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Quick and healthy meals for the time-crunched gal (or guy)

22 Feb
One last half before the big 2-5! ha!!

One last half before the big 2-5! ha!!

Happy Friday!  I’m headed off tomorrow to run the Rock’n’Roll New Orleans Half Marathon in honor of my 25th birthday next week! I’m so excited, I’ve never been to NOLA before, and it’s always so much fun to explore a new city!

So you know the feeling, you get home late from a long day at the office, you’re already fighting the couch & TV’s siren song and your inner battle between the part of you that wants to cave and the other half who’s telling you if you don’t go sweat, those office cookies you had for lunch are going to come back and bite you in the butt…literally.  You can’t even begin to process what to make for dinner; Chinese take out is sounding really good right about now: easy and cheap!  But that same voice in your head that’s telling you to hit the gym is the same one that’s telling you that high-in sodium and gods know what else, dripping in oil is the last thing your body (or brain) needs.  So what’s a mentally-exhausted, time-crunched gal (or guy) to do?  Below are some of my tried and true techniques to still eat healthy without a whole lot of fuss.

Step away from the frozen meals!!!

Step away from the frozen meals!!!

Buy ahead of time

I’ll try to figure out the weekend before what to have the following week. Then I’ll buy all the ingredients I need on Sunday and do as much of the prep work as possible, so come a weekday night I don’t have to think about a)what to make for dinner and b) stopping at a crowded grocery store to pick up the ingredients!

Make ahead of time

Drop that Chinese food!  Make healthy stir fry in bulk!

Drop that Chinese food! Make healthy stir fry in bulk!

Whatever you can make in advance and freeze, creates a simple solution to the “ I don’t have time to make food”.  I love to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts in bulk. I then put 1 breast into a quart-sized freezer bag, pour enough marinade (I prefer homemade, but even simpler is to use a store-bought marinade or dressing, but watch sodium and sugar levels!) into the bag to cover the breast, seal, label/date and toss into the freezer.  So when I come home from work, I choose a marinated chicken, throw it in the sink to thaw and then hit the gym or whatever.  After I’m done relaxing, I just toss it in a oven-safe dish, bake it and voila! My protein is done!  Now all it needs is a salad or some roasted or steam veggies and I have a healthy meal that was super simple!

Make in bulk

If you don’t mind eating the same thing for several lunches & dinners in a row, then this is perfect for you.  I will double my recipe and then have leftovers for the rest of the week.  My favorite is making a double batch of turkey taco meat, then I can have a taco salad for about 4 lunches and 4 dinners!  I never tire of taco salads! YUM!!

And finally: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid!)

This looks like a simple and healthy meal to make!

This looks like a simple and healthy meal to make!

It’s so much easier to manage 1, 2 or even 3 ingredients than 15.  Unless you’re a professional chef or have a competent sous chef, a weekday night is NOT the appropriate time to try out a new recipe with some 20-odd ingredients.  Simple ingredients=quicker prep & clean time=MORE GLORIOUS FREE TIME!  I pick a protein and a veggie (or 2) to make a quick and healthy meal.  I keep the prep simple and try to use no more than 2 dishes, but it’s even easier if you cook all your ingredients in the same pan/pot/tray.  A crock pot is great for this, you can turn is on in the morning on your way out the door and then you get home and you’ve only got clean-up duty!

So that’s how I manage to cook simple meals that are nutritious and filling without spending 2+ hours in the kitchen every night!  Save the fancy meals for your Saturday nights!  What are you favorite tips and tricks to save time in the kitchen on a weeknight?

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

22 Nov

No posts this holiday weekend, so enjoy the day with good family and friends!

Keep on Sweating!

Surviving “T-DAY”

21 Nov

Enjoy time with friends and family

Well tomorrow is Thanksgiving and while many Americans are planning on gorging themselves on turkey and stuffing, I wanted to take a moment to tell you how to best survive “t-day”!  Thanksgiving at its core was never about seeing how many pieces of pie you could stuff down, but rather it was supposed to be about enjoying time with friends and family and joining together to give thanks for the many blessings in your life.  Somehow, it’s become all about food, football, and the Macy’s Parade.  Here are some tips to keep your health on track during this holiday weekend.

Exercise

Get out and move with your family!

Now you don’t have to spend 5 hours in the gym, but make sure you continue to move throughout the day.  Maybe go for a family walk before or after dinner. Many local running clubs around the country have “Turkey Trots”, which typically range in many distances from a 1 mile fun run/walks all the way to half marathons.  Many Turkey Trots raise money/food for local food banks to help feed hungry families.  Get a group of family and friends together to enjoy the crisp autumn air, get some heart pumping exercise, and help the needy!

