Southwest Stuffed Peppers

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I didn’t realize how much I loved stuffed peppers until I started focusing on clean eating back in January. Here’s why they are awesome: they are decently easy to prep in advance, they reheat well, they easily function as a quick lunch!  Stuffed peppers create a complete meal in one veggie!  That’s why I included this meal as the first dinner in my recent Clean Eating, Clean Homes 5-day push!

I have recently become obsessed with all foods with a southwest influence.  I love beans and rice and cheese and spice, all guarantees when eating foods inspired by this region. For this recipe, though, I decided to sub out rice for quinoa. The change adds complete protein to the dish without compromising the taste or texture.  Combined with the right spices and fresh/freezer ingredients, these peppers have a little kick and a lot of protein.  

I am going to cut to the recipe quickly because I know you’re all dying to get to the store to buy the ingredients.  You won’t regret that choice!

Southwest Stuffed Peppers

A clean, fiesta-fitting version of a household classic.

Ingredients

    • 3 large peppers
    • 1.25lb extra lean ground turkey
    • 1/4 C diced sweet onion
    • 1 C black beans
    • 1 cup frozen or fresh corn
    • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
    • 1 C salsa
    • 1 C chicken broth
    • 1 C dry quinoa (white, red, or a blend.  I used the Super Blend from Whole Foods)
    • Mexican cheese blend
    • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp chili powder

 

 

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare quinoa according to package directions.
  2. Prep the peppers by washing, cutting in half, removing the seeds and stem, and placing open-side up in a greased glass baking dish.
  3. In a large saute pan, toss the onions in a tbsp olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, then add the ground turkey.  Once it browns, add in the beans, corn, garlic, salsa, and half the broth.  Toss to combine, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add in the quinoa and seasonings and combine. Spoon into the peppers and top with cheese.
  5. Pour the remaining broth around the peppers.  
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Delicious–and no sides needed!

I’d love your feedback!  Please tell me your experience with this recipe or share your favorite stuffed peppers recipes!  I am always looking for new inspiration!

BBQ Chicken & Quinoa Bake

I have had this blog on my to-do list for about a week. I’ve actually had a lot of tasks on my to-do list for about a week.  It is that time of year: summer is ending and a new school year approaches. I am excited to meet my new students in exactly two weeks, but I still have to accomplish quite a bit before I’ll feel ready for my 11th year of teaching.  Wow.  Now I feel old.  Here is a look at some of the task to-be-accomplished in the coming weeks:

  • I need to lesson plan/create my calendars for September for my 5 different classes.
  • I need to set up my 3 classrooms.
  • I need to finish our One Book, One School text (Brothers Forever) and finalize my class discussions and assignments for it.
  • I need to meet with my new co-teacher (probably my favorite list item!) to lesson plan and brainstorm a great year.
  • I need to coordinate drop-offs, picks-ups, and childcare for all three children who, for the first time, will be attending three different schools/facilities.
  • I need to continue meal prep.

You read that right: meal prep.  I have been doing two or three simple meal prepping tasks a week to help me find success and ease this coming school year–especially during those chaotic mornings when five people and 2 dogs need to be settled for the day.

I’ve made batches of clean pancakes and muffins that are now sorted and in my freezer.  I’ve made an assortment of meatballs–traditional turkey, Kung Pao chicken, etc–that are portioned and frozen as well. And I’ve started experimenting with meals that can be made ahead or that yield abundant leftovers.

One such winner is this BBQ Chicken & Quinoa Bake.  It is a simple casserole filled with fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients. It is clean comfort food, so to speak, that will be perfect on a fall night when you long for a taste of summer but crave the warmth of a wholesome dinner.

What is quinoa? Quinoa is a grain discovered thousands of years ago by the Incas.  It has gained popularity recently because it is a complete protein, is higher in fiber than most other grains, and is naturally fortified with vitamins and minerals.  You can use it like you would rice or even oatmeal. My son and I even like it cooked and turned cold with milk–a deliciously filling cereal! It adds bulk to this casserole without adding empty calories.  You won’t need a large portion of this meal to not only feel full, but to reach your nutritional goals for the day.

