One of my goals before Baby J makes her debut is to get my freezer filled. I’ve talked to quite a few parents, and other than the standard “sleep while you still can!” advice, the nugget of wisdom I’ve been hearing the most is how helpful it is to have a stash of pre-made food in the freezer for those first few weeks and months with a newborn. This is especially important with where we live—it’s not like we can just run out and get takeout or order delivery—if you don’t cook in the country, you don’t eat. And since you all know that I love freezer cooking, this task seemed like an obvious one for me to tackle over the next few months.
Unfortunately though, I just don’t have the stamina or energy to do marathon freezer cooking sessions like I did pre-pregnancy. So instead of stocking the freezer over a single day, my goal is to slowly fill my freezer over the next few months by adding a few dishes every week. Some will be specially made to fill the freezer, others will just be extras leftover from doubling or tripling dinner recipes. I thought it might be fun to show you all what I’m making each week. Feel free to suggest your favorite freezer-friendly recipes and I can slot them into my plan over the next few weeks. Alright, onto this week’s work . . .
Mac and Cheese
With the nasty weather we had this past weekend (please tell me that was the last winter storm of the season!), I was all about some homemade, cheesy, gooey mac and cheese. Craig isn’t eating gluten or dairy right now for health reasons, so I had a ton of mac and cheese all to myself!
I used this recipe, quadrupled it and baked up a bit of it for dinner. The remainder, I popped into three, aluminum foil-covered square baking dishes. I froze them, and then once they were solid, popped out the wrapped mac and cheese blocks up and then stashed them into gallon freezer bags. They’re now ready to just pop back into the square baking dish when it’s time to cook. They’ll make a great main dish with a simple salad on the side later down the road.
The mac and cheese fresh out of the oven was awesome, and I expect it’ll be just as good baked out of the freezer. I know some folks have issues with freezing pasta-based dishes, but I’ve found that just as long as I cook the pasta just shy of al dente, it ends up working just fine out of the freezer.
Apple Pie Filling
Other than the mac and cheese, this freezer session was all about using up fruit on its last leg. We’ve been nursing our apple stash since the fall (did you know that in the right conditions, with the right varieties, apples can last months and months in storage?), but they are starting to turn—and no longer very good for fresh eating—so it was time to turn the bushel-or-so we had left into some cooked goodies.
First on the docket for the apples was freezer apple pie filling. Pre-made apple pie filling is a pretty common beginner recipe for canning, but I really couldn’t be bothered to head to the basement and pull out all my cleaned and stored canning gear, so I instead decided to freeze it up using a double version this recipe (reducing the sugar, plus subbing in some maple syrup and brown sugar, reducing the water, upping the spices). I ended up filling five quart-sized bags—which are perfect for an 8″-9″ pie.
Stashing apple pie filling may seem like a weird way to prep for baby, but since Baby J is coming in the summer, and summer and early fall in our family is chock full of pitch-ins and parties, having an easy-to-make, delicious dessert to bring will be awesome. If I’m feeling particularly advanced, I can whip up my own pie crust and have a pie in the oven in a few minutes. Or, if I’m looking for something easier, just put a crumble topping on it and call it good to go. And, if nothing else, we can use it on pancakes, ice cream or oatmeal. Plus, it’s just a great way to plow through a ton of sad looking apples.
Apple Raisin Muffins
Dinner seems like the thing that most freezer cooking focuses on, but I want to hit up all meals, and these muffins are going to be perfect for breakfasts and snacks. Of course, most muffin recipes are really just cake disguised under another name, so I tried to make these a bit healthified. I started out with this recipe, and changed it by using all whole wheat flour, cutting the sugar in half, using kefir instead of buttermilk, coconut oil instead of canola oil, plus adding a cup of raisins. I also added a ton more chopped apples than the recipe calls for (gotta get rid of those apples!). After doubling the recipe and adding more apples, I ended up with about three dozen regular-sized muffins. After they cooled, I stashed them a dozen to a gallon freezer bag and froze them. All they take is a quick trip in the microwave for 30 seconds, wrapped in a paper towel, to be warm and as good as fresh baked!
These are so great! Even though I reduced the sugar, by adding more apples, the muffins still taste nice and sweet. And the soft-baked apple chunks make it feel like you’re biting into apple pie. Yum.
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Another fruit I had to use up was a whole bunch of past-their-prime bananas. I sent out a call on Twitter for the best banana bread/muffin recipe out there, and got lots of amazing suggestions! In typical me fashion, I didn’t end up using one particular recipe, but kinda merging a few ideas from different places. The closest recipe I can find to what I ended up doing was this one from King Arthur—although, I used more mashed banana, less sugar, all whole wheat flour, and no cinnamon chips. I also used the leftover crumb/streusel topping from the apple raisin muffins. Because streusel is never a bad thing.
