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Food & Recipes

Slow Cooker Taco Chicken Bowls

September 29, 2017

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First up in the “Week of Recipes” is this Slow Cooker Taco Chicken. My family loves this recipe and I love it because it’s so easy to throw together early in the day. Just toss together chicken, salsa, black beans, water and taco seasoning mix in the slow cooker, then set and forget. While I love the idea of making elaborate meals each night of the week, the reality is that easy and healthy is the name of the game and this recipe is certainly easy.

We actually served this dish for a group of college guys who came over on Sunday after church. I had plans to use the leftovers in another recipe, but with three college guys eating the meal, plus my husband, we had ZERO leftovers when it was all said and done. I set out a bunch of toppings, including sour cream, shredded lettuce, whole grain scoop style tortilla chips, shredded cheese and sour cream and let everyone customize their own bowls as they saw fit!

Slow Cooker Taco Chicken Bowls
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 jar (16 oz.) mild or medium salsa
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans (undrained)
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix
  • 1 bag whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips
  • 1 heart of Romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • Sour cream
Instructions
  1. Combine chicken breasts, salsa, black beans, water and taco seasoning mix in a large slow cooker, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 to 5 hours or LOW for 8 hours. Uncover and use two forks to shred chicken breasts* Turn slow cooker to warm and let stand, uncovered, 5 minutes to cool slightly.
  2. Spoon chicken mixture into bowls. Top with shredded lettuce, tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream.
  3. Store leftovers in a resealable container to use for next meal.
  4. *If you have a vegetarian in the family, you can portion out some of the black beans before shredding the chicken for a veg friendly option at this point.

 

Family, Food & Recipes

A Week of (TRULY EASY) Family Meals

September 28, 2017

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When I took to Instagram to ask what YOU wanted to see more of on Espresso and Cream the answer was very clear: More easy, healthy, weeknight family meals. I get it, because the dinnertime struggle is real, isn’t it? The hours of 5-7 pm are the craziest, most stressful hours of the day, aren’t they? They are also the only hours my husband gets to spend with the girls during the week before bed time, and I have been craving a solution that makes that time less stressful.

And while I would love to reach for take-out some nights, we have very few take-out options in our small town and hardly any healthy take-out so cooking at home is a necessity. I have dabbled in meal-subscription services and meal planning services in the past, but I’ve been really frustrated by the amount of prep the recipes required and the generally complicated nature of some of the recipes. And don’t even get me started on services like Blue Apron… (so. much. chopping.)

But, if you’re trying to stay on a budget, you really do need your meals to be planned cohesively so that waste is minimized throughout the week and all your food is maximized. It’s great to go and pick out five yummy recipes on Pinterest, but if they aren’t cohesive you could be spending a LOT of money on all sorts of different ingredients and left with a lot of leftover food at the end of the week. Been there, done that.

And then I realized something: I am the solution. Well, not the solution, but I have the background and skills as a recipe developer and food editor to create the solution I have been craving. So last week I took 20 minutes to plot out and write down recipes I was already making for my family, and finding ways to utilize one day’s leftovers in a new way the next night and a really budget-friendly, EASY (truly!) meal plan was created.

So, starting next week I’m going to share an entire week’s worth of easy recipes. These are the type of recipes that my family makes on the regular but I’ve never shared because I told myself these weren’t really “recipes” and they were too simple to be blog-worthy. But that’s what we all really want, right? Recipes that require very little prep and are family-friendly. Since I’m a vegetarian, there are also tips in most of the recipes on how to make the recipe veg-friendly if you’re in a similar boat with both vegetarians and meat-eaters in your family.

Before I get to the meal plan itself, I wanted to share our strategy for the rest of the meals during the week aside from dinner. I usually make a large pasta bake with whole wheat pasta, ground beef, marinara and cheese on Sunday and portion it out for Joe’s lunches throughout the week. He eats the same thing again and again but doesn’t mind. I’ll include a clementine or other piece of fruit, a homemade treat (like a cookie) and some carrot sticks. It’s super easy! Since I work at home, I make a smoothie for lunch almost every day with protein + greens powder, almond milk, frozen banana, and peanut butter and Ainsley usually has leftovers, a PB&J with fruit and carrots, etc. And for breakfast we almost always have oatmeal with fruit and nut butter or eggs + toast.

I did all my grocery shopping at our local Walmart Supercenter and paid roughly $65 for all the ingredients for the meals themselves. And trust me – we had plenty of leftovers at the end of the week when it was all said and done! Enough to freeze or eat for lunch the next day. It was the first time in months that I didn’t get to the end of the week and feel like my fridge was totally barren. We ate well, I was NOT stressed at dinnertime and we stayed on track with our grocery budget.

