Tag Archives: dinner

Guiltless Thanksgiving

ThanksgivingThanksgiving is right around the corner! For many people, this is traditionally a family event, where more savory, less healthy foods are served. Turkey is usually the featured item in most Thanksgiving feasts (hence the term “Turkey Day” and why many of us look to run a “Turkey Trot” the morning of). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, rolls, and various pies are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. There is also the pre-meal watching of football with Hor d’oeurves, followed by the post-meal football watching, where people typically complain about being overstuffed and drift off into a tryptophan coma.

Don’t stuff yourself like a turkey this year! Opt for everything in moderation with these tips:

  • Water is your best friend! Water helps control your appetite by making you feel fuller faster. Drink plenty of it to stay fuller and keep your cravings under control.
  • Eat Slowly! It only takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. Make sure you savor your food, and slow down. This teamed up with drinking lots of water will keep you from going overboard and over stuffing yourself. It will also give your mind a chance to catch up with your body and realize that you are full. Eating is not a race. The slower you eat the more you will enjoy your meal, because you will take the time to enjoy bite and the flavors it offers.
  • Eat Before the Feast! Don’t go to dinner starving. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast (high in protein and fiber) and a low calorie snack before heading out to your Thanksgiving destination or your guests arrive.  Eating a healthy breakfast and snack will help to ensure you won’t be starving when it’s time for your holiday gathering.
  • Opt for the Special Stuff! Don’t waste your calories on large portions of food you can eat every day. Focus on smaller portions of the favorites your family makes only once or twice a year. Keep in mind that some holiday foods are better choices than others, but don’t deprive yourself of higher calorie favorites that are special to your family. Just remember it’s all about moderation! Sometimes, just a small taste is enough to satisfy the craving.
  • Say No to Seconds! If you eat slowly and drink plenty of water with your meal, you shouldn’t feel the need to go for seconds. If you’re visiting and your host keeps pushing you to have seconds, politely say, “No.” and compliment the meal they served.
  • Avoid Finger Foods! Hor d’oeurves can be very high in calories and fat. If you forgot to have a snack before arriving at your destination, opt for crudité. This is also a great option for you bring with you. Your host/hostess will appreciate the offer when they invite you and you’ll ensure that there is a healthy snack for you to enjoy while watching football and waiting for the main course to be served.
  • Stop When You’re Full! It sounds obvious, but stopping when you’re full is probably one of the hardest things to do at the Thanksgiving table. It’s difficult to do when so many “special” foods are present and everyone else is helping themselves to seconds. It will be easier to stop if you slow down and enjoy each bite, drink lots of water and avoid wearing pants with an elastic waist!
  • Limit Alcohol! Alcohol impairs your thought process and makes it that much easier to justify a third helping mashed potatoes or another slice of pie with ice-cream. Let’s not forget that it can also be high in empty calories and removes your brain to mouth filter (which might not  be the best thing when surrounded by family!) Have a glass of wine, a wine spritzer or enjoy a light beer or two. Between alcoholic drinks, enjoy some sparkling water so you stay hydrated, limit alcohol calories, and stay sober.
  • Make Healthy Choices! Thankfully, many Thanksgiving staples fit into a healthy meal plan. Turkey is a great source of protein, and sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A. Just take a minute and think before you eat. If you’re preparing the meal, cut back on salt and butter in the side dishes. Try to use whole-grain breads whenever possible and remember that herbs and spices add a lot of flavor without added fat and sodium.

As you head out to your Thanksgiving feast or open your door to host family, remember it’s okay to say “No”, just be polite when doing so. Some people show their love through food and will insist on you having seconds. Others may feel threatened by your healthy lifestyle and pile food onto your plate because it makes them feel better about themselves. Politely saying “no” in these situations shouldn’t produce hard feelings. If you’ll be visiting family, offer to bring a healthy side or the crudité to ensure you’ll stay on track. Some of the other guests might also appreciate this!

Above all, creating a calorie deficit by exercising to burn off extra calories before you head out and face your favorite foods is key. Sign up for a Turkey Trot the morning of Thanksgiving, go for a brisk walk, head to the gym or do your favorite workout DVD. Treat that morning like you would any other and stick to your workout routine. After dinner, invite family to take a walk around the neighborhood, instead of heading to the couch or recliner and drifting off to sleep. It is a wonderful way for families to get some physical activity and quality time together. Have a lot of kids at your gathering? Bring a football, head out into the yard and throw the ball around, instead of just watching it on TV. Be creative and innovative! Have fun, stay active and look for the healthier options at your Thanksgiving meal. Your waistline will definitely thank you!