These are quite possibly the best muffins I’ve ever had! With the chocolate chips, they’re definitely more of a dessert muffin, so I’ll probably stick to the apple raisin muffins for breakfast, and keep these guys around for an afternoon pick-me-up with a mug of coffee or tea.
I think that’s a pretty good start to my freezer fill-up! Again, if you have any suggestions of your favorite go-to freezer meals, I’d love to hear them and try them out.
What’s your favorite freezer meal?
There is more than one person in my life that gets a kick out of the fact that there is always food stashed in my purse. It might just be a few dates or a banana, but I hardly ever leave the house without something to snack on. Being prepared with healthy snacks while out and about is definitely one of my cornerstones for staying healthy. When you’re in the middle of a marathon errand-running session and you suddenly find yourself starving, it’s a whole lot easier to shy away from all the not-so-healthy items on the block if you’re prepared with a little somethin’ somethin’. But even I, Miss-Always-Pack-a-Snack, am sometimes caught off guard. Maybe an appointment runs long. Or I get stuck in traffic. Or I get a flat tire. Something comes up and suddenly my packed fruit isn’t quite enough to tide me over. Then, it’s time to implement Operation Find Healthy Eats. If I’m being honest, it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to healthfully navigate menus out there. It might seem like the fast eats world is full of deep-fried potatoes and greasy burgers, but in reality, there are a lot of really healthy, fast options out there—just as long as you know how to find them and how to order them. I figured I’d share some of my favorite tips for eating on the go while still staying healthy. I’ve partnered up with my friends at Panera to show you a real-world example of how I get in, out, and satisfied, without wrecking all my healthy momentum (all while still eating yummy food).
1. Find your spot (or spots).
Knowledge is power. And knowing which restaurants in your area have healthy eating options available is absolutely vital to succeeding in finding a healthy meal. Chances are, you can find something healthy-ish at even the greasiest of spoons, but by landing in a restaurant that has a multitude of healthy options, you’re setting yourself up for success. I have a handful of go-to places in my area that I know I can always count on for healthy eats. Interestingly enough, back in college, when I wasn’t on the healthy-eating path, Panera was one of my go-to spots with my girlfriends. We’d down cup after cup of fancy dessert coffee drinks and enough pastries and sweets to power us through studying for finals. What I think is so cool about Panera is that now that I am big into eating healthy, I can still eat there! It’s one of the few restaurants that have made the transition seamlessly between my old diet and my new diet (and if I want to treat myself, I can still pick up an old favorite). And, because it’s nationwide, it’s one of my spots that happens to be available whether I’m out running errands at home or traveling to a new city.
2. Do some research to find favorites.
I know this is going to sound strange, but I get serious ordering anxiety. When it’s my time to step up and give my order to the server or the person at the counter, I have to really focus and concentrate on getting my order right—especially if I’m making special adjustments or ordering something that isn’t usual for me. I’ve learned that saying “can I have a moment, please?” or letting folks go in front of me buys me some time to really peruse the options, and that helps a lot, but the ultimate weapon to squash healthy ordering anxiety is in your pocket—your smartphone!
I’ve been known to pull into the parking lot of a restaurant, whip out my smartphone and check the menu before ever stepping foot into the restaurant. Most restaurants offer their menus online now, and many of them include ingredient lists and nutritional info. Ahhhh, lots of information with no pressure, no rush, and no anxiety! I can take my time, really weigh my options and walk into the restaurant with confidence knowing exactly what healthy option I want. Bonus: you don’t even have to glance at the not-so-healthy options on the menu or in the display case. You know exactly what you want! You’re on a mission!
And once you’ve nailed down your favorite healthy options—you always have that in your back pocket. For example, since Panera is one of my favorite healthy stops, I have a whole list of tried-and-true noshing options at my disposal. I know I can walk in to any Panera and order a bowl of Vegetarian Black Bean Soup or a Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and stay on track.
3. Look for smaller portions.
It’s no secret that the portion-sizes at many restaurants are absolutely huge—many are actually enough calories and food to serve three or more people! That’s why I always look for the smaller portion options when eating out. Look for lunch-sized or child portions (which are actually much more reasonably-sized for an adult in most restaurants). Or, think about splitting an entree with a friend. Or, if you have a good dose of will-power, plan to save half of your meal for another time. Another option is to look for combo deals. I’m not talking about the supersized #4. A lot of places offer deals (especially around lunch time) where you can build your own meal by pairing small portions of multiple menu items. Panera is one of my go-tos because I absolutely adore their You Pick Two deal. You create your own, reasonably-sized meal by picking two items from the following: half a sandwich, a cup of soup or half of one of their salads. I love this deal because not only are the portions right and the price right, but the smaller portions let you maybe splurge on something a little more decadent. You can get that cup of Broccoli Cheddar soup that sounds amazing, because the small portion size makes it a more reasonable choice than if you were to make your entire meal out of it.
