Lunchtime. It can be the meal that gives you energy and clear thinking in the afternoon, and fuel an evening workout ...or not.
Most often, it is not. Most people rely on takeout, what’s available at work, or a hastily made sandwich with some cheese and lunch meat. Or they skip lunch completely! *Gasp
Improving lunch does not need to be a
I found some muffin pans on amazon that were BPA-free, and got busy making the batter. You'll be happy to know, these muffin pans make clean up easy! I have four sets now, so I can get everything baked at one time. I freeze one batch, and use one batch for the week.
The original recipe has cinnamon. I recommend Ceylon Cinnamon because of it's ability to support healthy blood sugar, and signal the body of fullness and satiety.
Chai Blueberry Breakfast Muffins
- 8 eggs
- 4 bananas
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups almond flour
- 1 tsp sea salt or pink Himalayan Salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 2 cups of frozen blueberries, thawed and at room temperature.
Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
Combine eggs, bananas, vanilla extract and water in a food processor. Process until the bananas are broken down. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and spices. Mix and add to the food processor. Process until smooth.
There is no need to grease your silicon muffin pan. Place the muffin pan on a cutting board or cookie sheet and then put 1/4 cup of batter and 3-4 blueberries into each cup. Carefully slide the muffin pan ONLY into the oven and bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Allow them to sit for 10 minutes outside of the oven, and then flip the pan upside down. Resist the urge to mess with them for another few moments and then lift up the muffin pan. Many will fall out, the rest will come out with some help.
Store the muffins in the refrigerator with a paper towel (to absorb the moisture).
“Jen, as a health coach, what do you think of all those meal kit delivery companies?”
To be honest, I didn’t have an answer. I liked the idea of getting people back in the kitchen, especially if they would be cooking with more good quality proteins, whole vegetables and healthy fats. However, I had some questions about the cost of the delivery system as well as the minimum level of cooking skills that would be required so I decided to test them myself to find out.
I began with Blue Apron by request. One of the things that was clear immediately with Blue Apron was the reliability of the company. Once I created my account, I could see which meals would be delivered. The box arrived exactly as they said it would, on the right day and before 8 p.m. The ingredients were kept cool by some monster ice packs, and I felt very comfortable with the level of food safety. Because everything is in its own separate container, there was quite a bit of plastic to recycle. Initially I separated the ingredients by recipe with the guidance of the beautiful recipe cards. Then I put them in small baskets in the refrigerator to make it easier to prepare. I really liked having every single ingredient ready. That was a positive aspect of having the meal kits, no need to make last minute substitutions when making a new recipe for the first time.
My daughter Eliza, who is 13 and has been cooking since birth (observing counts, right?), made the first recipe, Ricotta and Beet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Persimmon and Marinated Fennel Salad. The back of the recipe cards give you step by step directions. While she had no problem with grating the beet, dicing the shallot and cutting the persimmon, she was stumped by the fennel. Fortunately, that’s what youtube is for, so we looked it up and then went to work slicing the fennel. After 45 minutes, lunch was ready. Everything tasted good, and the combination of the beet and ricotta was an interesting and delicious combination. We don’t often eat fennel, and have only had persimmons a few times so the variety was good not only for our palettes, but for our bodies. Humans thrive on variety, so falling into those food ruts are not only boring, they are unhealthy!
The other recipes, White Bean and Vegetable Minestrone with Fried Rosemary and Japanese Black Rice Bowls with Sweet Potato Tempura and Soft-Boiled Eggs, were similar in that it took between 30-45 minutes to prepare each meal and we occasionally had to do some research. The variety of the ingredients continued and offered new ideas and experiences for the whole family. Because everyone in my house is open to new tastes and textures, we enjoyed the process and meals. The ratings varied from okay to good. Nothing that we wouldn’t eat, but nothing amazing. The biggest positive takeaway from Blue Apron was the variety of ingredients. Researching and using new culinary skills was a bonus as well.
As an experiment and new experience, I found Blue Apron a lot of fun. Personally, I can’t imagine spending that much time making a meal three times a week. I only cook two or three times a week, and warm up leftovers the rest of the time so this experience had me spending more time making smaller amounts of food. The time each meal took, with the many steps including the research, was fine as a fun experience, but I would not want to count on it for my actual meals. What if no one liked it? What if we arrived home late after a very busy day and I needed something on the table in 15 minutes? For those reasons, I know it isn’t something that I would count on a regular basis.
