healthy diet

Season's Eatings: Need a Meatless Monday (or any day) Idea?

It's only been the last few years that I've developed a taste for winter squash. Strange, because I've always liked sweet potatoes and it doesn't seem that butternut or acorn squash are that far removed from those. But for whatever reason, for most of my life I've just been sort of "meh" about winter squash dishes. I'm glad my tastes have changed!

This recipe is perfect for the fall/winter season. It calls for the sweet, mild acorn squash variety that is plentiful, and it turns golden brown when roasted. You can even eat the skin (washed, of course).

Acorn squash is easily digested and is high in Vitamins A, C, E, and B-complex. It's also high in beta carotene, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and potassium. If that's not enough, acorn squash is also known to help reduce inflammation; and finally, its "comfort food" qualities go a long way in satisfying cravings without sacrificing nutrition.

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons honey (maple syrup could be substituted if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fill a rimmed baking sheet with 1/2 inch of water and place the squash in the tray, cut side down. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender when pressed.

In a skillet (I love my cast iron for this part) saute the onion and garlic in coconut oil over medium heat until translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the cranberries, sea salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until cranberries are soft and plump.

Add the walnuts and honey, stirring frequently until walnuts turn golden brown. Remove from heat.

When squash halves are cooked through, remove from oven and drain any remaining water from pan. Flip the squash halves right side up and fill the centers with the cranberry filling.

Sprinkle the edges of the squash lightly with coconut sugar and return pan to the oven for 3-5 minutes more until the sugar has browned.

Enjoy! 

We Kicked Clif To The Curb...And We're Not Sorry.

Clif Bars. They were a staple of existence for us for a good while--Norm especially, as an energy source that could easily slip into a cycling jersey pocket. But earlier this fall we made a commitment to overall "cleaner" eating which, by our definition, meant eating even fewer processed foods. On the whole, we probably eat at least 75% fewer processed foods than a lot of people we know, but we figured there's still plenty of room for improvement. We felt this was one area where we could do better with homemade, and probably with very little effort. 

So, take the ingredients of the Clif bar variety that was often found in our pantry (Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch) :

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Peanut Butter, Rice Flour, Peanuts, Organic Soy Flour, Peanut Flour, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Dried Cane Syrup, Unsweetened Chocolate‡, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Cocoa Butter‡, Barley Malt Extract, Soy Lecithin.

The first thing I'm going to say about this list is that there is not one, but THREE kinds of syrup listed, and one of them is the primary ingredient. The second thing I notice is that there are four sources of soy, and three kinds of flour. Yeah, I think I can do better. So what did I want from a homemade bar? 

  • 10 ingredients or less
  • No baking or cooking
  • Easily accessible pantry staples
  • GREAT TASTE

Well, I'm happy to say, we got what we wanted. I now make a batch of these once a week, wrap them individually and keep them in the refrigerator. This recipe makes eight generous (Clif bar-sized) bars. I switch out the fruit, depending on what we have, or it can be left out entirely. The addition of cinnamon (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) with raisins as the fruit would be an awesome way to change it up as well.  I use regular rolled oats, but you can make these gluten free by using G/F oats.

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NO-BAKE ENERGY/SNACK BARS

Mix these dry ingredients together (scant measurement--don't go overboard with the dry items)

  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (favorites here are blueberries, cranberries or cherries)

Put these wet ingredients (you can be generous with these measurements) in a microwave-safe measuring cup, and heat them for 30 seconds, to make them easier to incorporate into the dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup all natural, creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, and then turn into a 8 x 11.5 inch baking pan that has been lightly oiled (I use either coconut oil or avocado oil). Press the mixture firmly into the pan. It will be sticky--I find that applying a little of the oil to my fingertips as well as the pan can help in the pressing process. Refrigerate until firm, and then cut into whatever size bars or bites you wish. Wrap individually if desired, or cover the pan with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

If you try these, let me know how you think we did! Were we right to kick old Clif to the curb?  What other healthy, delicious options can you come up with for this recipe?

