Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Customizable Taco Bowls

If you're like me, you love when a good meal comes together with minimal time and work. Now, I do love spending time making a super nice "gourmet" meal from time to time. But, let's be honest, it's just not realistic to do that every day, or even every week for most of us. These days, especially, I appreciate quick and easy meals that are also delicious, healthy, and satisfying. 
This is one of those meals. And it's easy....stupid, my Boxer could make it. (he can be pretty stupid sometimes. Sorry, Bryant, it's true.)

These taco bowls(or glorified taco salads if you will) kind of remind me Chipotle, and, depending on what you use in them, could totally be a Chipotle fake-out. You can use just about anything you want. Ground beef, ground or shredded chicken, ground turkey, even steak or shrimp. 
I make these at LEAST once a week and my husband and I practically inhale them. 
I love the flavors of a taco, but I really don't like dealing with the crunchy shells that fall apart and spill out all of the ingredients all over my plate. 

With the bowls, you get all the flavor with none of that mess. The leftovers make for the perfect lunch the next day.

For this post, I'll share the recipe as I usually make them. Like I said, though, these are completely customizable to your liking.

Meat mixture:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 taco seasoning packet (I use the reduced sodium)
1 can Ro-tel (I don't drain this)
1 can corn (drained)
1 can black beans (drained)

- Brown ground beef and drain grease. Sprinkle in taco seasoning and stir well. 
- Add in your Ro-tel, corn, and beans and let it all simmer together for 10 minutes or so. Bam. Done.
- I layer my bowls with lettuce, then a little brown rice, the meat mixture, and then add my preferred toppings. I love avocado, tomatoes, a little salsa, cheese, and jalapeƱos. The possibilities are endless. If you don't want to do the rice, toss in some Fritos or tortilla strips for some crunch.

Optional toppings/additions:
sliced jalapeƱos 
cubed avocado
squeeze of lime
diced tomatoes
shredded cheese
*(any kind you like; salsa verde would be so good with chicken or shrimp)
black olives
reduced fat sour cream
chopped cilantro
Fritos/tortilla chips
brown rice
shredded lettuce

I realize this recipe isn't fancy, nor is it rocket-science....and that a blind goat could make it. But any recipes that can deliver delicious flavor in a small amount of time with minimal effort, well...I consider them worth sharing. 

And now, here it is...breakfast time, and I'm already excited about today's lunch....since it's leftovers from taco (bowl) Tuesday. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meal Planning

I've been talking for a little while about how I'm eating better and living a healthier lifestyle and all that. One thing that really helps me stay on track (as it does just about everyone) is meal planning. Now, I used to do monthly meal planning but I just found it to be a little overwhelming and hard to stick to. I try to eat minimally processed (or not processed at all) foods as much as possible. Of course, it's just about impossible to go through life without eating any processed food. (plus, who doesn't want an Oreo or some Froot Loops every now and then??)
These days, I plan for a week at a time and I find it is much better for me. I typically stick to it (although I may swap up a couple days here and there according to what I'm in the mood for) and it makes grocery shopping easier, too.

Here's what a typical week of meals looks like.**

**A few things:
1. Most days I do not have a mid-morning snack. I just don't need it. My breakfast usually keeps me full and I'll have my lunch most days around 11:15 or 11:30 while the kids are playing. That way, I can focus all my energy on them and their lunches(and pick up dropped sippy cups a minimum of 13 times per twin), and eating earlier allows me to actually sit and chew my food. ;-) 
I did put in some healthy snack options that I do or would have if needed.

2. For the 24 day challenge, I gave up coffee. It was hard but I did it. Since then, I have integrated ONE cup a day back in diet. Yes, I use Splenda & a little Coffee-mate creamer. I tried liking Stevia and Truvia but I'm just not a fan of their tastes...or price tags. Rarely, I will also have an afternoon cup, but it's usually as a treat on an extra cold day. Most days I have a Spark in the afternoon with my snack as a pick me up. Speaking of AdvoCare, I am now a distributor, so if you are looking to purchase any products or try out the 24 day challenge, feel free to contact me if you don't already have a distributor. I'm also here to help answer any questions you have. No, I won't annoy you to buy anything. That's just not my style. But I will help you in any way I can. You can follow this link to go to my personal distributor page for more info.

3. I do not cut carbs out of my diet. (and you shouldn't either!) However, I do try to keep my carbs (grains, starches, etc) mainly to breakfast and lunch meals. For dinner, I may have a small portion of brown rice or 1/2 a sweet potato. Most days, though, I have my complex carbs before dinner so I limit them at night. Just my preference.

4. I try my best to load up on lean proteins, TONS of veggies and fruits(especially berries). I can eat my weight in cheese, so I have to be careful not to add a little to everything. I do add in a small sprinkle to my taco bowls, "stuffed" BBQ chicken sweet potatoes, chili, etc. I just try to be mindful of how much I use because it adds up fast. 