If a Turkey Trot isn’t your thing, gather the gang and head outside for some touch football or any sport of your choosing.  You’ll bond a lot more over good-natured competition, than watching the competition on the tube.

If watching the parade is a family tradition, then create a new tradition as well this Thanksgiving.  Select an activity as a family and then during every commercial break execute that activity.  Some examples could be: do 10 jumping jacks, run/walk 5 flights of stairs, or, if you’re of the competitive spirit, race around the outside of the house and first one back in gets some sort of prize.

The key here is to get up and move throughout the day!

Food

Now here’s where things get tougher, socially-accepted convention is that Thanksgiving is the day of no judgment, where you can stuff yourself to the point where you enter a massive food coma that lasts until the midnight snack of turkey legs and stuffing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I will be enjoying the feast as much as the next, but with a twist.

First, fill half your plate with veggies! The first thing I do is reach for the veggies and load up half my plate, the fiber will fill you up faster and since they are the lowest in caloric value at the dinner table (but drop that creamed spinach please!).  Now I love mashed potatoes as much as the next, but when made with whole milk and globs of butter, they take a nutrient-rich food and turn it into a fatty mess.  Try using fat free milk and less butter, or if you’re feeling particularly healthy, halve the amount of potatoes and swap in steamed cauliflower, which will reduce the caloric density while increasing the micronutrients!  Also don’t drown your potatoes in gravy; a little goes a long way!

Mouth-watering turkey and stuffing!

Stuffing is delicious, but incredibly fattening.  Use less breadcrumbs (and switch to whole wheat!) and swap in a higher ratio of chopped veggies (I especially like butternut squash, YUM!).  Reduce the amount of butter you use (typically half will do the trick) and use a smaller ratio of meats to cut down on saturated fats.  I promise that making these small changes to your stuffing will reward you on the scale the next morning and you won’t see a huge difference in flavor.

When you’re selecting your turkey, dark or white is fine, however, you should only have a few bites of dark meat and have the rest of your turkey as the white variety.  Regardless of dark vs. white, you should NEVER eat the skin, it’s not good for you and frankly I don’t think it adds much in terms of flavor.

Cranberry sauce is another staple of the holiday table, but steer clear of the canned variety and try to make it yourself or buy cranberry sauce that actually has cranberries in it! The store-bought variety typically is full of needless sugar and artificial flavors. Here’s a great homemade recipe!

Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum; enjoy a good glass of wine with your meal, but after that stick to tea, coffee, and flat or sparkling water.  You really don’t need to heap on extra empty calories do you?

Finally, pass on the bread; you’re getting enough carbs already.  The only exception I’d make is if they’re your grandmother’s rolls that she makes from scratch only for Thanksgiving, then take just one and really enjoy it.

I almost forgot dessert!  If it’s store bought, I say skip it, but if it’s homemade, I say savor it!  Use the three bite rule on dessert and if you want to try more than one, make those bites really small.  You just want to get the flavor and enjoy it, rather than wolfing it down and concluding with a good plate lickin’!

Make sure to fill half your plate with veggies!

Now all of the above information is irrelevant if you’re going back for third and fourth servings.  First, fill half your plate with a variety of the veggie dishes. Then try little portions of all the other available dishes.  Remember the first three bites taste the best, so focus in on those first three bites of each dish. Chew slowly and savor the wonderful flavors that are bursting in your mouth.  Make sure you’re evaluating it and if you decide that “eh, the stuffing isn’t really that good this year (for whatever reason)”, then don’t feel compelled to finish all the stuffing on your plate, there’s no point in consuming empty calories just because it’s there.  If and when you’re finished your first round (ignoring whatever is left on your plate, because you weren’t feeling it), sit back and wait a while.

Sip water, use the restroom, and most importantly, enjoy the conversation and company.  It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to yell up to your brain “hey I’m full!”  After a while, if you’re still feeling the need to eat some more, go ahead and repeat the food selection process, starting with veggies and only selecting the food that you enjoyed the most (2-3 items).  This time, put smaller quantities on your plate than in your first round.  Repeat this process over again, each time with smaller quantities, until your brain signals you’re full.  Frankly, you should be full after your first or second helping.

Now some people hold to the rule of not eating anything all day, so that they “have room” or are “saving calories” for the main event. I would strongly advise against that method of thinking.  Starving all day slows your metabolism, and your body is more likely to store the “main event” as fat as opposed to energy.  Make sure you eat a small, but protein rich breakfast and a small lunch if you don’t eat Thanksgiving till later in the day.  If you eat around 3, then it may be okay to skip lunch, but go by what your stomach is saying.

