‘Hi, my name is Anna, and I’m an emotional eater.’

I haven’t written in a journal since Princess Jasmine from Aladdin was on the cover and it had a lock and key.

This is my first day of journaling as part of a 21-day program for recovery from emotional eating. The program is in the form of a book called Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck.

As many of you know, I love self-help books. I’m constantly reading one, and I always have about 10 others queued up on my iPad to read next. Well, I just put one down that’s helping me to harness my skills as an empath so I could pick up another that addresses what I feel is an urgent issue of mine. 

I know – a health blogger who has experienced profound success with weight loss and maintenance through healthy eating but who realizes that she isn’t totally “cured” of her issues with food.

*strokes imaginary beard*

It’s that irony and my fear of irrelevance and judgment that has kept me from sharing about this for a while.

In keeping with my theme word for 2017, ACCEPTANCE – just like I’ve had to ACCEPT my tibial stress injury and need to press “pause” on my current half marathon training schedule for the past three weeks – I’m choosing to ACCEPT where I am with my relationship with food so I can make it better. And, with age 30 on the horizon, I’m finding myself growing more and more sick and tired of being wrapped up in what others think about me.

Back to acceptance… Here’s where I am: I’ve continued to maintain my 50-pound weight loss from 2012. I realize that, while I developed a lot of healthy attitudes, beliefs and behaviors about food and tools to navigate it, some counterproductive ones remain that are only making the day-to-day harder than it needs to be. And I’m ready to rid my life of them.

These counterproductive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, the primary one being that I’m scared to death of getting heavy again, are all based in fear – a common thread in the areas of my life that I’m working to improve or change. Fear only holds us back, so I’m working on silencing it by realizing what it is I want and just going for it. So I impulse purchased a book, and here I am.

Why I’m an emotional eater

I believe that my issues with food stem from three eating practices/food situations that were present during my childhood.

  1. When I was a kid, we ate three square meals and two small snacks, and there was no eating in between allowed – the kitchen was closed. My biological parents were simply instilling structure and ensuring that we didn’t overeat; I’d never blame them for that. Intuitive eating – being aware of one’s hunger signals and eating based on them in order to maintain a healthy weight – just wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I believe that this nutrition philosophy fosters a healthy relationship with food, so I’m trying to train this 29-year-old mind and body to do what it should’ve been doing all along.
  2. Meal times felt very uncomfortable, likely due to my biological parents’ strained marriage, which ultimately (and thankfully) ended. In my household, they weren’t a time for pleasant conversation. Instead, we were told, “Less talk, more eat.” That eating pattern has certainly stuck with me, as I don’t really savor my food. I eat it, put my fork down and that’s it.
  3. During my biological parents’ separation (I lived with my mother), food was a little scarce, so I learned to eat when there was some. “Like a kid in a candy store,” I binged.

In sum…

Food was restricted…

Food was unhappy…

Food was security…

A trifecta for an unhealthy relationship with food.

Addressing my feelings

This week, I started keeping a food mood journal, where, each time I put something in my mouth, I log the time, what I ate, how I felt and the precipitating event (what elicited those feelings). It reminded me of the early stages of therapy in my adult life.

I started seeing a therapist routinely in March 2010. My husband didn’t know it at the time, but he was the main motivator for me to face the childhood trauma I had experienced so I could bring the healthiest me to our relationship. Just a few months before, we met and started dating, and I knew relatively quickly that he and our relationship were special.

During an appointment, my therapist asked me how something I told her made me feel, and I responded with something to the effect of, “It makes me feel like it’s just not right.” She gently informed me that’s not a feeling and presented me with a feelings chart. Since then, I’ve become very astute with recognizing and acknowledging my feelings.

This has come in handy as I’ve set out to make a truce with food, as identifying the feelings I’m experiencing that trigger emotional eating is critical to recovery.

The power of a support system

One can seek support in a number of ways. For me, in addition to the therapy I mentioned, I’ve also worked to build a life that supports what I want it to be like – from the people I hang out with, to activities in which I engage, all the way to my line of work.

When I think about why I started this blog, in addition to helping others, it comes down to accountability. It actually starts there, because, when I’m accountable to all of you wonderful readers who support me, then I’m probably living out the “helping others” part of my mission.

