Tikka Masala gets a vegan makeover with Maya Kaimal's NEW Vegan Simmer Sauces

Raise your hand if you find cooking Indian food intimidating. Growing up, Indian food was not a part of our diet and many of the names and dishes are still unfamiliar to me. Tikka masala was the first Indian dish I ever tried. It's one of the most popular Indian dishes in the United States, most often featuring chicken in a creamy and slightly spicy red sauce. Traditional masala sauce does contain dairy in the form of cream or yogurt. It adds a creaminess to the sauce that ups the satisfaction factor. Many other Indian dishes also contain dairy, often in the form of milk/cream, yogurt, or paneer, a hard Indian cheese similar to halloumi.

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Maya Kaimal is a brand of store-bought Indian Simmer Sauce, Everyday Dal and Surekha Rice options that have been in the game since 2003. Their products are sold in Whole Foods, Fairway, Target, Amazon, and many more locations around the country. This woman-owned business makes cooking Indian food at home so easy because the sauces take out all the guesswork, and they prevent you from having to buy obscure spices that you worry you'll never use again. Maya Kaimal's sauces were some of their first products on the market, some of which contain dairy, but this fall they’re launching a new line of VEGAN simmer sauces to cater to all types of eaters. Options include vegan tikka masala, spicy vindaloo, and coconut korma. These sauces are so delicious and are perfect for those with a dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or people who follow a plant based/vegan diet. They go great with vegetables, tofu, or meat and make a full meal when paired with a complex carb like brown rice or whole wheat naan on the side. In this recipe, I use the Maya Kaimal Vegan Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce to make a high fiber, plant based meal that bursting with Indian flavor. It feels like a healthy upgrade from that first chicken tikka masala from years ago.

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Veggie Packed Vegan Masala featuring Maya Kaimal's NEW Vegan Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

serves 4

 

Ingredients:

1 yellow onion

1 red bell pepper

1 large carrot

1 small butternut squash (about 3 cups cubed)

1/2 cup low sodium vegetable broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 jar of Maya Kaimal's NEW Vegan Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

1 can of low sodium chickpeas

1/2 cup quinoa (dry)

2 cups riced cauliflower

1 tablespoon vegan butter (or regular butter/ghee if you aren't trying to keep this vegan)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 bag of baby spinach

Recommended topping options: cilantro, lime wedges, crushed cashews, shredded coconut

 

Instructions:

1. Dice your onion, peppers, carrot, and butternut squash. The vegetables should be in small pieces- no more than quarter inch. The butternut squash can be a little larger, but still no more than a half inch.

2. Microwave the butternut squash in a microwave safe bowl with a splash of water for about a minute to pre-soften.

3. Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large stock pot. Add onion and sauté a few minutes until it starts to soften. Then add pepper, carrot , butternut squash, and vegetable broth. Mix well and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

4. Empty entire container of simmer sauce into the pot and mix well. Once it starts to bubble, turn heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. While your veggies are simmering, cook your quinoa. Add quinoa to a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes covered until the water has absorbed. Add riced cauliflower, butter, and salt. Mix well.

6. Stir in the drained chickpeas. Then add baby spinach into the pot with the vegetables. Cook covered for about 10 more minutes until the spinach has fully wilted, stirring a few times to help it along.

7. Serve the vegetable masala and the cauliflower quinoa side by side in a bowl. Top with your desired toppings.

Step 4: The sauce is poured directly into the pan with the vegetables and helps to cook them while adding traditional Indian flavor.

Step 4: The sauce is poured directly into the pan with the vegetables and helps to cook them while adding traditional Indian flavor.

Step 6: The spinach will take up a ton of room at first, but it will cook down within about 5 minutes.

Step 6: The spinach will take up a ton of room at first, but it will cook down within about 5 minutes.

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the perfect cripsy baked tofu recipe you've been waiting for

Tofu can be a polarizing food. While some people can’t get enough, the majority of people I talk to find the texture off-putting or are intimidated by the preparation. Although I wanted to like it for a long time, I found I never really loved it unless the texture was nice and crispy. This was something I found hard to achieve at home and without frying. Turns out the secret is removing as much moisture from the tofu as possible before baking. Although this takes a little extra time (at least a half hour to be precise), it’s well worth the wait and you can prep other items while you wait. The crispiness achieved by the end makes the texture a lot more appealing and also helps the tofu to hold on to the sauce better.

Ingredients:

1 block of tofu

Oil to spray the pan


Tools:

Large knife

Cutting board

2 kitchen towels

Heavy object (such as a cast iron skillet)



Instructions:

1. Cut tofu in half length-wise so that you have to equally shaped rectangles.

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2. Lay one of your towels on the cutting board. Fold in half. Place both blocks of tofu on the towel.

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3. Cover with the other towel (fold in half also if you can get it to fit). Place heavy object on the tofu, making sure all surface area if covered. Press down, then let sit for at least 20 minutes.

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4. Remove the heavy object and relocate the tofu to dry parts of the towel. Give it one last press to get any remaining moisture out.

5. Cut tofu into cubes about 1x1 inch.

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6. Spray pan with oil and place tofu on the pan, making sure not to over-crowd it.

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7. Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes, flipping tofu halfway through.

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8. Toss with whatever sauce you like! Goes great with Asian sauces such as teriyaki and peanut sauce, but feel free to get creative.

8 Overnight Oat Recipes to Up Your Breakfast Game

Overnight oats are one of my absolute favorite weekday breakfasts. Most of the leg work is done the night before, which means they are quick to grab and go in the morning. Overnight oats are also extremely versatile and can be customized depending on your preferences and what you have on hand. The concept is simple- soak oats overnight in liquid and chia seeds. Then in the morning you have breakfast because the oats soften in the liquid overnight and the chia seeds hold it all together. I always use the same base recipe as follows:

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats

  • 2/3 cup plain low fat kefir

  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds

Mix well and let set in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, add a splash (1-2 tablespoons) of your milk of choice. I usually use unsweetened soy or almond milk.

The amount in the recipe can be adjusted based on your personal nutrition needs, but try to keep the ratio about the same for optimal texture.

