Simple Tips for Putting Dinner on the Table Faster

As the theme of my blog suggests, healthy eating does not have to be time-consuming or complicated. Most of the meals Will and I put together are finished in about 30 minutes. (That’s faster than driving to your local fast food place and ordering junk!) I wanted to share a few tips that we have found make it easier to create healthy meals in less time at home.
1. Have a game plan, ie. a meal plan! Planning your meals ahead of time will make your life so much easier. You will have a list of things to pick up at the store and you’ll be less likely to make impulsive purchases because you will be more efficient at shopping.This is also a great way to help manage your grocery budget.  For example, here is a weekly meal plan for us:
Monday: Lentil “Meat” Loaf and steamed broccoli
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Tuesday: Seitan, Roasted Squash, and Broccoli stir fry (link to similar recipe!) with couscous
Wednesday: Broiled salmon, salad, and baked sweet potato
Thursday: Canned or homemade soup, cheese toast, green beans
Friday: Dinner out! No cooking tonight. 🙂
Saturday: Cauliflower crust pizza and salad
Sunday: Tofu (beef for Will) in spicy peanut sauce, roasted beets, and baked sweet potato
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2.  Do a little prep-work on the weekend. Usually, we try to make a large pot of dried beans or lentils. After cooking, portion out in Tupperware to keep on hand for adding to salads or other dishes throughout the week. Sometimes, we will just reheat a few cups of beans, add some seasoning, greens, and cheese and call that dinner – so easy! If we are feeling ambitious or I see a recipe I really want to try, we’ll make a bit batch of soup or chili and freeze some for easy dinners later on! There are tons of great weekly meal prep ideas and tips to be found on the internet. One of my favorites is The Lean Green Blog’s weekly Sunday Food Prep recaps.
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3. Buy lots of frozen vegetables! These guys are cheap, won’t go bad, and are easy to heat up and add to any dinner! We usually season them with a bit of butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder but the options are endless! Stir fry and curry is often on the menu at our house; by keeping a variety of frozen veggies on hand to toss in the pan makes them so tasty!
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4. Try to keep some of the following items on hand for healthy little-to-no cook dinner options:

  • Canned tuna – Season as you like and toss on a salad, sandwich, etc.
  • Hummus – Chop up veggies and dip them or make a wrap!
  • Salad mix – A large salad is one of my go-to meals when I want something quick and don’t feel like cooking. Simply top your greens with some protein (beans, tuna, deli turkey, cheese) and healthy fat (salad dressing, nuts, avocado) to make it a meal.
  • Canned beans – Add a bit of taco seasoning, heat, top with cheese, and wrap it up in a whole wheat tortilla or pile on top of a baked sweet potato.
  • Low-Sodium, Organic Canned Soup – We often buy a can/box of organic soup on our shopping trips. They make for a great meal when you don’t feel like spending much time in the kitchen. We make them a little more interesting by adding more vegetables or topping with some cheese. Yum!
  • Quinoa – This high protein seed is great to have on hand. It cooks quickly and makes a great starchy base on which to pile your stir fry. 
  • Sweet Potatoes – These are so easy to bake up in the microwave and top with beans (see above) or chop in uniform pieces and throw into a tasty stir fry.
Do you make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping each week?

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10 Things Tuesday

10 Things Tuesday

1. Anne from Fannetastic Food added this “Tips for New Bloggers” page to her blog last week; it had a lot of great tips! The most helpful one was a link to download Live Writer. This was a revelation for me! Blogger is difficult to write and edit posts in, so Live Writer is making my life so much easier!

2. We made this Gluten-Free and Vegan Lentil “Meat” Loaf last night for dinner. I have been wanting to try to make a vegetarian “meat” loaf for a while and I just happened to have the ingredients I needed for this one on hand. Score! It was good, but I think I’ll tweak it a bit to make it awesome!

3. Want to know our dinner winner of the week? These fish tacos wrapped in lettuce were absolutely delicious! Will breaded the fish pieces in almond flour, taco seasoning, and egg; then fried them. I could eat these every week! We paired them with some broiled, shredded Brussels sprouts and a sweet potato. Yum.

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4. I tried out this At-Home Circuit Workout yesterday. I was definitely huffing and puffing after just one set of exercises! I am going to keep this one handy for days when I need a quick and effective workout.

5. I love this clever “Rate My Plate,Chicago” initiative happening this week through the Chicago Department of Public Health. In honor of National Nutrition Month, Chicago residents are encouraged to take pictures of their plates and tweet (#RateMyPlateChi), email, or Facebook them. The pictures are posted on the Department’s Facebook page and residents can then “rate” their picks for the healthiest plates by “liking” them. How fun!

