cheese with jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 2 Slices of a large tomato
  • Small fistful of spinach leaves
  • 1 Thin slice of red onion
  • 1 tsp EVOO, divided

1. Use a small brush to evenly distribute 1/2 tsp of olive oil on one side of one of the slices of bread. Place bread, oiled side down, in a not-stick frying pan. Don't turn the heat on yet.
2. Layer spinach, tomato, cheese, and onion (in that order) on top of bread. Use the last 1/2 tsp of olive oil for the other slice of bread, turn on the flame to a medium heat, and place the other slice of bread on top, oiled side up. 
3. Use your spatula to apply pressure to the sandwich so that the bread gets cooked evenly and the cheese begins to melt. After about a minute or two (or when bread is cooked to your liking), flip sandwich over. 
4. Finish cooking to your liking, then remove from pan, cut in half, and enjoy!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total: 10 minutes

Nutrition: (One sandwich) Calories: 335, Total fat: 15g, Sat. fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 583mg, Total carbs: 45g, Fiber: 5g, Sugars: 7g, Protein: 17g

You can't deny that that gooey, melting cheese is calling your name. I paired my grilled cheese with a big salad and it kept me full for hours! It's okay to satisfy your cravings sometimes, just make it as healthy as possible.

Lunch in a Pinch

When I was dieting in college, most of my meals in the dining hall consisted of steamed vegetables, brown rice, beans, and salad. My saving grace for variety came when my school added hummus to the salad bar. The day I made that discovery, I felt as though the Mediterranean gods had smiled upon me, and I was forever grateful for that gift. Well, at least until the semester ended and I could just get hummus when I moved back home.

I began making different variations of hummus sandwiches at least a couple times a week. Even some of my non-dieting friends would look at my creations with envious eyes and be forced to abandon their plates of  cookies and cake for their own hummus sandwich. This vegetarian sandwich is now my go-to  quick lunch, and it keeps me satisfied for hours. I always toast whatever bread I use for this sandwich, otherwise it's just like biting into a mushy mess. You can use a deli-flat, an English muffin, or a slice of whole-wheat bread for an open face sandwich. Recently, I decided to try something a little different and make a hummus burrito.

Hummus Burrito
  • 1/4 c. Hummus (I use Sabra)
  • 1 Whole-wheat or multi-grain tortilla (I use
  • 1 Thin slice of red onion
  • 2 Baby bell peppers, sliced
  • 3 Slices of tomato
  • 1 Small handful of leafy greens (I used spring mix and baby spinach)
1. Heat the tortilla in the microwave for a few seconds so it becomes flexible.
2. Spread hummus, thickly, in the center of the tortilla. Top hummus with vegetables and greens.
3. Fold burrito-style, and presto! You've got yourself one quick lunch. 

Nutrition: (One burrito) Calories: 275, Total fat: 12g, Sat. fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 348mg, Total carbs: 36g, Fiber: 14g, Sugars: 8g, Protein: 13g

Pair this healthy burrito with a salad, baked sweet potato, fruit salad, or vegetable and you've got the perfect lunch, without the fuss. You could easily make this ahead of time and wrap it in foil for a quick meal when you're on the-go. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Weight-loss Process: More Than Just Physical

So today when I was out running some errands when I ran into an old friend's mom who I hadn't seen in years. She couldn't believe how much weight I'd lost and how different I looked, but she also asked if I had a boyfriend, which is one question I don't get as often as "how did you lose the weight?" This playful question got me to thinking, "Gee, am I suppose to have a boyfriend now that I'm skinny?" I'm going to be pretty honest right now and confess that when I was at my heaviest, before I started to seriously diet, I knew that one of the main reasons why I did not have a boyfriend was because I was overweight. Not to say that those who are on the heavier side don't date or have significant others, what I'm saying is that when I was heavy, I had zero confidence. I would avoid looking in mirrors as much as I could because I knew that what I would see would not reflect the person I felt like on the inside. And I always thought that all I had to do was lose the weight and I would be beating off the guys with a stick. Don't get me wrong, I have noticed that I have been getting more attention from guys, but it is such a foreign concept to me that sometimes I feel like it's all one big, practical joke.

What I'm trying to say that even though I've lost so much weight and I feel great about my body, I'm still not 100% comfortable with it yet. Whenever I would watch wedding shows (yes, I'm obsessed with them, like every other woman in the world) and there would a woman who had just lost a significant amount of weight trying on gowns, they would always say that she still felt fat, and I thought every one of them were absolutely insane! But now, I can completely understand where they were coming from. The physical process of losing weight was long and arduous, but the mental process has taken even longer.