If you like your oats a little sweeter, I recommend adding sweetness by:

  • Half a mashed banana- this works great if you use frozen bananas thawed for 20-30 seconds in the microwave

  • Up to 1 tablespoon of honey, maple syrup, or silan (date syrup)

  • Use flavored kefir instead of regular, as the flavors typically contain sugar


 

Nectarberry Caprese

½ tablespoon balsamic glaze (mixed into the base recipe in the morning)

Toppings/mix-ins:

  • 1 nectarine, diced

  • ½ cup strawberries, diced

  • 2 large basil leaves, chopped

Nectarine and strawberry (aka “nectarberry”) overnight oats with balsamic glaze and fresh basil

Nectarine and strawberry (aka “nectarberry”) overnight oats with balsamic glaze and fresh basil

 

Tropical toasted coconut

Instead of almond/soy milk, add a splash of coconut milk to mix into base in the morning. I also recommend adding half of a mashed banana into the base for sweetness.

Toppings/mix-ins:

  • ¼ cup tropical trail mix- this is the kind that will often include dried papaya, pineapple, and cashews. The one I found had dried papaya, pineapple, golden raisins, peanuts, soy nuts, and coconut.

  • ½ cup fresh pineapple

  • 1 tablespoon shredded coconut or coconut chips

Overnight oats with tropical flavor from coconut, pineapple, and trail mix

Overnight oats with tropical flavor from coconut, pineapple, and trail mix

 

Banana walnut bread

Add half of a mashed banana into the base in the morning, along with:

  • 2 tablespoons walnut pieces

  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

  • pinch of salt (this is tiny- about 1/16 teaspoon if you’re measuring)

Top with other half of the banana, sliced on top

This recipe has everything you love about banana bread, plus lots of fiber and omega 3 fats.

This recipe has everything you love about banana bread, plus lots of fiber and omega 3 fats.

 

Peanut butter and jelly

1 cup of thawed frozen mixed berries, mix into base in the morning

1 tablespoon peanut butter on top or swirled throughout

I added some fresh berries and crushed peanuts on top for aesthetics, but the recipe tastes just as good using all frozen berries and peanut butter.

I added some fresh berries and crushed peanuts on top for aesthetics, but the recipe tastes just as good using all frozen berries and peanut butter.

 

Chai spiced pear

Mix chai spice blend into base in the morning. Top with a diced up pear. This is one of the recipes that I feel benefits most from a little added sugar, so I added about a teaspoon of honey.

Chai spice blend:

  • 3/8 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • pinch of black pepper

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Pumpkin spice

The additional liquid can be omitted in this recipe because of the pumpkin. In the morning, mix into oats:

Top with 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds

Adding the banana sliced on top is totally optional- I did it more for the aesthetics. It worked great when mashed and all mixed together.

Adding the banana sliced on top is totally optional- I did it more for the aesthetics. It worked great when mashed and all mixed together.

 

Apple pie

Mix a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg into your base. In the morning, dice a whole apple (I used honeycrisp). Sauté the apple for about 10 minutes in:

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil

  • Sprinkle of cinnamon

I actually do not recommend sweetening this recipe, since the tart base goes well with the sweet apples.

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Cherry almond vanilla

Mix 1 tablespoon almond butter and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract into the base recipe in the morning.

Toppings/mix-ins:

  • 1/2 cup cherries, quartered

  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Breakfast Made Easy with Simple Mills Pancake & Waffle Mix

Although I love to cook, I actually don’t love baking. I find it to be too tedious and precise. If you mess up the order of ingredients or the amount of something in cooking, it’ll generally still come out fine. With baking, one wrong move and the whole thing can fall flat. For this reason, I usually rely on packaged mixes for my baking needs. Unfortunately, most commercial baking mixes have some serious work to do in the nutrition department. Most are low in fiber, high in added sugar, and have chemicals and/or preservatives added to extend their shelf life. Simple Mills mixes are the antidote to this problem. Much like their crackers that I talked about in my previous post, Simple Mills uses only wholesome ingredients in their baking mixes. The ingredient list for their pancake and waffle mix includes almond flour, arrowroot, organic coconut sugar, organic coconut flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and sea salt- no added preservatives, phosphates, or mysterious chemicals. The directions call for additional eggs, water or milk, and oil. I used pasture raised eggs, unsweetened soy milk, and coconut oil (I tend to reserve coconut oil for baking/sweets only, since olive oil is my cooking oil of choice).

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The baking mix alone provides 3 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber per two pancake serving. I usually eat 3 or 4 pancakes which means up to 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, plus the additional protein from the egg and soy milk. Recommended toppings include berries or diced fruit, chia jam, nut or seed butter, chopped nuts, yogurt, or some maple syrup or honey if you like things extra sweet. For my pancakes, I used diced strawberries and peaches, creamy almond butter, and some yogurt on top. Feel free to use non-dairy yogurt or a different kind of nut butter if you prefer.

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Another option is to replace the oil with mashed banana, which gives you a naturally sweeter pancake. Banana walnut is an unbeatable combo that requires no toppings at all.

Something else I love is that Target has started carrying Simple Mills products! We finally had a city Target open two blocks away from our apartment, which has been life changing, and also means I can run out on a weekend morning to pick up pancake mix when the craving strikes. Look for Simple Mills products next time you’re at your local Target.  

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Summer Snacking Made Simple with Simple Mills

As I’ve become more in tune with my body, I’ve realized how important snacks are to get me through the day. I remember trying to avoid snacks when I was younger in an attempt to save calories (eye roll), but now I realize that a well-rounded snack can keep me from feeling hangry later. Because I have a much longer gap in between lunch and dinner than I do between breakfast and lunch, I usually need an afternoon snack. It’s important to me that this snack is simple, or else I’ll just reach for a convenience item that might not be as wholesome. There are a few different criteria that I look for in a good snack. The first is that it contains both protein and carbs. The protein helps to keep me fuller longer than an hour and the carbs help with the satisfaction factor (because this girl loves her carbs). Protein might include nuts or seeds, a hard boiled egg, hummus, beans, or some lower sugar Greek yogurt. Carbs may include fruit, crackers, or a piece of whole grain toast. Unsaturated fats are an added bonus because they add a little more staying power and often enhance the taste. Some examples of foods that contain these healthy fats include nuts, avocado, hummus (from the tahini), or fish such as smoked salmon. Many of these foods such as fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains also contain fiber which gives the snack a little extra staying power.

I tend to gravitate more towards savory snacks, meaning I much prefer crunchy and salty things more than sweet. The market is saturated with highly processed savory snacks that rank pretty low in nutrient content, which is one of the reasons I was so excited when I discovered Simple Mills almond flour crackers. They have truly been my snacking obsession recently thanks to the amazing taste and the on-point ingredient list. They have the perfect blend of protein, carbs, and fat- the macronutrient trifecta to keep me full and satisfied. Each generous 17 cracker serving contains 3 grams of protein and 8 grams of mostly unsaturated fat thanks to their unique nut and seed flour blend. Check out the ingredient panel here!

