Category Archives: Sneaky Healthy

These recipes contain tips and tricks to make them healthier, without others knowing (hopefully)

Weekly Eating – 1/22/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

This weekend I was on my A-game with meal prepping.

Sunday meal prepping

Bell peppers were on sale for 0.99/each, which usually only happens in the height of summer. So naturally I planned on making a batch of stuffed peppers. I’d also been hankering for hummus, so I whipped up a half batch in the blender, and at the last minute decided “why not throw in some turmeric too?” It came out a lovely vibrant yellow! I even used real tahini rather than my usual cheap-o peanut butter.

stocked refrigerator after meal prepping

With the other half can of chickpeas I made a Greek tabbouli type salad with cucumber, tomato, couscous, and red onion. (CRAP! I should’ve added kalamata olives too… ah, next time.) Bags of pre-cut cauliflower were cheaper per pound than buying a whole head, so I roasted a bag of that and added buffalo sauce for funzies. And a big ol pan of enchiladas, mostly pork for the boy with two black bean and mushroom vegetarian ones for myself.

black bean mushroom enchilada

Blueberries were also on sale this week, so I portioned out a few small containers. Whew! Now, on to the week!

Monday:

Breakfast – a piece of fruitcake from the holiday Food Swap! I had never had fruitcake, since it has such a sterling reputation, but y’all. This lady’s recipe was amaaaaaazing! It was dense and moist cake, and was just bursting with huge chunks of mango, apricot, papaya, and whole nuts. It was seriously addictive. I’m so bummed it is a super secret family recipe, she legit won’t share it!

holiday fruitcake and tea

Lunch – Lentil & couscous stuffed pepper. This is so simple, just cook 1 cup couscous, rice, or quinoa. Mix with 1 cup cooked lentils, black beans, or pinto beans. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, and stuff into 3-4 bell peppers. Bake for 350 about 25-30 minutes until soft.

lentil and couscous stuffed bell pepper

Dinner – Stir Fry! I used some veggies from the fridge and some from the freezer, plus the tofu from the sale a few weeks ago, to whip up tonight’s batch of stir fry.

stir fry veggies in pan

Note to self: when oven-baking tofu, don’t use the pre-chunked kind! The pieces are just too small and stick to the pan something awful. It was still super tasty though.

tofu stir fry

Snack – blueberries

blueberries

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I made some oatmeal with dates, but forgot to take a photo, oops! It was tasty and warm, and very filling.

Lunch – Tabbouli. I like this type of meal because it’s totally fine at room temperature and very portable. I didn’t even need a lunch bag I just threw it in my work bag and went.

tabbouli with chickpeas, cucumber, and red onion

Snack – I had got some protein bars on super sale (like 90 cents) and tried one today. It was horrid. It was hard but chewy, and tasted like basically a caramel with protein powder. And also had chunks of raw coconut. Gag. I swallowed the one small bite and tossed the rest. I hate wasting money 🙁

Dinner – White Bean & Barley Soup – this was a crossover between my Ham & Barley Soup and my White Bean Soup. I didn’t have a lot of ham, just a tiny bag of a few frozen cubes left over from who knows when that we found in the freezer. So I figured, add a can of white beans to bulk it up, and dang, it was a great combo! This might be my new go-to.

ham, white bean, and barley soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast – loaded baked sweet potato. I zapped it in the microwave covered in a wet paper towel for 10 minutes, then piled on some black beans, salsa, purple sauerkraut & avocado. Mind blowingly good, and I nommed the whole thing!

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch – Black bean & mushroom enchilada, buffalo cauliflower, and blueberries

black bean enchilada with buffalo cauliflower

Dinner – Black bean veggie burger with Green Goddess, sauerkaurt, freezer mac n cheese, and veggies on the side. Yes, I know I had black beans at every meal today, and yes I’m quite proud of that fact.

veggie burger with green goddess and mac n cheese

Making our way further into the freezer, I pulled out a box of Aldi black bean patties and an old pre-made mac n cheese, plus some frozen edamame and corn on the side for a colorful, healthy, and super filling dinner.