Don’t forget the #EarnThatTurkey Challenge that is going on now! Join us and stay active in the days leading up to Thanksgiving!

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Ready. Aim. Focused.

It seems I found my groove so well, that I haven’t had time to sit down and write.

Wow!

The past two weeks have been quite the whirl wind. The kids went back to school, so we started a new routine. I made lots of small changes to my fitness and nutrition, which are yielding big results, and I’ve been working on lots of personal development, which feels amazing.

With the kids back in school, my day starts a lot earlier and it allows me to get my Focus T25 workouts in bright and early. This week I started the Beta phase of the program and I absolutely love it. I’m not sure if it’s because all of the workouts are new for this month, because there are weights involved or if it is because I was doing Alpha for so long, but I’m honestly enjoying the change. My favorite so far is Speed 2.0. I can feel everything engaging, I get a good sweat going and I didn’t clock watch at all when I did that one. I know…it’s a 25 minutes program, but I do catch myself clock watching at times. I find I look for the halfway mark and the 5 minute mark, but I didn’t do that with Speed 2.0, I was actually shocked when it was over.

This week was a rest week for Body Beast with the hybrid Mike is doing, so I just followed my regular T25 schedule. I’m looking forward to new workouts with Body Beast next week, too. I’m sure there will be lots of soreness in my future!

Meal prepping has continued to be a life saver for me. I slacked a little with it this week and it resulted in us ordering pizza last night. We used to order pizza every Friday night… it was tradition, but we hadn’t done it in the past month and I didn’t have anything ready to toss together for dinner so I said why not. I had no idea I would gorge myself as soon as it entered the house. I ended up feeling tired and sluggish after eating it, which is something I never noticed before, but I guess with the nutritional changes I’ve made over the past few weeks, my body rejected the amount I forced it to consume.

MyFitnessPal has also become part of my routine again. We were challenged as part of the accountability group I am in for Focust T25, to track AND post screen captures of our food intake daily. It really made me think twice before I grabbed a cookie, handful of almonds or an extra scoop of rice. For the most part, it just helped me to tweak the types of food I was eating. It also helped me to ensure I was hitting my daily caloric goal, because I didn’t realize I was under most days, before I started tracking. The small task of logging my meals showed not only on the scale the past two weeks, but in my measurements (You all know I feel about the scale by itself.) so if you have been stuck and you’re getting frustrated by a lack of results, make sure you take the time to journal your food!

The other thing I have been spending a lot of time on is Personal Development. It’s one of those things that I’ve been told to do, as a coach, but I allowed everything else to come first and I never had time. Sound familiar? Because that’s the excuse I hear all the time, from people who want my help getting healthier, but haven’t committed yet. Ironic, isn’t it? Well… I realized the irony, I made changes, and I committed. I’ve been reading a minimum of 10 pages per day (my current book of choice is The Compound Effect), I watch or listen to at least 15 minutes of inspiring video or audio a day (so easy to do while running errands in the car or I pop ear buds in while I fold laundry), I’ve made a digital dream board which I plan on printing and hanging where I can see it daily and I’ve set goals for myself.

I could kick myself for not starting this sooner, but I can’t change the past, so I’ve just been focused on my daily tasks and enjoying the feeling it brings.

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Lastly, many of you who have been following my blog from the beginning, know that Shakeology has been a staple in my diet for years. Lately, I’ve had a lot of people messaging me on Facebook, asking questions about it as well as the programs I’ve done, so I’ve organized 7 Day Shakeology Challenges over on Facebook. I am so excited by the positive response it has received! If you have ever wanted to try Shakeology, need to jump start healthy habits and gain energy without sugary energy drinks and tons of coffee, stop by my page or comment below for more details! I’ll also be starting some program based challenges soon!

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{Recipe} Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Thighs

We are a week into the August Clean Eating Accountability and Yoga Challenge and I’m loving it!

I’ve been following a good 80/20 rule with my eating and even that 20% has been full of smarter choices. A new challenge always means new recipes for me, so I hit Pinterest and started searching for Clean Eating and Whole 30 meals that looked good to me…then I put my own spin on them.

The recipe I’m about to share is a combination of two recipes I found on there. One was a stuffed chicken thigh and the other was a bacon wrapped chicken thigh. Both sounded delicious and I couldn’t choose which one sounded better so I decided to merge them together, make a few changes to the stuffing and the results were delish!!