4. Splurge, but in a smart way.
You guys know that I’m a big fan of healthy eating not being limiting. I think that life is too short to not indulge in a cookie if you’re really wanting a cookie. But I think the key to splurging in a healthy way is to do it with a plan. I rarely get the chance to go out to eat, so I almost always figure out a way to treat myself during the meal. A cookie for dessert OR a fancy coffee drink for the road OR big glass of lemonade. Notice the or. When you don’t hit up restaurants often it can be so tempting to get all the options available, but you can still treat yourself without downing 1000 extra calories of sugar. Figure out what you really want, and stick to that and only that. If it’s a cookie, get a cookie. But then get water to go with your meal and skip the post-meal coffee drink. If you really love the lemonade at Panera (I do!), then get that, but skip dessert. If you are in desperate need of a caffeine jolt, get yourself a mocha, and make that your dessert instead of a cookie or cupcake.
So how’d I do?
Well, I was in desperate need of a not-work-from-home-day (sometimes, as nice as it is to work from home, you gotta get out of the house!) and I hit up Panera to grab some lunch and set up shop for the afternoon, and I think I managed to do pretty well! Interestingly enough, I decided that it was time to expand past my healthy favorites, and try something new, so after doing some research in the car, I ended up getting the You Pick Two combination with two items I’ve never had before—a cup of their Turkey Chili and a half Smoked Turkey Breast on Country Bread sandwich. Both options were delicious, and the combo managed to keep the nutrition stats of my meal still reasonable. I think I have some new favorites to add to my list! And, because I can’t go to Panera without getting some of my favorite lemonade, I grabbed myself a regular-sized cup.
All together, I got a very satisfying lunch and I think the nutrition stats are very reasonable:
What are your favorites?
Right now, Panera is asking folks to share with them their favorite menu items (and I encourage you to figure out your favorite healthier Panera item for extra credit) on social media, all for a chance to win one of many $25 Panera gift cards they’re giving out. To get entered to win, just tag a post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter about your favorite meal from Panera with the tag #PaneraFaves. I’d love to see what healthy combos you guys come up with! You can also vote for your favorite menu item at Panerabread.com – MyPanera members will get a chance to win their favorite free for a year!
Win a $100 Panera gift card
Panera has provided me a $100 Panera gift card to give to one lucky Back to Her Roots reader (yay!). To get entered, all you do is answer the simple question: Which Panera Bread menu item is your healthy favorite?
No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
- Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
- Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
- Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
- For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules are available here. This sweepstakes runs from 2/26/2014-3/30/2014. Be sure to visit the Panera Bread brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! Regardless of if your single, attached or anything in between, I hope you have an amazing day full of love. Craig and I are keeping it low-key this year, partly because we’re getting yet another snow storm today. Granted, even if we weren’t getting snow, we’d probably stay in. We’re so boring. And we like it.
My gift to you lovelies on this holiday is another two-week meal plan! Last month’s plan was a big hit, and it’s inspired me to keep coming up with these plans each month. I’m desperately hoping that this is the last month of real winter weather, so to honor that, I’m including lots of hearty, cozy and comfy meals. Just maybe, we’ll be grilling and having picnics by next month’s menu. Maybe?
If you’re new to my meal plans: below you’ll find two-weeks of ideas breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners (including links to recipes). I’m a big fan of meal prepping, so this menu assumes that you’re willing to devote a little bit of time on a weekend afternoon to prepping some recipes in advance. Trust me, a few hours on the weekend can add up to big time savings during the week! To help along with your meal prepping, you’ll find a Food Prep section at the beginning of the menu that lists out what preps you need to make. And at the bottom of the post, you’ll find a free printable menu for you to print out and hang up on the fridge for easy reference. Don’t forget to pin this post so you can easily reference the recipes throughout the two weeks.
The key to making my meal plans run smoothly is meal prepping. This keeps healthy, prepared foods right at your fingertips without depending on processed, convenience foods from the grocery store. I do my meal prepping on Sunday evenings, but any day of the week that you can carve out a few hours is a great time to do it. Here’s what foods you’ll need to prep ahead of time for each week:
- Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies—stash these cookies in a zip-top bag in the freezer once they are cool. They’ll keep for the entire two weeks (and even longer). I recommend doubling the batch if you’re a family of two or more. When you’re ready to eat, wrap one or two in a paper towel and then microwave on high for 30 seconds to warm.
- Homemade Fruit on the Bottom Yogurts—feel free to streamline this by using low-sugar jam and store-bought yogurt. Or, if you find a good deal on single-serving yogurts at the store, sub those in.
- Herbed Egg and Turkey Cups—you can mix these cups up with all kinds of different flavors. Try ham slices with cheddar and chives!
- Hard-Boiled Eggs—HBEs are an amazing, all-natural, protein-packed, grab-and-go snack. We make up (at least) a full dozen of them ever week.