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Something else I love about Simple Mills almond flour crackers is that they sell them at Whole Foods, which means I can get them no matter where I am. They make such a great travel snack. I was in Chicago last weekend for my sister’s bachelorette party and was able to grab some at her local Whole Foods. We had an epic brunch spread including Simple Mills almond flour crackers with hummus, mashed avocado, and almond milk cream cheese among many other breakfast foods!

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I’m not above eating these babies straight from the box, but when you’re looking for something a little extra, then these crackers stacks make an awesome snack. They’re super versatile and can be improvised based on whatever you have in the fridge. I love pairing them with a savory spread and some vegetables. You can also make a sweeter version with fruit and your sweetener or choice. Check out these combos I put together below:

Savory:

  • Almond milk cream cheese with cucumber, smoked salmon, and everything but the bagel seasoning. Make it vegan by removing the smoked salmon or using carrot lox.

  • Vegan ricotta, pesto, and red pepper flakes. This one is deliciously simple, and would also be delicious with a crunchy vegetable like radishes.

 

Sweet:

  • PB&J cracker stack with peanut butter and strawberry chia jam. Substitute almond or cashew butter if peanut butter isn't your favorite! The chia jam is about 6 strawberries (pureed) with 1/2 tablespoon of chia seeds- let it set overnight.

  • Strawberry caprese cracker stack with vegan ricotta, strawberries, and basil. Use vegan mozzarella if you can find it. This is also amazing with a little balsamic glaze!

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Easy to Make Tuna Salad Toast

Growing up, I remember tuna salad sandwiches being a staple in our lunch rotation. My mom made an amazing tuna salad with canned tuna, diced celery, and mayonnaise. Tuna has always been seen as a cheap and easy protein source, but unfortunately, the methods for fishing tuna have not always been the most sustainable.

I was really turned off from tuna for a while after learning how most tuna is caught and the other marine life that's often caught and discarded with it. Then I discovered Wild Planet, a company that produces premium quality canned fish using sustainable fishing methods. They essentially catch their tuna the old-fashioned way – using a pole and line. You can read more about that here.

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It's reassuring to me to know that other marine life isn't being harmed, because an important part of sustainability is maintaining the ecosystem in the ocean. Other things you can do to protect the ocean from climate change include eating more plant-based foods and avoiding single-use plastic. A diet heavily based in plants with the addition of fish, eggs, and other animal foods in moderation is good for your health and the health of our planet.

At Wild Planet, they think it's important for people to eat both sustainably and nutritiously. Tuna and other canned fish are such an underrated nutrition powerhouse. It's a dense source of protein. One small can of Wild Planet tuna provides more than 30 grams of protein. While tuna is a lean (low fat) fish, their products are full of omega-3 fats. These fats are beneficial for heart health, brain function, and have anti-inflammatory properties.

While salmon is a fatty fish rich with omega-3, Wild Planet also carries mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. If you're not sure what to do with these smaller fish, start by adding them to pasta with some garlic, oil, and roasted vegetables. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, especially fatty fish, at least two times per week to help meet omega-3 needs. Getting your omega-3's from actual food has been shown to be more beneficial than taking fish oil supplements, and it tastes a lot better too.

I love that Wild Planet makes meeting the AHA’s omega-3 requirement more affordable. Fish is often seen as a more expensive protein source than chicken, beef, or eggs, but their products are affordable and have a long shelf-life, making them a pantry staple in our house.

I love making tuna salad with Wild Planet Wild Yellowtail Fillets for an easy lunch or weeknight dinner when I'm tight on time. This abundant North Pacific fish is in the tuna family of species, sustainably caught with single-species purse seine nets, which virtually eliminate by-catch of other species while also benefiting the overall marine ecosystem. Check out my go-to recipe here:

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Veggie Packed Tuna Salad Toast

Ingredients:

1 can of Wild Planet Wild Yellowtail skinless and boneless fillets

1 cup total of diced red onion, bell pepper, and carrots

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper

2 slices of whole wheat bread

Instructions:

1. Mix tuna juices back in with the tuna steak and add to a bowl with diced vegetables.

2. Add mayo, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mash and mix well with a fork.

3. Scoop on to toasted wheat bread. Enjoy!

I prefer to eat them open-faced, but you could absolutely eat it like a sandwich if you want. To me, open-faced means double the bites, which means this deliciousness lasts even longer. This would also be great in a wrap, or over a bed of greens for a lower calorie option.

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3 ways to use kefir and why

This post is sponsored by Lifeway Kefir.

Kefir is a nutrition powerhouse, which I've discussed in my previous post, and it's also much more versatile than you might think. Check out these ways below to incorporate Lifeway Kefir at every meal of the day.


How: At breakfast

Why: Kefir adds protein to smoothies without the protein powder flavor. You can also add several pre-biotic ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds to help feed the probiotics. Kefir can also be used to add protein to oatmeal or overnight oats. Oatmeal is a breakfast staple in the United States, but people often find that it lacks the staying power that other breakfasts have. This is likely in part to its low protein content. Adding kefir to your cooked oats adds protein as well as a nice creamy consistency.

Oatmeal made creamy with Lifeway Kefir

Oatmeal made creamy with Lifeway Kefir

Blueberry smoothie with Lifeway Kefir

Blueberry smoothie with Lifeway Kefir


How: To thicken soups

Why: Stirring kefir into hot soup helps create a creamier consistency without flour or heavy cream. It can also cool down a soup that’s too hot to eat and bring it to a ready-to-eat temperature. Also works great in cold summer soups. Try it in tomato basil soup or this cold cucumber soup. Follow the linked recipe but replace yogurt with kefir- it adds more protein compared to regular low-fat yogurt and a lot more probiotics. You will need less water (maybe not any at all) since kefir is a thinner consistency than yogurt.


How: As salad dressing

Why: Kefir adds an amazing creaminess to salad dressings and acts as a great replacement in mayonnaise-based dressings. It also packs more nutritional punch than mayonnaise because not only does it provide healthy fats, but it also adds protein to help keep you full and probiotics to support a healthy digestion. Check out these recipes below for examples.

Pasta Salad with Creamy Kefir Green Goddess Dressing

Pasta Salad with Creamy Kefir Green Goddess Dressing

Black bean vegetable tacos with kefir avocado crema

Crema is a Mexican cheese with the consistency of a thick cream, but a slightly sweeter taste. This recipe is a twist on the traditional crema, using Lifeway kefir as a base. Lifeway kefir contains 12 strains of probiotics, and this variability has been shown to be beneficial for gut health. This recipe also includes prebiotics from the beans, sweet potatoes, onions and other vegetables. Prebiotics feed the gut bacteria, and these components work best when consumed together.