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Thighs

  • bacon wrapped stuffed chicken thighs¼ cup cashews
  • ½ medium onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • small handful of basil
  • 1 cup baby spinach (kale would work too)
  • boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Cajun seasoning, to taste (I use Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning)
  • nitrate-free bacon

 Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cashews, onion, garlic, basil and spinach. Pulse until it forms a thick paste with no large chunks in it. (If needed, add a little water or vegetable stock to thin it out so it doesn’t get stuck – but don’t make it runny.)
  3. Open the chicken thighs and lay them out flat. Sprinkle with your seasoning, then spoon some of the mixture into each thigh. Roll it up and then wrap with a slice a bacon. Place each thigh, bacon seam down on your baking pan.
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads the proper temperature, between 165- 175 degrees.

These were really easy to make and they tasted amazing! I served them with some roasted sweet potato and zucchini.

As for yoga, I’m REALLY loving this series and I’m so happy I stumbled upon it on YouTube! Having a quick, program that is beginner friendly has been key to me sticking with daily practice.

I’m also happy to report that I have started running again! It felt good to get back out there and while my legs are really sore right now, I didn’t lose that much progress, which was a pleasant surprise.

Have you tried any new recipes since starting the challenge? Please be sure to share them with the rest of the group and if you Instagram or Tweet a photo, use the hashtag #EatCleanWithNikki

If you are hearing about this for the first time, please join us over on Facebook for daily accountability, recipe and snack ideas and of course, the daily yoga video!

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Kale vs. Spinach: Which Is Healthier?

I’m a fan of both of these leafy greens and tend to interchange them in recipes and smoothies. I mostly lean towards spinach as my go to green, but I’ve always wondered which was actually better for me. I stumbled upon this infographic and thought I would share!

 

Kale vs Spinach

Kale vs Spinach 2

 

*Infographic courtesy of Prevention.com – Click on the image above to visit the original*

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Grilled Ratatouille

The warm weather of spring and summer bring about lots of time spent outdoors. We love to grill in the summer and we also visit farm stands and farmers markets more often. I tend to gravitate towards meals that showcase the great veggies I pick up at these stands or that my neighbors drop off.

I’ve typically always thought of ratatouille as a meal prepared in the oven (as well as a Pixar movie), but I love the spin that this recipe has put on a classic meal.

Grilled Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • This photo is from when I prepared it on the stove, but it's still super tasty!

    This photo is from when I prepared it on the stove, but it’s still super tasty!

    Salt

  • Pepper
  • Cajun seasoning, to taste
  • 3 tbsps red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed with press or minced
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 large orange or yellow peppers, quartered
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise in half
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions:

  • Prepare your grill for direct grilling on medium-high.
  • In small bowl, whisk vinegar, oil, and garlic.
  • Cut onion crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices. Trim your zucchini and eggplant, then cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  • Brush half of the vinegar mixture on one side of onion, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Sprinkle with cajun seasoning.
  • Grill tomatoes 6 minutes, zucchini and eggplant for 10 minutes, and peppers & onion for 12 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender and charred, turning over once.
  • Transfer vegetables to a cutting board. Cool slightly, then cut into 1/2 inch pieces. (I remove the skin from eggplant at this time)
  • Toss with vegetables with remaining vinegar mixture, parsley, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

You can serve this with pasta (you would toss the pasta along with everything in the last step. Or serve over rice.

I’ve made this on the stove when the weather wasn’t good for grilling and it came out just as good (just a little less char). I also love picking up the pre-marinaded chicken breasts or thighs from Wegman’s to cut up and toss in with this. My current favorite are the Cilantro Lime ones….so yummy!

 What is your favorite way to prepare fresh vegetables in the summer months?

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{Recipe} Healthier Baked Ziti

One of my favorite comfort foods has always been Baked Ziti. There is just something about warm, gooey, melted cheese and pasta that makes me happy. Team that up with some fresh baked Italian bread (preferably from Brooklyn) and I’m on cloud nine!

The problem is, that as I have become healthier over the years, but I still crave that type of meal. My body now rejects high fat foods and processed carbs. I end up feeling sluggish and sick after I eat them, so I knew I needed to find a way to lighten it. As you know it that can be tricky to do when messing with cheese, but I think this turned out pretty good. I even added spinach/kale to the recipe for some vitamins and nutrients.

While this recipe is not the picture of health, it is lighter than your typical Baked Ziti and you can play around with ingredients to match your likes and dislikes. If you are a fan of gluten-free pasta, feel free to use it in this dish!

Healthier Baked Ziti

Healthier Baked Ziti
(serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz uncooked ziti or penne (preferably whole-grain)
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes (I used Tuttorosso)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed (I didn’t have spinach the last time I made it so I used Kale and it worked great)
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz fat-free ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded part skim mozzarella
  • olive oil cooking spray

Directions:Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil spray.