I have no idea how long it will take for me to get use to this new body, but when that day comes, I will truly be unstoppable. Going back to my story earlier, who knows when I will have a boyfriend. My physical transformation has definitely helped me gain attention, but I will have to become fully confident and comfortable with my body in order to let my personality shine.

So what's my point in this post? Well, if you're looking to lose weight in order to gain notice from the opposite, or same, sex, make sure you learn to love yourself first. Weight loss is not the solution to your single-life blues, trust me. Because even when you do lose the weight, you're still going to have that self-hating mentality, and that will hinder your chances of finding a significant other more than being overweight. Love yourself, then some will be able to love you, too. In the meantime, I'll be sitting in my boudoir waiting for my gentleman caller to finally arrive.

Recipe Makeover: Pasta Edition

Obviously I have been cooking for a decent number of years before I made this blog. When I first started cooking I was so brain-washed into thinking that the only way to cook a tasty and fast meal was to fill my recipes with fattening and unhealthy ingredients. My go-to quick meal was always mac 'n' cheese. When I was growing up I was just a picky eater that most of my meals had to have cheese as the main ingredient or something had to be topped with cheese. I was the Cheese Queen, as my mother would always joke.

When I had to re-vamp my diet and lifestyle, my recipe arsenal also had to under-go a dramatic makeover. I had to learn about new foods and how to cook them in a healthy way, but, at the same time , not compromise on flavor. It was a challenge for a while, my tastebuds definitely had to adjust to the healthier, unprocessed foods, and I think that is why so many people quit on their diets. They begin to miss and crave the foods that they once loved because they don't know how to make a nutritious and low-calorie meal taste just as good as its decadent counterpart.

A lot of the recipes I use or come up with are just me experimenting and hoping for the best. If you there are healthy foods out there that you love, all you have to do is think of the best way to incorporate the ingredients so that the flavors sing in perfect harmony with one another.

Like I said, mac 'n' cheese use to be my best friend (and my thighs' worst enemy), but so was all pasta. Personally, I think carbs get a pretty bad rap when it comes to dieting, but whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas are very healthy for you, in moderation. The recipe I'm going to share with you today is a recipe makeover for pasta with meat sauce. Lentils are so much healthier and provide a lot of protein, so this meal is not only wholesome, but satisfying. 

Spaghetti with Tomato and Spinach, Lentil "Meat" Sauce
  • 1/4 c. Dry lentils (I used red)
  • 2 oz. Dry Barilla Plus Thin Spaghetti
  • 1/2 of 1 Large, red tomato, or 2 small roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 c. Spinach
  • 1/2 c. Mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c. Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp EVVO
  • Splash of white cooking wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook lentils according to package instructions.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti. Break the Spaghetti in half and scatter in pot when water begins to boil. Keep the heat medium-low because the pasta will cook quickly. 
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and spinach to a food processor (or blender) and give it a few pulses, until ingredients have pureed.
4. In a medium-sized skillet, on medium heat, add EVVO, garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Sauté until tender. 
5. When lentils are done cooking (They usually take about 15 minutes), add to skillet and stir. Add the tomato and spinach puree to the skillet, as well as the splash of wine. Reduce to low-heat and little the sauce simmer. 
6. When spaghetti is al dente, drain and add to the skillet. Toss in the grape tomatoes and stir until pasta is coated in sauce. Simmer for a minute or two. (This would also be a great time to cover the skillet and make a quick tossed salad!)
7. Turn off the heat and plate the pasta, trying to keep many of the lentils on top of the spaghetti. Mangia!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total: 40 minutes

Nutrition: (Serves one) Calories: 500, Total fat: 7g, Sat. fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 253mg, Total carbs: 77g, Fiber: 10g, Sugars: 10g, Protein: 27g

This dish can easily be made for the entire family, all you have to do is multiply the ingredients to accommodate the number you are serving. This dish is loaded with vegetables that can fly under the radar of even the most picky of eaters. And you can easily use this recipe as a guideline and use your favorite vegetables instead! Lentils are a great, healthy way to get the same protein that you would have gotten from ground beef, without the fat and cholesterol. It is a really hearty dish that will keep you full for hours. If you're looking to make a pasta and lentil dish in a pinch, you could always cook the lentils while you cook the pasta (they generally take the same amount of time), and then just add the lentils to your homemade or jar sauce. There really are zero excuses for you to not substitute lentils for meat. And here's the extra bonus: lentils are super cheap! Especially compared to meat and poultry. Enjoy!