Cranberry Almond Energy Bites

I don’t know about you, but I’m a snack-a-holic.

I’m one of those people who has to have snacks on hand — in the purse, in my desk at work,etc — because if emergency hits, snacks are essential. And by emergency, I mean it’s been more than 2 hours since I’ve eaten. 

I kid, I kid.

But I do keep snacks on hand because while I can go more than 2 hours without eating, when the hunger monster does strike it’s really not pretty. Plus, without healthy snacks at the ready, being hangry can do some crazy things to the brain, such as forcing you to down an entire bag of Goldfish crackers without stopping to breathe. Not that I know from personal experience.

On this token though, keeping healthy snacks on hand can be a challenge in and of itself! Many prepackaged bars and other convenience foods, whether labeled “healthy” or not, often include tons of sugar, preservatives, or ingredients that just don’t belong in my body on a daily basis. While there are a handful of bars and pre made snacks out there that I have come to love due to their short, natural ingredient lists, sometimes it’s nice to make your own. Am I right?

Today’s recipe can be thrown together in about 15 minutes, and will give you enough energy bites to last the week. Unless you fall so in love with them that you down them by the handful. Be careful — you’ve been warned!

I made these last week on a whim–  I just threw a bunch of ingredients together in my kitchen and ended up loving the flavor combination. Not only did I love them, but so did Will, and trust me when I say that he’s the biggest critic of bars/snacks/etc.

And because of this, I decided to throw them together again this weekend, only this time I actually measured everything so that I could share them with all of you!

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Cranberry Almond

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As the recipe states, these will make about 16-18 bites. Due to the combination of ground almonds (I just pulsed mine in my Vitamix about 6-10 times) and peanut butter, these are calorie and energy dense!! Just 2 make a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or as a pick me up before a workout. A great mix of protein, healthy fats, and a small amount of carbohydrates, these are sure to give you just the energy boost you need when hunger strikes.

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*Note: I use crunch peanut butter because that’s my preference — I’m a texture gal! Of course you could substitute creamy here. Also, if you are using unsalted peanut butter, I would add a pinch of salt to really bring out all of the flavors.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Almond Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal

Today I’m sharing with you a recipe I came up with for my new obsession: baked oatmeal.

I have heard a lot about it, but had never had it before until this weekend. The day after Thanksgiving, Will and I headed out to a local place for brunch. After all that I had eaten the day before, I honestly wasn’t too hungry and really wasn’t in the mood for my typical brunch choice of juevos rancheros or something similarly heavy. The small cafe that we went to, CafeMantic in Willimantic, CT, was having a special “Black Friday Brunch”, with lots of delicious options to choose from. As soon as I looked at the menu, the baked oatmeal option caught my eye, and then I couldn’t get my mind off of it. It seemed like the perfect warm breakfast on a cold morning, without being too much after the previous day’s feast.

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The baked oatmeal from CafeMantic. My inspiration!

And boy was I right! It was absolutely delicious with flavors of cinnamon and brown sugar, and walnuts to add a little heartiness. Whenever I had heard of baked oatmeal in the past, I always just assumed that people ate it by itself, but this was served in warm steamed milk, which was absolutely delicious. I knew I must make this, and did as soon as we got back to Boston later in the weekend.

I searched the internet and read through several different recipes to start thinking about ratios of ingredients. Through my internet search, I saw that traditional baked oatmeal is made with a mix of milk and butter, but I knew that I wanted to use almond milk for mine, since we don’t often have cow’s milk in the house. I also wanted to make mine a bit less sweet than the restaurant version; it was a wonderful treat at the time, but I didn’t want to have something as sweet as theirs every day. I traditionally make my own oatmeal with just banana cooked in, no extra sugar, so I wanted this to be a similar level of sweetness.

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Ingredients

2 C Organic Old Fashioned Oats

1/3 C brown sugar

1/4 C almond slivers

1/4 C walnut pieces

1/4 C raisins

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon (+ extra for serving)

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

2 C Almond Milk (unsweetened)

1 large egg

2 Tbs unsalted butter (melted)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 large apple, chopped into small cubes (I used Gala, Honeycrisp would also be great here)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 and grease an 8×8 baking dish OR a deep dish pie plate.

In a large bowl, mix together oats, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together almond milk, vanilla, and egg. Add in melted butter at the end, mixing constantly until fully incorporated.

Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add in chopped nuts and dried fruit and mix until incorporated. Fold in apple pieces, and spread mixture into baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the oats feel “set”. The final consistency of the middle will be similar to a bread pudding. Keep watch after 35 minutes to make sure that the top doesn’t get too crispy (unless that’s what you’re going for)!

Cool on a wire rack to desirable temperature.

Serve warm in a bowl with warm almond milk, sprinkled with a little bit of additional cinnamon on top.

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Notes

This is also delicious straight out of the refrigerator, so it’s perfect for a quick breakfast during the week that can be made ahead of time. A serving heats up in about 30 seconds in the microwave, and one batch will make about 6-8 servings — perfect for Sunday meal prep for all of you folks who are too busy to make breakfast each morning.

As I’ve mentioned before, we make our own almond milk, which I prefer over most store-bought varieties. For instructions on this, please read here. Also note that making your own almond milk is extremely easy, and I definitely recommend trying it at least once if you’re an almond milk fan!

Simply use certified gluten free oats to make this gluten free, and you could probably substitute coconut oil for the butter if you wanted to make it dairy free.

 

Enjoy!

Make Your Diet Work For You

There are so many diet and food plans out there, from juicing (don’t even get me started on this trend), to paleo, to the more extreme Whole 30, to Weight Watchers and everything in between, there is something for everyone to try. The hope is that you will find something that works for you, but what the experts don’t always tell you is that sometimes that takes a little — ok a lot — of hard work on your part. I would never recommend that everyone eat paleo, or that everyone follow in intermittent fasting type of diet, because I honestly don’t think that there is one style or plan that will work for every single person. Never mind food preferences, taking into account religion, culture, schedule, family, time and financial restrictions, it’s pretty ludicrous to group everyone into one diet category.

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One thing we can do though, through some sleuthing and (sometimes frustrating) trial and error, is figure out what works for you and your body. And when I say what “works” for you, I don’t just mean what makes you lose weight or lose body fat, what I mean is the diet and meal plan that fits within your lifestyle, making your every day better instead of creating more stress in the process.

If you feel like you have to eat paleo because all of your best friends are doing it and because so-and-so blogger claims that it’s the best, but it’s causing you more stress and financial strain to keep up with, is it really the best plan for you?

Don’t you think it would be more beneficial to find something that fits within your unique lifestyle, while still allowing you to be the healthiest version of you? I sure do. And that’s why I strongly believe that you must make your diet work for you. You should not feel like you are a slave to a certain dietary style, depriving yourself at every turn and feeling miserable all the while. Want to be mostly paleo but still eat bread or dairy once in a while? That’s totally fine in my world, as long as you’re doing so in a healthful way. The problem is that when people do something part-way like this, they tend to feel guilty, like they’re doing something wrong. There’s nothing wrong about making healthy choices for yourself, and more importantly, you should never feel guilty even if those choices don’t fit your prescribed “plan”. Because the plan has to fit you.

From a personal standpoint, I’ve tried a handful of dietary styles over the past couple of years, a couple purely out of curiosity or health reasons and a few really just to report back on the blog. I’ve tried gluten free, intermittent fasting, carb backloading, and a modified Whole 30. I’ve gone sugar free, grain free and dairy free at multiple points along the way. My biggest take away from all of these? There was not one complete plan that fit my life 100%.

When I tried Intermittent Fasting (IF), I found that I leaned out quite easily, but became stressed about such a strict eating schedule every single day, often having to bring all three meals to work with me. I liked it, but it was kind of a pain due to my work schedule. Carb Back Loading (CBL) was a total fail for me, leaving me one carb-free meal away from becoming homicidal. Gluten free is easy for me, but I’ve realized over time that gluten really has no ill effect on me, so there’s honestly no point in avoiding it all together. I’ve realized that I feel great when I’m sugar free, but it’s really tough (and no fun!)  to live a life of 100% sugar free-ness all the time, and I’ve also found that I feel better when I do include some grains in my diet, believe it or not! As you can see, there have been good and bad (with the exception of CBL, which for me was just bad, bad, bad) with each dietary style that I’ve tried, so what in the world tells me that I have to stick with just one?