6. I started reading this blog, Our Freaking Budget lately since I’ve become more interested in how to better manage/budget my money. I love this young couples tips on how to live more frugally. They linked to this interesting article about how the average American spends up to $58 in non-essentials a day! Yikes!

7. I can’t get enough of this dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s! It gets even better when dipped in a little peanut butter –> Will’s brilliant idea!

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8. Tonight, I am hoping to get my butt to Core Power Yoga for a class. I am excited to try out “hot yoga” again after doing Bikram for a month a while back. They have a “one week free” trial for new students which I just can’t pass up!

9. Apparently, following the American Heart Association’s, The Simple 7 for heart health can also decrease your cancer risk. A new article published in Circulation, indicated that if you adhere to at least 3-4 of the steps, your cancer risk is decreased by 33%, but follow 6-7 steps and it drops to 51% risk. Wow! 

10. I am super excited about the Chicago Improv Festival which starts next week! (If you caught my weekend recap on Sunday, you know I’m a fan!) We’re hoping to be able to catch a few shows. 🙂

Weekend Fun: A Surprise Visitor from Memphis!

Brrr! When is Spring really going to arrive here in Chicago?! According to the weather channel we’re supposed to get a little more snow today. Oi. At least we still have fun despite the cold! Will and I were surprised on Friday when we got a text from our friend Jonathan about meeting for dinner. We thought it was in jest until he explained that he really was in Chicago for a business trip this weekend. Sweet! We met up at a pizza place in Wicker Park/Bucktown called, Piece, which Will and I had been anxious to try. So delicious!  Also, since Jonathan has been wishing to be debuted on the blog, we took a picture together at Yogurtland after dinner. Hey, Jonathan! (I promise, he was more excited to hang out with us than he looks!)

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After filling up on pizza and ice cream, Will and I said goodbye to Jonathan and headed to The Comedy Bar for some stand-up; one of our favorite things! This line-up of comedians definitely didn’t disappoint! (Although, I admit it is pretty easy to get me to laugh. Ha!)

DSCF4279 Saturday, we did a little shopping in our neighborhood since we saw that a group of boutiques were having a March Madness sale! I found a new dress and this awesome purse! Early b-day presents! Yippee!

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We worked up quite an appetite with all the walking we did while shopping! On the walk home, we stopped in at Janik’s Cafe and shared a Greek salad and hummus platter. Yum, yum!

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Saturday night, we headed to Cafe Mustache for some live music and a little more catch-up time with Jonathan. After all that that fun, it was nice to have a low key Sunday. We did our weekly grocery shopping and watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones. Hope you all had a great weekend, here’s to a fabulous new week!

Recipe Redux: Dairy-Free Matcha Tea Ice Cream

Hello Friends! Today, I am posting my first Recipe Redux creation! I was excited to find this community of fabulous, healthy eating and dietitian bloggers who recreate recipes each month to make them healthier for you! The theme for March was “Green with Herb Envy”. I tossed a lot of ideas around when trying to come up with a recipe; I wanted to make it good my first time around!

Since moving to chilly Chicago, my love for hot tea, especially green tea has grown. I hadn’t thought about using it for cooking until I stumbled upon this Matcha Tea Donut recipe and this Green Tea Latte on A Beatiful Mess. Afterwards, I was curious to try this matcha tea for myself! Matcha tea is a bit different than other green teas since it comes in a fine powder; a bonus for making it easy to add to other recipes. Since tea also happens to be an herb, I thought it would be perfect for this month’s challenge. I noted that Will’s ice cream maker was gathering dust and needed a spring cleaning… hence, matcha tea ice cream was born!

Since we’ve been using a lot of milk to make homemade cheese lately, I thought it would be fun to make a dairy-free ice cream using coconut milk, which we almost always have on hand. The coconut and matcha tea flavors blended together superbly! Matcha has a bright, clean flavor so if you need a little hint of Spring in your life, try out this ice cream!


Dairy-Free Matcha Tea Ice Cream
(Recipe loosely based on this recipe via Dairy Free Chick)
Ingredients:
– 2 1/2 tablespoons sweet Matcha tea powder (we used Rishi tea brand from Whole Foods)
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 1/2 tablespoon half-and-half Splenda sugar blend
– 4 egg yolks
– 2 cans full-fat canned coconut milk

Directions: 
1. Whisk egg yolks and coconut milk together in a large bowl. Pour into a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.
2. Stir continuously over heat until it begins to visibly thicken but before it starts to boil.** Remove from the heat and stir in remaining ingredients.
3. Chill mixture in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Pour into your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s directions.