ALDI black bean veggie burgers

Snack – tea and a Stroopwafel. GUYS. Have you had a Stroopwafel?? It is as much fun to eat as it is to say! It’s a thin, crispy waffel, well, two of them, with a layer of sweet salty caramel in between. It is absolute heaven with a cup of hot green tea.

tea and stroopwafel

Thursday:

Breakfast – Homemade yogurt with blueberries and tropical granola

homemade yogurt parfait with blueberries and granola

Lunch – Stuffed Pepper & a banana

stuffed bell pepper and a banana

Dinner – The famous One-pan Buffalo Potato Bake, with previously cooked & frozen pulled pork. Have I mentioned my love of freezer meals enough yet?

buffalo pork potato bake

Snack – blueberries and a Sesame bite from Puerto Rico!

berries and sesame bite

Friday:

Breakfast – PBJ sandwich thin

peanut butter and jelly sandwich thin

Lunch – lentil & couscous stuffed pepper & blueberries

lentil and couscous stuffed pepper with blueberries

Dinner – Masoor Dal, or red lentils, over black ‘forbidden rice’

ingredients for masoor dal

I want to cook more ethnic dishes this year, so I’m easing into it with a super simple dish. Lentils are insanely good for you, and insanely cheap too. Plus all the spices in typical curry are also highly rated on the health-o-meter.

red lentils and black rice

Snack – Turmeric hummus and veggies. How could you not love the neon yellow color?!? I know I did.

bright yellow turmeric hummus

The Weekend

This is another chill weekend, as the boy is still not feeling 100%. I’m planning to head over to Spice Bazaar and pick up some more delish Indian foods and spices, and while I’m on that side of town I’ll hit the ALDI as well. We are running a little low on produce.

Food Total: $41.23
Meats $2.89 Dairy $4.40 Staples $7.49 Fruit/Veg $26.45
1lb turkey 2.89 Yogurts 11 4.4 Flatout Wraps 2 6pk 5 Bananas 12 3.07
seltzer 12 pack 2.49 Avocado 2 2.5
chopped cauliflower 4.99
bell peppers 4 3.96
1 cucumber 0.99
pint mushrooms 1.99
blueberry pints 2 3.76
Dry prunes 18oz 5.19

Eating healthfully does not have to be expensive!

I mean, look at the enchiladas. $1.99 for 10 tortillas, $1.25 for a can of sauce, $1.99 for pint of mushrooms (I used half), $0.25 for a can of black beans = $5.48 total and you can make 8 enchiladas, so 0.68 per serving! With 2 tortillas left over for a PB, banana, & honey snack or turkey pinwheels.

What about the stuffed peppers? $3.96 for 4 peppers, maybe 0.50 worth of lentils and another 0.50 of couscous (or rice), 1 can of diced tomatoes at 0.25 = $5.21 total so $1.30 per serving. And if you don’t have a big appetite one huge pepper can be 2 different meals. They also freeze pretty well for later.

Lessons Learned

Meal prepping is such a great time saver! I enjoy cooking too much to make enough for lunches and dinners, I would get bored quickly. But for lunches, it is really nice to already have meal options cooked and packed and ready to go, you just grab the container you want that day. Same thing for healthy snacks.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Weekly Eating – 1/15/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Well, turns out we got iced in on our trip to Texas! With freezing rain that turned into snow, followed by days of below-freezing temps, flights were grounded and hills were un-navigable. Just walking out onto the porch was a bit of an ice skating adventure. The dogs did not want to leave the house. We saw several cars in ditches in the following days because they didn’t think it was “that bad”.

And then the following day, our destination city gets hit with a foot of snow! I thought we moved south to get away from this winter crap? Several people who have lived in NC a long time say it’s been the coldest winter in memory. And we usually get a few snow days, but a foot in one day is kind of ridiculous. It meant extra time with family though, so overall it was kind of nice. 🙂

Monday:

Breakfast – I had the honor of hanging out with Kara from BravelyGo this morning at Summer Moon! I happened to be in town and she agreed to stop by and chat about all things Austin, business, and food with me. I really enjoyed getting to know this spunky, driven woman, and hope we stay in touch in the future.

Also, Summer Moon moon milk is magical, and their breakfast tacos are really dang tasty.

Lunch – Leftover chicken and dumplings soup from the weekend

Dinner – Chicken tortilla soup – it was served with crushed up tortilla chips, and it was like a piece of the puzzle of the universe aligned inside my head. Ahhhh, that’s why it’s called tortilla soup!

Snack – I had brought along some Miracle berries, so we had a fun experiment night! Miracle berries come from West Africa, and they have a compound in them that binds to your taste receptors.