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Ingredients:

12 small whole wheat or corn tortillas -or- 1 cup raw long grain brown rice

2 medium sized sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons avocado oil, divided

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 can of low sodium black beans

1 container (10 oz) baby belly mushrooms

1 large zucchini

 

Avocado crema:

1 cup plain low fat organic kefir

1 avocado

1 handful cilantro (about ½ cup)

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoonblack pepper

 

Toppings:

½ cup cotija cheese (or queso fresco), grated

Pickled onions, recipe here

 

Instructions:

1.       If you are opting for the bowl option, then start by cooking the rice.

a.       Add rice to a large saucepan with 2 ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until water has absorbed.

b.      If you are opting for tacos, then skip to step 2.

2.       Heat oven 400F. Cut sweet potatoes in 1 inch chunks (pieces can be uneven). Toss with 1 tablespoon of avocado oil, plus the chili powder, paprika, and black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing halfway through.

3.       Drain and rinse black beans. Set aside.

4.       Chop mushrooms and zucchini. Heat other tablespoon of avocado oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add mushrooms and zucchini. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently.

5.       Blend all ingredients for avocado crema together until smooth.

6.       Assemble.

a.       If making bowls: Arrange rice, sweet potatoes, cooked vegetables, and black beans around the bottle of the bowl. Top with crema, cheese, and pickled onions.

b.      If making tacos: Lay your tortillas flat, and spread each with crema. Add sweet potatoes, cooked vegetables, and black beans. Top with crema, cheese, and pickled onions.

 

Notes:

Bowls are great for meal prep.

You can also cook a half batch of rice to have tacos for dinner, and then leftovers bowls for lunch the next day. Tacos tend not to travel/store well.

leftover taco filling make the perfect burrito bowl

leftover taco filling make the perfect burrito bowl

Lifeway Kefir + Gut Health

Gut health is a hot topic these days. When I first started studying nutrition more than 10 years ago, we learned the basics of probiotics and prebiotics, but overall it was a minuscule part of the curriculum. Now “gut health” is a term being widely used, and supplements are popping up everywhere that claim to optimize people’s gut flora. It’s become normal to talk about our digestion, absorption, and excretion (aka our poop) with friends, family, and Instagram followers- a topic which was pretty taboo back in the day. But what does a healthy gut even look like? And what does it take to get there? With all the supplements available on the market, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. If you’ve been following my page for a while, you’ll know that I’m a fan of real food more than supplements. Lately I’ve been choosing Lifeway kefir to get my daily probiotic dose, in addition to other cultured/fermented foods and prebiotics from a mostly plant-based diet.

Above are two of  Lifeway’s  unflavored versions, however they are also available in a variety of flavors and fat content.

Above are two of Lifeway’s unflavored versions, however they are also available in a variety of flavors and fat content.

 What is “gut health”?

Gut health is so much more than your poop (although that is a big part of it!). Over half of the cells that make up our immune systems live in our intestines, which means that a healthy gut could help you get sick less. Who doesn’t want that?! There is a connection between our guts and our brains, aptly named the “gut brain axis”. This means that the bacteria that live in our intestines are communicating with our brains, so these little microorganisms actually play a role in our mood and mental health. Research even shows that a healthy proportion of gut bacteria may promote improvements in conditions such as anxiety and depression. And of course, there’s the digestive and absorptive benefits. For the average person, a healthy gut might mean staying regular on a day-to-day basis, but even those with more aggressive bowel issues such as IBS can benefit from consumption of probiotic rich foods.

The “Champagne of Dairy” supports immunity and healthy digestion.

The “Champagne of Dairy” supports immunity and healthy digestion.

 What can we do to optimize our gut health?

We have billions of bacteria that live in our intestines, but the ratio of good to bad can shift depending on our genetics, diet, medications, and several other factors. We might not be able to control our genes, but we can certainly control our diets. Foods that contain probiotics (the good bacteria!) include cultured dairy products and fermented foods. Kefir is a tart and tangy cultured milk drink, similar to a smoothie in consistency. It does share some nutritional similarities with yogurt, however the probiotic content and diversity is even higher – up to 2-3 times more, comparatively! My favorite brand of kefir is Lifeway, who makes several flavors and varieties of this probiotic powerhouse drink. It’s available in full fat and low fat, plain and flavored, no added sugar available – all in several different sizes. Their products are pasteurized, which means they’re safe for immunocompromised individuals and during pregnancy. Lifeway kefir has 12 different strands of probiotics, which is helpful because it’s been shown that variety is key to gut health. I love adding kefir to my oatmeal and I’ll be sharing more ways to use kefir over the next few months. Some of their flavors are so delicious that I honestly just pour myself a glass and drink it - like their lemon meringue. Lifeway kefir is also up to 99% lactose free, which means that it’s a suitable option even for those with lactose intolerance. The lactose is partially digested by the good bacteria found in the kefir, which means you can enjoy dairy without the gassy/bloaty side effects. 

Lifeway kefir  has 12 live active cultures.

Lifeway kefir has 12 live active cultures.

spice up your life

I've been a fan of spicy food for a while now, maybe ever since I learned of the magic that is buffalo chicken- I know my college friends can attest to that. While I can still appreciate that flavor in my food, my palate has expanded a bit since then and I’ve started to explore other ways to add heat to my meals. I recently partnered with Yellowbird Sauce, a company based out of Austin who that makes amazingly flavorful hot sauces of fresh ingredients. You don't see anything vague in the ingredients list like "natural flavors" and you can pronounce everything on the label. They taste amazing, plus they come in regular size and cute little travel sizes in case you're the kind of person who needs hot sauce with you at all time (at work, traveling, etc). They have 5 flavors- jalapeno, habanero, serrano, blue agave sriracha, and ghost pepper. I’ve tasted 4 of the 5, except the ghost pepper because I gotta admist I'm a little nervous I can't handle that kind of heat. If you haven't heard of a ghost pepper before, read about it here... yikes. This recipe uses Yellowbird's blue agave sriracha, which I chose because the blue agave adds a nice sweetness which balances out some of the tangy flavors in the recipe.