MEAL PLAN
Monday // Slow Cooker Taco Chicken
Tuesday // Easy Three Bean Chili with Beef + Kale
Wednesday // Sweet Potato Chili Bake + Kale
Thursday  // Mediterranean Chickpea Salad with Pita
Friday // BLT Salads and Homemade Bread (I love Pinch of Yum’s recipe, which you should start the night before)
Saturday // Eat down the fridge leftovers!

GROCERY LIST // (for roughly 4 servings at each meal)

Produce
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 pkg. hearts of Romaine lettuce
2 bunches of kale
1 English cucumber
1 medium yellow, red, or orange sweet pepper
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 lemon
Mixed greens (optional)

Meat
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
12 oz. bacon

Canned
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (15 oz. each) chili beans in sauce
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 package taco seasoning
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans
1 (15 oz.) can white beans
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
1 jar kalamata olives (need 1/3 cup)

Dry
1 package whole wheat/whole grain pita bread
2 bags whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips

Dairy
8 oz. feta cheese
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
2 bags shredded Mexican blend cheese or cheddar cheese (2 cups)

Pantry Items
Olive oil or grapeseed oil
Butter
All-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Salad dressing of your choice for BLT salad (we like poppyseed and balsamic vinaigrette mixed 50/50)
Spices (cumin, chili powder, smoked or regular paprika, onion powder, dried oregano)
Garlic (for ease, I like the pre-minced garlic in a jar)
Brown sugar

Other Items We Bought
Yogurts (Fage 2% for me, flavored Chobani for Joe and Ainsley)
1 gallon 2% milk
1 gallon unsweetened almond milk
18 eggs
Sparkling water
Applesauce pouches
Peanut butter
Whole grain bread
3 or 4 avocados
3 or 4 apples
1 package clementines
2 bunches of bananas
Frozen raspberries and/or blueberries
Rolled oats
Trail mix

Family, Food & Recipes

thoughts on a (nearly) vegetarian pregnancy

April 4, 2017

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A vegetarian pregnancy. It was something I had hoped to have the first time around with Ainsley’s pregnancy, but for a number of reasons it never really happened. While I still ate a lot of my favorite vegetarian foods during my first pregnancy, I at a fair amount of meat as well. So many people told me that I couldn’t have a healthy, balanced pregnancy if I wasn’t eating meat, and because I didn’t know any better I decided they were probably right and I should fall in line with more of a standard diet.

This time around, I was more informed and more committed to eating like I usually eat – vegetarian. Sometimes (a lot of times?) pregnancy has a way of stripping you of the things that make you feel most like yourself. I’ve been trying to combat those feelings by doing very normal things, exercising like normal and eating like I normally do when I’m not pregnancy.

Since nausea plagued me for a lot of this pregnancy, and because I live in the heart of the Midwest where there is a shortage of good vegetarian options, I’ve eaten meat from time to time this pregnancy. I’m not militant about it, choosing to eat for health rather than to follow a strict set of rules, but I would say that I’ve been about 95% vegetarian this go around.

My overall thoughts?

Being pregnant and vegetarian is pretty much as easy as being pregnant any other time in life. I don’t think I would recommend becoming a vegetarian while pregnant or if you were a new vegetarian prior to becoming pregnant because learning to eat a well-rounded vegetarian diet that works for your body takes a little time and trial and error. Probably not a great idea when you’re growing a tiny human who needs well-rounded nutrition to grow and develop. But if you already have a good handle on eating a well-rounded vegetarian diet then you shouldn’t have any issue while pregnant.

I’ve been more diligent about making sure I’m eating complete sources of vegetarian protein (Ezekiel bread, beans and grains paired together, peanut butter on toast, hummus and pita, loaded salads) and have also consumed plenty of eggs and breakfast quesadillas, especially during the first trimester. I’ve also relied on my favorite Vega Protein & Greens for smoothies during this pregnancy, which made it easy to get in a few servings of veggies and protein on days when I felt like all I wanted to do was eat carb after carb.

Actually, when I’m left to my default I find that I eat primarily vegan many days. I can go days where the only animal product I consume is the cream in my coffee, so I’ve been working hard to make sure I’m consuming enough dairy, too. A day of eating for me, while pregnant, usually looks like:

Breakfast //
Bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds, almond milk, peanut butter and sliced banana or fresh berries

Lunch //
A large salad served with a side of hummus and whole wheat pita bread or a loaded veggie sandwich on Ezekiel sprouted grain bread

Snack //
Post-workout smoothie made with almond milk, frozen banana, Vega Protein & Greens, powdered peanut butter, chia seeds and ice

Dinner //
A veg-friendly version of whatever we are having for dinner as a family. This is a mixed bag of different meals, so it’s hard to point to anything particular.