I used a rotisserie chicken for this recipe.  I’ve become slightly obsessed with rotisserie chicken because it is so easily shredded and turned into awesome, easy meals.  You could easily throw chicken breasts in the crock pot and shred those if time allows!  Whatever you choose, this dish will not disappoint!

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BBQ Chicken & Quinoa Bake

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A hearty, healthy one-dish dinner!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked to package directions (makes about 3 cups)
  • 6 cups shredded chicken
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth, plus more for baking if you prep ahead of time
  • 3/4 cup your favorite BBQ sauce
  • Mexican cheese blend, as much as your little heart desires

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Spray an 9×13 in casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Prepare quinoa per package directions. While it boils, shred your chicken and dice your veggies.
  3. Once quinoa has cooked, spread it evenly throughout the baking dish.  Top with shredded chicken, then all of the veggies and beans.
  4. Pour the chicken broth evenly over the entire casserole. Give everything a gentle toss, then top with BBQ sauce and cheese.
  5. Bake for approx. 25 minutes.  Serve immediately!

Tell me what you think of the recipe and if you change it up in any way.  I may make it another time Hawaiian style, with pineapple!  This can easily be prepped on Sunday and baked a day or two later, just add more chicken broth to make sure the quinoa and chicken do not dry out.  Quinoa absorbs so much water!

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21 Day Fix Fish Tacos

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I really, truly love sea food–especially white fish. And I have come to love fish even more in recent months because it can be quite healthful. The right fish can be a perfect form of protein and many varieties contain an ideal amount of healthy fats. Fish can be rather lean and can often be doctored up much like chicken without being as filling. I often like a light her meal at dinner time, especially as the weather gets hotter and hotter, so fish is perfect.

At least once a week, I stop at Whole Foods on my way home from school and see my pal Dan, the fish monger. I always have a seafood meal listed on my weekly plan–such my honey orange salmon or BBQ shrimp–but if Dan has a better suggestion or if a certain cut or type of sea food is on sale, I am always open to a new option. Last night, this happened. I planned on making fish tostadas using tilapia and Ezekiel wraps. By the time I got to the store, though, I was already prepared to make a change. First off, I overextended my yellow containers at school (I blame my Relay for Life hangover! More on that in a later post!), and since it was only day 1 of my 21 Day Fix, I knew I needed to make up for an earlier splurge. Secondly, Whole Foods did not have any fresh tilapia. What Dan did have, though, were individually portioned Chilean sea bass fillets. I’ve never cooked sea bass before, but, in full disclosure, before my foray into clean eating this January, I hadn’t made many diverse foods.  I’m a cooking work-in-progress. Dan assured me that I could grill these much like I would a steak, so I bought two and made quick mental calculations as to how I could plan the rest of the meal around this unexpected purchase.

I grabbed a few avocados, a head of butter leaf lettuce, and went to the checkout–knowing full well that some of my clean staples already in my pantry and fridge would cap off a sure-to-be successful dinner.

I was right.

I am not a taco lover. Well, that’s isn’t a fair statement. I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten a taco. So I guess I am a taco-averse person?! I also don’t entirely love hot food–like steamy, right-out-of-the-oven food. Except cookies. 😉 I often let my meal sit for a bit before I eat it just so it cools off and I never reheat my lunch. Never. But turn a taco shell into a veggie and the ground beef into a delicious white fish while deducting a ton of the physical heat–but still leaving the spice, of course–and I am all in.

This dinner was light and full of flavor. My mom and kids all approved–though my kids deconstructed theirs.

Side note/rhetorical question to parents: am I the only one with kids who LOVE to eat with their hands when not appropriate (i.e. Spaghetti or pancakes or apple sauce–spoons are for babies!) but refuse to eat with their hands when a meal actual calls for it? My 3 1/2 year-old had a near meltdown after his first bite of taco when 1 minuscule drip of salsa touched his palm. Okay, not a near melt down. A full on cry. Like a “you broke my Lego castle!” cry. Or a “You deleted all the Odd Squads!” cry. So I quickly cut up both kids’ tacos and got on with a more peaceful dinner.

I have discovered that jarred salsa is my go-to ingredient. When in doubt or playing around with a new possible recipe, I often lean on a jar or half jar of salsa to add a kick or moisture or texture. The right brand and the right variety–I love Paul Newman’s Mango or Pineapple Salsa in particular–add just the right something. I even add salsa to my turkey burgers!