One of the other things that I also found a bit of a sabotage for my dietary goals was the use of so much bread and pasta. I think we ate more of those in one week that we had in the previous month! While I will keep the recipe cards, I will use the recipes in different ways, like combining the beet and ricotta with some farro to top a salad instead of in a sandwich.
When I went to my account to end my membership, I had the ability to see what would be delivered the following week, and decided to keep it for a second week. Why? Because even with all the steps, the length of time it took to cook the meals, and the empty carbs (which I swapped out for better choices), I simply liked the variety and new ideas. This week I am looking forward to the Sweet Potato, Kale and Mushroom Gratin with Apple and Butter Lettuce Salad. I will go light on the cheese and double the veggies in the Gratin, and I will use a gluten-free flour to make the sauce but making substitutions to recipes is nothing new to me. And while I will not get it a third week (other meal kit companies to test), I have enjoyed the Blue Apron experience.
A few things about the costs of Blue Apron. There are lots of coupons available online, so shop around. I spend $34.00 for my first week thanks Groupon, and paid the full price of $59.94 for my second week. I ordered the smaller size, 3 meals for 2 people, because I wasn’t counting on the meals as part of my meal prep for the week. Make sure to keep the size of your family in mind when ordering.
Have you tried Blue Apron or other meal prep kit companies? What was your experience? Please make a comment! I would love to hear from you!
A quick tip for cooking your grains: always make double or triple the amount! You can freeze the extra batch in one cup portions to be used later in the week in salads, soups and rice bowls.
Summer Day Strawberry or Peach Salad
Ingredients for salad:
- 1 cup farro
- ½ - ¾ cup almonds, chopped or sliced
- 4 cups mixed greens, (I used a kale, spinach, chard combination a few leaves of romaine to add some crunch.)
- ½ cup blue berries
- 2 cups strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup feta
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used Gravenstein Apple White Balsamic from Taste, Oil Spice and Vinegar.)
- 1-2 tsp soft goat cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Start the farro on the stove with a 2 ½ cup water to 1 cup farro ratio. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand for an additional 10 minutes. If using a rice cooker, use a 3 cups water to 1 cup farro ratio and use the brown rice setting.
- Toast chopped or sliced almonds in a nonstick pan for 10 minutes on medium-low for 5-8 minutes shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning.
- Chop and mix greens in a beautiful serving bowl. Add sliced strawberries and blue berries, and gently toss. Make the dressing and mix it with the cooked farro.
- Top greens and berries with the creamy vinaigrette-soaked farro, feta and toasted almonds.
- Serve with icy cold mint and strawberry infuse water.
That’s the beauty of the rice bowl and salsa recipe I will share in a minute; it’s designed to allow everyone in your house to get what they currently need. The flexibility works well for not just busy families, but individuals with changing preferences and needs.
As a busy mom, I need healthy, budget-friendly meals that can be on the table quickly.
As an athlete, I need meals that will fuel my body.
As a health coach, I need to walk my talk and eat the way I ask others to eat.
With all these different needs, flexibility is essential! That’s one of the reasons that I do not define myself as any one thing like vegetarian or paleo or raw. I adjust the way I eat with my activity level, the season, my stress level, my age, and my tastes. And have I mentioned, you should too! When we label ourselves as one thing or another, we put unnatural restrictions on ourselves. This prevents us from truly listening to the dietary needs of our body, and cravings that reveal what’s going on for us emotionally.
When I attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I studied over 150 dietary practices from paleo to blood type, from macrobiotic to Atkins, and everything in between. This has given me the ability to use the best of each practice and apply it in a very personalized way to my clients. I often get a surprised look when can tell someone their blood type after only a few minutes of conversation. While I don’t rely on it exclusively, I find that Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo Blood Type Diet methodology is extremely helpful in supporting my clients to reach their goals in weight, exercise and stress management. But trust me when I say, I do get it wrong sometimes too, because no single diet is right for every person. Again, the personalization and use of only the things that work from various dietary practices are the keys to helping my clients learn what foods work best for their body.
When cooking for yourself, you can simply do what works best for you. Craving protein? Go heavy on the chicken, beans, seeds and nuts. Not feeling satisfied after meals? Make sure you’re getting enough fat to feel satiated. Constipated? Kick up those water heavy vegetables like cauliflower, and all leafy greens like kale, spinach and arugula.
