“Cheat” Chinese Chicken Fried Rice

I am going to keep the anecdotes to a minimum tonight.  First off, I am blogging rather late at night, but for a few good reasons: it is Tasty Tuesday and I have yet to post; it has been a week since my last post (hello, crazy working mom mode!); I have had this recipe requested for quite some time.  Second reason to make this quick: you will want this recipe immediately.  At least, you would if you could smell the garlicky aroma wafting through my house still–two hours after we ate. Yum!  But then again, this isn’t a blog post by me if it lacks a little backstory.

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My husband loves fried rice.  In fact, he would eat hibachi almost every night.  His entire family–and I mean his mom and her seven siblings and all of their spouses and kids (and now grandkids!)–go to a hibachi restaurant every Easter.  I have always dreaded it.  I do not enjoy the oily smell that lingers on my clothes, in my hair, and on my handbag.  I seem to be the only one getting the downdraft of the giant exhaust fan–no matter where I sit.  I despise eggs, so seeing them cracked and topping all the other food on the grill just gives me the heebie jeebies. But it is always one of Mike’s favorite days with his favorite people and his favorite food.

A few years ago, Mike got the idea to try to make his own fried rice.  He’s played around with the recipe–and has even left out the eggs for my benefit–and has come up with a combo of flavors that we find ideal.  This “cheat” Chinese meal is mainly clean and mainly healthy, but it definitely not on the menu every week as it packs more of a caloric and sodium punch than we want on the reg.  It sure beats the fat and salt content of true takeout, though, so I still count it as a dinner win.

You can easily adapt this by trading out the veggies for those to your liking.  We stick to carrots and zucchini mainly because we love them, our kids love them, and we always have them on hand.  You could also trade out the chicken for steak, shrimp, pork, whatever!  It is quite versatile.  You could even add the egg if you are so inclined.  I disagree wholeheartedly, but I know my husband would gladly come make this for you and dine with you if you allowed the egg addition. 🙂

Mike preps everything in its own pot/pan, then combines everything in our large saute pan. This meal requires a lot of space and a lot of dish-washing, but to mimic the hibachi experience, you have to go there.

The portions below perfectly feed me, my husband, and my two young kids without leftovers.  We often double this if we make it on Sunday night so Mike has lunches for a few days.  Plus, our five-year old daughter always wants seconds and thirds.  This is her favorite meal.

Extra tip: I recommend chopping the veggies with a hand-chopper (I use one by Pampered Chef) to dice them to the perfect size.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups brown rice, cooked (You could use white if you prefer!)
  • 1 chicken breast, diced into tiny pieces (as small as you’d like)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped small
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped small
  • 1 tsp butter (The one and only time we use it anymore!)
  • Himalayan sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Sesame seeds, to taste
  • low-sodium soy sauce
  1. Prepare the rice according to package directions.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken and saute, moving it frequently, for approximately 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit as you prep the veggies and finish the rice.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Heat garlic for 30 seconds.  Add the carrots and zucchini and stir for approx. 1-2 minutes, or until softened.
  4. Add the rice, then the pre-cooked chicken, and combine.
  5. Lower the heat.  Add the butter, salt, pepper, sesame seeds, and soy sauce (to taste!), and then toss all ingredients together.

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This may require many pieces of cookware, but it is still quick and delicious!  Very worth the try!  I look forward to hearing how you modify this, or how tour taste buds enjoy my husband’s creation as-is!

Clean Steak & Chicken Fajitas

Want to know the worst part of my family’s new love of clean eating? Doing so many dishes and running the dishwasher daily. But do you want to know the best part? I always have fresh ingredients on hand that I can easily throw together to create a healthful, flavorful meal on a whim. This benefit far outweighs the number of minutes spent at my sink or unloading the dishwasher.

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This can save you in a pinch when your meal prep or meal plan has failed you. We are humans–many of whom are raising mini humans–and life happens! Don’t let life cause you to stop at a fast food joint when in almost as much time as the drive-thru would take you can get creative and make something yummy and clean in your own kitchen.

This pinch-hitting dinner came into play a few weeks ago. I had planned on making stuffed peppers Monday night, but ended up using the ground turkey I had on hand for a potluck recipe the day before instead.  I swore this dish would create enough leftovers for dinner but, alas, it was just too good.  Clean recipes tend to be that way. I was left, then, with a series of peppers and onion and no dinner plan on the first day I returned to work post-maternity leave.

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I pass Pancheros–a delicious Chipotle-style fast food joint–every day as I drive home with the “big kids” from their school. I so wanted to pull in the parking lot and get something, but I didn’t for a few reasons: 1. How much of a pain is that with two kids and a newborn? 2. We are striving to eat clean and save money! 3.I had some awesome ingredients awaiting me and my new-found kitchen creativity awaiting me in my own kitchen! I decided then to head home and figure out how to make fajitas–something I have never made before nor ever really desired to eat before.