After I grilled the sea bass, I layered it on a butter lettuce leaf with a slice of avocado and tablespoon of salsa. I then sprinkled a bit of Mexican cheese blend on top and served it with fresh pineapple. My mom and I felt like we were vacationing in the Caribbean with each bite. Plus, one taco was filling enough on a day in which I hit my yellow containers early and needed a light yet balanced dinner.

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Here’s the game plan! Give it a try with any white fish you’d like!

21 Day Fix Fish Tacos

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

A fresh, light, Caribbean-inspired taco recipe using a lettuce wrap--perfect for a summer night!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Chilean sea bass fillet per person (1 red container)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika (smoked would be best!)
  • 1 tbsp salsa of choice per person: I used 365 brand Mango and Peach salsa (1/4 purple container)
  • 1/4 avocado per person, sliced thin (1 blue container)
  • 1 butter lettuce leaf per person (1/2 green)
  • optional sprinkle of Mexican blend cheese
  • optional tsp of nonfat Greek yogurt (in lieu of sour cream–plus it adds protein!)

Directions

  1. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat.
  2. Drizzle sea bass with olive oil and spread to coat both sides. Sprinkle seasoning on top. (I only add seasoning on one side so I can still enjoy the flavor of the fish.)
  3. Grill sea bass for approximately 5-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness.
  4. Place avocado and salsa in a lettuce leaf. Add 1/2 sea bass filet. Top with cheese and/or Greek yogurt, roll up the sides, get messy, and enjoy!

**21 Day Fix Containers, per my own unofficial deductions: 1 red, 1 green (lettuce and salsa, though you may choose to count salsa in the purple container), 1 blue.  Non-Fixers can go all-out and add the cheese and nonfat Greek yogurt.

I’d love to get more lettuce wrap or fish taco recipes that are tried and true!  Feel free to leave one below!  Or, let me know if you would like to enroll in my next Clean Eating Group: Quick-N-Clean 15 minute meals!  I’m enrolling now!  I will provide 7 days of clean eating meals for both dinner and breakfast that can be on the table in 15 minutes or less.  This group is FREE, but space is limited! Don’t delay!

My Meal Prep Pointers

My biggest piecIMG_8824e of advice is this: take time NOW to save time later!  The more effort and planning you put into your weekend,the easier your
weeknights–and mornings!–can be! I spend Saturday night meal planning while my husband and I catch up on our DVR and then I spend a good amount of time on Sunday meal prepping.  I take time for family activities and fitness, but I make sure I get as much done now as possible. My weeknights and mornings are better for it. 🙂

 

