How to Make My Fitness Pal Work for You + How to Diet at Work

How to Make My Fitness Pal Work for You + How to Diet at Work

Even though I love Facebook and Instagram, my favorite app of all-time has to be My Fitness Pal.  I discovered it in 2012, and it relieved my brain after 15 years of calorie counting in my head.  That may sound weird to some people, but I’ve mentioned it to others and I’m not the only one who has been reflexively calorie counting since I was 13.  In 7th grade, my science teacher taught us how to count calories, and it was eye opening.  I went from being chubby to being thin within months because of this big secret.  My weight has fluctuated over the years because of different things, but counting calories and taking responsibility for them is the only way to keep yourself in check –unless you’re just very lucky and were born with a high metabolism (to which I say I am jealous!)

My Fitness Pal takes the guesswork out of it, especially if you’re eating prepackaged food or even restaurant food.  The only parts that require your discretion are 1) remembering to use it, 2) being honest about the amount you consumed, and 3) using it proactively.

The first 2 things are pretty simple.  I mean, if you don’t input your food, it’s not going to do anything.  And if you lie to yourself about the quantities, you’re not hurting anyone but yourself.  Remember, My Fitness Pal doesn’t actually care if you lose or gain anything.  My Fitness Pal is not going to go up a pant size if you eat 3 servings of ice cream and said you only had 1!  But seriously, the real accountability lies within each of us.

But what do I mean about using My Fitness Pal proactively?  I didn’t learn that until about a year ago when I started losing baby weight from Benji.  Using it proactively means that I think about where I might go today.  Do I have dinner plans?  Am I going somewhere for drinks?  I am on my period?  Seriously, though.  I think about that, and then I enter in a presumptive amount of calories I may eat because of those things, and then I see how many I have left for the day.  And if I am going out to eat, where?  If so, can I plan my order ahead of time by using an online menu?  All of these things –being proactive –that will help so much.

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my weekly average

Another thing about being proactive with My Fitness Pal is something I do if I did overindulge.  I use a free feature that gives me my weekly calorie average, and I can use it to figure out if I’ve done okay overall (because maybe I overindulged today but barely ate yesterday…if so, it’s probably okay).  So you’ll have your daily calorie goal, and set it to something realistic –don’t set it at 1000 or something crazy –I’m 5’10’…I’d wilt if I only consumed 1000 calories a day.  Basically, let’s say your goal is 1600 calories.  Maybe today you ate 2000 calories, so your weekly average calorie intake is over what it should be.  This feature can help you figure out how much you should cut back, and for how many days, to get back on track!  Isn’t that awesome?  You can go day by day ahead and project your intake –or what you plan to eat –then go back to the weekly average and see how long you’ll need to do that to get back on track.

This may seem obsessive to some of you, but I really hope it’s helpful.  Losing weight is hard, and it is personal.  If you’ve had kids or any other major life change, it’s even harder!  Right now, I’m still working out my Christmas weight!  I lost 24 pounds last year –from 173 to 149.  Now I’m 156, and I’d prefer to be about 145.  I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d love to talk about this more –either in more posts, in the comments, or privately.

Now!  On to some little tricks and easy meals I learned to make when I was a true “working mom.”  When I worked in an office, I had to really plan ahead.  I was a secretary for doctors, and we had so many meals catered by drug reps, plus all kinds of treats brought in all the time, and the cafeteria, and people wanting to go out to eat!  The temptation is everywhere to splurge all day.  Every day.  People used to make fun of me for snacking on “weird” stuff throughout the day, but you know what?  I was happier feeling good about what I ate.  Here are some of my favorite snacks and meals for the office:

  • String Cheese
  • Raw almonds (about 24)
  • A Ghiradelli chocolate square
  • Thomas Multigrain English Muffin with 2 pieces of Canadian bacon (for breakfast)
  • Fiber One Bars
  • A make-ahead, gourmet “anything” salad: In an 8 cup Tupperware container, add a few handfuls of your favorite salad greens.  Top with any dry veggies or add-ins, like bell pepper, onion, carrot, or cheese.  Separate any wet veggies like sliced cherry tomatoes or cucumbers.  Add a small container of protein, like some shredded rotisserie chicken or some salmon (be honest about how much, because salmon is calorie-dense).  If possible, keep salad dressing at work in the fridge.  If not, put some in a Tupperware ramekin.  At lunchtime, add the extras to the large container, seal, and shake to toss!  You can literally have a restaurant quality salad at work without paying $10 plus a tip.  Not to mention, you can control exactly what you put in, how much, and proactively add it to My Fitness Pal.
  • For chillier months, these were my 2 favorite soups to take to work. Roasted Winter Veg is really filling and can be made in batches and frozen ahead of time.  Chicken Noodle is an easy short notice soup because you can have the whole thing done in 30 minutes.  If you want more soup recipes, most of mine are pretty healthy because I don’t like cream-based soups.

 


Banana Berry Bee Pollen Bowl 

Banana Berry Bee Pollen Bowl

This bowl!  I made this on a super warm February day when it felt like spring.  I had been wanting to do a bee pollen post for a while, and it finally felt springy enough.  Also, my friend Megan surprised me with this Olivewood Tea and Toast Set, and how pretty does the honey dip look?  I’d put this set on Pretty Things:  January 2017 because I was so drawn to it.  But in person, it’s even prettier.  The wood is gorgeous, and the pieces feel quality.  Now I feel like I have to have a tea party or something just to display it! 16473764_550727958455582_6492892044207083527_n

I love making smoothies for my kids, and this is like a smoothie, deconstructed.  One of my staples is a bag of store bought frozen strawberries.  For this bowl, I turned them into a puree.  It’s simple:  just let a few cups of strawberries thaw out or come to room temperature.  Pour them into a blender, and blend until smooth.  You could use this on smoothie bowls, as a topping for ice cream, or in something with gin or tequila…

Bee Pollen.  Who would have thought?  It’s supposed to work as an anti-inflammatory, immune system booster, anti-oxidant, and hormone regulator.  I got mine on Amazon.  They’re crunchy little granules, and I guess they’re like the new chia seed!  There is always a new natural food discovery with amazing properties and why haven’t we been eating it all along?

In addition to pouring them over a smoothie bowl, they taste really good blended into a regular smoothie, too.  To turn this into a regular smoothie, add a cup of your favorite milk (I use unsweetened coconut milk)—to turn this into a meal on-the-go.  If you do turn it into a smoothie, add some frozen banana slices to make it thicker.  Instead of buying frozen bananas or freezing them whole, I wait until my fresh bananas are about to turn, then I slice them up and freeze them for smoothies.  It’s much cheaper, and they’re easy to portion with they’re pre-sliced.

 

Total Time:  10 minutes

Makes:  1 large smoothie bowl

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients

1 cup of plain, fat free Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons of strawberry puree (see above)

1 banana, peeled and sliced thinly

2-3 strawberries, rinsed and sliced thinly

¼ cup fresh blueberries

2 tablespoons of bee pollen

2-3 tablespoons of honey

 

Directions

  1. Add the Greek yogurt to the bottom of a large bowl.
  2. Add the strawberry puree on top of the yogurt and swirl it through.
  3. Layer the banana, strawberries, and blueberries around the bowl.
  4. Sprinkle the bee pollen on top.
  5. Drizzle with honey, and enjoy. (**see note)

 

**Note:  Alternately, add ingredients to a blender with unsweetened coconut milk and some frozen banana slices.  Puree until smooth, and enjoy very cold.)


Nutty Vanilla Bean Baked Oatmeal Cups

Nutty Vanilla Bean Baked Oatmeal Cups

This is my first recipe featuring vanilla bean paste, and I have to say, it’s something I’ve been dying to cook with.  I didn’t even bother looking in stores for it because, when it comes to specialty foods, Amazon always has the products I’m looking for.  This is the kind I bought.  Vanilla bean paste is a blend of vanilla beans, vanilla extract, water, and sugar.  Vanilla bean is one of my top 3 favorite dessert flavors (along with lemon and chocolate). 