When cooking for your family, significant other, roommates or friends, you may not know what they need, their stress level, their blood type, their exercise level or what they are craving. Can you imagine if you had to have that conversation before you planned each meal? And the minute you have it figured out, it changes!
Is there a solution? Of course! My hope is that the rice bowl concept that I share with you will adapt and change with not only your taste preferences but with the season. Winter rice bowls will be heavy with roasted root vegetables while spring rice bowls will have asparagus and lots of fresh herbs. Every single ingredient in the rice bowl can be changed, including the rice!
Rice Bowls with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Growing Green Tomatoes
Don’t you love meals that you make once and eat for two days? I do! Make sure to reuse the ingredients to make healthy nachos, quesadillas with all the fixings, or mason jar salads to take to school or work.
Ingredients for Rice Bowl
- Rice, prepared
- Other possibilities: quinoa, wild rice, pasta, tortilla chips, farro, etc.
- Romaine, washed and chopped
- Other possibilities: spinach, baby kale, arugula, red leaf, green leaf, etc.
- Black beans, drained and rinsed
- Pinto, white, or refried beans
- Shredded chicken or pork, ground beef or steak
- Peppers (bell peppers or jalapeno for spice), diced, seeds and membranes removed
- Jicama, peeled and diced
- Corn Pepper Salsa
- Fresh Tomato Salsa (recipe follows)
- Grilled or sautéed pineapple
- Tomatoes, chopped
- Toasted pumpkin seeds
- Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt with taco spices
- Cheese, grated
- Avocado or guacamole
Direction for Rice Bowl
Start grains and proteins. While they cook, chop veggies and prepare salsas. Put everything in beautiful bowls and serve buffet style. And try to remember that if full is 10, only eat to an 8! This is wise advice that I rarely follow when I make rice bowls. They are just SO good!
Ingredients for Fresh Tomato Salsa
- 3-5 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 small cucumber, diced into small pieces (peel if skin is tough)
- 1 green pepper, diced, seeds and membranes removed
- 1 red pepper, diced, seeds and membranes removed
- ½ red onion, diced
- 1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped with most stems removed
- Juice and rind from 1 lime
- 1-3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
- 1 poblano (more mild) or serrano pepper (medium to hot), diced, seeds and membranes removed
- ¼ tsp salt
Directions for Fresh Tomato Salsa
Combine ingredients and stir in lime juice. Correct the salt and try to share it with other people.
"One of my earliest memories is of the smell of tomato leaves on my small hands. I was maybe four or five years old, and I clearly remember handing tomatoes to my grandfather and then taking a deep breath, smelling the lingering, earthy smell that would stay with me for a few hours. These early experiences with food began a passion that would motivate me to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, developing my own coaching practice, Growing Green Tomatoes, to support people in changing their relationship with food. The importance of using whole foods from local, sustainable sources like local farmers quickly became high on my list of priorities, along with a necessary component of Kitchen Confidence, a rarely developed ability.
I have found that one of the greatest ways to offer my perspective on food and promote Kitchen Confidence is by teaching classes at local businesses and organizations. The class topics that range from Mindful Eating, Eating Healthy on a Budget, Meal Planning and Prep, Breaking up with Sugar, to Lunch Packing for the Whole Family, and Upgrade your Dinner, have the ability to address many different challenges that people face today when it comes to eating in a healthy way. The classes also give people a chance to experience unconditional acceptance and a new perspective on their existing relationship with food. I always include a recipe demonstration and sample as well because I have found that showing someone how to make a recipe, and then offering them a taste is far more effective that simply giving them a recipe. I also use social media platforms to share my philosophy as well as simple, healthy recipes that can be used as starter recipes to create more Kitchen Confidence, add healthy ingredients to their dietary practices and promote the idea that fueling your body in a healthy way doesn’t need to be expensive, difficult or time consuming. Bringing this unique outlook on food to the clientele of FLY Fitness Inspiration, River Rock Outfitters and Fredericksburg MOPS and other area businesses has resulted in the beginning of an exciting shift of perspective, one that I continue to spread with passion and excitement to our local community.