I’ve noticed, though, that the more cleanly my family and I eat–meaning, the more whole, real foods I cook with and snack on–the more adventurous I am becoming in the kitchen.  My palate is definitely expanding.  I now crave flavors I didn’t know existed: fresh citrus squeezed onto a bed of greens, cayenne pepper tossed into a homemade soup, the differing tastes of various onion varieties.  Beyond that, I am more confident playing Martha Stewart or Julia Child as well.  I am starting to be better aware of the relationships between foods, to understand how certain spices or flavors or textures compliment and contradict one another.  I believe all of these new cooking mentalities led to my fajita-making endeavor.
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I knew I had plenty of peppers and onion, and Mike always picks up at least one steak and a few chicken breast each Sunday.  What we don’t use within two days, we freeze.  I also knew that we had Ezekiel tortillas in the freezer that could make a yummy fajita roll-up or just as a starch of sorts under and the seasoned goodness.  As soon as we got home, I got the kids set up with some coloring, began defrosting the tortillas, and began my prep.

This meal took no more than 15 minutes from start to finish: 5 minutes to wash and chop/slice and 10 minutes to saute the veggies and grill the steak.  This turned out to be a new favorite of mine.  I have made it twice in the past two weeks. Yum!

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INGREDIENTS
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1 lean steak (ranch steak is the perfect size), sliced thin
1 chicken breast, sliced thin
1/2 Ezekiel tortilla per fajita
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (optional, to taste)
1/4 cup fresh or jarred salsa (optional, to taste)
1/2 cup Mexican blend cheese (optional, to taste)

(Ok, lots of thin slices–but the thinner the better!)

SEASONING
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin

  1. Heat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Toss in veggies and stir frequently for 3 minutes. Adjust heat as needed.
  2. Preheat grill pan over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil over steak and chicken, and then grill for approximately 2-3 minutes each side.  Keep a close eye on this, though, as size and thickness make a big difference.
  3. Add seasoning spices directly to saute pan, tossing veggies to coat.  Continue cooking until onions are translucent.
  4. Break up 1/2 tortilla on plate (or stuff!), top with veggies, and then protein of choice (I had a little of both!).  I then sprinkled cheese over it all, and dolloped a spoonful of Greek yogurt on top in lieu of sour cream.  Add salsa as well if you choose.

That’s it! Simply, scrumptious, and just the right amount of spicy.  Please comment below with your thoughts or variations!

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Pam’s Specialty: Fruit Salsa

I am hosting my first fitness and nutrition challenge group and I LOVE it.  The women participating are motivating me to work harder at meeting my exercise, nutrition, and water-intake goals each day.  It is also empowering to see so many women taking positive steps towards being their best, most well selves.  It takes courage and willpower to make the decision to do something for yourself–especially for moms or working women.  Seeing these remarkable women do that is just uplifting.

While planning out my Tasty Tuesday content for this week, I considered focusing on a recipe suitable for 21 Day Fix, but during the brainstorming process, I was chopping fruit for my “famous” fruit salsa and realized I was looking my recipe right in the face.  The amazing women in my group can treat themselves to this on March 21. 😉  Next week, though, I’ll post a recipe we can all love, 21 Day Fixers and all others alike.

If you invite me to your home–be it for brunch, a 31 party, the Super Bowl, you name it–you better believe I am bringing fruit salsa. Why? A. It is delicious. B. It is easy. C. It functions as app or dessert or topping (hello, waffles or pancakes!) or, even, side dish. D. It is semi-clean and decently healthy.  If you have 15 minutes, you, too can make this and be the favorite guest. It is also perfect to throw together when you have company coming over yourself or to keep in the fridge to top off some ice cream.

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I found a variation of this recipe years ago and have played around with it since.  Raspberry preserves really work best.  There is something about the tart, tangy nature that compliments the fresh fruit and the cinnamon. You can also switched out different fruit, but this combo is my jam–pun intended.  If you must change it up, though, do not eliminate the apple or strawberries.  They make this pop for sure.

I’ve been asked this recipe by many family and friends over the years, so let me give it to you straight.  Little back story, just yumminess!

INGREDIENTS
• 1 apple (golden delicious is my fave in this recipe, but any variety in season will work)
• 1/2 pint strawberries
• 1/2 pint blueberries
• 1 kiwi
• 1 tbsp seedless sugar-free or all-natural raspberry preserves

1. Chop all of the fruit, including larger blueberries, into small (approx. 1/2-1 cm) pieces.
2. Combine with the preserves in a glass dish.
3. Chill, covered, for at least 15 min (or overnight) and serve with homemade cinnamon sugar tortilla chips.  Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips are perfect, too.

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TO MAKE YOUR OWN CHIPS:
• 4 Ezekiel tortillas, thawed
• nonstick coconut oil spray
• 1 tsp brown sugar
• 1 tsp cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cookie sheet with coconut oil nonstick spray.
  2. Break tortillas into bite size portions and arrange on the cookie sheet.  You will have to do this in batches.
  3. Spray the chips with the coconut oil, then sprinkle with the cinnamon and brown sugar.
  4. Bake quickly–for 3-5 minutes–depending on size of the chips.