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Veggie Packed Grain Bowl with Blue Agave Sriracha Tofu

serves 4ish

 

Ingredients:

1 package of firm tofu (about 15 ounces)

4 cups raw broccoli

2 cups riced cauliflower

1 cup brown rice, raw

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 small purple cabbage

Black and white sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

Blue Agave Sriracha Sauce:

1/4 cup tahini

1-2 tablespoons Yellowbird Blue Agave Sriracha hot sauce

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

2 cloves of garlic (or 1 teaspoon minced)

1/4 teaspoon salt

water, to thin

 

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

2. Cut tofu brick in half so that you have two thin bricks equal in size. Place each piece on a folded paper towel on a plate and press to get as much liquid out as you can. Repeat this a few times until the tofu feels more dry. This is the key to getting crispy tofu.

3. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Evenly spread out the tofu and bake for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

4. Combine rice in a large saucepan with 2 cups of water, sesame oil, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook for 25-30 minutes until water has absorbed.

5. Cut broccoli and carrots into bite sized pieces. Toss with a little olive oil, then bake on a separate baking sheet for 15-20 minutes.

6. Slice cabbage into very thin slices. You can also use a mandolin or shred in a food processor if you wish.

7. Add all sauce ingredients to a small blender and mix well. I ended up adding about 3 tablespoons of water, but you can adjust accordingly.

8. Add riced cauliflower to the pot with the brown rice and mix well.

9. When the tofu is done cooking, add it to a mixing bowl with half of the sauce and toss well to coat.

10. Assemble bowls (or tupperware) with cabbage, rice mixture, broccoli, carrots, and tofu. Top with the remainder of the sauce, and sesame seeds. Add a little more Yellowbird Blue Agave Sriracha hot sauce if you like things spicy.

 

Recipe notes:

This recipe is great for meal prep as it can easily be divided into tupperware.

Gluten free and vegan.

 

This blog post is part of a paid collaboration with Yellowbird Sauce #YellowbirdPartner

Find there products in a store near you here.

my day job - part 2

As discussed in my last post, my full-time job is working with patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). There is a large body of emerging research supporting the benefits of a plant-based diet for people with CKD. This diet would include nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, and many other foods traditionally discouraged in this population. One of the many reasons why a plant-based diet may be beneficial is that humans do not absorb the phosphorus in plant foods as readily as they do animal foods. This is because much of the phosphorus in plants, such as nuts and beans, is bound to phytates which humans do not absorb. To someone who has had CKD for a long time, recommending a plant-based diet might seem a little crazy since it goes against what they have been taught in the past, but the research to support this diet is strong. Almost everyone that I talk to with CKD tells me that they are trying to limit nuts and beans, if not avoiding them altogether. Because of the newer research about plant-based diets, and the numerous health benefits of plant protein such as nuts and beans, I try to help patients focus on getting appropriate (but not excessive) portions of these foods. This recipe uses chickpeas, which are lower in potassium and phosphorus than most other beans. It also limits portion to a half cup serving. While traditional pesto uses pine nuts, this recipe uses walnuts, which contain about 2/3rds the potassium and phosphorus per ounce as almonds and many other popular nuts.

A low sodium diet is important for people with CKD to normalize blood pressure and prevent excess weight gain from fluid. It’s important to use a variety of seasonings in order to flavor foods when salt is being limited. Olive oil and lemon juice are both great options. Added salt in this recipe is limited to 1/8 teaspoon per serving (less than 300 mg sodium), which easily fits into a low salt diet with about 2000 mg sodium per day.

The recipe I created below using FLAVIS fusilli pasta complies with low sodium, low potassium, low phosphorus, protein controlled diet guidelines, while being 100% plant based.


pasta with product.jpg

FLAVIS Fusilli with Spinach Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup FLAVIS fusilli pasta

  • 1 cup chickpeas (canned, no salt added)

  • 1 cup broccoli florets

 

Spinach walnut pesto:

  • 1 oz walnut pieces (about 1/4 cup)

  • 1 cup baby spinach, raw

  • 1/2 cup fresh basil

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions:

1. Add all of your pesto ingredients to a small blender/food processor and blend until smooth. Add a little water to thin, probably about 2-4 tablespoons.

2. Cook FLAVIS fusilli pasta according to package directions.

3. While the pasta is cooking, steam your broccoli. Add to a microwave safe bowl with about 1 tablespoon of water and microwave for 3 minutes until cooked.

4. Drain pasta. Add back into the pot and mix in the pesto, broccoli, and chickpeas. Enjoy!

 

Nutrition information (makes 2 servings): 485 calories, 9g protein, 73g carbs, 12g fiber, 335 mg sodium, 615 mg potassium, 155 mg phosphorus

pasta without product.jpg

My Day Job

Although most of my social media presence comes from cooking meals at home, my "day job" is actually working full time at a hospital. I work with patients with kidney disease who are trying to get or have already received kidney transplants. Many of these patients also have diabetes. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has perhaps the most confusing dietary guidelines out of all chronic diseases. Many of the foods people think of as healthy have traditionally been discouraged for people with CKD. This is all in an attempt to keep blood levels of potassium and phosphorous within normal limits. In addition to these restrictions, people with late stage CKD are also told to limit their protein intake, since too much protein can further damage the kidney. This population has to become expert level nutrition label readers, and they soon learn that potassium and phosphorus are truly in everything. FLAVIS is a company that creates food for people with chronic kidney disease. Their products are low in potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and protein. In addition, their products are high in fiber, a nutrient that is often lacking in the traditional CKD diet. This recipe uses FLAVIS brown bread to make a vegetarian breakfast strata. Check it out below:

strata with packaging.jpg

Kidney Friendly Vegetarian Strata

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of asparagus, finely chopped

  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 1 portobello mushroom cap, chopped

  • 1 cup red onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 1 small loaf Flavis bread (10 slices), cubed and hardened *see below

  • 1/2 cup goat cheese (4 oz), crumbled

  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

  • 8 large eggs

  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

 

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Add zucchini, red pepper, mushrooms and onion; sauté until tender. Add garlic, thyme, and pepper, then sauté 1 minute longer.

  3. In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, nutmeg, and black pepper. Add half of the parmesan cheese and half of the goat cheese.

  4. Coat a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Layer half the bread cubes, vegetables, and the rest of the parmesan cheese. Add another layer of bread cubes and vegetables. Then pour milk mixture over the top. Top with the rest of the goat cheese.

  5. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until strata is brown at the edges and set in the center.

Cooking and Servings Tips: To harden bread, cut into cubes and let sit uncovered for at least 2 days to get stale. Alternatively, you can cube and bake at low heat around 250F for 20-30 minutes.