Last night’s reading included information about various support systems, one of which was 12-step meetings that incorporate the original 12 steps set by Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

These words hit me hard.

I immediately thought of an estranged family member of mine who has struggled with alcoholism for more than 10 years. I remember when he was working on this step and watching him go through the incredibly painful process of seeing himself for who he was and acknowledging the pain his behavior caused our family, all in hope of healing. But I never saw him make a full recovery.

Is this what he was trying to do when he sent an apology letter to me more than a year ago? By choosing not to respond to protect myself, did I impede his recovery?

The answer is “no,” and that’s where step 9 comes in:

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so could injure them or others.”

You see, responding to this letter would’ve opened the door to unwanted communication and compromised what I’m always working toward – a happy, healthy life. That’s called “boundaries,” and they’re healthy.

While facing the words on the page and applying them to myself this time, I couldn’t help but wonder how my emotional eating has harmed others.

“Harmed.”

Isn’t that word a little strong?

Even though I can’t say that emotional eating has caused turmoil in my relationships or other issues in my life, I realize that it ultimately hurts me – plus, addiction is addiction. Food addiction is tricky to me, because we need food to survive. Not to reduce an alcoholic’s or nicotine or drug addict’s struggle, but we don’t need those things the way we need food. In fact, they kill us.

As I go through this program, I’m hoping to find answers to two questions that have been on my mind for a long time:

  1. What’s the difference between finding enjoyment in food as we do in our culture and being addicted? Is food meant to be enjoyed, or is it solely fuel?
  2. Am I being too hard on myself, and am just a runner who has to eat accordingly?

But I know the struggle…the internal dialogue playing in my head…the constant nagging – when I’m at my desk at work, at a restaurant or just sitting on my couch at home.

It’s everywhere.

All the time.

And I’m sick, tired and over it.

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3 comfort foods – and 3 healthier swaps that actually help your mental health

Click here to watch our January 13 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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DISCLAIMER: This is a real holiday prep list and internal dialogue from this past holiday season that may or may not come from yours truly…

  • Shop for Christmas gifts
  • Buy a Christmas tree and pray that my husband and I don’t kill it or die from allergies
  • Decorate said tree
  • Pick the most perfect poinsettias
  • Start a Christmas grocery shopping list
  • Bake cookies

Holy crap, there are so many cookies – how am I going to deal?

  • Decorate interior of house
  • Hang stockings – but don’t fill them, because the weight of the goodies might stretch the knit stockings … plus, Santa doesn’t come until Christmas morning!
  • Wrap Christmas gifts – but don’t place them under the tree yet, because the tree will drop needles and I don’t want to vacuum around them

Why did I get glittery wrapping paper?

  • Decorate exterior of house

Wait, before we hang the lights, let’s power wash the exterior of the house.

Wait, before we power wash the exterior of the house, let’s blow the remaining leaves that have fallen off the trees since my husband blew them a few weeks ago.

  • Mow the lawn
  • Trim the bushes
  • Clean the house

Isn’t this supposed to be a list of things to do for Christmas?

Why am I still finding glitter everywhere?!


I’ve struggled with high-functioning anxiety all my life. I’ve always opted to manage my anxiety with a combination of exercise and therapy – but what about food? I’m not talking about eating our feelings; I’m talking about using food as medicine.

I hadn’t put much thought to this until recently, when I asked one of my health care providers how else I can manage my anxiety – aside from medications – and she recommended vitamins B complex and C.

In addition to taking a supplement, eating foods that are rich in B vitamins can be beneficial. B vitamins are necessary for healthy nerves and brain cells. For some, not having enough B vitamins can lead to anxiety and depression.

As for vitamin C, its role as it relates to mental health is two-fold. It reduces anxiety but also boosts our immune system, which is compromised when we’re under stress. Healthy eating becomes even more important when our bodies are under stress, making it even more critical to eat foods that contribute to our mental health.

Yet, somehow our bodies confuse what we need for what would taste and feel good in that moment. When we’re feeling anxious, especially those who struggle with emotional eating, we reach for certain comfort foods. A few common ones are ice cream, cereal and salty snack foods. So I’m sharing some healthy swaps that actually help your mental health and correspond to those common comfort foods.