You can also add sugar to the chips if you wish.  I like them like this! 

 

Steak & Brown Rice Bowl

I began my first online fitness and nutrition boot camp–which, you know, changed my life–on January 4th. Kellen’s surgery was that Friday, January 8th. I was only four days in, but I had already noticed changes in my eating habits. I no longer craved sweets and snacked incessantly. I desired balanced meals full of protein rather than the fruit and processed foods meals I ate before. I needed my morning shake to kick off my day and rev up my metabolism. I feared that these new habits would easily slip away while we spent 3 or 4 days in the hospital. Of course Kellen’s health was my top priority, but I also knew that I needed a sense of normalcy, too, in order to mentally survive this with him. I spent the night before his surgery packing a lunchbox full with one day’s meals. I made my first-ever overnight oats; I packed leftover crockpot salsa chicken and spinach for lunch. That morning, I made my shake and added a protein bar, apples, and baby carrots to the bag. I wasn’t concerned with missing workouts. I’d make up for lost time when and if possible after our long CHOP weekend. I needed to stay on top of my nutrition, however, to stay in as much control of the situation as possible. Control gives me balance. I adore balance.


Then day 2 hit. I had spent the night at Kellen’s bedside in the NICU taking brief cat naps, pumping, and trying to assist the nurses in managing his pain. I woke that morning cramped, exhausted both physically and mentally, and hungry with an empty lunchbox. “Go get yourself some coffee. He’s going for chest X rays soon,” one nurse urged me just before 7 am. I went down to the near-empty cafeteria and bought a tea, but nothing else. The cafe was filled with hash browns and egg sandwiches and flavored yogurts and prepackaged smoothies and mini boxes of sugary cereal. No fresh fruit to be had. I knew that two days of eating like I’d been eating for years wasn’t going to set me back, but I was resolute in my control. I needed to keep my new desire for clean eating and balanced macronutrients going. I immediately text Mike with directions on making my protein shake and requested he bring along some bananas and apples. “Don’t worry.  Lunch is so much better there,” he insisted. He was right.

This is when I–or, more accurately, we–fell in love with brown rice bowls. Our good friend Andrea works at CHOP as a child life specialist (God bless her! Truly!), and she recommended we check out the Asian station for one when we went down for lunch. Oh. Em. Gee. They were so delicious that even my husband, who had only really eaten brown rice for the first time a few days prior in his support of my new nutritional goals, had one for every real CHOP meal from that point forward.

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A few weeks after Kellen’s surgery, my mother and I took him back to the hospital for his follow-up.  The desire for a brown rice bowl hit me like a pregnancy craving would have a few months before.  I played around with some ingredients we had on hand, and made it for dinner that night.  The recipe I am providing here is based on my second, and even more delicious attempt.

This version can easily be made with chicken or shrimp or the protein of your choice.  I decided to make my own ginger soy sauce as well.  I found plenty of recipes for it online, but made my own by eliminating many of the ingredients I either did not have on hand or wanted to avoid, such as sugar or teriyaki sauce.  Play around with the veggies you include as well.  The hospital served these with the option of eggplant and brussels sprouts as well, which I loved, but Mike isn’t a big fan of them so I went a more traditional route.  I selected frozen veggies for this also for two reasons: this is a good recipe to make in a pinch or when fresh ingredients have run out and second, frozen produce still contains many of the nutrients that fresh produce contains without the added chemicals that many cans can add to food.

I’ve made this recipe super easy.  It is quick and delicious!  Enjoy!  Comment below with your own adaptations. #whoneedstakeout 🙂

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Steak & Brown Rice Bowl

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A clean, flavorful, and simple take on take-out.

FOR RICE BOWL

  • brown rice, and 1/2 cup dry per person
  • lean steak, about a 1/4-1/2 lb per person, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen edamame
  • 1/2 can bean sprouts

FOR THE GINGER SOY SAUCE:

  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ginger (I used powder, you can use fresh if you have it on hand)
  • 1 tsp green onions, diced
  • 1/2 tsp sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Cook rice according to package directions.  I added a tsp of apple cider vinegar and garlic salt to add flavor, but this is optional.  When finished, set aside.
  2. Preheat grill pan to medium. drizzle steak strips in EVOO and grill 2-3 min per side, sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat corn and edamame in a microwave safe bowl with 3 tbsp water for approx. 2 min, though cooking times vary.
  4. Combine all ingredients for sauce and whisk together.
  5. Spoon a serving of rice, a scoop of corn and edamame, and a spoon-full of bean sprouts in a bowl.  Top with slices of steak.  Drizzle with sauce.

Easy-peasy and nummy-nummy. Please let me know if you give it a try and if you swap out any ingredient.  Shrimp would be delicious!

Cinnamon Banana French Toast Bake

In middle school, I had an Elmo lunch box.  I wasn’t the only one, though; kiddie characters were all the rage.  Middle schoolers in the 90s were odd like that. We passed notes in friendship notebooks, read YM magazine, wore plastic butterfly hair clips–the glitterier the better–and carried our lunches in children’s fabric lunch boxes.  We were all dressed in clothes from Delia’s and obsessed with BSB or N’Sync.  Above all else, we were all pretty predictable.