Anything bitter, and especially sour, starts to taste sweet. Limes and grapefruits become absolute candy. The effect takes a few minutes to kick in, and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very fun to watch people’s reactions to drinking pure vinegar!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I was inspired by yesterday to make breakfast tacos

Lunch – turkey sandwich, just because there was lunchmeat in the fridge and we had eaten all leftovers already

Snack – Pecan pie! We were snowed in today, with just about everything in the state cancelled. So we took stock of the pantry, to make sure we could survive. Mom in law found all the makings of pecan pie, so how could we not?

And if you’ve never had warm pecan pie just out of the oven and covered in caramel ice cream, don’t wait for the next blizzard, go make that happen!

Dinner – Pasta with meat sauce. Because no matter the weather or what else is happening, a big plate of carbs covered in sauce always sounds good. We did sneak quite a bit of veggies in though, there is bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and tons of spinach in there!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries

Lunch – BBQ brisket sandwich and mac-n-cheese. We took a friend out for an early birthday lunch at a local BBQ place. The brisket was fatty, but I know what I’m getting into when I order brisket. The mac n cheese was phenomenal though, so creamy.

Dinner – Tex Mex. We were in Texas, after all, how could we leave without some enchiladas?

Thursday:

Breakfast – blueberry smoothie

Lunch – Our flight was delayed an hour, which was fine because I was starving. So I got a (way overpriced) beer, burger & fries.

And then, just as I’d paid the bill, some guy runs in and yells “if you’re on the flight to Raleigh Durham, chug your beers and pay your bills, the flight is back on time!” And so we ran…

Dinner – We finally made it home, and basically collapsed into bed. Oh, and this is what we came home to…

car covered in snow

Friday:

Breakfast – I made toast with peanut butter on one piece and jelly on the other. So naturally I was like…now it’s a sandwich. Not a song.

Lunch –I was not feeling great, apparently traveling just inevitably makes me sick for a few days. I heated some minestrone soup from the freezer.

Then I passed out for a 2 1/2 hour nap. The good news is, I felt so much better afterwards.

Dinner –Ribs (also from the freezer), potato wedges and edamame. Again, a very nice one-pan dinner.

The Weekend

This weekend is for resting and recovering, I’m feeling better but now it’s hubs’ turn. No more travel for a while, which is good. We have to unpack, do laundry, and restock the refrigerator eventually. Someone needs to remove the foot of snow in the driveway, and if we feel up to it there’s a post-holiday party at a friends’ house. I also got the “How Not To Die Cookbook” from the library, so I plan to spend some quality time with it and get some new ideas!

how not to die book and cookbook

Food Total: $72.43

I did a grocery run one day while in Texas to help re-stock. They were very generous with buying all the food, but I felt bad about drinking all the green tea and eating all the flip yogurts. (Y’all know that choco coco loco is my weakness.) This also includes the Summer Moon run, and the lunch we bought for our friend. And the silly expensive airport lunch. (Seriously, $7.50 for 10 oz of Bud Light?)

Lessons Learned

You just gotta roll with it, because life will throw you all kinds of crazy curves. From sickness to weddings, traveling is bound to happen. And you can pack all the granola bars and trail mix you want, but you will probably want real food and have to pay for it at some point. Just accept that. And having meals in the freezer is such a life saver. You can get home, just pull out a few bags or jars, put it in the fridge, and know that tomorrow you can eat real food.

And you never know what mother nature has in store. It is far better to be safe, than sorry and in a ditch. Always pack layers, lots of layers, no matter how warm you think the place you’re going will be. And take the dang vitamin C like your mom said. Who cares if it’s real or placebo effect, if you think you’re gonna get sick it’s better to be over-ready. On the same note, bring Claritin! Because cedars, yo.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli is a nearly universally loved food, and yet I’ve only met one person who has made it from scratch. Because sadly, the time and knowledge and desire to spend hours making and rolling and cutting your own dough has been essentially lost to today’s fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyle.

Well I have good news!

You can have your ravioli and eat it too. With one easy trick, you can make fresh, ‘homemade’ ravioli in minutes. Honest.

The trick? Wonton wrappers.

The wrappers are basically very thin dough, and they are perfect for stuffing with a delicious autumn spiced filling. Whereas making your own noodles requires hours of work, tedious rolling, or having a fancy pasta machine, these ravioli take only about 10 minutes total once you have your filling ready!

This recipe makes about 25 ravioli, or half the number of won ton wrappers in your package (’cause you need 2 per ravioli).