**Be careful not to overheat/boil the egg and coconut mixture, or else you will end up with scrambled eggs in your coconut milk which is no good!

A word about nutrition…
 – Coconut is high in saturated fat and therefore, calories. This is still meant to be a dessert!
 – Some of the saturated fat in coconut milk is in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs may help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol.
 – There is much less sugar in this recipe than a regular ice cream since the matcha tea mixture has a bit of sugar and we subbed Splenda for the rest. Plus, coconut milk is naturally a little sweet.
 – Tea has many health benefits – including possibly preventing heart disease.
 – Matcha tea is especially high in antioxidants which are potent cancer-fighters.

We added a little frozen mango on top for fun!

The topping options are endless! We added a few pieces of frozen mango, but feel free to try dark chocolate, nuts, granola, fruit, etc! (You can also add these to the ice cream as it mixes in the machine too!) Let me know what fancy combos you create. 🙂 Now, check out some of the delicious green creations other recipe reduxers have come up with this month!
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10 Things Tuesday

1. This post via Mommy Run Fast is a great reminder to make sure you are getting enough of 5 nutrients which are commonly low in a vegetarian diet: calcium, B12, Vitamin D, Iron and Zinc.
2. Will made this creamy, spinach based Indian dish, Saag Paneer, last night for dinner. (He even made the cheese!) It was absolutely delicious! I’m drooling just thinking about it now!

Saag Paneer!

3. Totally bookmarking this 10 Minute Yoga for Stress Relief video!
4. I have less than 100 pages left to go in Anna Karenina. Yippee! It’s been a bit tedious at times, but also fascinating to imagine oneself in a society so different from today’s world with twitter and television! Even their conversation was so much more sophisticated; using words like farinaceous in conversation was common (I had to Google that one for sure!). Not going to lie, I am also excited to rent the movie once I finish. 🙂
5. I’ve been wanting to make homemade Lara bars for ages. This recipe from Cookie and Kate looks scrumptious!
6. Lately, I have been trying to make the most of home workouts like this high intensity interval training (HIIT) one from Fitnessista and this leg video via Blogilates! Not only do they make you work up a sweat, they are actually a lot of fun!
7. A recent review article indicated that people who eat while “distracted” ie. watching tv, surfing the internet, or reading eat ~10% more calories than those who were attentive to their eating. The distracted eaters also did not compensate for their overeating by consuming less at the next meal because there was no memory associated with how much they had eaten while distracted. Good to know!
8. Twitter exploded with talk about the end of GoogleReader this week. Although I had yet to jump on that band-wagon, I decided to try out one of the alternatives and started using Bloglovin to follow some of my favorite blogs. I am so glad I did! It makes it so much easier to keep tabs on new posts. 🙂
9. Making the most of leftovers! I love trying to get creative with leftovers in order to make the most of all the food we buy. For example, I ate the last of this veggie quinoa chocolate chili on a sweet potato with a bit of leftover veggie stir-fry for lunch. Yum! I will definitely need to make another batch of that chili soon!

Colorful and delicious!

10. Need something to sip on? Consider tea! According to recent research, tea (white, green, oolong, and black) may help reduce stroke risk by preventing oxidative stress and inflammation. All the more reason to fuel my new penchant for green tea since moving to chilly Chicago!

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Week in Review: Ode to Pi(e)!

Happy St. Patty’s Day! Hope you had a lovely weekend enjoying all things green. 🙂 I know it was fun yesterday seeing so many people in green on the streets while we ran errands! In addition to St. Patrick’s Day, this week was also Pi(e) Day! Will and I made sure to celebrate by going to Bang Bang Pie Shop, which is just down the street from our new apartment. 🙂

Chia Seed Breakfast Cereal via Oh She Glows – this was absolutely delicious!
Definitely a new addition to my breakfast rotation. 
My new walking companion, Honey! We’ve been spending a lot of quality
time together. 
Happy Pi(e) Day! Will and I shared this delicious Bailey’s Cheesecake
Pie. Just melted in your mouth!
I’m certainly excited about it!
Friday we went to Music Box Theater for a screening of the
Bitter Buddah Documentary starring, Eddie Pepitone.
Who is Eddie Pepitone? (I didn’t know either!) He’s the guy in the middle doing a
Q&A after the screening. He’s a comedian, well-known for his Podcast,
The Long Shot; Will is a big fan!
Good Food Festival! Will and I went to this on Saturday. Hundreds of local
food vendors and organizations set up booths, passed out samples, and did live cooking demos. 
There were even some live chickens at the show!
Will and I celebrated St. Patty’s Day early with this lovely, Green Powerhouse Pesto
Plate via Oh She Glows (again!). 