Dessert //
I always have to end with a healthy sweet treat, like my healthy microwave mug cake recipe and a dollop of peanut butter

So, long story short, yes! You can be a vegetarian while pregnant. It hasn’t caused me to gain any more or less weight than the first time around, but it’s certainly helped me feel a lot better. I don’t know if it’s all the way I’ve been eating, or the way I’ve exercised or the supplements I’m taking but the energy I’ve had and the great sleep I’ve enjoyed this time around have been night and day different than the first go around. So I’ll chalk a little bit of that up to the way I’ve been eating. 😉

Madison

Family, Food & Recipes, Pregnancy

a day in the life :: pregnancy eats edition

March 3, 2017

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I’ve documented some of my daily eats on the blog in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a pregnancy edition. Even while pregnant, I still eat like a robot most days, sticking to the same general rotation of foods. Dinner is usually the most varied meal from day to day, but breakfast, lunch and snacks are usually pretty similar. Here’s a look at what a typical day in the third trimester looks like for me:

BREAKFAST
I usually wake up around 5:30, drink a big glass of water and have a cup of (regular) coffee with a splash of half and half. I typically eat breakfast when Ainsley wakes up, around 6:30 or 7 which consists of:

1/2 cup oatmeal with cinnamon, stevia, chia seeds, and unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons peanut butter
Fresh fruit, such as raspberries, blueberries of half of a sliced banana

SNACK
I usually try to avoid having a morning snack, but sometimes I’ll have a little something to get me through until lunch, especially if I workout in the morning, I’ll drink more water and half a cup of decaf coffee sometime in the morning, too.

LUNCH
2 whole wheat pita halves, toasted and filled with hummus, as many veggies as we have on hand, avocado and lots of spicy mustard
Salad (usually a portion of a salad kit, prepared with half the dressing)

AFTERNOON SNACK
Smoothie Made With:
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop Vital Proteins Collagen
1 scoop Vega Protein and Greens (vanilla or chocolate)
1/2 of a frozen banana
2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter powder
1/2 tablespoon chia seeds
Ice

Sometimes I’ll pair this with a couple clementines, as pictured above, or some other fruit or veggies

DINNER
This is a grab bag! It’s by far my most varied meal of the day since I make something different (with a vegetarian or fish option for me) almost every night of the week. My dinner last night was:

1 oven-roasted wild salmon filet with olive oil, salt and pepper
A huge bowl of Brussels sprouts, shredded and sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper and a bit of grated Parmesan

DESSERT
Every night. Almost always something healthy-ish. Last night’s dessert was my favorite Microwave Chocolate Mug Cake with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a dollop of Greek yogurt. Other times I’ll have a Quest bar, microwaved for about 10 seconds to make it gooey and soft.

Madison

Food & Recipes

Healthy Chocolate Mug Cake for One

February 21, 2017

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I don’t care what the circumstances are, every single night I need to end the evening on a sweet note. Truth be told, my body just doesn’t enjoy or tolerate sugar well these days, probably because I don’t eat much of it anymore, but I still have a sweet tooth that begs to be satisfied when Joe and I crash on the couch at the end of the evening.

Usually I try to keep my little nightly “dessert” to around 200 calories and like for it to have some sort of nutritional value, too. Meaning I rotate fruit and Greek yogurt with honey, dark chocolate, a spoonful of nut butter, etc. on the regular. But the other night I was craving something different, and behold this chocolate mug cake was born.

A lot of the recipes that I’ve found on the web for “mug cakes” are actually pretty indulgent and hardly healthy – usually containing plenty of oil or butter, sugar, all-purpose flour and more. Hardly what I look for when I’m going for a healthy dessert.

This recipe comes in around 120 calories without the toppings (I highly suggest a spoonful of peanut butter and some fresh fruit!) and tastes like a dense, rich flourless chocolate cake of sorts. I don’t want to over-promise here, because it is a healthy dessert, but it’s totally crushing my cravings for chocolate each night and doesn’t leave me with a pre-bedtime sugar crash. Total win, right?

Healthy Chocolate Mug Cake for One
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
 
I LOVE dark chocolate, so two tablespoons of cocoa powder is right up my alley. However, if you prefer a milder chocolate flavor, don't hesitate to use the suggested swap mentioned in the recipe, substituting a little chocolate protein powder for a bit of the cocoa powder.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons Kodiak Cakes Powercakes Pancake Mix (or something very similar)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (for a less "dark chocolate" taste, use 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon chocolate protein powder of your choice)
  • 1 packet Stevia
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • Toppings: Peanut butter, fresh fruit, dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped chocolate, etc.
Instructions
  1. In a ramekin or small bowl, combine the dry ingredients until well combined. Add the water and stir until smooth. Microwave 35 to 45 seconds or until the edges are set and center is almost set but the very middle is just slightly gooey looking.
  2. Top with a scoop of peanut butter and fresh berries, or desired toppings as suggested above and enjoy!