  • Meal plan with a purpose!
    • I’ve written about clean eating on a budget and have shared some of my weekly meal planning ideas. I cannot stress how important meal planning is for effective meal prep. Meal prepping without forethought is like going to Magic Kingdom without Fast Passes.  Yes, you’ll enjoy the experience, but you will spend a lot more time waiting and figuring out what could have been done ahead of time. 🙂
    • I meal plan on Saturday nights.  I look at a few recipes I’ve pinned or bookmarked and see how any ingredients may overlap with faves from the the past.  For example, Monday night I am serving Colby Jack Chicken Roll-ups (which I’ll make today!). I’ve added Taco Zucchini Boats to Thursday’s Cinco de Mayo dinner menu since it uses the same cheese. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday’s dinner all use various types of peppers as well.  I am going to have Kung Pao meatballs over spinach for lunch each day, which will overlap the spinach from the Roll-ups as well.  I’ll use leftover onion from the meatballs in Tuesday’s crock pot meal. You can save money and time by overlapping ingredients. When you eat clean and get to know food’s natural flavors as well as the deliciousness that exists in natural seasonings, you won’t even think twice about ingredients showing up again and again. When paired with something new or prepared even slightly differently, new flavors take center stage.
    • When meal planning, I also consider the method and equipment with which I will need to prep the meals. I may plan on Salsa Chicken for lunch for the week since that uses my crock pot and saves the stove top and over for any other meal. Today, I know that the meatballs and roll-ups bake at the same oven temp, so that makes prepping them simultaneously easy. This may seem a little too-focused, but as you get more comfortable with the recipes you love and with coming up with your own spin in the kitchen, this will all become second nature.
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This week’s menu
  • Chop and dice as much as you can!
    • It is important to rinse and fully dry any fruits and veggies before prep. Do this as early as you can. Then, an hour or so later once you really are ready, you can get in there and prep.
    • When you chop and dice, think about all of the meals you are prepping today AND all of the snacks and meals you’ll need later in the week.  If I am making fajitas on Tuesday night, I will still slice the peppers and onion on Sunday, seal them in an air-tight container, and have an even easier time making one of my quickest, yummiest meals on a very busy night.  I will also chop up and portion those peppers for school lunch snacks (with hummus!) and add these to my snack drawer. When packed appropriately and when allowed to air-dry, these veggies will hold-up for the week.
  • Don’t forget breakfast!
    • Cliche or not, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is too easy for us working moms to skip eating it ourselves and to rely on packaged goods for our family.  Try meal prepping breakfast and you and your family will truly eat and be well. I’ve shared plenty of overnight oats recipes and cannot say enough about how delicious and easy they are. Feel comfortable playing around with the various recipes I’ve posted or to mixing flavors of your own to come up with the portions and ingredients that work best for you. With the perfect air-tight container (mason jars are awesome for this, though I use my BabyBullet canisters!), these will stay all week for the perfect breakfast on the go for any member of a busy family. Plus, Greek yogurt or protein powder (I prefer Shakeology) added to these gives your family the protein it needs to fuel the day.
    • Your crock pot and griddle are also great for meal-prepping breakfast.  You can make various bakes in the crock pot that set while you sleep. You can also double any batch of pancakes or french toast or waffles that you bake for the family Sunday morning, freeze them, and have them on hand. Leggo my Eggo? No. Leggo my homemade protein pancake, thank you very much!
  • Find reusable containers that work for you!
    • This is a bit of a duh, but it makes all the difference. I like using Pyrex glass dishes to keep my made-ahead meals ready to go.  Be sure to let them sit at room temperature before you bake or reheat, though, so as to not shatter the glass!
    • Mason jars and BPA free Tupperware are easy to clean and to grab and go. If you use plastic baggies for snack portions, don’t be afraid to wash and reuse once or twice.
  • Have clean meals and snacks accessible!
    • Life happens!  Sometimes I may need to take one child to the doctor or am nursing or bathing an exceptionally fussy baby.  That is why you need to consider snacks when meal prepping as well. Having a snack drawer my toddlers can reach and having meals prepped in advance allow anyone–from my five year old to my husband to a grandma or babysitter–to get a healthy snack or meal ready. This saves time and saves money since we won’t be ordering pizza or hitting up Chick-fil-A…at least not as frequently! Plus, kids will eat what is available to them. Placing yogurts and fresh fruit and veggies and homemade granola bars or energy bites where your kids can easily find them makes these the go-to snacks, not bags of Goldfish.
  • Involve your kids!
    • Getting your kids busy in the kitchen is the easiest way to ensure they will eat what you want them to. My daughter now LOVES chicken because I have let her help me prepare it.  We all learn our eating habits, and I want to role model healthy ones for my kids at every turn. On Sundays, I involve my  kids in at least one level of meal prep. Depending on the weather (hey, I’d want to be outside riding my bike, too!), I may have them help throughout,but I want them to get outside and get active and be creative as well.  One way they help is to portion our snack bags. I’ll ask them to count out grapes or baby carrots or slices of peppers.  I can also ask them to help chop.  They are young so I keep it to items like bananas and strawberries, but they are learning kitchen safety and having a hand in our family’s health.  They will help me measure out ingredients or stir up batters and mixtures.  They will help me portion meals into our lunch containers.  They will stock with snack drawer.  Now, my kids even come up with their own recipes for overnight oats or ways we can doctor our protein bars a bit differently.  Their help is a big time saver and also a lot of fun for all of us, and I am confident they are learning invaluable lessons!
  • IMG_8486Use a garbage bowl!
    • This seems like a silly tip, but to me, it is a big time-saver. I keep a larger mixing bowl on the counter that I use for trash: onion and garlic skins, thick asparagus stalks, yogurt lids, apple cores, paper towels, you name it.  Saving myself constant trips to the trash can allows easier multitasking and quicker meal prep. When it fills up, I throw it away, but otherwise, I keep chopping and prepping and cooking away!