Sweet swaps

Swap ice cream for Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, in addition to the usual suspects like meat and fish. Others are beans, cheese, eggs, lentils, nuts and soy. Protein helps to increase the production of brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which regulate mood.

Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 graham cracker, crushed

Instructions:

  1. Place yogurt into a small bowl.
  2. Top with blueberries and graham cracker.

Swap cereal for overnight oats

Oats are a carbohydrate, which increase production of serotonin, which regulates appetite, sleep and aggression and enhances memory and learning abilities. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. I opt for old fashioned-oats instead of instant oatmeal, because old-fashioned oats are higher in fiber. I add blueberries for vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Blueberry overnight oats

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup old fashioned oats
  • Splash of vanilla or original unsweetened almond milk or nonfat milk, enough to cover the oats
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 packet stevia

Instructions:

  1. Place oats into a two-cup container or slightly larger. (I use a round two-cup Pyrex container. Others use mason jars.)
  2. Cover oats with milk.
  3. Place blueberries on top.
  4. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. The next morning, take them out of the fridge and microwaved slightly covered for 1½ minutes.
  6. Mix up milk-soaked oats and blueberries.
  7. Mix in stevia.

Savory swaps

Swap potato chips for kale chips

Leafy greens are rich in magnesium, the mineral that helps to regulate cortisol levels and promote feelings of wellbeing.

Healthier swap: Oven-baked kale chips

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Seasoning optional and to taste:
    • Sea salt
    • Black ground pepper, to taste
    • Chili powder
    • Garlic powder
    • Onion powder
    • Paprika
  • Cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly coat two large baking sheets with cooking spray.
  2. Wash and thoroughly dry kale. Remove stems with knife or kitchen scissors, and cut into 1½-inch or so pieces.
  3. Mix olive oil and seasonings in large bowl. Add kale pieces, and combine so each kale piece is coated with olive oil and seasoning mixture.
  4. Arrange kale pieces on baking sheets, and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, check on the kale chips. Edges should be brown but not charred. If the edges aren’t brown yet, bake for 5 more minutes.

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3 Thanksgiving pies your family will thank you for making

Click here to watch our November 13 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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First things first:

I LOVE THANKSGIVING FOOD, AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!

Incorporating my own recipes for healthier Thanksgiving sides into my menu last year was a huge step for this stuffing-obsessed, mashed potato-mad, green bean casserole-gaga and creamed corn-crazed girl.

(To be clear, that’s me.)

And we haven’t even discussed dessert! The classics have always made my short list of favorites: pumpkin, pecan and apple pies. However, all of these are packed with sugar, among other unhealthy ingredients. In my versions of these recipes, I swap out the sugar for stevia, a calorie- and carbohydrate-free sweetener that has no artificial ingredients. Another calorie saver is that the recipes are also crustless, which cuts more than 100 calories from each slice. These recipes include additional healthy swaps, as well, which are listed within each recipe below.

No-Bake Pumpkin Pieimg_0571

I use this name versus “pumpkin pie yogurt,” because it actually tastes like pumpkin pie – while not having to consume the flour, salt, granulated sugar, butter, cream and eggs found in the traditional recipes.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2-15 oz. cans pumpkin puree
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 tsp. molasses
  • 6 graham crackers, crumbled

Instructions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine 12 oz. of the yogurt and all remaining ingredients, except for graham crackers. Whip with a spoon.
  2. Divide graham crackers into small dessert bowls, and cover with pumpkin pie mixture. Finish with a dollop of nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt.

Pecan Pieimg_0576

This recipe swaps the following:

  • Granulated sugar for stevia
  • Eggs for egg whites
  • Regular flour for whole wheat flour
  • Butter for coconut oil

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 cup natural honey
  • 1 cup egg whites
  • 1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp. almondmilk
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. bag or cups chopped pecans

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and coat pie dish with cooking spray.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and transfer to greased pie plate.
  3. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Apple Cobblerimg_0575

This recipe swaps the following:

  • Regular flour for whole wheat flour
  • Granulated sugar for stevia
  • Eggs for egg whites
  • Coconut oil for butter

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 4 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 12 slices per apple)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp. egg whites
  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and coat 9×9 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place apples in dish.
  3. Combine flour, stevia, cinnamon and egg whites, mix until it becomes a crumble and pour over the apples.
  4. Pour coconut oil over the apples and flour mixture.
  5. Bake for 30-45 minutes.