And every day that I went to school dressed like Topanga and opened that Elmo case I uncovered the same lunch: peanut butter and banana on cinnamon-swirl bread, an apple, a cookie or two, a drink, and a napkin with a handwritten note from my mom that I tried to hide from my tablemates.  I was a creature of habit; I loved it.  This lunch routine lasted for years–far beyond the coolness faded on my Sesame Street lunch box and Justin Timberlake’s rise to solo stardom took off once he outgrew those blonde tips.  I asked my best friend, Lindsey, just a few weeks ago what I ate for lunch every day growing up.  She recalled it perfectly.  Then, we jammed to “That Boy is Mine” just for old-time’s sake.

When I became pregnant with my second child, Paxton, I seemed to crave all snacks from my childhood: Poptarts, apples with peanut butter, cream cheese on crackers, and, most of all, PB and banana on cinnamon swirl bread.  For the last three years, beyond my pregnancy cravings, I’d continued to indulge on this sandwich and have passed my love for it onto my children.  This combo doesn’t quite fit into my clean-eating goals, though.  I’ve replaced many of the ingredients for healthier alternatives and am just as happy.  I’ll now toast a slice of Ezekiel bread, spread it with all-natural peanut butter or almond butter, and top that with half a banana.  It is a filling and healthful breakfast.

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I woke up this morning, Valentine’s Day, wishing to make a yummy and warm breakfast for my family, but with one problem: I hadn’t planned for this.  I spend Saturday night meal planning and my husband spends Sunday morning at the grocery store, so I woke this morning with only a few fresh ingredients.  That is when the lunch of my youth, my favorite sandwich and now favorite of my kids as well, came to mind.  All week I’ve been researching recipes and ideas for incorporating eggs into my diet–I HATE eggs–and received so many suggestions on my Facebook page that I decided to combine some of these ideas with something I know I love.  Hence, this breakfast was born.

All I had in the freezer was flax seed Ezekiel bread, so that would have to do.  I fit a few whole and a few broken pieces into a heart-shaped pie dish I have had for years and never used, added plenty of banana and cinnamon, and smothered it in scrambled eggs.  The end result was pretty good, but better for the egg lovers in my house than it was for me.  As it sat and settled for a while and the bread became crispier, I discovered that I, too, loved it after I picked off and devoured the entire top layer. Either way–piping hot and out of the oven or after an hour and a little stale–this is one to try on a cold winter morning when you want a taste of home.

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  • 6 slices Ezekiel bread, frozen
  • 2 bananas, sliced into coins
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon, divided
  • 4 whole eggs, 4 egg whites, scrambled
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup natural almond butter, warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a pie dish with non-stick cooking spray (I used coconut oil).
  2. Line the dish with three slices of Ezekiel bread, breaking up and fitting together as necessary to cover most of the dish.  (Today, I used flax seed bread, but any kind would work.  Cinnamon raisin would probably be divine.)
  3. Layer bread with banana coins and sprinkle with one tbsp. cinnamon.  Repeat with a second layer of bread and the remainder of the banana and cinnamon.
  4. In a mixing bowl, scramble together the eggs, egg whites, almond milk, and extract. Pour evenly over the bread.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes uncovered and then 15 minutes covered with foil.
  6. Plate individual servings and drizzle with warmed almond butter. Enjoy!

Of course, this is just as yummy with syrup or even drizzled with honey instead. Let me know your favorite egg or French toast recipes below, or how you altered this one to your liking.  I am always looking for new ideas! Feel free to also share your middle school memories.  Those are always fun!

Happy Valentine’s Day! XoXo

 

Lick-the-spoon Protein Cookies…and a Salad

I’ve missed cookies.  Cookies and ice cream are my two biggest weaknesses.  Since I’ve started drinking Shakeology every day, I no longer miss having a bowl of ice cream.  I have found so many recipe ideas online and just by playing around that I pretty much start each day with a chocolate or coffee milkshake.  This shake, though, is full of super foods and vitamins and the protein my body needs to burn fat, build muscle, and feel properly full.  But I’ve missed cookies. IMG_6953

Thank heavens for Pinterest and Facebook.  Between these two sources, I’ve found various recipes for energy bites and clean cookies that I am starting to satisfy these cravings with healthful, whole snacks.  Yesterday, I stumbled upon my favorite yet while mixing ideas from a few other recipes–and a faulty ingredient leftover from the weekend.

I am calling these Lick-the-Spoon Protein Cookies because you will do just that: lick the spoon clean after you finish portioning them on your cookie sheet.  They are eggless, so the batter is safe to eat raw, and they are gluten free if you use the right kind of old fashioned rolled oats. Plus, these took maybe two or three minutes to prepare.   Combine that with a 15 minute bake time, and I was munching on a few in less than 25 minutes.