Another way that I love to help people change their relationship with food is with private and group coaching. When I work with a client to support them to reach their goals one-on-one, the success is incredible! From weight loss, to more energy, better relationships and significant changes in stress management, clients begin to live the life they wished for but never found possible to achieve. I have helped clients learn to understand and resolve their emotional eating cycles, discover exercise that they love, and end self-sabotaging behavior. When I coach a group, we follow a set curriculum, unique to Growing Green Tomatoes, that provides not only education on nutrition, meal planning, meal prep and budget-friendly meals, but also how to create healthy boundaries, and make respect and communication priorities in their relationships
My Corn and Pepper Salsa starter is a great example of how simple it is to eat whole foods that are quick and easy to prepare, and to personalize for your own tastes. This recipe is one that began as a quick, light salsa and developed into a staple for my family. It begins with a base of only four ingredients, and then you add the additional topping that you have available. When I teach, I like to say to remind everyone that a recipe is just an idea; it’s simply a guideline to get you started. What you do with that recipe is up to you! As your Kitchen Confidence increases, you will it easier to play with your food and create your own versions of starter recipes! You will notice a column heading that may seem a bit unusual to find in a recipe, but it’s not a mistake! I view products such as tortilla chips and flour tortillas as simply a way to get healthy foods such as fresh herbs and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, into our bodies! They are no more than a transportation vehicle for the healthy food! Greens are a much better way but it’s okay to have a treat sometimes, too!
Corn and Pepper Salsa Starter
- 2-3 cups of frozen sweet corn
- 2-3 bell pepper, all colors except green, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
- Zest and juice from 4-6 limes
- 1 bunch of cilantro, washed, dried, and chopped
- Avocado or guacamole
- Shredded Chicken, beef or pork
- Black beans, pinto beans, or refried beans
- Greek yogurt with taco seasons (a great substitute for sour cream)
- Jalapeño, with or without seeds and membrane
- Jicama, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
- Tomatoes, diced
- Red onion, diced
- Tortilla chips (healthy nachos)
- Corn or veggie tortillas (soft taco, quesadilla, homemade chips)
- Taco shell
- Greens for a salad
- Butter leaf or romaine lettuce for a lettuce wrap
- Brown rice or quinoa
Combine frozen corn and lime zest and juice in a medium sauce pan. Stir and add bell peppers and cilantro. Warm on low for 10-15 minutes until corn is thawed and flavors have begun to come together. The salsa can be served warm or cold.
Add your optional ingredients of choice and use your transportation vehicle to get all that healthy food in your body!
Not too much to ask, right? I didn’t think so either!
For many people, creating a breakfast that is healthy and fulling is challenging. If you are a blood type O, this soup may need some more protein. If you are an A, it will probably last you until lunch time unless you had a heavy workout. Maybe you don’t like to eat right away in the morning, that’s okay too! Listen to your body and have the soup in a thermos for later so you are not tempted by the quick sugar carbs that are usually available.
Don’t be afraid to change it up and have your leftover dinner for breakfast! Or put your favorite meal in your slow cooker over night for a great breakfast in the morning. We have breakfast for dinner, why not switch it around? It may seem odd at first, but you will find yourself filled with energy and ready to take on your day!
Warm Belly Soup
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 granny apple smith apples (or another variety if you choose)
- 2-3 carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped
- One butternut squash, peeled, and roughly chopped
- One sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
- 1-2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ - 1 tsp turmeric and ginger
- ½ tsp garam marsala
- 1-3 tsp jerk spice, cayenne, or other spice
- 1 can full fat coconut milk to finish
- Optional salt and pepper
Place all of the ingredients into your slow cooker except for the coconut milk. Cook on low for 8 hours then add the coconut milk. Puree and adjust the spices. I have made this three times and each time, I tend to make it focus on a different spice. Once I made it very spicy, another time I really wanted to taste the ginger and turmeric. Start very conservatively with the spices and add more after you do a taste test.
This can also be the start of something much more hardy! How about adding some protein in the form of beans, lentils, or meat? You could serve it over rice or quinoa. You can also use it as a thick broth and add some roasted vegetables. Remember, a recipe is just an idea. Use it as a guide and adjust it to your own tastes!
This is exactly how I discovered my new favorite Fun Friday Night meal, the Burger Bowl.
For years I stayed away from burgers because I felt that burgers were ‘junk food,’ and therefore no longer part of my clean eating practice. I tried the processed, ‘healthy’ burgers only to be disappointed with the taste and shocked by what was included on the ingredient list. Also I didn’t particularly enjoy eating my burger between two leaves of kale or with a knife and fork. It just wasn’t the same as a warm, toasted hamburger bun. The gluten-free versions available in the grocery store offered only a tasteless, preservative-filled alternative.