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New moms: Free up some time with these freezer meals

Click here to watch our October 14 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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I’ve been trying to find and embrace balance in a few of areas of my life lately. As you know, I’m all about reducing the barriers to healthy eating by making it quick, cheap and easy – as well as tasty and satisfying, of course. That can be a tall order. On top of that, I’ve added yet another dimension: fresh. This is what has me thinking about balance.

I was a loyal “meal prepper” for a few years, until recently, when I noticed that I just couldn’t get myself pumped up to do it. I couldn’t stomach the idea of spending my entire Sunday – my day of rest – bulk cooking these meals that seemed to lack the love that a fresh meal offers. I missed cooking for my husband – and enjoying the same meal together.

When I stepped away from meal prepping, I started to miss the convenience it offered me during the action-packed week. So I knew that I needed to find a place in the middle, between fresh and convenient, and try something new: freezer meals. The only prep work includes chopping certain ingredients and throwing them into a freezer bag and into the freezer.

Striking a good balance with healthy eating is even more critical to moms who have just welcomed a new addition to the family, because they need the energy necessary to not only care for someone who completely depends on them but also to keep themselves healthy. So I developed a couple freezer meals that moms – or family and friends! – can prep before the baby’s arrival or while he or she is sleeping.

Blueberry Kale Smoothieimg_0182

Benefits:

  • Kale and bananas last up to three months in the freezer; refer to package instructions on how long frozen blueberries last
  • Breakdown of ingredients that are good for Mom:
    • Kale – good source of:
      • Antioxidants (help with preventing various diseases)
      • Calcium (contributes to bone health)
      • Iron (provides energy by helping with holding onto and transporting oxygen to various parts of the body)
      • Vitamin A (contributes to skin health and vision)
      • Vitamin C (contributes to healthy immune system)
    • Blueberries – good source of:
      • Antioxidants (help with preventing various diseases)
      • Carbohydrates (help to boost energy)
      • Minerals
      • Vitamins
    • Almondmilk and nonfat plain Greek yogurt – low-fat dairy products are a good source of:
      • Calcium (contributes to bone health)
      • Protein (helps to repair bones, muscle and tissue)
      • Vitamin B (helps your body to convert the food you eat into fuel)
      • Vitamin D (strengthens bones)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup kale, chopped
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup blueberries, frozen (from freezer section of grocery store)
  • ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 12 oz. unsweetened vanilla almondmilk

Instructions:

  1. Place kale and banana in sandwich-size plastic bag with a zipper flatten bag to remove air and for easy stacking and place into freezer.
  2. When ready to enjoy, place frozen kale and bananas and remaining ingredients into a blender, and blend thoroughly.

Note: You may also use the frozen kale and bananas for my green smoothie recipe.

Beef Chiliimg_0181

Benefits:

  • Lasts up to three months in the freezer
  • Breakdown of ingredients that are good for Mom:
    • Lean beef – good source of:
      • Iron (provides energy by helping with holding onto and transporting oxygen to various parts of the body)
      • Protein (helps to repair bones, muscle and tissue)
      • Vitamin B-12 (helps your body with forming new red blood cells, brain function, metabolism and hormone production)
    • Beans (legumes) – good source of:
      • Carbohydrates (help to boost energy)
      • Protein (helps to repair bones, muscle and tissue)
      • Iron (mainly in the dark beans; provides energy by helping with holding onto and transporting oxygen to various parts of the body)
    • Quinoa – good source of:
      • Carbohydrates (help to boost energy)
      • Protein (helps to repair bones, muscle and tissue)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2-14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes no salt added
  • 1-15.5 oz. can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-15.5 oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-15.25 oz. can reduced-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Ground pepper to taste

Options:

  • For a savory chili: Add a can of no-salt-added corn, one diced onion and/or scallions, one diced bell pepper, minced fresh garlic or garlic powder to taste and garnish with a dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt and shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese.
  • For a sweet chili: Add cinnamon to taste.

Instructions:

  1. Place all ingredients into a gallon freezer bag, flatten bag to remove air and for easy stacking and place into freezer.
  2. Allow to thaw in refrigerator for a day. Once thawed, dump contents of freezer bag into crock pot. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8.