- Whole Grain Waffle Mix—You can either just make up this mix, and stop there. Or, if you’re feeling particularly over-achiever-y, go ahead and warm up your waffle iron and make a big batch of waffles while you’re doing food prep. When they’re finished, stash them in a zip-top bag in the freezer, and then they’re ready for a trip in the toaster on a busy morning. Take that, Eggos.
- Greek Quinoa Salad—This salad is one of my absolute favorite vegetarian main dishes. Quinoa is one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein. It’ll stash in the fridge for 4-5 days, so make a big batch and eat on it during the work week.
- Black Bean Burgers—These are great for both quick lunches and quick dinners. Just go ahead and bake as the recipe suggests, then as soon as they cool, freeze them in a zip-top bag. To heat them up, nuke on high for about a minute.
- Salads-in-a-Jar—Its not a food prep day in our house without making a whole bunch of salad jars! Make both side salad sizes (pint jars) and full-meal sizes (quart jars) when you prep. In the full-meal sizes, make sure to add some sources of protein—chicken, tofu, beans, quinoa, etc.
- Coconut-Pistachio Stuffed Dates—These are a great snack for when you’re craving something sweet. They’ll stay fresh in the fridge for a week or more, so stock up.
- Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies, Homemade Fruit on the Bottom Yogurts, Fruit—Short on time? This is a great grab-and-go breakfast. And the whole grains in the breakfast cookies will keep you full for hours.
- Herbed Egg and Turkey Cups, Fruit, Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter—I like to mix up my breakfasts between sweet and savory. These turkey cups are one of my favorites for when I’m craving a savory meal to start off.
- Apple-Date Steel Cut Oats—Don’t think you have time to make steel cut oats? Wrong! I make mine in the rice cooker (it does the work while you’re getting dressing, putting on makeup and getting ready) or you can make it overnight in the slow cooker.
- Orange Pom-Berry Smoothie, Hard-Boiled Eggs—Whipping up a quick smoothie is a great way to get lots of nutrients fast in the morning. This smoothie is so packed with flavor, you could add in a big handful of spinach and you’d never taste it.
- Whole Grain Waffles with Peanut Butter, Cinnamon and Apple Slices—You can either make your waffles from scratch on a more leisurely morning, or pull some pre-made waffles out of the freezer and pop it in the toaster.
- Egg, Bacon and Cheddar Cheese English Muffin Sandwiches, Fruit—It’s hard to beat a classic egg sandwich. I like to serve mine on whole grain English muffins, but feel free to sub in bagels or whole wheat bread.
- Pear and Cheddar Breakfast Quesadillas—These sound totally weird, but the combo of sweet and savory is to-die-for.
- Greek Quinoa Salad, Whole Grain Crackers—This salad is an all-in-one meal. You get whole grains, you get complete proteins, you get veggies, you get healthy fats. I like to serve it with a handful of crackers for a little crunch.
- Black Bean Burgers, Salad in a Jar (side/pint size)—Skip the drive-thru and instead pack your own, super healthy burger. Pack your favorite burger toppings (I like cheese, lettuce, and tomato) in separate container and stack on your burger once it’s warmed up. Eat it with a whole grain bun, or without.
- Salad in a Jar (full/quart size), Whole Grain Crackers—Make sure to pack in lots of proteins and healthy fats into your full-meal salads in a jar. If you just use veggies, you’ll probably be hungry an hour later (which is never fun).
- Soup in a Jar, Salad in a Jar (side/pint size)—You’ll be making a number of soups for dinners over the course of the next two weeks. Leftover soup makes a perfect lunch! Just fill up a pint Mason jar with your soup and another pint jar with your salad, and you’ve got a great lunch. Bonus, take the lid off, and the soup Mason jar can go straight into the office kitchenette microwave.
- Leftovers—Learn to love ‘em! You’re going to be cooking 14 different dinners over the course of this two-week plan, you’re bound to have delicious, healthy, ready-to-eat leftovers for lunch. Embrace ‘em! Promise me you won’t let all that delicious food go to waste, k?
- Ants on a Log—Kids and adults alike love these. Fill celery stalks with peanut butter and top with raisins. Crunchy, creamy and sweet! Plus, the fat and protein in the peanut butter goes a long way to help your belly feel satisfied between meals. You can also sub in cream cheese or another nut butter if peanut butter ain’t your thang.
- Veggies with Hummus—Dipping carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers into hummus is a great way to get in some veggies and some protein. Just watch your hummus portions! Those dips add up fast. I like to measure out an amount of hummus into a bowl instead of dipping straight from the container. You can also make your own hummus and adjust it to be lighter by going easy on the oil.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs—You can’t beat the protein and grabability of a hard-boiled egg.
- Coconut-Pistachio Stuffed Dates—Around 3pm, do you start seriously craving a candy bar or a donut or something else sugary? If so, these dates are perfect. They’re a great way to get a natural boost of sugar. I like to pair a few of them with a mug of hot tea.