5. I used to be a big night time snacker. That was where I really wrecked my healthy eating for the entire day. A couple cookies, small bowl of ice cream, some popcorn, or a bowl of cereal were my favorite late night treats. These days, I don't allow myself to eat after dinner....or at the latest, 7pm. I'll just brush my teeth to ward off the desire to snack. IF you have to have a little snack so you don't go to bed hungry, make it a smart choice. A small apple and a little PB, a slice or 2 of turkey with some Laughing Cow or mini Babybel cheese, some Greek yogurt, or some almonds.

6. Give cauliflower mash a try. I was such a skeptic for the longest time, but if done right it is so good. I use it in place of mashed potatoes at least once a week. Roasted cauliflower is another winner. Takes the nasty raw cauliflower taste away and is so simple and yummy.

7. I allow myself one "treat" meal a week. It's usually on the weekend, for breakfast or lunch, or sometimes it's just a special dessert treat or something. This weekend I had a red velvet cupcake(well, just half of it, 'cause I split it with Joseph) but I also made some whole wheat chocolate chip banana pancakes for Sunday breakfast, with some turkey bacon. It wasn't exactly a "splurge" meal but it felt decadent and it was very satisfying. It makes it much easier to be "good" throughout the week if you have that treat to look forward to. I even froze the leftover pancakes so they'll be a cinch to heat up next time I want some. ;-)

There are one or two meals we especially love and they always end up on our weekly menu. We love the taco bowls (and it's seriously the easiest thing to make and customize) and turkey burgers. I make both of these at LEAST once a week. We also love some simple grilled chicken once a week and we just switch up the veggies we have with it. Grilled chicken is so versatile and can be used in so many things.

Can you tell I like Larabars? Ha! Have you discovered them yet? Oh my goodness, they're so good. I personally prefer the blueberry muffin, apple pie, and chocolate chip brownie flavors. They're vegan, kosher, non-GMO, gluten free, etc. Such a good snack to have at home or on the go.

Do you and your family do any meal planning? Do you have any favorite healthy go-to meals?
I'm always looking for some new ideas. ;-)

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Favorite Salad

I am one of "those" people who loves a good salad. Always have. Even as a little girl, you could pretty much always find me at the salad bar if we were out at Shoney's or another buffet restaurant. "I'll have the soup & salad bar" was my order on the regular. 
Now, if there's one salad I could eat for the rest of my life (assuming calories didn't count), it'd be one with fried chicken tenders, cheese, bacon, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, and ranch dressing. I am a self-proclaimed ranch snob, and in case you're wondering, Shoney's was the BEST, which was the main reason I frequented their salad bar. ;-) Since I haven't visited a Shoney's since probably my high school years (after Friday football meal, anyone?), I've had to find other establishments who serve outstanding ranch dressing. I've found Baumhower's is pretty much the bomb. 
Outback's is an honorable mention, but it can sometimes be a little peppery for my taste.

But before we get so far off topic that I can't find my way back, let's get back to the best salad ever.
Over the years, I learned to appreciate different types of salads. These days I love it with some fruit, grilled chicken or turkey, and a light vinaigrette. Let's face it, a 30 year old's metabolism is not the same as that of a 16 year old(curse you, hormones!), so the days of eating fried chicken salads with all the cheese, bacon, and a gallon of ranch dressing are behind me.

Today, my salads look a little more like this.
A gross, cloudy day didn't make for the best lighting in my kitchen for pictures. Bummer.

Here's what I now call my favorite salad.

What you'll need:
- grilled chicken breast
- dried cranberries
- thinly sliced apples(I used honeycrisp)
- cup crumbled goat cheese
- chopped pecans
- mixed greens
- cider-honey vinaigrette**(recipe below)
(I'm not giving you any specific measurements because that's ultimately up to you. Maybe you don't like a lot of cheese, but like more apples and cranberries. It's all personal preference and a little change in ratio of these ingredients isn't going to make a big difference in the yumminess.)

How to make it(as if you couldn't figure that one out):
Grill you up a chicken breast (or use precooked if you choose). Slice it up so it's easy to just stab and stuff in your mouth. I hate when I'm served a salad and I have to cut up the chicken. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Toss together your salad greens, cranberries, apples, goat cheese, and pecans until it's all evenly distributed. You want to get a taste of everything in every bite. 
Top with sliced chicken breast and drizzle with a little vinaigrette. I use 1-2 tbsp. You don't need very much, especially once you toss it all together.
Toss again for good measure and devour!! Try not to lick the bowl, I dare ya!

You can also add some croutons for more crunch. I'd say you can sub feta for the goat cheese (and you totally could), but I urge you to try out the goat cheese if you haven't before. It's tangy and creamy and it just sort of melts in with the salad and coats everything. Oh, how I love goat cheese.