I like this paste for several reasons.  First, it’s cheaper than buying vanilla bean pods.  Vanilla bean pods are about $6 a piece.  You get about 50 times that many pods’ worth in one 4 ounce jar, and a whole jar is only $15.  Vanilla bean paste has a longer shelf life than vanilla bean pods.  Plus having it in a jar, as opposed to in beans, makes it way easier to use, so I have a reason to put that intense vanilla flavor into everything. 

From here out, expect many recipes using vanilla bean paste!  I just got my first Bundt pan, and I’m planning a vanilla bean and something (to be determined) flavored Bundt cake with vanilla bean glaze.  Doesn’t that sound good? 

For these oatmeal cups, you can substitute out any or all of the coconut flavors if you like, but I love coconut.  The recipe I adapted this from uses canola oil, regular milk, regular sugar, etc.  So you can do that in equal proportions if you like. 

I made these using reusable silicone muffin cups.  I like these because I think they’re cute, they’re reusable, and they won’t ever rip and leave paper in the muffin or cupcake.  Whether you use these or paper liners, muffin liners are a must for this recipe.

You can keep these in the fridge for about a week, and just heat them up for 30 seconds to 1 minute before eating.  If you like, add a little extra milk when serving to thin it out (I always like to do this). 

 

Total Time:  1 hour and 15 minutesgood

Yield:  18 Muffins

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients

2 eggs

¼ cup coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup unrefined coconut sugar

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

2 cups coconut milk

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3 cups old fashioned oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ sweetened flaked coconut

½ cup slivered almonds, plus more for topping

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line your muffin tin with 18 muffin liners.
  3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to break the yolks apart.
  4. Add the coconut oil, brown sugar, and coconut sugar. Whisk together until the sugar has broken apart and dissolved.
  5. Add the applesauce, coconut milk, vanilla bean paste, salt, cinnamon, and ground flax. Whisk until combined.
  6. Add the oats, baking powder, flaked coconut, and slivered almond. Use a rubber spatula to thoroughly combine.
  7. Add ¼ cup of the oatmeal mixture to each muffin cup.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes.
  9. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  10. Store in an airtight container.

(adapted from The Wholesome Dish)

 

 

 


Vegan Southwestern Zucchini Sauté + 5 Lightened Up Super Bowl Recipes

Vegan Southwestern Zucchini Sauté + 5 Lighter Super Bowl Recipes

I have been making my Vegan Eggplant Sauté on and off for over 10 years, and it never occurred to me to change it around.  Then all the sudden I think how I can keep myself from getting bored by changing around the flavors.  This recipe is just as simple as the Vegan Eggplant Saute, but I’ve swapped around all the flavors.

Following the recipe, you’ll see a list of 5 lightened up, but still Super Bowl-worthy, recipes for game day.  I have never cared one way or another about the football, but I do like watching the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and I like the Super Bowl foods.  The rest is just background noise to me.

 

Southwestern Zucchini Sauté  (vegan, gluten free)

Total Time:  15 minutes

Serves:  1

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients1

Cooking spray

1 large zucchini, medium diced

1 Original Vegan Boca Burger

1 pinch salt

1 pinch garlic powder

1 pinch chipotle powder or ground cumin

1 ice cube

½ cup salsa

Freshly chopped cilantro

 

Directions

  1. Add a quick spray of cooking spray to a sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the zucchini, salt, garlic, and chipotle or cumin.  Sauté for a minute or so.  Add the ice cube, and cover.  Let it steam for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave the Boca Burger until warm, about 1 minute. Dice into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the zucchini from heat. Add the Boca Burger and salsa.  Mix together.
  5. Top with freshly chopped cilantro.