- Fruit—Fruit is the original grab-and-go snack! Make sure you stock up on your favorites at the store. Grab some fresh pears, apples, bananas, clementines, or whatever else fruit looks good to you and reserve it just for snacking.
- Air-Popped Popcorn—You might be used to salty, buttery movie theatre popcorn, but the plain air-popped stuff is actually remarkably flavorful and at only 30 calories per cup, a great filling snack! It’s also crazy cheap. A bag of kernels runs about $2 and will last you forever. Don’t have an air-popper? No worries, just put 1/4 cup of kernels in the bottom of a small brown paper back (think lunch size), fold the top down, lay flat in the microwave and microwave at 100% for 2-4 minutes, or until the popping slows down. For a special treat on movie-night, you can also make homemade movie theatre popcorn.
- Creamy Vegan Carrot and Apple Soup, Whole Wheat Garlic Knots—These knots will stash in the fridge for a few days, so make up a batch and save the leftovers for other soup nights. To reheat, just pop in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes.
- Baked Falafel Lettuce Wraps—This is one of my favorite Meatless Monday meals! If you’re missing the bread factor, serve it with some warm pitas and hummus as a side.
- Zuppa Toscana, Whole Wheat Garlic Knots—This soup is a little more decadent that a lot of the other meals on this list, so serve it on day when you need the extra calories (maybe after a big family hike on a Saturday morning).
- Lentil Sloppy Joes, Sweet Potato Fries—Who doesn’t love sloppy joes? This meatless dinner is a definite crowd-pleaser.
- Broccoli, Cheddar, and Potato Soup, Salad—An oldie but a goodie recipe. It’s a creamy, thick, cozy soup that feels like it’s packed with cream, but it’s actually really light—under 300 calories per serving.
- Portabella Cheesesteaks, Roasted Brussels Sprouts—This weeknight dinner is in weekly rotation at our house. It takes about 30 minutes total to make the cheesesteaks, which happens to be the perfect amount of time to get carmelized, roasted Brussels sprouts.
- Slow-Cooker Fall-Apart Chicken, Cheesy Cauliflower and Farro Bake—Never made a whole chicken in the slow-cooker? Well, you should. The end result is tender, juicy and it literally falls off the bone.
- Drunken Beef Stew—I love one-pot meals, and this is a favorite in our house. You can also make this in the slow-cooker for a yummy weeknight dinner. Grab a piece of whole wheat buttered bread to sop up the leftover gravy in the bowl.
- Shrimp and Cheddar Quinoa with Bacon, Salad—Rushed for time? This dinner comes together in 15 minutes. You might not even have time to put the salad together!
- Cheesy Baked Penne with Spinach and Italian Sausage, Salad—This casserole is a great comforting dinner for a snowy Saturday evening.
- Homemade Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust—Customize this pizza to suit your family’s likes and dislikes. Our favorite combo: pineapple, feta and bacon. Yum! We have pizza once a week in our house.
- Leftover Night—Each week, schedule in a leftover night. If you haven’t used up your leftovers for lunches, now is the time to clear out that fridge. Bring out all the 1/2 cups of this and one serving of that, heat them up and let everyone pick their poison. Today is also a great time to freeze and meals that you have a lot leftover.
- Dark Chocolate Squares—You can buy individually wrapped dark chocolate squares or break a full-sized bar into squares for individual servings. These squares are a great way to add a little bit of a treat to your workday lunch.
- Gingered Hot Chocolate—Spring is (hopefully) coming soon, so make sure to get in your fill of hot chocolate now.
- One-Minute Peanut Butter Cake—This is one of the most popular recipes on my blog, and for good reason! You can go from no-cake to cake in under two minutes. And it’s got inherent portion control!
I’ve also put this menu plan into a printable for you to download and hang up right on the fridge for easy reference (and make sure to Pin this post so you can access the recipes easy on your smartphone or tablet when cooking in the kitchen). I went ahead and slotted the recipes into the standard workweek format (so longer, more time-intensive recipes on the weekends), but feel free to mix it up if your schedule isn’t typical. If this doesn’t work for you, you can at least get an idea of how I’d pair everything together, and use it as a base to make your own menu (maybe using this blank menu planner).
Are you a big fan of menu planning? What are your go-to weekly dishes?
Breakfast has been my jam lately. It’s almost entirely because my morning sickness (what a terribly misleading name) is actually afternoon/evening sickness. I feel awesome when I first wake up! And since I’m itching to get in the kitchen and create things—and onions and garlic are still on the please-don’t-bring-these-anywhere-near-me list—it means my creations are focusing pretty solidly on sweet breakfast foods.
I haven’t been stressing too much about my eating during pregnancy. In fact, my midwives have told me that with continuing morning sickness like mine (going on week 24—yay?), getting in any food and keeping it down is more important than the quality of food. Of course, I haven’t taken this as a pass to nosh on fast food at every turn, but I’m not beating myself up about my dinners of cereal or white toast. Or the occasional trip to Rally’s for their fries. Because, uh, yum.