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts

Sage Brown Butter**:

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Optional: sea salt, cracked black pepper

Step 1: Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl.

If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts. I just left my filling as butternut squash because I love the flavor.

Step 2: Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.

I recommend doing these just 3-4 at a time, you don’t want your egg sealant to dry up before you press the top layer on.

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.

Step 4: While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

“Browned” butter and “burnt” butter are only a few seconds apart.

Step 5: Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don’t let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you’re ready to roll!

Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.

This is a perfect, satisfying fall or winter recipe to use up seasonal, affordable squash, get some needed vitamins and fiber into your diet, and impress your dining companions. Once boiled, you can store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months.

 

 

*Butternut is not the only squash that works in this recipe. You can also use acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or really any firm-fleshed autumn or winter gourd here.

**Sage brown butter is not the only sauce, either. It complements the flavor of squash well and is seasonal at the same time. However, the ravioli would be equally delicious with an Alfredo or marinara.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Yield: 25

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Sea salt, cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl. If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts.
  2. Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.
  4. While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don't let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you're ready to roll!
  6. Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/less-than-5/butternut-squash-ravioli-with-sage-brown-butter/

 

What are your favorite squash recipes?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

 

OMG. Guys. Don’t make this.

Seriously, it is so delish, I cannot stop eating it! I had to make a second batch in order to have enough to share at my wine tasting weekend party. Sure, it is WAY healthier than your mom’s puppy chow recipe, but still… not when you eat 5 cups of it in one go.

Not that I’d do that.

Hopefully y’all know what puppy chow IS, by the way?

This is basically chocolate and peanut butter (strong start) with Chex rice crisp cereal, sprinkled in powdered sugar. That sort of looks like puppy food, hence the name.

And moms used to make this ALL THE TIME to get the kids to SHUT THE HELL UP and leave them alone for a minute. (No, just my mom? Whatever, your loss). Which works awesomely, cause this sh*t is addictive and delicious. See above.

But… that’s a metric crapton of sugar. Isn’t that the stuff you’re supposed to keep kids away from? Ahh, the blissful “good old days” before the food police and veganism and artificial sweeteners that actually are neurotoxins took over the world.

Anyways, in all seriousness, this stuff kinda looks like dog food, but is DEFINITELY NOT FOR DOGS. Do not feed this to your puppy. Besides, it is so good I doubt there will be any left after you hoover the bowl clean. Sharing with friends / children optional.

This recipe is slightly healthier, in that we cut out a lot of the sugar by using vanilla protein powder. You can also use regular protein powder plus 1/4 cup stevia or other (healthier) alternative sugar substitute. This of course ups the amount of protein per serving, making me feel like it’s basically a health food.

(Spoiler: it is not. It is still a treat, with tons of calories, but at least it is a slight improvement. Treat it as such, in moderation, and you should be just fine.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Step 1: In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together. I nuked it in 30 second bursts times 4, with stirring in between.

Step 2: Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it like a polaroid picture! (Throwback, anyone remember what a polaroid actually is? Lord am I starting to feel old these days…)

Step 4: Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry. That’s it! Try to keep your hands off the slightly-still-warm tasty snacks. Good luck  😉

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Yield: 4 1/2 cup servings

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together.
  2. Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it.
  4. Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegetarian/chocolate-peanut-butter-protein-puppy-chow/

Nuts and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt “KIND” Bar Recipe

 

Sometimes, you don’t have time for breakfast or lunch and need something quick and portable. Maybe you need a before- or after-workout snack with protein. Or the kids are hungry and want a snack, but you don’t want them eating sugary fatty junk or ruining their appetite for dinner.

You’re at work, at 11am or 2pm, and hunger hits, but you can’t leave to get something and your next meal feels like hours away. Or you or your partner is hungry and staring into the refrigerator like a roast chicken may magically appear, but you can’t or don’t want to cook something right now.

This sounds like a job for the granola bar.

Granola has long been a popular breakfast food, differentiated from the similar muesli because it was sweetened and usually baked. To make granola, rolled oats, nuts, spices, honey or other sweeteners, and sometimes puffed rice are mixed together and baked into clusters of wholesome cereal.

The names Granula and Granola were trademarked in the 19th century in America by the Jackson Sanitarium, a prominent health spa near Danville, and John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg). And then someone had the bright idea to take this loose granola, which is kind of messy, and press it into a bar shape. These can then be individually wrapped, and stuck in a purse, pocket, or backpack for later consumption.