 

 

5 Lighter Super Bowl Eats

  1.  Skinny Taste:  Slow Cooker Paleo Jalapeno Popper  Chicken Chili.  This is a mouthful!  I like all kinds of chili, vegetarian included.  I was going to list a vegetarian option, but I think a Super Bowl chili needs some kind of meat.  This one is a good middle ground and will make dieters and non-dieters happy.  Here are some of my other favorite chilis.  SlowCookerPaleoJalapenoPopperChickenChili-550x825.jpg

 

2.  The Mediterranean Dish:  Avocado Hummus and Fresh Tomatillo Salsa Verde.  Another classic Super Bowl food is guacamole.  Here’s a lightened up version that you could serve with both chips and raw veggies.Avocado-Hummus-with-Salsa-Verde-Recipe-11.jpg

 

3.  A Beautiful Plate:  Salt and Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas.  I love roasted chickpeas!  The first time I had them was in this salad.  They are a great substitute for salty nuts, and you can switch up the flavor combinations in endless ways.salt-and-vinegar-roasted-chickpeas-1-11.jpg

 

4.  Dashing Dish:  Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower Poppers.  This is on my “must try” list, and of all the recipes I’ve seen for buffalo cauliflower, this one looks like a dead ringer for wings.  So, maybe you can’t forgo wings on Super Bowl Sunday in favor of cauliflower.  But maybe you can have both?IMG_4599.jpg

5.  BS In the Kitchen:  Paloma.  Tequila is my favorite kind of liquor, and the only kind I’ll ever have around the house.  The Paloma is similar to a margarita, but with grapefruit.  This version contains hardly any sugar, but relies mostly on the tart grapefruit and lime for flavor (plus tequila really has a great flavor too).  Each drink only has one teaspoon of sugar, but you could substitute stevia, or you could leave it out altogether.the-paloma-6

 

 

 


Greek Spaghetti Pie

Greek Spaghetti Pie

Katie Lee posted a video of a spaghetti pie on Instagram during the holidays, and I thought I’m going to make that.  In fact, as soon as I saw the video, I sent it to Jon and told him I was going to make it.  I changed it up and used bucatini, and it was really good.  Then the holidays happened, and now it’s January.  Now I don’t want bucatini, and I don’t want extra cheese, and I don’t want anything more than to feel as good as I do in the warmer months, when I live on watermelon and chopped salads and white wine. 

So I changed it up again, both with the flavors and the base.  I want it to feel indulgent, but not cost you a day’s worth of calories.  If you follow my recipe exactly and cut the pie into 10 slices, one slice has about 467 calories.  For this pie, I measured everything very carefully, plugged it into My Fitness Pal recipes, and divided it up. 

I love love love cinnamon in spaghetti.  It’s a Greek thing (I’m not Greek), and if you’ve never had it, you have to try it just once!  I started putting cinnamon in spaghetti and chili last year, and now I always do it.  It sounds weird, but it tastes delicious.

 

Total Time:  90 minutes

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one of my favorite pictures so far!

Serves:  10

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients

1 box whole wheat spaghetti (about 1 pound)

Olive oil

½ large yellow onion

1 pound lean ground chicken

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

36 ounces marinara sauce, plus more for serving

1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta

5 ounces freshly grated parmesan, divided in half

2 eggs, lightly beaten and at room temperature

8 ounces freshly grated part skim mozzarella

Dried parsley

Fresh basil

 

Directions

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain, and set aside.
  2. Add a few tablespoons of olive to a saute pan over medium heat. When the oil heats up, add the onion, and saute until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the ground chicken, oregano, and cinnamon. Cook the ground chicken over medium heat until it’s no long pink.
  4. Take the meat mixture off the heat, add the 36 ounces of marinara sauce, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the spaghetti to a large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta and 2-3 ounces of the parmesan on top, and the cover it with the sauce.  Let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes to cool down. (**see note)
  6. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Toss the eggs, pasta, sauce, and cheese together with tongs until thoroughly mixed together.
  8. Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with nonstick spray, make sure it’s latched, and put it on a baking sheet. (***see note)
  9. Add the pasta mixture to the spring form pan and spread it out evenly.
  10. Add the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and spread them out evenly. Make sure it’s around the sides so you get a crunchy crust.
  11. Top with some dried parsley for color.
  12. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.
  13. Remove from the oven, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
  14. Serve with extra marinara, fresh basil, and crushed red pepper flakes.