What inspired the cookie creating?  I am currently running a Clean Eating Accountability group on Facebook and am on the lookout for some clean snacks to share with the ladies and one gentleman participating.  I found a basic recipe for banana oatmeal cookies that seemed simple and yummy enough alone, but the recipe lacked protein.  I have found protein to be so beneficial to my overall health and fitness that I wanted to make the cookies more worthwhile for me, my goals, and my participants.  Plus, I had just finished eating the most delicious and clean citrus chicken salad that I knew I could afford a cookie or two–the right cookie, anyway.

To up the protein ante, I added two ingredients: raw homemade almond butter and a little bit of chocolate Shakeology.  The almond butter addition came out of my desire to really live a clean lifestyle.  I attempted to grind down a cup of almonds for a Super Bowl Sunday snack, and my first attempt didn’t go well.  Instead of turning into a crumbly topping like I envisioned, the almonds became moist, dense, and chunky in my Nutribullet.  I succeeded on a second cup of almonds by using my blender instead, but the initial serving of almond “buttery” something just sat on my counter unused.  When I was mixing together the ingredients for the cookies and took a jar of almond butter out of my fridge, I remembered the forgotten blend from the day before and used that instead.  This added a crunch to some of the cookies as well, which I am not complaining about.

I added the Shakeology, and just a little bit, to add a chocolate flavor and some more health benefits, but this step can easily be left out or even subbed for cocoa powder if you aren’t interested in additional protein.

I’ll get to the actual recipe in a minute, but first, you have to earn it.  Here is the recipe for my clean citrus chicken salad.  I combined ingredients from various meals from the week to create an unplanned, accidental, delicious lunch that I cannot wait to have again today.

CLEAN CITRUS CHICKEN SALAD INGREDIENTS

I combined all ingredients in a bowl and enjoyed every bite.  This didn’t need any dressing, but if you find it to be dry, squeeze the juice out of one of the orange segments.  Keep it clean and light. 🙂  This salad will make you feel like you are vacationing in California–something my parents are currently doing–which this Jersey girl appreciated on a gray February afternoon.

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Drum roll, please. It’s cookie time.

Lick-the-spoon Protein Cookies

  • Servings: 12-18
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cookies so good, you'll forget they are healthy!

Ingredients

  • 2 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup organic old-fashioned rolled oats, certified gluten free if necessary
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter
  • 1 tbsp. chocolate Shakeology
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (I used dark mini chips)

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Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray  (I used coconut oil spray and the aroma is to-die-for and also vacation-like!).
  2. Combine the bananas (I mashed mine with a fork), oats, and almond butter until smooth.  If you are adding the Shakeology or cocoa powder, combine that now as well.
  3. Fold in the chocolate chips.  Spoon even rounds onto the cookie sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until firm.  Allow to cool for one minute on the cookie sheet and then for 3 minutes on a cooling rack.
  4. Store in an air-tight container in your fridge–if you have any leftovers!

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This is an easy and yummy dessert that even your kids can enjoy.  A cookie without butter and eggs isIMG_6957 my new favorite kind of cookie.  Share your thoughts below or of any changes you made to the recipes.  Cooking and baking should allow for creativity.  Have confidence to play around with recipes and you will find true joy in the kitchen!
If you do not want to make your own almond butter, I have found this brand works very well for baking, for my Shakeology, on apples, and on Ezekiel toast.  It does have a rather nutty flavor, but it spreads well and doesn’t separate.  

If you like this recipe and want more healthy lunch and snack ideas, join my next FREE 5-day clean eating challenge!

 

My Why

I have been a mom for over five years, but nothing has motivated me to take control of my family’s health and wellness as much as Kellen’s CCAM. While I was pregnant this third time, countless people–from friends to family to complete strangers at the grocery store–felt the need to impart their feelings on “being outnumbered” with three kids: You’ll be lucky to get out of the house! Try to remember to eat! How will you keep their names straight? The laundry! But you already have your boy and your girl! These such positive and supportive comments truly helped ease a mind already panicked at the baby’s health and worried about the impact a newborn would have on a 3-year old and 5-year old.

I am a bit of a control freak. I am the type of person who rearranges the dishwasher after my husband loads it. I adjust the way my mom has placed one of my child’s shirts on a hanger when helping me around the house. I am by no means a neat freak or a clean freak, but I need to be in control of so much of the minutia in life to feel any sense of inner balance. Kellen’s diagnosis really shook me at my core. Not only was his health in question, but my ability to be in control–and, this time, about something so vital, so real–was virtually non-existent.

As I neared and then passed my due date, I realized just how little control I had over many of life’s biggest moments. I couldn’t predict or plan this baby’s arrival.  I couldn’t will him a perfect lung.  I couldn’t even control how he would change the lives of my other two children.

I’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather, Vince, on this blog a few times.  “Let it go” was his signature phrase, one that ties us to him still.  After we learned the CCAM CVR was only a .21, I became open to letting go of so much stress and worry and emotion.  I continued to carry so much weight and so much internal pressure to get everything right, however, in the other aspects of my life. The moment Kellen was born and I heard him cry the most robust, gorgeous cry, though, I finally let it go.  All of it.