What I have been doing is trying hard to frontload my days with healthy eats. I try to get in as many healthy fats, whole grains, fruits and veggies before noon, because on most days, come about 3pm, all bets are off.
These breakfast cookies are a great way to help me get into some goodies before my body decides it wants to boycott eating in the afternoon. They are entirely whole grain, they are sweetened with all-natural honey and applesauce—oh, and they’re way tasty. If you’re a big fan of sweet treats for breakfast (think: donuts, pastries, scones, muffins), these breakfast cookies are a nice way to ease you into a healthier sweet breakfast option. They’re sweet, but not eating-cake-for-breakfast kind of sweet. And with that sweetness, you’re getting a ton of fiber, healthy fats, and even a nice dose of Omega-3s thanks to some ground flax seed.
Of course, these cookies aren’t just for breakfast. I’ve also been grabbing a couple of them with a piece of fruit as an on-the-go snack. Basically, these cookies will work for just about any meal of the day. Except dessert. I mean, sure, they’re called cookies, but they’re not dessert cookies.
A bit of a tangent here: for years, when I would try to lose weight, I thought being “healthy” meant that everything I consumed had to be totally, 100% healthy. It was all or nothing. If I happened to slip up and eat a mini-Snickers bar at work, I had ruined everything (drama queen, what). It led me to trying to healthify absolutely everything. I wouldn’t eat dessert if it wasn’t sweetened with applesauce only. I wouldn’t eat pasta unless it was the whole wheatiest, crunchy, hippiest pasta in the store. I wouldn’t even go near a restaurant unless it had healthy, organic options on the menu.
Of course, that just totally set me up for failure. Because life isn’t about everything being healthified. Life is about enjoying a piece of birthday cake that your mom handmade for you (with, gasp, real butter, sugar and white flour). Or eating a big salad of veggies fresh from your garden. Or digging into a bowl of melty, cheesy, gooey mac and cheese after a really rough day at work. Or eating applesauce-sweetened, whole grain breakfast cookies.
It wasn’t until I realize that the world of applesauce-sweetened cookies and the world of melty, cheesy, gooey mac and cheese could actually co-exist that I started to get really healthy. And that’s, obviously, the philosophy that led me to start this blog of mine.
Anywho, I know that sweets aren’t all that important to some people, but because I have such a raging sweet tooth, part of my food philosophy is that, if I’m going to have dessert, I’m going to have dessert. Maybe a small amount. Maybe not every day. Maybe not something terribly decadent every time. Maybe not on a day when I’ve already had a bucket full of melty, cheesy, gooey mac and cheese. But if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. And as delicious as these breakfast cookies are alongside coffee and orange slices in the morning or as a grab-and-go snack, they are not dessert cookies. Promise me you’ll go out and get yourself a hunk of chocolate or a little bowl of ice cream or a piece of cheesecake and not eat these cookies for dessert, k? You deserve a better dessert than these.
End of PSA. Onto the cookies!
Cookies for breakfast? Absolutely! These whole-grain, lightly-sweet cookies are a great way to kick your day off right. If you're pressed for time on most mornings, make up a big batch of these on a slow weekend and freeze. A few seconds in the microwave, and they're just like fresh-baked!
- 1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or other mild-flavored oil)
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, eggs, vanilla extract, applesauce and honey until well combined. Set aside
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, oats, flaxseed, baking soda, cinnamon and raisins until well combined. Add in the wet ingredients and stir until completely mixed. The batter will be wet. Allow the batter to rest for 5 minutes (this helps thicken it a bit).
- Spoon rounded tablespoons, two inches apart onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to cooling rack to cool completely.
P.S. You may have noticed that I’m slowly switching over to a brand new, fancy way of displaying my recipes. Please bear with me while I make the transition! When it’s all done, you’ll be able to share, print and save just like before, but also make grocery lists and menus, plus find coupons and deals for the ingredients you need to make my recipes. I’m excited!
Are you a sweet or a savory breakfast person?
Let’s all do a collective knock on wood, but I think I may have turned a corner with my morning sickness. The food aversions are still strong, I’m still trending toward sugary foods instead of savory ones, and I still don’t have much of an appetite after 3pm, but as far as actually queasiness and tossing my cookies? It’s been all but gone this week. I really hope this trend keeps on keeping on. It feels so nice to eat like a human again! And, the most amazing part, I actually feel hungry again. I haven’t really felt like eating for months, I’ve just been eating because I know I need to. But to actually feel hungry and to satisfy that hunger with food is amazing!
It’s the little things. Okay, onto my eats from yesterday . . .