 

**Note:  Using room temperature ingredients and eggs ensures that the eggs won’t scramble when you add them to the pasta mixture.

***Note:  I always put casseroles, lasagnas, pies, and most other baked dishes on a sheet pan just to make it easier to get in and out of the oven, and to make sure nothing bubbles over and spills in the oven.


Vegan Italian Eggplant Sauté + My Favorite Fast Meals Under 200 Calories

Vegan Italian Eggplant Sauté + My Favorite Fast Meals Under 200 Calories

I’m doing a quick post to share my current favorite recipe, plus a few extras that are barely recipes, but great if you (like me) are fighting stubborn Christmas pounds off.  The older I get, the less I can eat and still be thin.  Living with 4 hungry kids and a 6 foot tall, 200 pound husband leaves me feeling a little left out sometimes.  They can all literally eat whatever they want and stay thin.  Tonight, they’re eating a pasta dish I made earlier, and I’ll be eating an Anything Scramble.  It is what it is, but I refuse to give in to the scale, so here are a few of my super low calories meals and snacks I’ve been eating to get back to my goal.

Vegan Eggplant Sauté (pictured):  You’ll need cooking spray; ½ a medium sized eggplant, diced; a pinch each of cinnamon and dried oregano; 1 ice cube (just wait); 1 Original Vegan Boca Burger; ½ cup marinara sauce; and fresh basil.

  1. Add a quick spray of cooking spray to a sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the eggplant, cinnamon, and oregano.  Sauté for a minute or so.  Add the ice cube, and cover.  Let it steam for 6-8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave the Boca Burger until warm, about 1 minute. Dice into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the eggplant from heat. Add the Boca Burger and marinara sauce.  Mix together.
  5. Serve with fresh basil.
  • Notes: The ice cube sounds weird, but it helps to steam the eggplant, which cooks it without adding extra fat and calories.  This entire dish has 180 calories, 3 grams of fat, 17 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fiber (that’s half a day’s worth).  It’s also vegan and gluten free.

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The rest of these aren’t really recipes, but they’re quick, easy, filling, and perfect for weight loss:

  • Anything Scramble: With 1 whole egg plus 3 whites and your choice of veggies, it’s has less than 200 calories.  It also has 22 grams of protein and virtually no carbs.
  • Whitefish Over Greens with Vinaigrette: Toss the greens (I like baby spinach) with a light vinaigrette.  My favorite is sesame ginger.  5 ounces of cod only has 115 calories and 25 grams of protein, and most whitefish are about the same.  Steam the whitefish using this method.
  • Chocolate Coconut Chia Pudding: This has about 250 calories, and it may seem like a lot for a small pudding.  But you’re getting 9 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.  This is essentially a homemade meal replacement shake.  If you want it to be drinkable, use 2 tablespoons of chia instead of 3.  This will leave you at 200 calories 6 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fiber (still enough for a small meal).
  • Whole Grain Egg McMuffin: Use Thomas Multigrain English Muffins because they have only 100 calories, and 8 grams of fiber.  I make a microwave scrambled egg to go on this.  All you do is spray a small bowl with cooking spray.  Add one egg, salt, and pepper.  Whisk lightly with a fork.  Microwave for 1-2 minutes, checking every 30 seconds for doneness.  The egg will slide right out and fit the sliced English muffin for a little sandwich.  I like topping the egg with a tomato slice to brighten it up.  This meal has 180 calories, 6 grams of fat, 8 grams of fiber, and 11.5 grams of protein.
  • I also love snacking on pickles because they’re almost calorie free, and vinegar actually curbs your appetite. I eat at least one Oats and Chocolate Fiber One Bar per day—usually 2.  I’ll have one as my breakfast, and I’ll eat one after dinner if I need something sweet.  Each bar has 9 grams of fiber and tricks me into thinking I’m having a chocolate chip cookie.  Pears are my go-to fruit in the winter because 1 small pear has 100 calories and 4 grams of fiber, much more than most fruit.  In the summer, I go for watermelon because it’s very filling, but very low calorie.