Granola bar popularity took off, and continues to rise. According to theglobeandmail.com, “Granola bars, breakfast bars and cereal bars, which are referred to collectively as “snack bars,” are part of a food category that’s grown 5 per cent a year since 2005 and is worth an estimated $720-million in Canada, according to figures provided by PepsiCo Foods Canada, which owns the Quaker brand.” All across the Americas, New Zealand and Australia, Europe and China, people love the portability and growing options snack bars offer.

One of the many reasons people love snack bars so much is their perceived healthfulness. After all, they have oats in them, which are full of fiber, beneficial to heart and digestive health. Unfortunately, today’s granola bars’ nutrition facts don’t often match their health claims.

For example, Special K chocolaty crunch bars claim that each bar only contains 90 calories and that they can help reach and maintain a healthy weight. But the bars, which themselves weigh only 22 grams, contain eight grams (nearly two teaspoons) of sugar. Sugar is also listed as the first ingredient. Another popular All-Bran bar claims to be high in fiber, yet each bar contains only 4 grams of the daily recommended 25g (for women) or 38g (for men).

So what’s a health conscious adult looking for a perfect portable food to do? Make your own of course!

It is much easier than you may think. You could get very serious about it, purchase a candy thermometer, meticulously source and weigh ingredients in the pursuit of the perfect bar. But that’s not how we roll here. Soon you will see how simple making your own healthy homemade snack bars can be!

KIND bars have become a favorite of mine lately, because they have ingredients you can see and pronounce, with no preservatives, fillers, artificial flavorings, and each bar is held to high standards for a low calorie count and sugar content. I had no idea there were so many options now though! There are KIND fruit & nut bars, KIND Plus, KIND nuts & spices, KIND & STRONG… you get the idea.

And the best part is, this is a WAY healthier bar than a typical granola bar. There are no oats, just puffed rice, whole raw or roasted nuts, and some sweeteners that also keep everything sticking together. These are inherently gluten free. Obviously, if you or someone you know is allergic to nuts, please don’t make these. But if not, then dive on in!

I based my recipe loosely off of Kelly’s recipe from Eat Yourself Skinny. I personally most love the dark chocolate sea salt bar, so that’s what this recipe mimics. But you are free to add whatever you enjoy to create your own copycat, or a brand new kind of bar!

The general rule I follow is 1 cup nuts/dry fruit : 1 cup cereal : 1/4 cup sweetener. I would use organic plain puffed rice if I had it, but when I wanted to make these and went to the store, Kashi Go Lean puffed cereal was the closest thing I could find. It works.

I’ve tried peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and cashews so far. I’m sure you could use just about any type of nuts in these, but I would recommend always including almonds. And I have not tried any with dried fruits yet, but that is the next experiment in line.

This recipe makes enough for a 9×13 pan, for approximately 30 of the delicious 1 inch x 3 inch bars.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups puffed rice cereal
  • 3 cups whole nuts (almonds + peanuts/cashews + walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 tbsp vanilla flavoring

The dark chocolate drizzle is of course optional, but highly recommended. For that you will need:

  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • Sea Salt

mixed nuts in a bowl

Step 1: In a large bowl, mix all your nuts, cereal, and ground flax.

Step 2: In a sauce pot, mix the brown rice syrup, honey, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 2 minutes. It is a balancing act, too short and you will get a syrupy bar, but the longer you boil, the more likely you will create a crunchy bark rather than pliant bars. But regardless, it will taste great in the end, I promise.

Step 3: Pour your syrup over the nuts and cereal, and mix well to combine.

Step 4: Line a pan with foil, and press the mixture into the pan. You can use a spatula, your hand, or a cup sprayed with cooking oil if you want to make it extra flat and compact. Put it in the refrigerator for about an hour to chill and harden.

If you don’t want to add the chocolate drizzle, you can stop here and cut the bars to the desired size. I cut it into 10 strips, then cut each strip into 3 bars so they are about 1x2ish inches. I then wrapped each bar individually in wax paper.

But if you’re a chocolate lover like me, I definitely recommend continuing on to steps 5 & 6 below…

Dark chocolate drizzle for KIND bars

Step 5: In a microwave safe bowl, combine the dark chocolate chips, coconut oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time, until melted.

Step 6: Drizzle the melted chocolate all over the granola. You could dip the bottoms in chocolate too, but I found the drizzle on top was the perfect amount. Chill in the refrigerator again for about an hour to harden. Cut into desired bar size.