Moderation is key here, just like every other day. Enjoy your time with friends and family and don’t just make the day all about the food.  Get your metabolism going with a little exercise and breakfast in the morning and enjoy in moderation and you should be able to avoid the dreaded food coma.  Also, make sure you go back to your usual exercise and eating routine on Black Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

My Favorite Post-Workout Drink

7 May

Happy Monday everyone!  I thought I’d do a quick post on this fantastic concoction I made up to fuel my body post-workout.  The thing I love most about it is that you can tailor it to exactly what you’re in the mood for that day.  As a rule of thumb I strongly urge people to stay away from smoothie chains such as Jamba Juice.  They use way too much sugar and processed gunk and it cancels out all the good benefits and besides the average smoothie there is like 800 calories! Yuck!  Better off controlling what goes in it!

Yummy!

Post Workout Power Smoothie:

– 1 scoop of designer whey protein (I use strawberry)

– ice (the more you add the thicker it is)

– approx. 1/2 cup of Orange Juice

– 2 tbsp of Flax Seed Oil

– 2 tbsp of fiber

– Whatever fruit suits your fancy and you can get in there! (both frozen and fresh)

Whip it all together for a refreshing and healthy drink post-workout.  I use a magic bullet so I just fill it all in the cup and that’s how I “measure”.  I feel that this give you the right amount of protein, carbs, and sugar to help your body recover from a tough workout.  I’ve also experimented with adding veggies, V8, among other things to the mix, with varied success, but the recipe above is my tried and true.  My suggestion to you is to just explore till you find the combination that leaves you feeling your best!

Let me know what your favorite post-workout drink/smoothie/food is!

Keep Sweating!

Favorite Cookbooks

2 May

So if you’re like me you enjoy cooking, but a lot of cookbooks cook for flavor, not calorie count.  The ingredient lists are often full of lard, fat, butter…well you get the idea.  So I’ve listed out some of my favorite cookbooks that not only create delicious dishes, but control the calorie count as well, proving that you can make low-cal food that also tastes great!  Just because you eat healthy does not mean you nibble on carrots all day!  Or “rabbit food” as my boyfriend calls it.  I’ll talk about my top favorites in no particular order:

Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats–A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners

Now this is not a healthy-eating cookbook, but Rachel’s dinners are really flavorful and full of fresh and whole ingredients (which are the main qualifications here people).  I steer clear of the pasta dishes listed in most cookbooks because they tend to be empty calorie filled as a general rule.  Most of her dinners can be modified to fit your needs.  I tend to use less oil, butter, etc and it still tastes great!  Now she does claim they are 30 minute meals, but unless you have a sous chef to prep everything, plan on around an hour.  I save these elaborate meals for the weekends when I have more time.

You really can’t go wrong with any of Rachel’s books.  I have her Make Your Own Takeout cards and they’re fantastic when you’re itching for some Chinese, but don’t’ want the fat and grease associated with it!

Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories

So this is a great cookbook when you’re craving that snack that in theory should be totally off-limits. (Think wings and cupcakes).  I’ve only tried a few recipes, but they are quite good and I have to modify them because of my gluten intolerance, but hey what are you going to do!?  Hungry Girl has a whole line of books and cookbooks that are actually quite useful.

Eat This, Not That Series

The ‘Eat This, Not That’ series  is fantastic.  From the aisles, to your kitchen, to the restaurants, there’s a book for all of it helping you make decisions on food choices.  They’re small enough to slip in your purse and take with to the grocery store. If you don’t feel like comparing labels (although you really should!) this series will help you make those decisions.

Cook Yourself Thin

So this cookbook is from a short lived Lifetime show which took women’s favorite dishes and showed how to make them in a less-fattening way. It’s surprisingly yummy and easy to make.  One of my favorite subs is for loaded potatoes skins. I know what you’re thinking…how in the world do you make potato skins healthy.  It’s great with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted veggies whipped in there and very minimal cheese melted on top.  It’ll be a big hit at your next super bowl party I promise!

A Note on Eating Gluten-Free

I just want to make special note about gluten free, which you should only do if you have or suspect you truly have an intolerance to gluten.  I have a gluten intolerance (recently discovered, so I’m still learning and adjusting).  I will do a separate post about gluten intolerance/Celiac’s later, but a quick note in regards to cooking.  I find that when something calls for coating in breadcrumbs or flour I use almond meal.  It provides more nutritional bang for your buck, yes it might be a little higher in caloric value, but at least it’s not the empty caloric content of breadcrumbs.  I would also suggest this trick to those who do not have to adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle.

As I said, I am recently discovered, so I’m still learning and haven’t tried any traditional “gluten-free” cookbooks, but when I find some I like I’ll make an update post.  Feel free to post some of your favorites below!

Healthy Eating!

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