I hope these tips are helpful!  Share a go-to tip in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you. And if you subscribe to this blog or to my email list by leaving your email below,  I will share one week’s worth of clean eating recipes that are kid-friendly and family-approved. Happy Sunday, y’all!

Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese

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Who doesn’t love a good sweet potato? Well, my husband doesn’t. My dad doesn’t. My daughter doesn’t quite love them. But other than those three, I imagine everyone else in the world feels the same steadfast devotion to the sweet potato that I feel.

My go-to lunch since I graduated college has been a shrink-wrapped sweet potato, zapped in the microwave for 7 minutes, ready to eat. This is a healthy and clean meal, but as a teacher, I frequently do not have the time to waste 7 minutes microwaving my lunch.  Besides, no one person in a faculty room should commandeer any one appliance for that long.  Because I haven’t been getting my sweet potato fix at lunch time as frequently, I’ve tried to incorporate sweets into our dinner menu a few times a month.  I’ve fallen in love with Eat Yourself Skinny’s Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash and often add sweet potatoes to the mix when I roast veggies. But that wasn’t enough.

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I wanted a way to show my daughter that she actually loves sweet potatoes.  That’s when I came across a sweet potato mac & cheese recipe that enticed me.  It wasn’t as clean and healthful or as easy (too many pans!) as I liked, so I adapted it and came up with a recipe my family–and yours–will love! Plus, you can rest assured knowing the orange coloring in this cheese dish comes from a sweet potato and not from food coloring.  This pairs perfectly with a small salad and my turkey meatloaf muffins. 🙂

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box whole grain or brown rice elbow macaroni
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese (or cheese of your choice) +1/4 cup to top
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, slightly thawed
  1. *Preheat oven to 350º and spray a deep baking dish with nonstick coconut spray.
  2. Prepare macaroni per package instructions.  Drain and set aside in the baking dish.
  3. Remove the skin from the sweet potato, stick with a fork in various places, and add to a pot of boiling water.  Boil for 8-10 minutes, until very tender.
  4. Drain the water from the sweet potato pot and remove the sweet potato.  Cut into large chunks and return to pot.  Add one cup of milk, flour, half the cheese, and the garlic and simmer on low-medium heat.  Continue to the add the rest of the milk and cheese until the mixture mostly liquefies.
  5. Blend contents with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and combine into a sauce.
  6. Pour over the pasta, add in the peas, and stir to combine.
  7. If baking and serving immediately, top with a sprinkle of cheese and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese melts.  Enjoy!

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*If you are not serving immediately and prepping ahead, skip the baking until the night you plan to eat this. You may need to increase baking time to ensure dish is heated through. 

Enjoy this ooey, gooey, hearty dish!  I love reheating this and placing it in a thermos for my kids to have as a school lunch.  Add a protein–like a cup of Greek yogurt–and a sliced apple, and you have a pretty complete lunch!

Please let me know below if you try this recipe.  This recipe is also featured in my Clean Eating with Kids menu.  If you’d like the full menu–recipes and shopping list included!–please leave your email below and subscribe!  Thanks!

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

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I am going to skip the commentary and get right to the recipe!  These are kid-approved, easy to make, and perfect for someone who meal preps as they can be made ahead and reheated with ease.  Plus, they are perfectly portioned and do not need any condiments!  My kids love these for dinner and they make a perfect school lunch as well!

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

  • Servings: 6-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A quick and kid-friendly take on a childhood favorite!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 shredded zucchini (with the water dampened out with a paper towel)
  • 1/2 cup salsa of choice (I used Newman’s Own Mango Salsa and reserved the rest of the jar for Crockpot Salsa Chicken)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I make my own out of Ezekiel bread that I blitzed in my Nutribullet)
  • 1/2 sweet onion chopped small
  • garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder (all to taste)
  • one egg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with nonstick coconut oil spray.
  2. Combine all ingredients and divide evenly among 12-count muffin tin.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, though cooking time varies.  Monitor closely.
  4. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before attempting to remove from tin.  You can serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

What do you think?  Let me know below!  This recipe is featured in my Clean Eating with Kids Week.  Want the full menu?  Submit your info below and I will email you the newsletter.

“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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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!

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.