In a large pot, cook pasta according to instructions until al dente. Make sure you salt the water before adding the pasta! Drain and return to pot.

As the pasta cooks, heat a medium saucepan, add olive oil and sauté garlic, being careful not to burn it. Add chopped spinach, salt, pepper and crushed tomatoes. Season with basil, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper.

Add sauce to the pasta and gently toss. Add half of the mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and ricotta to the pasta. Carefully mix well, then transfer to your baking pan and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Let it cool 5 minutes, then cut it into about 8 equal portions.

*You can make this a day in advance if you need to. Just be sure it’s stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking according to the directions above.

This meal would be perfect with a nice side salad instead of the bread, however it’s one of the few times I look to eat Italian bread and found a delicious 100% Whole Wheat variety that my local grocery store bakes fresh daily.

Do you have a favorite comfort food? Have you ever attempted to lighten it up?

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A Taste of Summer + Crock Pot Beef Carnitas

The past few days have been simply gorgeous outside! It’s been sunny and in the low 80’s outside, which means it was time to clean up the yard and sit outside.

This year, the yard took quite a beating. Between Super Storm Sandy, snow and a few wind storms, we are missing siding, had more than our fair share of branches and leaves everywhere, and let’s not even talk about the green hue my normally white house has turned.

Since I am still semi sidelined from the plague, my activity has come in the form of clean-up. Lots of raking, bagging, weeding and digging through the shed to find the cushions for the patio set. The one thing the nice weather always makes me crave is grilled food. There is just something about sunshine, fresh air and a warm breeze, that makes me crave a juicy burger, fresh grilled veggies or maybe some kebabs!

I had the grand plans of cleaning up the yard, giving the grill some TLC and making a yummy meal to be enjoyed al fresco. I went to the grocery store with a list in hand, purchased meats and veggies to be prepared over the hot coals, but then never mustered up the energy to actually give the grill that TLC that it desperately needed. Sigh. On the bright side, the yard is clean and we can sit out there, so there is a small victory.

The nice weather still had me craving “warm weather food” so I took to Pinterest and found a recipe to fit my craving.

I have a major love for Mexican foods. Tacos, burritos, guacamole, flautas, you get the idea. So I obviously got super happy when I found a recipe for beef carnitas that I could cook in the crock pot. I normally only use my crock pot in the winter time, but that baby will now be used in the warm weather as well. It really makes sense when you think about it. Most of the time when the weather is nice, you are at the beach, park, pool or just enjoying time outside. It’s hot outside and you don’t want to stop what you are doing to go inside and make the house warm by using the stove or oven. Most people turn to grilling instead, but why not toss your meal in the crockpot before you set out on your summertime adventure, and come home to a meal that just needs a pretty paper plate and some condiments?!

This recipe was super easy to prepare and I love that it required no added oils or fat!

Crock Pot Beef Carnitas Tacos
(original recipe found here, thanks to Pinterest)

My photo isn't nearly as nice as the ones featured on the site where the recipe came from. One day, I'll put more effort into food photos for these posts.

My photo isn’t nearly as nice as the ones featured on the site where the recipe came from. One day, I’ll put more effort into food photos for these posts.

Ingredients:

2 lb flank steak
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (remove the seeds and ribs if you prefer less spice)

For the Spice Rub:

2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Optional Serving Items:

corn tortillas
avocado slices (I made a fresh guacamole)
cilantro
salsa
lime
tomato, chopped

Directions:

Mix all of the spices together in a small bowl. Rub the spices well all over your flank steak. (Think massage here!) Once the spices are rubbed in, place your steak in the bottom of your crock pot.

Next, cover the flank steak with all of the chopped onions, tri-color peppers and the jalapeno pepper.

Set the crock pot to LOW and cook for 8 hours.

When time is up, remove the flank steak from your crock pot and begin shredding it with a fork. Once shredded, you can put it back into the crock pot and toss it with the juices as well as the peppers and onions, or transfer everything into a serving bowl and toss.

Heat your corn tortillas in a skillet on the stove (or wrap them in a damp paper towel and heat for a few seconds in the microwave). Spoon some carnitas on a tortilla, then top with a squeeze of lime and your favorite toppings.

I served these with some yellow rice as well some corn and black beans. It was super tasty and very easy, which are all major requirements for dinners in this house!

Do you have any warm weather meals that you like to prepare in the crock pot?

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Being Productive Makes Me Happy

This has been a really good week for me!