After passing out promptly at 7:30pm the night before, I woke up at 5am absolutely ravenous. My big breakfast thing lately: frozen waffles. I made up a huge batch of these honey coconut whole wheat waffles (I really need to share the recipe with you guys, because man, they rock) and they are just stashed in the freezer waiting for a 5am trip in the toaster. I topped mine with a touch of maple syrup. Alongside, I had a bowl of wildberry whole milk yogurt (from this place, loving their dairy products) topped with some chopped plum and some blueberries. I also snagged a banana, because fruit is my life right now.
Breakfast #2 was a Larabar, pear, and a Fage Total with Cherry. Fage Total is my absolutely favorite Greek yogurt, and the kind with the cherry is out of this world. I can normally only find it in 0%, but Whole Foods had the whole milk kind this week. Yay! I also had a mug of decaf, with cream, maple syrup and coconut oil.
For a morning snack, I made a snack plate. I love these snack plates because they remind of the days when I used to pack myself bento boxes for work. On this plate: carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, apple slices and peanut butter, and a few peanut butter cookie date balls. Worth noting, I used raw peanuts to make those date balls this time, and they aren’t nearly as good. Raw peanuts taste so much like a bean (which makes sense, since they aren’t actually a nut, they’re a legume). So these bites are a little…bean-y. But still edible.
Even though it doesn’t photograph very pretty, lunch was a good one! Since I tend to have no appetite in the afternoon and evening, I decided to start making lunch my main meal (which is what a lot of experts recommend is the healthiest way to eat anyway). I made up a batch of not-so-normal beef stew. Craig’s on a special diet for health reasons, and it means some of his veggie intake is limited, so instead of carrots and potatoes you’d normally find in beef stew, I put in rutabaga and zucchini. A little weird, but still tasty! Alongside, I had a couple of slices of buttered bread. Because stew isn’t stew without something to sop up all the yumminess leftover in the bowl.
For an afternoon snack, I whipped up a smoothie. In the mix: banana, vanilla almond milk, an avocado, a dollop of peanut butter, a (tiny) handful of baby spinach, and a big, ole hefty scoop of unsweetened cocoa. Such a good combination. It’s like drinking pudding. Worth noting: this is the first dose of any kind of dark, leafy green I’ve had since October. I really need to be making more green smoothies and tricking myself into eating more greens.
And of course, dinner was my typical bowl of cereal. I had some shredded mini wheats with banana. And then right before bed, I dug into a yogurt and a peach. One day, real dinners will return, I promise.
Big thanks go out to Jenn at Peas and Crayons for hosting this fun food-filled party. If you guys haven’t clicked over to the main WIAW post yet, you should! There are so many fun eats and so many new blogs to discover.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten so far this week?
Popcorn gets a bad rap a lot of times as far as snack foods go. I understand why—the stuff that comes in the bags from the vending machine or from the concession stand at the movie theatre is packed full of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and flavors, and more hydrogenated oils and salt than anyone should be consuming in a snack. And don’t even get me started on the microwave bags of popcorn. While there are some natural and organic options out there, the vast majority of microwave popcorn is loaded with a laundry list of chemicals and general nastiness.
Popcorn itself is actually a crazy delicious, crazy healthy snack food. If you air pop your kernels (in either the microwave, a popper or on the stove), you can eat a whopping three cups of the stuff for less than 100 calories. And in that 100 calories, you’re getting a hefty dose of healthy whole grains, vitamins, minerals and a very satisfying crunch. And if you’re strapped for cash, it’s hard to beat the affordability of air-popped popcorn. By skipping the boxes of microwave popcorn and heading straight for a bag of kernels, you can save a boatload of cash. Bagged kernels cost about 400% less on average than the microwave stuff (and, obviously, a ton less than the concession stand variety).
To air pop in the microwave, all you need is a small brown paper bag and some popcorn kernels. Put a couple of tablespoons of kernels in the bottom of the bag. Fold over the top of the bag twice. Place on its side in the microwave and zap on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the popping slows. Eat. Easy, peasy.
But let’s get real here—sometimes air-popped popcorn is boring. And the truth is, movie theatre and microwave popcorn is freakin’ delicious (especially when mixed with Reese’s Pieces—try it next time you’re at the movies—my gift to you). It’s buttery, it’s salty, and it evokes such awesome memories of date nights at the movies as a teenager and watching Friends re-runs with my girlfriends in the dorm. Sometimes, you just want some butter on your popcorn. But if you’ve ever tried to use straight melted butter on homemade popcorn before, you know it has it’s issues. Namely, because butter has such a high water content, it makes the popcorn almost instantly soggy. No one wants soggy popcorn! To avoid this, movie theaters actually don’t user butter at all, and use butter-flavored oils (yuck), but you can use butter at home, just as long as your clarify it first.
It sounds complicated, but clarifying butter is actually a breeze in the microwave, and it removes enough of the water to leave you with buttery, perfectly crunchy popcorn. Let me show you how I make my movie theatre popcorn at home on the stove.