**Cider-Honey Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 tsp dijon mustard
2-3 tbsp honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together first 3 ingredients until well combined. Then, slowly drizzle in olive oil (while whisking constantly) until it emulsifies and thickens. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of s&p to taste. If it's a little too strong on the vinegar flavor, you can add a little more honey.

It's so easy and so tasty with this salad and really any other salad you want to make.

If you've never tried this kind of salad before, you should give it a try. You might be surprised by its deliciousness.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Valentine's Day Date Ideas (That Don't Involve a Crowded Restaurant)

Joseph and I aren't big on the commercial holiday that is Valentine's Day. I mean, is it nice to get a box of chocolates and some roses? Of course! But I'd rather get those on a random Tuesday just because he thought of me instead of a day where he's guilted into it by some radio ads or a chick on TV saying "He went to Jared." I can also go buy myself a big ol' box of chocolate truffles any day I want. Which might be Saturday, once my challenge is over....but let's stay focused.

It is nice to slow down and just enjoy some time together...and sometimes it takes a "holiday" to make us do that. And while I certainly love going out on a date with my man to a nice restaurant for a good meal where sippy cups and chicken nuggets aren't being pelted at the wall or my head, that can get old, especially on the ever-popular V-day night.

So, I thought I'd share some Valentine's Day date alternatives to the crowded, rushed, routine restaurant experience.

1. Make a day of it!
Who says the date has to be at night? If possible, arrange for an entire day out with your sweetie. Start with a hike outdoors if it's a nice day, then maybe a tasty brunch. You can spend the afternoon seeing a movie, going to a shooting range (is that weird?), attending a wine tasting, sampling different pastries at a local bakery(can you tell I'm dying for a cheat meal?) and then round out the day with dinner and some coffee after watching the sunset.

2. Get in the kitchen together.
After the kids are in bed, or if they're with the grandparents, cook a delicious meal together. It could be something as simple as homemade pizzas. If that's not quite your thing, there might be some places that offer special Valentine's Day cooking demos in your area...usually the price includes, at the very minimum, the meal and a tasting of wine.

3. Take a weekend trip.
This doesn't have to be anything extravagant, and it can even be camping (if that's your thing). Take a quick overnight trip somewhere to get away and just spend some quality time alone together. Whether you have kids or not, it's nice to get away to a different environment and take in new scenery together.

4. Do something as a family.
So you don't feel the need to do something alone as a couple? That's great! Take the family out for some fun. A trip to the zoo, an aquarium, the park, or a children's museum is a great way to spend the day.

5. Movie night.
Get the popcorn and Raisinettes (not Goobers!) ready and rent that movie you've both been meaning to sit down and watch. Have a quiet night in after the kids go to bed with a movie date at home.

Spending time together is about just that....the time together. Whether you're getting all fancy for a nice dinner and dancing, or if you're in your PJs on the couch nodding off to a movie at 9pm (not that I'd know anything about that last one), spend the time however you want to spend it. Don't feel pressured to give into all the "cliche" things everyone else is doing.
Isn't that some cool thing the kids say these days?
Anyway, Valentine's Day doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. It doesn't have to be anything if you don't want it to be.

However you decide to spend it, I hope you enjoy it. :)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Guilty Pleasures

We all have a guilty pleasure (or 8), don't we? And don't you dare say no, either! ;-)

For some of us, maybe it's trashy reality TV, eating ice cream straight out of the carton, or perhaps it's that occasional Grande Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino from Starbucks?
Whatever your guilty pleasures are, you're definitely not alone in having them. 

To prove it, I'll share a few of mine with you.

1. Raise your hand if you enjoy watching the disasters that are the girls on The Bachelor?? 

Y'all, can I just say I absolutely hate the idea of "finding love" on a stupid reality TV show that's staged, overly-dramatic, and the relationships have the same success rate as Kirstie Alley has had in making her comeback as a relevant actress. (too harsh?)

Oh well,

2. Sugary cereal for a bedtime snack. 
More specifically,


Don't worry, this isn't a nightly thing (although I'd be fine with that). Come Saturday when this Advocare 24 day challenge is over, I fully plan on enjoying a bowl (or 2) as a treat for being so disciplined.

3. Diet Coke

I'm a water drinker, but occasionally I splurge and have a nice cold Diet Coke (or a Diet Coke with Vanilla from Sonic) and it's just perfection. Water's great and all, but it's good to keep your body guessing, right? ;-) YOLO.

4. Cheesy, pop songs, especially those circa late 90's-early 00's.


Don't hate.

5. Ridiculously awesome, sarcastic, hysterical memes.
This should be an obvious one, especially if you follow me on Instagram.

Speaking of stuffed-crust pizza....add it to the list, too!!

As you can see, I could go on all day. I'll spare you.

So, what are some of your guilty pleasures?

Don't worry, it's totally OK to have one....or 10, as long as you can own up to 'em.