 

The Unexpected Result of "The Smoothie Days of Summer"

At the beginning of August, I hosted a 7-day, online event on Facebook that I called the Smoothie Days of Summer. I decided to do this because over the past 8 months, my breakfast 5 or 6 days a week has become a smoothie that has, as its centerpiece, my preferred brand of plant-based protein powder. I feel like I've become pretty good at putting together a good-tasting, good-textured smoothie, so why not share some recipes?  I had also talked to some people who said  they lacked the knowledge or the imagination to do much more with their protein powder than to mix it with water or milk. So I hoped that by doing this event, I could share some recipes, and maybe in the process inspire someone to get a little more creative. Here's what we did over the course of seven days:

  • Just Peachy Smoothie
  • Strawberry Basil Bliss
  • Chocolate, Oats and Peanut Butter Smoothie
  • Carrot Cake Smoothie
  • Super Fruit, Flat-Belly Smoothie
  • Tropical Fruit Smoothie
  • Anti-Inflammatory Chocolate Smoothie

This event required me to pay closer attention to exactly what I was putting in my smoothies, in order to share the recipes. I kept track of actual amounts of the ingredients, and I really tried to pay attention to nutritional balance--incorporating the protein, a healthy fruit, vegetables (sometimes), fiber, healthy fat, and spices. An unexpected result of that seven days, however, is that I lost a few inches! While I didn't really set out with that as a particular goal, I couldn't be happier that those pants that were too tight last year suddenly fit again! This event proved to me first-hand how a smoothie as a light, healthy, complete meal can really make a difference in a short amount of time.

If you use a protein powder now, take a look at the label and examine what you've got. Does it have sweeteners in it? What kind? Stimulants? Anything artificial? How about other seemingly-healthy ingredients, like greens? Here's the thing--by using a protein powder with minimal ingredients, you gain the flexibility to add what YOU want, rather than be forced the ingredients that someone/some company chooses. Using a clean protein powder as a foundation, you can add natural sugar with a fruit.  Add your own fresh greens, in the form of baby spinach or baby kale, and you'll gain natural fiber as well as a load of minerals and vitamins. This, and the addition of a small amount of healthy fat, like a quarter of an avocado or a tablespoon of natural nut butter, maybe some spices, an extract, or essential oil for flavor, and you have a well-balanced smoothie that is apt to keep you satisfied for longer than many pre-fabricated "meal replacement" shake.  Yes, I have a go-to source for protein. But, the basic ideas I would suggest to anyone who's looking for a protein powder are:

  • Understand that a protein powder on its own should be a supplement, not a complete meal. One that has 14-15 grams of protein per serving is plenty. Combine it with other healthy ingredients to make a light, nutritious meal.
  • The source of the protein is important. Whey is dairy. If you have trouble with dairy or don't know what's causing those belly aches, whey could be the culprit (it was with me). Soy, I also stay away from--too many varieties are genetically modified, and the links to cancer are scary enough for me to want to stay away from it. Rice proteins have been linked to arsenic. That leaves "other" plant proteins. The variety I use doesn't rely on just one--it contains pea, hemp, pumpkin, chia and quinoa, and it's silky-smooth to mix easily with water, non-dairy milk, or even coffee or tea.
  • Look at what kind of oil goes into your protein powder. If it's sunflower, you might want to steer clear because of the high levels of Omega 6. A better choice of emulsifier will be coconut oil. The emulsifier is what will affect the blend-ability of your protein powder and also the creamy mouthfeel that you get when you drink it. 
  • Look at what type of sweeteners are used. Are they natural or artificial? 
  • Where do the ingredients come from? Where is the protein powder made? Are the ingredients non-GMO? Gluten free? These things do matter. And the shorter list of ingredients, the better.
  • Finally, I know that everyone appreciates good value. Look carefully at the servings per container on protein powders. You may look at two containers that appear to be the same size, but one is priced lower. Naturally you think it's the better value--but if it's fewer servings per container, then the cost per serving is higher. 

Although I will be changing up the ingredients and flavors a bit with the onset of cooler weather, I'll be continuing to include smoothies as part of my diet regularly. You see, I'm already thinking about 2018, and my goal is to START the year in a great place (physically, nutritionally, mentally), not just start thinking about it with the rest of the world on January 1. This nutritional self-care through the fall and winter months is part of my strategy.

If you don't have a protein powder, or if even if you do, and you've found your present brand comes up short in the comparison I've outlined, I would love to give you a sample of Life's Abundance protein powder. Leave a comment, or message me at happyvalleyhealthy@gmail.com and I'll get it right out to you!