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I think the more important thing is finding something that you can live with, that you want to live with, rather than eating in a way that you think you are “supposed to” but that makes you unhappy. To be honest, ever since I started paying attention to healthy eating and nutrition years ago, a lot of the things I used to find delicious just don’t appeal to me anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still love treats and certainly eat my fair share of cupcakes, but I’m no longer drawn to the loads of processed junk that I used to eat on a regular basis. Maybe that’s a product of becoming older with a better paycheck, but I think it’s also a product of teaching my body over time how much better it feels when the foods going into it are actually nourishing, and not just chemical-laden flavor bombs that are found in every aisle of major grocery stores.

But eating to nourish yourself and to keep yourself healthy does not mean that there is one set of rules that you must follow. We all have unique tolerances to certain foods, we all have unique preferences. So why take that away with one standard set of food “rules” that we’re all supposed to abide by? Just because your friends are paleo doesn’t mean that you have to be paleo as well. Just because your friends are gluten free, doesn’t mean that eating gluten is making you fat. There’s a lot of confusion out there about what we all should and shouldn’t be eating, and besides some very basic guidelines (eat your veggies!), there is a lot of room for variation while still being healthy. It just might take a little bit of work to find your specific balance between nutritionally healthy and happy, but it’s worth it, I promise.

On Monday I’ll be back with a breakdown of my own dietary plan that I’ve come up with over time and how I got there. This is the plan that works for me and makes me feel my best, without making me feel like I’m living by a set of someone else’s guidelines that don’t even work for me.

Readers: Do you follow a specific diet plan? Have you ever strictly followed a plan such as Whole 30 or Weight Watchers? Do you find it easier to have strict rules regarding your eating or does that stress you out? 

Healthy “Tuna Melt” Stuffed Pepper

Hi all, and happy Friday!

Here I am, on day 5 of my 30 day health reboot. I’ll write a bigger post with more detail about how it’s going, but I will tell you that I feel GREAT. I went on a crazy carb bender last weekend before starting this thing, and was feeling so sick after that that I couldn’t wait to start this “reboot”. Now, 5 days later, my body feels light, clean and refreshed. Yes, I’ve had a couple of tired days (on day 2 I almost fell asleep at work), but I know that’s just my body readjusting to the lack of quick energy through sugar.

Overall, I haven’t had any cravings or had any really negative experiences such as irritability yet. We’ll see how this weekend goes though, as I’ll be away at a conference and we all know that sticking to a strict eating plan is much more difficult on the road than at home. My plan is to just bring along a bunch of snacks that I know are in-plan, so that I won’t be left starving or searching for food last minute. Almonds and apples, it is!

Now, on to today’s recipe. I had the day off on Wednesday, so I was able to get a little more creative with my lunch than what I usually bring to work. I had a few veggies on hand and some tuna, so I originally planned on making a big tuna salad. What I came up with instead though, was much more satisfying!

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Let me preclude the recipe by saying that a good tuna melt is probably one of my all time favorite foods. But as an ultimate comfort food, with buttery bread, mayo, and gooey melted cheese, it’s just not something I can justify having every day. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had one.  This healthy version that I created can’t totally live up to the real thing, but when does a “healthy” version of something ever really end up as good as it’s fat-filled, calorie laden counterpart?

Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious, and I can guarantee that physically, I felt 100% better after eating this than I would have after eating a traditional tuna melt.  I also want to add that it is mayo-free, as mayo tends to give me a killer stomach ache. I almost always mix my tuna salad as it is listed below — I’m still amazed at how many ways I find to use plain greek yogurt!

Healthy “Tuna Melt” Stuffed Pepper 

 (gluten-free, grain free, mayo-free)

Ingredients: 

For theTuna Salad:

1 can tuna fish

2-3 Tbs Plain 2% greek yogurt

1 Stalk celery, finely chopped

1/2 Avocado

1 tsp stone ground mustard (I use Organicville Organic Stone Ground Mustard)

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Additional Ingredients:

1 large red bell pepper, cut in half

1 slice sharp cheddar cheese

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Instructions: 

Mix the ingredients for tuna salad, adding salt and pepper to taste. I kept my avocado in chunks, but if you are dairy free and prefer to make this without yogurt, you could always mash up the avocado instead and use it to mix the tuna (I might use a whole avocado in that case). Scoop half of the mixture into each half of bell pepper; place 1/2 slice of cheese on each half. Place under broiler for a few min (watching carefully) or in toaster oven for about 5 minutes, until cheese melts and stuffing is warm.

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Enjoy!