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Preventing breast cancer with color (hint: it’s not pink)

Click here to watch our October 2 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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Most of the recipes I develop are targeted toward people living their daily lives, from packing school lunches to hosting football parties. As we know, healthy eating doesn’t only have its place in a child’s lunchbox or on a coffee table. And it isn’t just about giving our kids brain food or our friends an alternative for hot wings.

Our lives – our whole lives – depend on it.

A healthy diet is undoubtedly beneficial and important for everyone. It helps us to feel our best while preventing and recovering from disease – all in an effort to live a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life. Eating a healthy diet can even help to prevent diseases like breast cancer.

Here are some healthy eating tips from Susan G. Komen for the Cure for overall health and possible protection against different types of cancer and other diseases:

Maintain a healthy weight by limiting high-calorie foods and beverages and living a physically active lifestyle.

Eat the following:

  • At least 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables every day.
    • 100 percent whole grain foods (ex. 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, millet and quinoa).
    • Eat “healthy” fats – aka polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (ex. olive and canola oil, nuts and natural nut butters, avocado and olives).
  • Limit the following:
    • Red meat and processed meat. Instead, eat chicken, fish or beans.
    • “Bad” fats – aka saturated and trans fats (ex. red meat, fatty deli meats, poultry skin, full fat dairy, fried foods, margarine, donuts and microwave popcorn).

The recipes below incorporate the guidance above, with a focus on a specific naturally occurring plant chemical that can help to prevent breast cancer, among other forms and diseases: carotenoids. These are the plant pigments that create the color in apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, leafy greens, oranges, sweet potatoes, cooked tomatoes, watermelon and winter squash. I love the color that carotenoids bring into food and that, given their wide range of flavors and textures, they’re easy to incorporate into your diet.

Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chicken and Quinoa Chili

It’s finally cooling down in Augusta, and temps have dropped below the 90s! This calls for chili.img_0127

This recipe includes three vegetables that are high in carotenoids – carrots, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. It also incorporates Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s guidance above with the use of whole grains (quinoa), chicken (instead of red meat) and no “bad” fats.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 sweet potatoes, baked, cut down the middle
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, uncooked
  • 2-14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes no salt added
  • 1-15.25 oz. can reduced-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-15.5 oz. can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-15.5 oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-15.25 oz. can no-salt-added corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, shredded with box grater
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional:
    • 1 cup goat cheese crumbles
    • 2 cups or 12 oz. Greek or soy yogurt
    • Cilantro, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients, except for the optional ones, to the slow cooker.
  2. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or until the chicken is completely cooked through and chicken can be shredded easily. Mix all ingredients.
  3. Divide chili among open-faced potatoes, and top with desired toppings.

If you’re looking for something with which you can pair this, I recommend a spinach or kale salad. Try some carrots, tomatoes and feta or goat cheese on top with your choice of healthy fat (avocado, nuts, olives, olive oil). Spinach, kale, carrots and tomatoes are all carotenoids.

Green Smoothieimg_0123

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups kale
  • 1 banana
  • 3 oz. plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered peanut butter or reduced-fat natural peanut butter
  • 8 oz. almondmilk (just enough to drench most of the kale)
  • About 10 ice cubes (to fill line)

Instructions:

  1. Place all ingredients into a blender or single-serve blender cup, and blend.

Butternut Squash Soupimg_0131

Check out this recipe, which I shared in March for a segment of healthier lunch foods as part of a “Clean 2016” series.

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Cooking on vacation: 4 tips and 3 recipes

Click here to watch our July 24 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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My “joy of cooking” isn’t what I’d consider a pure joy of cooking. I do it to support my healthy lifestyle – to have total control over what I’m putting in my body. Sure, in doing so, I’ve discovered and developed a fascination in making healthy cooking cheap, quick and easy, but I don’t love it so much that I want to spend what little personal time I have in the kitchen – especially while on vacation.

Last month, my husband, Nate, and I went on vacation with my family and stayed in a lovely home in a beautiful, remote lake town, so we ate all of our meals at the house. As I planned for the trip and drafted my grocery list, I found myself facing the following challenges:

  • Not really wanting to cook on vacation.
  • Few grocery stores with limited options at the lake.
  • Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar or few gadgets at the rental home.