I’ve stuck with my workouts, been eating much cleaner and tried some new recipes. Two new ones are right here in this post, and the Green Monsters (which are my new obsession) can be found here.

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No-Bake Energy Bites – These are so yummy and really satisfy my sweet tooth! They calculated out to about 120 calories each, which isn’t too bad.

Chicken, Quinoa and Summer Squash Casserole – I swapped out the summer squash for zucchini and used Italian seasoning instead of rosemary.

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As you’ve probably already seen in yesterdays post…. I also reached my 100-Mile milestone this week! I originally hoped to have reached this on Valentine’s Day, but my hamstrings and Mother Nature didn’t like that plan. The important thing is I reached it and honestly, 500 miles seems pretty easy now. I hate to say it out-loud but as long as I stay healthy and don’t get injured, I think I’ll easily pass my goal! *fingers crossed…..knocks on wood….yeah….I know I probably just jinxed myself…sigh.*

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Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

~Tomorrow starts the Road ID Badge Challenge over on FurtherFasterForever! You might recall that a few weeks ago I participated in the Sandy Hook virtual event they put together. I’m really excited about this challenge and I’m curious to see how many badges I can collect from March 1st thru March 14th. I’m a newbie to this and I know most of the people who participate are serious athletes, but I’m a determined newbie and will do my best….everyone starts out somewhere, right?!

How is your week progressing? Anything special you’d care to share? What has made you proud or happy this week?

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{Recipe} Chicken “Bruschetta”

It’s been a while since I’ve tried a new recipe, so I hit the web in search of inspiration for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts I bought on-sale the other day.

Not seeing a particular recipe I liked, I decided to take a little of this and a little of that, from the ones that did catch my eye. The result was pretty tasty so I decided to share it.

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Chicken “Bruschetta” served over whole-wheat pasta

Chicken “Bruschetta”

Ingredients:

8 ounce bag of spinach
3 Tb chicken stock
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped garlic (use as much or as little as you like)
onion powder
Italian seasoning
2 large tomatos, coursely chopped
1 small onion. chopped
1/4 cup Roasted Peppers (I used frozen ones from Trader Joes)
1/3 C fresh parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the spinach in the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking pan.  Drizzle with the chicken stock, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange the chicken on top of the spinach and season well with the salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder and Italian seasoning.  Add the chopped tomato and roasted peppers, then top with the parmesan cheese

2.  Loosely tent the pan with a piece of aluminum foil.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

I made some thin, whole-wheat spaghetti to serve with this and it was very yummy. I liked the ease of this dish and how you can easily change the ingredients to fit your taste-buds.

Have you tried any new recipes lately? Do you have a go-to website to find dinner inspiration?

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Pleasant Surprises + Recipe

The other day when I came home from work, there was a box sitting on my table. At first I thought it was just a holiday present I had ordered and then I took note of the return address on it. It was the prize pack I won a few weeks back from participating in the #PastaFits twitter party! I had completely forgot about it, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

Of course, being the child I am, I had to rip into it to see what I won! The box was filled with all different types of pasta, ranging from gluten-free to veggie, The Carb Lovers Diet pocket guide, a spaghetti spoon and a $25 Visa gift card!

Of course, being the child I am, I had to rip into it to see what I won! The box was filled with all different types of pasta, ranging from gluten-free to veggie, The Carb Lovers Diet pocket guide, a spaghetti spoon and a $25 Visa gift card!

I’m a big fan of pasta, so this prize pack is right up my alley. I was even making pasta for dinner that night! Here is the recipe I prepared. It’s from a cookbook I received for Christmas a few years back, called Preserving Our Italian Heritage. It’s not the healthiest dish in the world, but it’s one of my favorites to have occasionally, in moderation. The light cream can be substituted with half & half to save some fat, of course. You can also use whole wheat, whole grain or gluten-free pasta!

Salsa di Caserta – (Cream Sauce with Sweet Sausage, Green Peppers)Ingredients:

IMG_4003[1]1 lb. sweet sausage
1 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 cup light cream
1 tsp. dried marjoram, crushed
1/8 tsp pepper
1 lb. farfalle pasta, or your favorite pasta, cooked al dente
Remove sausage from casing, crumble into a skillet. Stir and cook until sausage is no longer pink. Add onion and garlic, saute until onion is soft and light colored. Drain any excess fat that might be in the pan. Stir in the light cream, parsley, cheese, marjoram, salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer and make sure you do not boil, reduce heat, cook and stir over medium heat 6-8 minutes until thickened. Toss with the pasta and enjoy!
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