When I began to make my own burgers, and fell in love with this black bean burger, I knew that I wanted to have the fun of the burger back too. After all, food is fun! Or it should be. And of course there’s the issue of the bun. How could I have all my delicious toppings, avocado, pickles, tomatoes, baby spinach, tzatziki, hummus, salsa, caramelized onions, or onions and still pick up my burger?
That’s when my Burger Bowl was born. A few nights ago, I happen to put my black bean burgers in the first dish I found, a bowl. Then I added some cheese, some slices of avocado, baby spinach and diced cherry tomatoes.
Viola! A Burger Bowl!
My first Burger Bowl, I admit, was tame. Now I go all out with salsa and roasted red pepper, blue cheese and roasted (until crunchy) baby red, purple and white potatoes.
The recipe that I use also does very well as a crumble. I still call it a Burger Bowl. Black Bean Crumble just doesn’t sound the same!
I've modified the recipe to reduce the grains (oats and corn) and increase the salsa and hot sauce. I always make a double batch and freeze the burgers on a cookie sheet, placing them in a freezer bag after they are hard enough to no longer crumble. I also added cheese to my recipe. Feel free to leave it out if dairy doesn't work for you or your family. You can always add cheese to your individual bowls to make a meal that works for your whole family.
2 cans black beans
1/2 cup oats
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup to 1 cup salsa
I tbsp. hot sauce
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pink salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated cheese (Monterey jack, cheddar, or blue cheese are delicious!)
Beginner toppings: avocado, diced pickles, baby spinach, diced tomatoes, red onion slices, grilled pineapple, and sauteed mushrooms.
Taking it to the next level toppings: Hummus, tzatziki, caramelized onions, blue cheese, feta, guacamole, salsa, chutney, and so many more!
So this year, bring on the family and the much improved menu! Thanksgiving, I have you in my cross hairs and I have no intention of letting you get away with stuffing me silly and making me sleepy on the couch! You will not cause me to be filled with gluten and sugar regret for a week. Nope. Not this year!
I hereby reclaim Thanksgiving!
So let’s talk turkey. Basically my only advice here, since my strengths are more in the veggie arena, is to not deep fry your turkey. Yep. I know, sad face. But let’s face it, the price you pay for all that flavor is too high. While healthy fats are your friend, and great for your brain and joints, saturated fats (think all fried foods), are not good for you. The other thing about deep frying is that lots of nutrients are destroyed, so while turkey is a great protein, high in many minerals like iron and zinc, and B vitamins, deep fried turkey provides very little of the original nutritional value. What a waste, right? I agree! The bottom line, roast that bird!
Fortunately for my dinner guests, my significant other is responsible for the turkey. My job? The Magnificent Sides. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling just a tad competitive. I want my sides to blow that turkey away. I want my guests coming back to the buffet table for my butternut squash soup, or the roasted brussel sprouts. I pride myself on converting somewhat reluctant adults into trying small bites of unfamiliar vegetables, this kale salad being one of my most successful ways to accomplish that. Let them eat kale! Okay, too far with the Marie Antoinette quote. But it’s a great salad, I promise.
Lastly, we cannot forget the most important course, dessert! I plan to focus on having sweets without added sugar, so I decided on a family favorite, Raw Apple Bliss, and some pumpkin pie. I’m using the crust from this site, and this filling. I'll use half of a cup of pureed dates instead of the palm sugar in the filling, but feel free to do what’s easiest for you. I love when my desserts add nutrition to the meal, but it’s important to choose recipes that I know I can accomplish. I have many hands to help this year, so I can make things complicated. If I was the only one doing the cooking and cleaning, you can bet I would buy a pumpkin pie and call it a day.
Don’t forget, this day is not about you slaving away in the kitchen. It’s about being together, so don’t be afraid to put them to work when your guests ask if there’s anything they can do. The best conversations often happen in the midst of chopping, stirring, and sampling. It also tends to increase the amount of vitamin L in the food. What? You’ve never heard of vitamin L? It’s my favorite; Love! And that’s what happens when friends and families come together on Thanksgiving or any day to cook and eat together, lots of love!
Have a great Thanksgiving!
I often use the early morning to organize my thoughts into paragraphs. And sometimes into recipes.
Creating The Life Of Your Dreams
Fun Friday Night
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
It's Never About The Food
Life Coaching Tips
Meal Delivery Kit Reviews
Six Month Program
Three Month Program