First up, gather those ingredients. For a large batch of popcorn (enough to satisfy 2-4 movie snackers, or one pregnant lady who is eating popcorn for dinner), you’ll need a 1/2 cup of kernels, 1 stick of butter (salted or unsalted, either works), salt, and two tablespoons cooking oil. I like to use coconut oil for two reasons. First, it’s one of the healthiest oils for cooking. Secondly, many movie theaters use a coconut oil blend to pop their popcorn. It doesn’t really add a coconut flavor to the end result, but it does add a layer of flavor that other cooking oils just don’t quite match.
The first step in my popcorn process is actually to clarify the butter. If you have ghee kicking around (which is more or less a version of clarified butter), you can skip this part and just melt your ghee and use it straight on your popcorn. But for those of us ghee-less folks, here’s how to do a quick and dirty clarification. Put stick of butter in a glass measuring cup (you’ll need to the spout later).
Microwave on high for 30-40 seconds, or until the butter is all melted and foamy.
You should start to see the butter separating into three layers—foam, clarified butter and milk solids. Don’t worry if the layers aren’t super clear when you first take it out of the microwave, the layers will settle more as the butter cools. Plus, we’re not looking for perfection here, just to get rid of enough water to keep our popcorn crunchy.
Take a spoon and skim off as much of the foam on top as you can. Again, no need to be perfect. Just get as much as you can.
You’ll be left with a very clear, very yellow layer of clarified butter, with a layer of milk solids underneath. Awesome work! Set that aside.
Now onto the actual popping process. You’ll want a big pot with a lid for this. Why? Well, popcorn expands (duh)! I don’t recommend using a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), because you’ll need to shake the pot throughout the popping process. And man, cast iron is hard to shake.
Put your pot on high heat and add in the coconut oil.
Once the oil is completely melted, toss in your popcorn kernels.
Swirl the pot around so that each and every kernel gets a nice little coating of coconut oil, and is more or less in a single layer.
Every now and again, give the pan a good shake to mix up the kernels and keep them from burning.
Soon enough, you’ll have the very exciting moment where your first kernel pops. After that, things happen quickly! Action shot.
Hurry up and put on the lid of the pot, slightly ajar to release steam, because if you don’t you’ll have popcorn flying all over your kitchen. I’ve had kernels fly 15 feet—no exaggeration. You want to save all that popcorn goodness! But you also want to make sure to release the steam, because that’ll also make your popcorn soggy.
While the popcorn is popping, keep shaking the pot frequently. For the most part, the cooked kernels float to the top of the pot, which keeps them from burning, while the unpopped kernels stay at the bottom. It’s a good system, and means that I almost never burn popcorn on the stove (I can’t say the same for in the microwave), but it’s still good to give the pot a little jiggle every now and again.
Within a few minutes, you’ll hear the popping slow down to almost a crawl. Turn off the burner and just let it sit for a few minutes. Because you’ll have some slow-pokes still popping. Even still, trust me, the second you take off the lid, a straggler will pop right into your eye. Not that I know from experience or anything.
You’ve got yourself a beautiful pot full of popcorn! Now, grab your measuring cup of butter and start to slowly stream it onto the popcorn. At first you’ll see nothing but clear, bright yellow clarified butter.
But as you get to the end of the clarified part, you’ll start to see that third opaque, white layer—the milk solids. Stop right then! We just want the clarified butter on our popcorn—not the milk solids. Go ahead and reserve those milk solids for something else, they’re a great addition to pasta sauce, omelets and baked goods to give a bit of creaminess. Lots of folks just toss them, but I’m way too
cheap frugal to do something crazy like that.
Stir up your popcorn really well to make sure every kernel gets a touch of butter.
Sprinkle on your desired amount of salt (remember, if you use salted butter, you might want to go light on the salt at first). You can also feel free to add other flavorings (garlic salt, ranch mix, etc.) during this stage—but I’m a purist.
And then go pop in a movie, get cozy and enjoy your much healthier, much tastier (in my opinion) movie theatre popcorn!
If clarifying your butter seems like an annoying step to do each time you make popcorn (it really isn’t, it’s probably a two-minute process), you can actually make large batches of clarified butter and stash them in the fridge for months at a time and then just melt a little bit as you need it. Because most of the water and milk solids are removed from the butter when it’s clarified, it keeps for much longer than standard butter. Clarified butter is also great to have kicking around because, unlike regular butter, it has a really high smoke point. Meaning you can add lots of buttery flavor to dishes that cook at a high temperature (think: pan frying). Here is a great tutorial for making larger quantities of clarified butter on the stove. If you do want to stash your clarified butter in the fridge for extended periods of time, it’s important to be a bit more persnickety with the amount of moisture and milk solids you remove than what I describe here. The tutorial I linked to recommends straining through multiple layers of cheesecloth.
What’s your favorite way to eat popcorn? Butter and salt? Plain? Fun flavors?