What is it? Everything I can’t and shouldn’t attempt to control, to micromanage, to perfect. The irony in this is that just as quickly as I let go of what I couldn’t control, I became more aware of what I could control: my health, my happiness, my confidence, my ability to provide these for my family.

This is my why, my reason for making healthier choices and for making myself a priority. First, I joined a boot camp, this first thing I have done solely for me in a very long time.  This inspired me to rekindle my love of writing and to launch this blog.  The catharsis it allows me is priceless.  Both of these new endeavors have equated to more accountability in my choices.  I am sticking to my workouts and to clean, balanced eating not simply to lose the baby weight or to write about it.  I want my confidence and my control in the most healthy way.  I want to be almost as strong as Kellen.  I want to be a role model for my daughter.  I want my middle child to love cooking healthy meals with me, not just baking cookies. I want all of my children to grow up in a house where we follow our dreams and support one another and don’t stress about the rest. That is why I’ve taken the step to become a Beachbody coach–to inspire my children and other people as well.

I’ve let go of much of my panic and embrace my life’s chaos and unpredictability.  I’ve let go of bad eating habits and perpetual snacking and have made room for healthful choices and real meals.  I’ve let go of the me who held herself to an impossible standard and welcomed the work-in-progress me.

In doing this, I realize I have real time on my hands.  Yesterday, I spent two hours at a hair salon highlighting my hair.  It is something I have wanted to do for years, but chickened out with worry of how I’d look.  At least that was the excuse I said out loud. The truth?  The idea of doing something alone and just for me and at such a cost made me almost sick.  I am a working mom and my husband would never tell me I couldn’t pay for something like that, but I still felt such guilt. The expense! The time away from the kids! I let these excuses weigh me down.  I let go of such excuses on November 11th.  And I still had time for life.  I spent the morning at CHOP for Kellen’s follow-up (all is perfect!), took my daughter to get her new glasses, did some laundry (with the help of my mom and I didn’t fix any hangers!), and made two meals, one for dinner and one for lunch for the week. I am not listing this to brag. I then ended the night working on my Beachbody coaching business plan and doing some training while watching the Iowa caucuses and college hoops with my husband.  I didn’t get a long workout in, which I would have liked to do, but I had me-time, family-time, husband-time, and healthful-time regardless.  I will celebrate victories, especially Kellen’s, and not pay attention to what didn’t work or didn’t happen.  I’m thrilled with what I can control and the rest, well, I’ve let that go.

One-Skillet Weeknight Chicken

Made one of the easiest meals I’ve managed to cook last night!  My husband was working late and I had a special shrimp meal planned that he loves but it does not reheat well. I knew I would make that once he got home for the two of us, but I needed something quick for the kids.  I had planned on making this while the kids were at school to have as grab-and-go lunches, but in a pinch it made the switch to dinner. This dish was a victory all around! My kids loved it, it was clean and nutritious, and it all happened in one skillet.  This recipe also yielded plenty of leftovers that I plan to eat over baby spinach for my 21 Day Fix lunches this week.

I am going to keep the monologue to a minimum with this post.  The meal is simple; the blog should be as well.  Here goes!

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INGREDIENTS

  • Two tomatoes (I used tomatoes-on-the-vine) chopped, ribs discarded
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lb lean ground chicken
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut in thin spheres
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut in thin spheres
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium organic chicken broth
  1. Chop tomatoes and place in a bowl.  Top with one tablespoon EVOO, sea salt, and basil leaves.  Stir to combine.  Set aside.
  2. Heat remaining tablespoon EVOO over medium heat in the bottom of a deep skillet. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add the ground chicken and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Once browned, add the zucchini, squash and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Add tomato mixture, toss once more, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover, and allow the juices to combine for approximately 5 minutes.  Then serve over greens or as-is.

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This dish has basic, fresh flavors, but could easily be doctored for your family’s preferences.  You could add chili powder or cayenne pepper for some kick or even add eggplant to make it even more hearty. I sprinkled it with part-skim shredded mozz when I served it to my kids.  Let me know in the comments how you made this your own. 🙂

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Clean Eating on a Budget

My grandfather used to always say that you do not skimp on food.  If you’ll eat it and it is good for you, pay for it!  This is a good reminder for those of us trying to prepare clean, balanced meals for our families.  We see the canned soups and boxed mac and cheese and aisle packed with sugary cereals and think two thoughts: cheap and easy.  I hear ya. Sometimes, cheap and easy is what we moms crave most.  But I would like to encourage you to think beyond these two words.  Instead, think healthful and worth it!

Perhaps our initial shopping bills were higher than normal, but only slightly. I keep my grandfather’s words in my mind and realize that my family’s health truly has no price. Regardless, this concern is common.  In that past few days since I began publicizing my family’s rather-layered journey to health, I have received comments and questions touching on this very issue.  How much more do I have to spend to eat clean? We can’t really afford this!  I hope to show you that you can.