Nutrition information (makes 8 servings): 272 calories, 14g protein, 19g carbs, 5g fiber, 16g fat, 6g saturated fat, 315 mg sodium, 265 mg potassium, 247 mg phosphorus

2 servings of the vegetarian strata

2 servings of the vegetarian strata

As mentioned above, it is important for people with CKD to limit their potassium intake. Potassium is found in many foods, but especially fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Limiting these foods makes it difficult to meet dietary fiber recommendations. Interestingly, fiber intake is also important in regulating serum potassium levels because people with CKD become more efficient at excreting potassium in their stool. So how are people supposed to get enough fiber without getting too much potassium? FLAVIS brown bread provides 3 grams of fiber per slice, while also providing negligent levels of potassium and phosphorus. The recipe also provides a half cup vegetables per serving. Lower potassium vegetables were chosen in order to meet dietary guidelines.

In addition to the previously mentioned plant sources of potassium, dairy also contains significant amounts of both potassium and phosphorus. This recipe uses almond milk, which has about half the potassium and phosphorus of dairy milk. Rice milk is actually the lowest potassium/phos option, but lacks the creaminess needed for this dish. Although this recipe does contain two different types of cheese, the lower potassium/phos options were chosen in order to add flavor without exceeding nutrient guidelines. Almond milk is also lower in protein than cow's milk, keeping the total protein of this recipe at 20 grams.

12 ways you can reduce food waste and decrease your carbon footprint every day

April is earth month, so you’ve probably seen various posts and announcements about ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of these changes are as small as printing double sided or turning off lights when you leave the room. Other changes are grander, such as converting your home to solar power or buying an electric car. But one of the most effective environmentally friendly changes that people can make actually starts with daily habits surrounding food choice. Two of the major causes of our planet’s deterioration are pollution from plastic waste, and greenhouse gases from the farming of livestock. These are two issues that can be tackled by every person every single day by making more thoughtful food choices. In addition to the effect our dietary habits can have, we can also aim to be more efficient with our use of food by aiming to decrease food waste as well as plastic associated with food packaging. Below are 12 simple changes that you can make, most of which would take minimal time out of your day.

Dietary Changes

Eat more plant-based foods. This is a big one. Maybe the most important one on the whole list. When most people think of vegan diets, they assume those following them are doing it because of animal welfare and/or health. While that may be true in many cases, plant based diets also have huge benefits for the environment. Believe it or not, our planet's food supply is actually in jeopardy because of all of the land dedicated to feeding and producing meat. But you don’t have to go full vegan to make an impact. Try limiting meat to one meal a day instead of 2-3 meals. Or designating a few days a week where you don’t eat meat. Plant based diets may require a little more creativity with meal planning, so I’ve included some of my favorite plant based recipes at the end of this post for inspiration. For more information, check out #EatForThePlanet 

"The livestock system is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions... that's more than the entire transportation sector combined." -Eat for the Planet

Use your leftover herbs to make sauce.For whatever reason, fresh herbs seem to only be sold in quantities suitable for a small army. Instead of breaking off a few sprigs and letting the rest get moldy in your produce drawer, use the extra to make a sauce or puree. These will typically keep for longer than the fresh herbs, or can be frozen for later use. Two of my favorites are a green tahini or a pesto.

Use what you have. Be flexible with your recipes. Vegetables can be easily swapped based on what you already have available. A recipe might call for kale, but if you already have spinach in your produce drawer then that can easily be substituted. Other good examples include asparagus instead of green beans, broccoli instead of brussels sprouts, or diced red pepper instead of carrots.

Freeze food that’s about to go bad. Fruit is the perfect example of this. Fruits and vegetables are among the most commonly wasted foods in the US, likely in part to their short expiration dates. If you have fruit that’s about to go bad, peel it and throw it in the freezer. It can be thawed later to make smoothies, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or into a healthy jam.

Plan before you cook. Knowing roughly how many servings you’re making will help you to know how much rice, pasta, or meat to cook. Rice and pasta expand hugely when they’re cooked, so people often over-estimate how much they need to pour out when it’s dry. Planning ahead will help to avoid a Tupperware of food that sits in your fridge uneaten until it goes bad.

Do inventory before you shop. How many times have you picked up spinach at the store, only to see that you already have half a bag in the refrigerator? Unless you’re Popeye, you’re probably not going to eat all of that before it gets soggy. So you can either a) see steps 3-4, or b) do a quick inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before you head to the store. This will save you money by not buying the same thing, and will reduce food waste.

Plastic and Packaging Related

Plastic is problematic because it breaks down and disintegrates into the water. This harms wildlife and our clean water supply. Read more herehere, and here.

Share a trash can at work. Most of us who work in an office have our own individual trash can at our desks. We probably use it every day, but it rarely gets full to the top, and often will just have a few dirty napkins or an empty yogurt cup. But the employees who clean the office have likely been asked to empty these trash cans every night, which is a huge waste of plastic bags. Try having a communal trashcan for you and your surrounding coworkers in order to reduce the use of trash bags. Using one bag between four coworkers instead of one each will slash your area's plastic bag use by 75%.

Stasher bags. These things are amazing. They’re made of silicone and much sturdier than a flimsy sandwich bag. They come in multiple sizes and can be refrigerated, microwaved, and put in the dishwasher. Perfect for storing food in the fridge, pantry, or transporting food and snacks to and from work. Not sponsored, I'm just obsessed. Shop here. Alternatively, you can try the brand LunchSkins.

Reusable grocery bags. Bringing these bags with you to the store will save anywhere from 1-10 plastic bags depending on how big of a trip you’re making. Not to mention they’re much more durable and can typically hold more in one bag. If you already bring a purse/briefcase to work every day, it can be helpful to throw a bag or two in there for those last minute after work errands.

Say no to bags in general. Many stores will automatically bag your items, even when they really don’t need to be. Think of when you buy a salad that you’re about to eat and they bag it, or when you buy a greeting card from CVS and they throw it in a bag. Get in the habit of saying “no thank you” in these situations to minimize unnecessary plastic bag use.

Opt for real silverware. When given the choice, choose metal silverware in social situations, cafeterias, or in the break room at work. If real silverware is not available, you can always bring your own to work if you have a place to put it after (back in your lunchbox, wash and keep in your desk, etc).

BYOB (watter bottle or cup): While this tip isn’t exactly a novel idea, it’s still important to remember to bring your own water bottle to work, on road trips, to the airport, and to the gym.