Chocolate Coconut Chia Pudding Cups

Chocolate Coconut Chia Pudding Cups

This recipe is another during my Elimination Diet. I’m writing this the day before I start the diet…I had plans to take pictures this morning, but the fog is so dense, I’m afraid I won’t get any good ones.  The reason I’m trying the Elimination Diet is because I get a lot of stomach irritation, and I’m curious to see if there’s any one food group that’s affecting me. 

The Elimination Diet is no dairy, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, nightshades, white carbs, beef, pork, shellfish, processed food, soy, peanuts, eggs, and certain fruits like grapes and bananas.  It’s pretty extensive, but not exhaustive.  You can still have meat, most vegetables, and non-white non-gluten carbs. 

I made a similar pudding last year, but with regular cow’s milk.  I tasted this version along the way and adjusted the flavors to get it as rich-tasting as possible.  Just because you’re on a special diet doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to feel indulgent.  This recipe makes four 8 ounce portions, and each portion has about 260 calories if you follow my recipe exactly.  These are vegan free, gluten free, and Elimination Diet-friendly.  The puddings set up in 6 hours and will keep for about 5 days. 

Chia seeds are interesting little things, aren’t they?  Remember back in the 90s, Chia Pets?  It’s the same thing, except this time, we’re eating them.  Each serving of this pudding has 3 tablespoons of chia seeds.  The seeds are what helps the pudding become pudding.  For every 3 tablespoons, there are 180 calories, 9 grams of fat, 180 mg of potassium, 15 grams of fiber (!), NO SUGAR, 9 grams of protein, plus 24% of your daily Vitamin A and 18% of your daily Iron needs.  Pretty impressive.

When I made these last year, I stored them in glasses with plastic wrap, but that was before I got my half pint mason jars.  I keep finding new reasons to love and accumulate mason jars.  I started using them for salads, but have since used them for homemade beauty products, salad dressings, and now for these puddings.  It’s homemade portable pudding cups tailored exactly to your specifications.  Plus– they’re spill-proof. 

You can top them with anything you like—I suggest toasted unsweetened coconut, almonds, fresh mint, or chocolate shavings (though chocolate shavings are not vegan or Elimination Diet-friendly).

 

Total Time:  6 hours, 15 minutes (hands-on time 15 minutes)

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Serves: 4best

 

Ingredients

3 cups of cold unsweetened coconut milk

3 tablespoons of unrefined coconut sugar

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

12 tablespoons of chia seeds

toasted coconut

  1. Add the coconut milk to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Sift the unrefined coconut sugar and cocoa powder together to remove any lumps. Add them to the milk.
  3. Add the chia seeds to the milk mixture.
  4. Use a whisk to mix everything together thoroughly.
  5. Using 4 half pint (8 ounce) mason jars, add the mixture evenly to each jar.
  6. Put the lids on the jars, and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.
  7. Garnish with toasted coconut, mint, almonds, or chocolate shavings (non-vegan, not Elimination Diet-friendly). Puddings will last about 5 days in the fridge.

 

 

For the toasted coconut, you’ll need:

A handful of unsweetened flaked coconut

 

Directions

  1. On a toaster oven-sized sheet pan, add a handful of unsweetened flaked coconut.
  2. Place it in a toaster oven, and turn on.
  3. Watch it carefully for 2-3 minutes and pull out of the oven just as it starts to brown.