My best piece of advice? Meal planning!  I am–or was–a coupon girl.  I was not TLC-worthy extreme couponer, but I spent a half hour to an hour most Saturday nights scanning circulars, organizing coupons, and creating a very specific list for my husband’s Sunday-morning super market runs. Clean eating has taken away my beloved coupons almost completely, but I now fill my momerific Saturday nights meal planning quite strategically.

Through meal planning, you can uncover patterns in recipes and plan accordingly. Follow my four-step process (which makes me sound like a pro. Nope! Totally figuring this out as I go!), and maybe you’ll find clean eating will work for your family.

Step one happens well in advance. Scan sights like mine (shameless plug, I know!), CleanFoodCrush, Eat Yourself Skinny, Skinny Taste, Fit Foodie Finds, and HelloHealthy and bookmark recipes that are must-tries for your family. Find more than a week’s worth–at least 10-20 meals–so that steps two and three are most effective.

Step two requires you to examine the ingredient lists within your collection of clean recipes for your “must buys.” These “must buys” are the seasonings, spices, oils, flours, etc.–basically, the kitchen staples–most required for clean eating and the recipes you are interested in trying.  This will most likely be your biggest expense, but it is also an infrequent purchase.  Buy most of these once, and they should last at least a few months.

Some of my “must buys” included various pure extracts (for overnight oats and smoothies and coffee flavoring), sriracha sauce, chili paste and powder, coconut oil, and sesame oil. I bought organic for some and didn’t worry about it for others. Eating, like life, is about balance. You may also consider old fashioned rolled oats and whole wheat flour (if you are not a gluten-free household, coconut flour if you are!) and stevia if you bake and want to eliminate sugar.  I stick to sugar, but that is just me.  Purchasing an all-natural peanut butter and an all-natural almond butter is smart as well.  Sun flower seed butter is a great alternative for allergies. These go perfectly in protein shakes and smoothies and on top of apples or Ezekiel bread.  And don’t forget brown rice, quinoa (any variety), various beans, and low sodium broths or stocks to have on hand.  You’ll be surprised how many recipes call for any or all three of these. Plus, they work well in soups, which are a perfect way to achieve step four, described later on.  This seems like a lot, but as I already mentioned, these have legs and last quite a while!

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Step three is a week-to-week meal plan. Take the time to figure out what meals best overlap. In other words, what fresh, perishable ingredients can be used in multiple recipes.  Find two recipes that call for half a yellow onion and make them two nights in a row. This is not only health-conscious and wallet-conscious, but earth-conscious as well.  I will share a sample weekly plan later.  Plan your shopping list with these fresh, overlapping ingredients in mind.  I also suggest weekly purchases of nonfat plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened plain almond milk, avocados, berries, bananas, lemons, and garlic cloves.

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Step four is more fun.  I am have decided to dedicate Saturday to ridding my home and my fridge of all that remains.  I have yet to find a meal plan that causes no excess.  On Saturdays, I vow to cook as much of it up as I can.  This is a fun way to experiment with different recipes and to save some money on the process.  My household fell into the Friday or Saturday take-out trap.  We are saving money and eating better now that we do this. You can read more about how we are managing this in my blog post “Out with the old; in with the new.”

We are still in the early stages of our clean eating journey.  I have a lot to learn–and will admittedly see how well I keep this up when I return to work post-maternity leave.  But we have developed such keen habits already.  I am confident we have now made this our lifestyle rather than a fad diet.

What does this look like in my household?  Here is a look at this week’s meal plan (recipe links included when possible) and how the ingredients overflow.

  1. Sunday: My husband’s famous chicken fried rice (Want this recipe? Leave a comment asking for it!)
    • fresh ingredients: brown rice, chicken breasts, carrots, zucchini
  2. Monday: 21 Day Fix-approved Meatloaf Muffins
    • fresh ingredients: lean ground beef, carrots, celery, yellow onion
  3. Tuesday: Carrot soup with Beef Stir-fry
    •  fresh ingredients: lean beef, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms
  4. Wednesday: Healthy Baked Quinoa Chicken Parm
    • fresh ingredients: chicken breasts, mushrooms, yellow onion, green pepper,
  5. Thursday: 21 Day Fix-approved Kung Pao Chicken Meatballs with Mashed Cauliflower
    • fresh ingredients: ground chicken, yellow onion, cauliflower
  6. Friday: Zoodles & leftover meatballs
    • fresh ingredients: zucchini
  7. Saturday: Leftover creation!
    • I’ll have some onion left over as well as some pepper and sweet potatoes from a dish I am making to bring to a brunch that morning.  I’ll probably defrost some chicken tenderloins and saute it all with some cannellini beans.
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Prep from Monday’s dinner

Some notes:

  • We only used celery in Monday’s meal, so I’ve been packing it in the kids’ lunches as a snack with some pb for dipping.
  • What do I eat for lunch? The previous night’s dinner!  I also buy avocados weekly and have a 1/4 of one on a slice of Ezekiel toast and a protein shake if not enough of dinner is left.
  • Breakfasts? We love overnight oats! Lots of recipes to be found!  We also like green smoothies or protein shakes–my kids included!