Recipes

Firecracker vegan lettuce wraps by Pinch of Yum

Butternut squash mac and cheeze by Oh She Glows

Cuban Quinoa Bowl with Spicy Lemon Cashew Dressing by Heather Christo

Review of Sea to Table

Sea to Table is a company that sources sustainable, wild-caught seafood from fisherman around the country. Much of the fish in your local grocery store is likely farmed. Although farmed fish does still share some of the same health benefits of wild-caught fish, it also has its downsides. Farmed fish typically contains antibiotics, hormones, and/or GMOs. In addition, farmed fish can often have more fat (and not always the good kind of fat!) than its wild counterparts. Read more about that here. Even when you’re able to find farmed fish at the grocery store, it can be difficult to know exactly where the fish came from. Sea to Table operates via full transparency, and you can also be happy to know you’re supporting American fishing communities. The fish arrives frozen and portioned. You can thaw and eat that night, or keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to prepare it. I chose the starter pack, which included salmon, shrimp, and cod. 

I did receive the product for free in exchange for my honest review, however these opinions are totally my own.

Seafood arrives pre-portioned and packed with dry ice.

Seafood arrives pre-portioned and packed with dry ice.

Night 1: Alaskan Coho Salmon

Salmon is a regular in my rotation, but I’d never had this particular variety before. The quality looked better than I was used to just from taking it out of the package. The color was lighter than the popular sockeye salmon, which makes sense because it does have a more mild flavor. Salmon’s most well known health benefit is its omega 3 fatty acid content. While everyone needs a mix of several different types of fats in their diets, those with a high proportion of omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have several benefits. Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory. In addition, they can also help raise HDL (your good cholesterol) without raising your LDL (bad cholesterol). I paired the salmon with a vegetable red curry and roasted sweet potatoes. It was based off of this recipe, which does happen to be Whole30, but that wasn’t actually intentional! Read this fellow RD's thoughts, which I happen to agree with, on Whole30 here. The flavors went well together and the salmon flavor was not overpowering since coho salmon is a more mild fish.

6 oz portions of Alaskan coho salmon, thawed in the refrigerator overnight. 

6 oz portions of Alaskan coho salmon, thawed in the refrigerator overnight. 

Salmon paired with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetable red curry. Mine in the front (4 oz salmon) and my boyfriend's in the back (8 oz salmon).

Salmon paired with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetable red curry. Mine in the front (4 oz salmon) and my boyfriend's in the back (8 oz salmon).

Night 2: Wild Gulf Shrimp

Shrimp is another fairly regular protein in my dinner rotation. It’s also a great gateway fish for those who are unsure that they even like seafood. Shrimp does have a fairly healthy reputation, but has also become known for its high cholesterol content. Despite its high dietary cholesterol content, shrimp is very low in saturated fat, which has been shown to have a greater impact on blood cholesterol levels. This means that overall, it is still a heart healthy choice. It’s also a rich protein source, providing about 26 grams protein per 4 oz portion (which is the portion shown in this photo). Something else to consider, and yes this sounded kind of hilarious to me at first too, is that shrimp fraud is actually very common! What is shrimp fraud, you ask? It essentially means that the shrimp product you're buying is not actually what the label says it is. This study showed that up to 30% of shrimp products sold are misrepresented. Examples could include purchasing shrimp labeled "wild" when it's actually farmed. Sea to Table takes the guesswork out of that, which is something that's important to me.

Now let’s get to the good part- the food! This recipe is so easy and I’d highly recommend it to even a beginner cooker. I marinated my shrimp in stasher bags and let them sit for 12 hours in the fridge, but the recipe says you can marinate for as little as 15 minutes if you’re in a hurry. Paired the shrimp with steamed broccoli and brown rice for an easy, balanced meal.

Honey garlic wild gulf shrimp with steamed broccoli and brown rice

Honey garlic wild gulf shrimp with steamed broccoli and brown rice

Night 3: Northwest Pacific Cod

Cod is a very lean fish, which means its low in total fat and high in protein. It’s flaky, delicate, and very versatile for cooking. The flavor is pretty mild, so it may be a good choice for people trying to avoid an overly “fishy” flavor. Sea to Table offers Pacific cod, which from what I’ve read is a better option right now because the east coast cod is somewhat over-fished, but the west coast populations are abundant. Because I was the least familiar with cod, I wanted to find a recipe with minimal ingredients so that I could get a sense of the true flavor of the fish. The cod was seasoned only with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Full disclosure, this was my least favorite of the three BUT it may have been my fault because I dropped the ball and forgot to defrost it beforehand. Sea to Table recommends defrosting in the fridge (not the microwave), but since I had forgotten to take it out of the freezer, I had to put it in the microwave which dried it out a little. Flavor was still great, just a little dry. The recipe included a simple white wine sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes, which helped moisten things up a little. I paired it with sautéed spinach and Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro for a super simple weeknight dinner.

Pacific cod with farro, spinach, and tomato white wine sauce

Pacific cod with farro, spinach, and tomato white wine sauce

Packed fish comes with information so that you can trace the origins of your fish.

Packed fish comes with information so that you can trace the origins of your fish.

All in all, I would highly recommend Sea to Table. The quality is fantastic and they do all the research for you so that you know you're getting a healthy and sustainable product. And the whole delivery thing doesn't hurt either! Check them out here.

FAVORITE HEALTHY SNACKS

People that know me know I LOVE snacks. While I can certainly appreciate the beauty of classic potato chips or some gourmet cheese (or sometimes both), the majority of the time I try to grab something healthier. In my mind, the ideal snack gives you both protein and carbs. I also prefer it to have either fiber or a healthy fat, to help you feel satisfied. Lastly, it’s important that you like the taste! That might sound silly, but if I don’t truly enjoy eating something, then it doesn’t satisfy me. For example, I’ve never been a big fan of rice cakes, so you won’t find those on this list. Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite go-to snacks:

Brami snacks:

These are pickled lupini beans, which is something I’d never heard of until I saw these snacks on the shelves of a CIBO Express Gourmet Market at LaGuardia. They basically look like giant lima beans, with a slightly tangy and salty flavor from the pickling. The nutrition profile is spot on: 25 reasonably sized beans have 60 calories, 7g protein, 7g carbs, and 6g fiber. Talk about perfection. My favorite flavor is garlic and herb, but they’re all worth a try.

Flavors: Sea Salt, Chili Lime, Garlic and Herb, Balsamic and Herb, Hot Pepper

brami sea salt.jpg

 

Roasted chickpeas:

If my love for chickpeas isn’t obvious enough from my food photos, then it certainly is now. These are a great snack because they have the crunch of a chip or cracker, but provide more protein and fiber. There’s salt (100-260 mg per serving), but not so much that they’ll leave you feeling fluid overloaded later. My favorite flavor is sea salt (am I boring?), but there are several others to choose from. One ¼ cup serving provides 130 calories, 6g protein, and 6g fiber. Last but not least, these babies are great for traveling or keeping at your desk because they don’t need to be refrigerated.