These will keep well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks, or you can freeze for handy snacks for months. I doubt they will last that long though…

According to MyFitnessPal.com, these bars only have about 100 calories each, and 8 grams of sugar*. Not too shabby!

Recipe Nutrition Calculator

: 30

Total: 3,119 334 176 107 580 227
Per Serving: 104 11 6 4 19 8

*This calculation is for the bar without adding the chocolate.

Nuts and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt “KIND” Bars

Nuts and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt “KIND” Bars

Ingredients

  • 3 cups puffed rice cereal
  • 3 cups whole nuts (almonds + peanuts/cashews + walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 tbsp vanilla flavoring
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix all your nuts, cereal, and ground flax.
  2. In a sauce pot, mix the brown rice syrup, honey, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour your syrup over the nuts and cereal, and mix well to combine.
  4. Line a pan with foil, and press the mixture into the pan. Put it in the refrigerator for about an hour to chill and harden.
  5. In a microwave safe bowl, combine the dark chocolate chips, coconut oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time, until melted.
  6. Drizzle the melted chocolate all over the granola. Chill in the refrigerator again for about an hour to harden. Cut into desired bar size.
  7. These will keep well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks, or you can freeze for handy snacks for months.
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Spring Green Creamy Gnocchi

 

This recipe was inspired by one I saw on Hello Fresh (look for a review coming soon!). If you haven’t heard of Hello Fresh, it is a meal kit delivery company. There are many others, like Blue Apron, Plated, Home Chef, Sun Basket, and oodles more.

The whole idea is they deliver the ingredients, perfectly portioned, with a step by step recipe page. All you have to do is pull out a box of ingredients and some cookware and enjoy the process. A friend of mine gave me one of the “free trial” 3-meal deals, so of course I tested them out.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but would not purchase it again because of how food and cooking works in my house. But I can definitely see the appeal for many people. One of the best things about the trial run is that I have access to their recipes now though, and there are some great ideas there!

As I was just browsing through the vegetarian section, this recipe caught my eye, because I had just bought asparagus and happened to have half a pound left. I also had some gnocchi in the pantry (from the Dollar Tree no less!). Thus, this recipe seemed perfect.

I switched up the seasonings a bit and swapped plain Greek yogurt for sour cream (one of my many sneaky healthy food swaps!) and it came out so delicious, the meat-eater loved it and even asked for seconds!

If you don’t have or don’t like a specific herb, that’s fine, try a different one. Use basil instead of rosemary, or try thyme, tarragon, or parsley. If you don’t like walnuts, what about almonds, or cashews, or pecans? Not a fan of asparagus? Well, you’re wrong, but that’s okay try bell peppers, kale, or zucchini.

Spring Green Gnocchi Ingredients

Makes 4 ~1 cup servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp olive or coconut oil
  • 1/2 pound asparagus
  • 1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 tbsp crushed walnuts
  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Pinch of chopped rosemary
  • 1 green onion, diced

Step 1: Boil the gnocchi for 5-7 minutes, until they begin to float in the water. Meanwhile, dice the asparagus, garlic, and herbs. Add the asparagus and peas to the boiling pot about 2 minutes before draining.

Step 2: Add the oil, garlic and onion to a pan and fry for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Drain the gnocchi and vegetables, add to the pan. Add the stock and mix 1 minute, and then turn off the heat and add the yogurt and walnuts. Mix well to form a creamy sauce.

That’s all there is to it! You don’t need much to create a creamy, tasty sauce that clings to the noodles and vegetables. The walnuts add just a bit of crunch and texture, and you can sprinkle some sea salt on top if you like. (I like).

 

Spring Green Creamy Asparagus & Peas Gnocchi

Spring Green Creamy Asparagus & Peas Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp olive or coconut oil
  • 1/2 pound asparagus
  • 1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 tbsp crushed walnuts
  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Pinch of chopped rosemary
  • 1 green onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Boil the gnocchi for 5-7 minutes, until they begin to float in the water. Meanwhile, dice the asparagus, garlic, and herbs. Add the asparagus and peas to the boiling pot about 2 minutes before draining.
  2. Add the oil, garlic and onion to a pan and fry for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Drain the gnocchi and vegetables, add to the pan.
  3. Add the stock and mix 1 minute, and then turn off the heat and add the yogurt and walnuts. Mix well to form a creamy sauce.
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Make Ahead Egg Muffins

 

Usually, my morning routine looks something like this:

6:10 – hit snooze
6:17 – hit snooze
6:24 – finally get up, go make coffee
6:25-7:15 – enter a black hole in space and time
7:16 – realize I’m gonna be late if I don’t move it
7:17-7:20 – pack lunch, maybe breakfast
7:21-7:30 – run out the door and pray for light traffic

Now, I don’t know what your mornings are like. But if you’re anything like me, you like your sleep and don’t have time for a long and leisurely brekkie every day. And if you do, good for you! You can still use this quick-and-easy make ahead recipe and then have more time for you in the AM.