Best of luck! Please comment below with any tips you may have.  I also encourage you to check out the “contact me” page so I can get to know you better.  What info would you like me to blog about? 🙂 I am also organizing a FREE clean eating challenge group for mid February.  Want to try it for 5 days? I’ll coach you through! Let me know on the “contact me” page as well!

Friday Favorites: Post-workout Snacks

Who doesn’t love a yummy snack after a good workout or a healthful but delicious dessert while catching up on your DVR?  I do!  And I’ve discovered a blog trend I am going to try: fun Friday favorites.  This week, I am going to share my favorite post-workout or after-dinner snacks.  These provide a nutritional boost and assist in recovery, plus each one contains protein and/or healthy fats that keep our metabolism revving while satisfying our hunger.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the 6-week boot camp in which I am participating. I love it!  I’ve been focusing on HIIT training, which isn’t a new notion for me, but I am training in a way that targets my body more effectively. In addition to 20-30 minute HIIT workouts, I have been doing 20-30 minutes of cardio a few days a week.  I love to run (hoping to train for a 10k or half marathon this year!) and also love Turbo Fire!  This program is especially great for cold or snowy weather or when I am home with all three kids and can’t get out for a run. I haven’t had a gym membership in years; I don’t need it.  Don’t let a lack of membership be your excuse to ignore your health and fitness!  I’ll be sharing more specific fitness strategies and goals in the coming weeks, so please follow if that interests you.  I’d love to help you find the results I’m experiencing.

Back to my Friday Favorites. What are post-work out snacks or desserts I love? There are two easy choices that anyone interested in fitness already knows: protein shakes and protein bars.  I am currently nursing my 10-week old, so I stick with vegan chocolate protein powder, a cup of unsweetened almond milk, and a few ice cubes blended together. I’ll sometimes throw in a half a banana, a teaspoon of natural peanut butter, a few frozen strawberries, or even a 1/4 of an avocado.  Play around and find a combo you like! Protein bars are great to keep in your bag–or diaper bag–for those times when you have to run out for a school pick-up immediately after a workout or for when hunger hits on-the-go. But these are easy, common snacks.  My three favorites are more as follows:

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  1. Apples with protein peanut butter

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved having apples with peanut butter as a snack.  I can still picture my mom slicing the apples and smearing them perfectly with peanut butter while my brother and I sat at the kitchen table doing homework.  I could never quite distribute the PB as perfectly as my mom could. She could spread it so evenly over every surface of each apple slice; my attempts resulted in more PB on the plate or stuck to the knife than on the fruit. Moms are great that way, at creating food miracles, which is probably why I am finally a successful PB-apple spreader. My mom’s feat was especially skillful, though, since you couldn’t pay my mom to eat PB! Anyway, this snack was always the perfect pick-me-up after a few math worksheets and a vocabulary exercise.

As an adult, I’ve re-imagined this snack to better fit my workout and macronutrient needs. My husband and I love Shark Tank and discovered Nuts ‘N More after the company pitched on the show.  The high-protein chocolate peanut butter is delicious in my protein shakes, but I am obsessed with it smeared atop a few slices of apple.  This also works well as a late-night snack when cravings for chocolate can hit.  Remember, indulge once in a while!  There are many flavors to try, so see what works for you. Just make sure you give the peanut butter a good stir first.

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2. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt topped with berries…and mini chocolate chips

The average 8 oz. serving of organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein.  That is a significant benefit to a person burning fat and building lean muscle. Top with berries and even a small sprinkle of mini dark chocolate chips (I add these on my cardio days as a little reward) and this is good enough for dessert.

I am an ice cream lover.  Thanks to my dad, I grew up having ice cream almost every night.  I can still see him standing at the microwave warming up a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for a few seconds before settling on the coach to watch a Knicks game. I would often sit beside and have a scoop or two of something myself–a habit that followed me into adulthood and, especially, pregnancy.  I can now have a bowl of Greek yogurt instead to satisfy this childhood habit while staying on track.

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3. Apple Pie Oat Muffins 

The recipe for these muffins popped up on My Fitness Pal–the app I use to log my nutrition and fitness each day–and I immediately checked my kitchen for the ingredients.  I baked these yesterday with one substitution.  I used pumpkin pie spice instead of apple pie spice for two reasons: I happened to have it on-hand and I love it. I am a PSL girl, after all.  My 3-year old son helped me whip them up, which was fun and easy! East coast readers, this is a great recipe to try while you’re snowed in this weekend.  It will be the most delicious smell to come inside to after shoveling or sledding.

I had two for breakfast this morning (along with two slices of nitrate-free turkey bacon to make sure I reach my protein goal by the end of the day) and they were delicious.  I am keeping half of the batch in a storage bag in the fridge and the other half sealed well in the freezer.  My mother-in-law tried one last night and she approved as well! They are wholesome, clean, filling, and flavorful.

What are your favorite post-work out snacks? What clean desserts do you indulge in?  Let me know, and feel free to link to your own healthy snack posts so I can check them out as well!