Suggested brands: Biena FoodsWatUSee foods

biena-chickpea-snacks.jpg

 

Popcorn:

This snack is a classic. Movie theatre popcorn gave it a bad name because of the gobs of salt and butter, but there are lots of great brands out there. Look for those with less than 65 calories per cup. Bonus points if it’s made with ingredients you can pronounce, like spices and real cheese (none of the fake stuff!). Popcorn has a good amount of fiber, usually about 5g per serving, which helps keep you full. Because it’s light and fluffy, a serving size of popcorn tends to be larger than many other foods, which may make it more difficult to overeat.

Suggested brands: Skinny PopBoom Chicka PopIndiana Popcorn

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Toast:

I don’t mean your grandma’s plain old boring toast. Load it up with nut butter, vegan cream cheese (hi Kite Hill chive), hummus, or mashed avocado to keep things interesting. Make sure to choose a whole grain bread. Some of my favorites include Trader Joe’s soft multigrain rustic bread or Food 4 Life Baking Ezekiel bread.

Photo: avocado toast from  Bluestone Lane  in NYC

Photo: avocado toast from Bluestone Lane in NYC

 

Greek yogurt or skyr:

My love for Siggi’s runs deep, but I’m actually not totally brand loyal. ChobaniDannonIcelandic Provisions, and several other brands make great high protein yogurt. These have a great protein:carb ratio to help keep you satisfied. If you don’t feel like a yogurt would fill you up alone, try adding a half cup of fresh fruit. This will only add about 40 calories but will up the fiber content and add some sweetness. Another great (and pre-mixed!) option is Muunacottage cheese. I just discovered these a few weeks ago thanks to a fellow RD pal and I’m really into them.

siggis.jpg

 

 

Hummus with a cracker/veggie/chip combo:

As much as I love chips, I find they’re easy to overeat. The serving size is often deceptively small, and if I don’t eat slowly then I tend to go overboard. That’s why I find it helpful to dip both vegetables (low calorie + fiber) and one serving of chips/crackers (carby salty goodness) into a few tablespoons of hummus. Whole grain chips or crackers are your best options because they have more protein, fiber, and micronutrients. These combined with fresh vegetables and creamy hummus make for a satisfying snack.

hummus.jpg

REVIEW OF BLUE APRON MEAL DELIVERY KIT

I decided to give Blue Apron because my boyfriend and I like to cook and had heard a lot of good things about these kits. You pick the menu items ahead of time, and they deliver a box with all the ingredients you'll need packed in dry ice. The package was really exciting to open! My inner hippie got a little anxiety when I thought about all the potential waste from packaging, but it was actually a lot less than I thought it would be. It was also so nice to have all your week’s groceries just dropped off at your door, even for someone who kind of loves grocery shopping. The directions are very easy to follow and go in a logical sequence. Now let’s break down the meals:

 

Monday: Paneer and Lentil Masala

I was a little dismayed when I saw the nutrition information—800 calories per serving seemed crazy! I mentally went through ways to dietitian-ize it, such as using less oil when cooking and swapping the heavy cream for unsweetened soy milk, but ultimately I decided to just stick with the recipe. I’m actually glad I did, because the cream made a big taste difference (in a good way). The nutrition information also didn’t seem quite so bad when I saw the portion sizes. To me, this meal could comfortably fill 3 people. Everyone is different though, so others may feel it could feed 4 while some may agree with the 2 servings per package. Taste-wise, I really enjoyed this dish and was glad for the opportunity to cook with some spices and ingredients I don’t generally use. My primary criticism is that I would have liked for there to be more vegetables. We had some leftovers so I put them in a Tupperware and added some shredded carrots to get an extra serving of veggies in, which was really tasty!

Overall consensus—would definitely make this recipe again, but would add some shredded carrots and diced tomatoes when cooking, and would divide into 3-4 servings.

Paneer and Lentil Masala

Paneer and Lentil Masala

 

Tuesday: Korean Beef Steam Buns

First impression before even making them was, “wow, these things aren’t the healthiest”. But then I remembered that we didn’t pick this one because of the nutrition—we picked it because we loved the pork buns we had last month at a Thai restaurant in the village and thought it would be fun to recreate them at home! That being said, I still went through a mental checklist of what vegetables we had in the fridge and tried to think of ways to incorporate them. Knowing that we had red cabbage and carrots, I googled “Asian cabbage carrot slaw” and tons of results came up. I was happy to know we’d have some low-cal veggies on the side of this indulgent dish. The buns themselves were delicious and fluffy, which is exactly what we wanted. The sweet potato tempura was a little difficult to execute so might not be great for a beginner chef.

Overall consensus—some things should be left to the professionals. The buns tasted good, but they weren’t nearly as good as the ones we had from a restaurant. 

Korean Beef Steam Buns with Sweet Potato Tempura

Korean Beef Steam Buns with Sweet Potato Tempura

Wednesday: Barramundi and Herbed Couscous

This was definitely my favorite meal of the three, but I may be a little biased with my love for fish. I had never heard of this fish before and was a little disappointed when I looked into it more to learn that it was farmed. This meal gets major points for the difficulty level (or lack thereof!). It was so easy and would be great for anyone who’s busy or who doesn’t have a lot of experience cooking. The honeynut squash are so cute! Plus you don’t have to peel them and they’re really easy to cut. The taste was a lot like acorn squash or butternut.

The fish portions were adequate for the recommended 2 servings, but we did have leftover squash and couscous, which I was able to repurpose into dinner the next night with chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, and extra spinach. Win-win!

Lastly (I’m starting to sound like a broken record here…) I’d add more vegetables if I made it in the future. Extra spinach in the couscous felt necessary to balance it out.

Overall consensus— this was a winner. I'd make this recipe again, but would add more vegetables. And I've already gone out to find honeynut squash!

Barramundi and Herbed Couscous with Honeynut Squash

Barramundi and Herbed Couscous with Honeynut Squash

Overall impression:

The biggest perk was the convenience. I didn’t feel that these meals were much healthier than getting take out, but they can definitely be veggied up a little if you have extra vegetables in your fridge. I’d recommend checking the ingredients list and the nutrition information before ordering so that you can make an educated decision. I did enjoy the taste of all of them, which is obviously very important! Not sure if I’d order again, but I am interested in trying some of the other meal delivery kits to see how they’d compare. They could be great for weeks when you’re coming back from traveling or have a lot going on and don’t have time to grocery shop.