Just wanted to give you a brief recap of our week! I’m excited to experiment with making another green dish for dinner this evening with Will – saag paneer!

Carbohydrate Confusion

As a Dietitian, I am always a little wary of popular diets that are very restrictive, such as the gluten-free diet for individuals who don’t have celiac disease or other crazy ones like the grapefruit diet. However, as the Paleo or low-carbohydrate diet craze continues to gain momentum, I thought it deserved a second look. Here is what I learned…

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What is the paleo or low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet? 
For a great explanation of the paleo diet, I will refer you to this post by Nerd Fitness. Basically, the paleo diet requires you to eat as your hunter-gatherer ancestors did so long ago. This means no grains or legumes, no dairy, and no sugar or sugar substitutes. The diet is focused mainly on grass-fed meat and lots of vegetables, nuts, and some fruit.

An individual on the ketogenic or very low-carbohydrate diet, will need to follow diet guidelines similar to those of the paleo diet. The amount of carbohydrates allowed on this diet can be as low as 0-25% of calories from carbohydrates. To put this in perspective, a person eating 2000 calories a day, can consume no more than 0-500 of their calories from carbohydrate foods on the very low carbohydrate plan. In terms of food, they can consume no more than 125 grams of carbohydrates [ie. 1 cup of pasta (82 g), 1 banana (31 g), and 1 medium orange (15 g)]. You can also think of it as the equivalent of about 1 serving of carbohydrates at each meal.

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How do excess carbohydrates make you fat?
Do you know how farmers fatten up a cow before slaughter? (Besides low dose antibiotics…) They feed them a grain/corn based diet. Our metabolism is similar! When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates (ie. cereal, pasta, cookies, cakes, or beans) there is an increase in your blood glucose (one of the molecular building blocks of carbohydrates). In response to higher levels of blood glucose, your body secretes insulin. Insulin helps with transporting glucose into cells. Excess glucose not readily needed by cells is transported to the liver for storage as either glycogen or converted to fat and stored in adipose tissue. When a person has a consistently high intake of carbohydrates, they push this process to the point of forming fatty acids for storage all the time, resulting in weight gain.

How does limiting carbohydrates help you lose weight?
When you eat very little carbohydrates, your body begins a process called ketogenesis. In this case, the body begins to break down your fat stores for energy (which makes ketones) and contributes to weight loss. A process that may be more beneficial for weight loss than calorie restriction or exercise! For example, a randomized control trial (the strongest there is!) from 2003, showed that overweight women who followed a very low carbohydrate diet (<100 g carbohydrate/day) lost more weight over 6 months than women on a low-fat diet. The most interesting thing to note, they both consumed the same number of calories! The same was found to be true in another study in severely obese individuals. These are just two examples out of many where limiting carbohydrates could help achieve weight loss more effectively.

Here’s my take…
1. DO cut out all “junk” carbohydrates! Save foods like potato chips, french fries, Cheetos or other starchy snacks that come in a bag, cakes, candies, sodas, fruit juice, sweetened yogurt, sugary cereal, white bread, ice cream, etc for special occasions. If it went through a lot of processing before it was packaged and shelved in your grocery store, it’s better to leave it at the store.
2. DON’T eliminate wholesome carbohydrates completely. Beans, lentils, quinoa, oats and other whole grains still have a place in your diet. My rule of thumb is to only choose ones with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and little to no added sugar.
3. DON’T completely eliminate dairy. Unless you are lactose intolerant, dairy can still have a place in your diet. As a vegetarian, I depend on dairy for some of my protein in the form of milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, do choose organic or grass-fed if possible! Also, it’s ok to buy whole milk and full-fat dairy (more on that in some other post!).
4. DO choose more vegetables and fruit! They are packed full of nutrients and fiber and are low calorie (especially vegetables). Don’t be afraid to pile the vegetables on your plate!
5. DO incorporate wholesome sources of protein in your diet. Grass-fed or organic beef, chicken, turkey, fish, you name it! Don’t forget about nuts; they are a wonderful source of protein and healthy fats. I also include some soy in my diet since I only eat fish – but that’s up to you!