Again, you can easily make this dairy free by using just the avocado instead of yogurt, and by also eliminating the cheese. I’ll definitely be making this more often, as it was a very easy, delicious and filling lunch, while still being incredibly healthy.

Readers: What are some of your favorite comfort foods? Do you have any healthier versions of them that you make?

To Wheat or Not To Wheat

I recently finished reading Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. It’s a book that I’ve been hearing about for months, but that I honestly avoided because it seemed like everyone who read it became absolutely obsessed. Now I know why.

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I have very mixed feelings about this book. I’ve taken away a lot of good, but also still have a lot of questions. I made sure to read it with a critical eye, because I didn’t want to simply believe everything he was saying just because it was in print. I think I did that well, and over the past week or so have spent time gathering my thoughts about where I stand on the great wheat debate.

If you haven’t read the book yourself, I do strongly suggest you read it. There is some great information in the book, and even if you don’t completely eliminate wheat from your life, it’s helpful to be armed with this information to at least start making some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle.

My biggest question after reading Wheat Belly is this: Are all of our problems actually coming from the wheat, or is it really just the overabundance of sugars in our diet? If you don’t have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, is it really the wheat that is harmful? Or is it the 60-70% of daily calories that come from carbs for many Americans?

I know that the author points to a lot of science and research regarding this, and he seems convinced that it is, in fact the wheat. And before you say “but wheat has been around for centuries, blah blah blah”, the Dr. Davis makes it very clear that the genetically modified wheat that we consume today is no where close to the wheat that was around even 100 years ago. That, to me is a scary thought, that we have genetically modified some foods so much that they practically aren’t even the same food that they once were in the wild. Creating crops that can be grown quickly, with high yield and at low cost is on one hand brilliant science, but on the other hand possibly harming our insides slowly and silently.

Another thought that I had while reading was that it seemed to me that the author was kind of using scare tactics to get his point across. Someone who believes everything they read might come away from this book believing that if they continue to eat wheat, they’re going to develop a severe neurological disorder and/or heinous skin rash. It is scary to think that wheat could play a part in many of the diseases and disorders we see today, but people also need to realize that there are many, many people who eat wheat for their whole lives and never develop these life threatening diseases. (Or are there?). It is amazing though, the amount of disorders, diseases, rashes, etc. that can potentially be exacerbated by wheat products. I’ve had mild psoriasis my entire life; could it be cleared up by simply eliminating wheat from my diet? It’s an interesting thought.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t know what I’m saying. I definitely don’t think he’s incorrect, but I’m also not positive that everyone needs to eliminate wheat completely from their lives. But should we all cut down drastically on the wheat products we consume? Probably. (See, I told you I don’t really know what I’m saying).

So what am I going to do? Am I going wheat free? Well, not completely, not for now. What I have done since I’ve started reading the book is actively eliminating most wheat products from my diet. Notice that I didn’t say grains, but wheat specifically. I’ve still been eating oats and brown rice in the grain category. I have had some wheat products here and there, but extremely sparingly. I must say that the times when I string together several completely wheat free days back to back have been great. I’m not a huge bread/pasta/cracker eater on an every day basis, so this hasn’t been too difficult for me. Dr. Davis also included some very tasty looking wheat-free recipes at the back of the book, so I’m actually looking forward to trying some of them out. Maybe when I do so I’ll let you all know how they come out!

I think my plan for the immediate future is to eliminate wheat as much as possible, but I’m not going to get crazy about it. I don’t have celiac, so if a little bit of gluten creeps into my day, I’m going to be just fine. I’ll stick with this for a little while, and then may go completely wheat free for a while, but we’ll have to see.  I don’t necessarily know if wheat is the devil, but I do know that it is not the healthy diet staple that the ADA would like you to think it is. I am in full agreement that wheat should not be the base of our entire diet, and that many people would see some great health changes if they decreased their wheat intake, and increased other parts of their diet such as veggies, eggs, and organic meats.

Maybe this is a slow transition into paleo for me, maybe not. All I know is, I still have a lot of questions, and you should too. Are there things that you are eating every day, disguised as health foods but that are really doing more harm than good? Possibly. Books like Wheat Belly may feel like brainwashing, and they may seem extreme, but to me, this information is worth looking into. Who knows, eliminating wheat may improve your life in ways that you would never expect (but maybe it wont, to be totally honest). Is it worth it to try? That’s up to you.