Make ahead egg muffins in muffin tin

These egg muffins are so simple, and you make a dozen at once. That way you can put 2-3 in baggies and refrigerate or freeze. Then breakfast all week is only a push of the microwave button away! You can scale up to feed a big family, or even make just one serving by mixing 2 eggs and desired ingredients in a coffee mug and microwaving. (Didn’t know that little trick? Oh yeah, it’s the best.)

You can also customize it to your taste preferences. Anything you would normally eat with or in scrambled eggs you can probably adapt to this recipe. Try sausage, or bacon, or ham. Vegetarians, this is a blank canvas! Add zucchini, shredded carrots, sweet potato, broccoli or cauliflower. And cheese is optional, but highly recommended!

Butter mushrooms and onion

Ingredients (makes 12 egg muffins):

  • baker’s dozen (13) eggs
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • 1 pint mushrooms
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 cup raw spinach
  • Optional: shredded cheese, breakfast meats, other veggies

butter and onions in pan

Step 1: In a pan over medium heat, add the butter and diced onion. Cook 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes soft and see-through. Pre-heat the oven to 350, and spray a muffin tin really well with cooking oil. (Stuck, baked-on egg is the worst.)

scrambled egg and greased muffin tin

Step 2: Add the diced mushrooms, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until softened. You can add a few tbsp water or chicken stock if they seem to be sticking or burning. Just before pouring into the muffin tin, add the spinach to wilt.

scrambled egg in muffin tin and eggs

Step 3: Break all the eggs into a bowl, and whisk violently for a minute or two. Mix in the cooked onion, mushroom, and spinach. Pour into the muffin tins until 2/3 full; leave a little room because the egg will puff up as it cooks.

make ahead egg muffins with cheddar cheese

Step 4: If desired, sprinkle with shredded sharp cheddar or whatever cheese you like. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until egg is fully cooked. Watch carefully at the end so that it doesn’t brown or burn.

I’d recommend letting these cool for a few minutes, then removing to a different plate or container quickly. You don’t want the egg to set and harden in the tin. It’s so easy to whip up a batch of these on the weekend, and you can even mix up the mix ins to have tons of options every day.

As for the cost? A dozen eggs is .99 – 1.29, or 4.50 for organic cage-free. Depends greatly on what you use to mix in, but the cost for an onion (~.50), mushrooms (.99 on sale), butter (maybe .50), and spinach (~.25 for 1 cup) for me comes to about 2.25. This makes 12 muffins, and I generally eat 2 for breakfast, so 6 servings. Let’s estimate high:

4.5 + 2.25 = 6.75 / 6 = basically just barely over a dollar per day, and that’s if I use the fancy eggs! For plain jane eggs, the cost drops to maybe 50 cents for an awesome breakfast that includes protein, fats, and a serving of vegetables! I can get behind that. I hope you can too!

 

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

 

Sometimes, you just can’t. Can’t even. Can’t even think about running to the store, slaving over a hot stove, balancing a meal or a checkbook.

But your tummy is growling, your spouse is complaining, your kids are whining, your friends are coming over for dinner.

Enter the slow cooker.

It is a savior for anyone rushed for time (and who isn’t??) or tight on cash (can I get an AMEN!) or doesn’t love to cook (can’t say I feel it all the time, but there are days…) or lives alone, or feeds a family of ten, or… you get my point. I flipping love the things.

You can get a tiny 2 or 3 quart slow cooker for single or double cooking. You can get a giant 8 or 10 quart workhorse for crowds and big appetites, you can get multiple crocks in one base for buffet style hands off cooking. I kinda want one of those now… The point is, if you don’t have one you should get one!

This recipe is super simple, a classic favorite I pull out time and again.  I used pulled pork here because that is what I built into this week’s meal plan, but you could just as easily use shredded chicken, steak, tofu, etc.

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

It involves items I nearly always have around the house, including frozen veggies and brown rice.  Feel free to use white rice, or wild rice, or even crazy things like quinoa or couscous instead. You can also substitute any other frozen veggie you are partial to if broccoli just doesn’t do it for ya.  And if you’re feeling extra crazy and decadent, use milk instead of water, and toss on some shredded cheese at the end, just before serving.

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shredded cooked pork
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups milk / water / broth
  • 2 cups frozen broccoli (or veggie of choice)

Optional: shredded cheese

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

Step 1: Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or more, or high for at least 2 hours (to thaw the veggies).  Alternatively, you could put this in a baking pan and bake at 350 for 2 hours (1 if you use fresh and not frozen veg).

 

 

What are your favorite slow cooker meals??

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Smoothie Freezer Bags

 

Happy 500th Post! Time flies when you’re having fun  😉

Let me describe for you a typical American’s morning.  We wake up to the alarm going off, maybe hit “snooze” once or twice or ten times.  Realize what time it is, maybe freak out about everything we need to do today. Finally coerce ourselves out of bed (probably with the promise of coffee soon).

We stumble into the kitchen and autopilot the caffeine of choice (hot tea, cocoa, Moutain Dew, but probably coffee. So much coffee).  Glance at the clock, think “oh crap I’m gonna be late!” run back to our room, look through closets and drawers trying to find something to wear that is appropriate / cute / in season / matches the weather / doesn’t smell like rotten garbage / still fits.

Finally clothed, we rush to the bathroom.  We shave, shower, do our makeup, brush our hair, bonus points for time to blow dry or style it, brush our teeth (hopefully!). Now with negative two minutes to go until we need to leave, we rush out the door, maybe with second coffee in to-go mug in hand, and off to work we go… And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous circus that is a morning when there are children involved!

Where is the breakfast in all this rush?

You know your entire life your mom always said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and of course she is right. A healthy breakfast helps you wake up, gets your metabolism revved to create and repair cells, pump blood and oxygen, filter out the bad stuff, and move your muscles all day.

It keeps you from getting hangry right around ten or eleven am and making a trip to the vending machine / coffee shop / donuts in the break room and gets you through until lunchtime. It keeps your neurons firing so you can think and be your best all day.

But you just don’t have the time!

I get it. I’ve been there a million times. Drive through bagels, donuts or muffins from heaven when someone has a birthday or there’s a meeting and its catered, a granola bar hidden in a desk drawer. Some days you gotta do what you gotta do.

But there is a better way.

Enter: The Smoothie Freezer Pack!

Smoothie freezer bags

Oh yes, this thing is a busy persons’ dream. Just pull it out, dump in a blender with some milk or juice, push “go” and walk away for a few minutes. Pour it into a glass or travel mug and you have a real food, super healthy, breakfast of champions with almost no work! It just takes a few moments of prep and a bit of planning ahead.  Don’t get scared now, I believe in you.

On a weekend or whenever you grocery shop, just stock up on 5 bananas, 2-5 other fruits you like, and some sort of green (spinach is a good starter, but you can also use kale, swiss chard, beet greens, mustard greens, etc). Then grab some plastic zip top baggies and a knife, and here we go!

Smoothie Pack Ingredients

Step 1: Cut up all your fruits. You will notice avocados, and that may worry you. But trust me, if you’ve never tried it, avocado is AMAZING in smoothies! And it is a super way to sneak in some healthy fats and a creamy texture that no one will even know is there! It will be our secret 😉

Freezer Smoothie Bags

Step 2: In each baggie, add 2-3 types of fruits, one whole banana, and a big ol’ handful of greens. I used avocados, pears, peaches, blueberries, pineapple, spinach, and beet greens. Try different combinations until you find what you like the best.

Smoothie Bags

Step 3: Zip up the baggies, and pop them in the freezer. That’s it! Now all you need to do when you want breakfast in a hurry is take out a bag, pour it into a blender. Then add about 1/2 – 1 cup of liquid of choice, I recommend milk, juice, green tea, or kefir, and blend until smooth.

Smoothie to go

These smoothie packs can also be a great after-workout refresher, or a snack / treat anytime you want a blast of healthy fruits and veggies. You can add some protein powder or a tablespoon of peanut butter for an extra protein punch. Now go forth and conquor your day!

 

What is your favorite smoothie mix? Do you have a super quick breakfast you love? Share here!

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