Vacation is all about striking the perfect balance between fun and relaxation and minimizing the things that we don’t really want to do – which, for me, was spending time in the kitchen instead of being either on the lake or looking at it with my family. Since cooking on vacation was totally new to me, I kicked off the process with what I do best: planning!

I’d like to pass along a few tips that I discovered leading up to and during the vacation:

  1. Plan your meals, and grocery shop in advance. Pack all refrigerated or frozen items in a cooler with lots of ice.
  2. Plan to cook things that require as few kitchen gadgets as possible, and bring those gadgets that you need with you.
  3. Prepare food as much as you can ahead of time without sacrificing freshness.
  4. Make sure that all meals, whether prepared in advance or on site, are low-maintenance!

Note: I was only responsible for shopping for and cooking dinner one night!

Per the challenges and tips listed above, I’m sharing three recipes, each representing one of the following conveniences:

  1. A meal to make ahead of time that travels well.
  2. A meal to fix and forget on site.
  3. A *quick and easy* meal to make on site.

Make Ahead of Time: BBQ Turkey MeatballsIMG_9194

When I say “make ahead of time,” I mean make way ahead of time. The meatballs can last in the freezer for about two months, so, if you’re making them that far in advance, I recommend holding off on making the BBQ sauce until closer to when you plan to enjoy it.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • BBQ Sauce:
    • 2 cup unsweetened ketchup mixture:
      • 2 Tbsp. water
      • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
      • 2-6 oz. cans tomato paste
      • ½ tsp. garlic powder
    • 1 cup molasses
    • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
    • 1 tsp. onion powder
    • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce
  • Meatballs:
    • Cooking spray
    • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 white onion, diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
    • ½ cup unsweetened almondmilk
    • 1.25 lbs. 93 percent lean ground turkey, raw
    • 6 Tbsp. egg whites
    • 1 Tbsp. oregano, dried
    • 3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
    • ¼ cup BBQ sauce
    • Ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

BBQ Sauce:

  1. Place all ketchup mixture ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Once it starts to simmer, back it off to low so the tomato paste doesn’t burn.

Meatballs:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line two medium or large baking sheets with aluminum foil, and coat with cooking spray.
  3. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  4. Mix bread crumbs and almondmilk in a small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Combine onion/garlic mixture, turkey, egg whites, oregano, Parmesan cheese,¼ cup of the BBQ sauce, and add bread crumb and almondmilk mixture. Once mixed thoroughly, place in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. Form turkey into about 35 1-inch balls, and place on lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Roll them over, and bake for another 5. Remove from oven to cool.
  8. Once cool, place in two gallon-size zip freezer plastic bags, and freeze for up to two months.
  9. When you’re ready to eat them, place them in a large pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot in order to thaw the meatballs, and simmer over medium-high heat. Once thawed, add the BBQ sauce.

Fix and Forget: Pulled Chicken Ranch Lettuce WrapsIMG_9198

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs. or two chicken breasts
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almondmilk
  • ¼ tsp.+ ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
  • 1 tsp. onion powder, divided
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. cumin
  • 2 cups reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • Cilantro, to taste
  • 18 leaves of Bibb or Romaine lettuce

Instructions:

  1. Place chicken breasts in a crockpot liner, forming an even later, and pour in water. Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.
  2. Ranch dressing: In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, Dijon mustard, almondmilk and ½ tsp. of the garlic powder and ½ tsp of the onion powder, and add some ground black pepper to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator.
  3. Taco seasoning: In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ tsp. garlic powder and ½ tsp. onion powder and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper with the chili powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika and cumin.
  4. Once chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish, and shred with two forks. Mix in taco seasoning.
  5. Divide the lettuce leaves among six plates, and place the pulled chicken on top of the leaves. Then drizzle with ranch dressing and other toppings.

On-Site: Baked Tilapia with Georgialina SalsaIMG_9200

Augusta is right on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, so this area is often referred to as “Georgialina.” Since the state fruit of both states is the peach and the pineapple serves as a symbol of hospitality and friendship – two wonderful things – in South Carolina, I thought it would be perfect to make salsa with both fruits! The peach and pineapple are very sweet, but the combination of shallot, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and garlic cuts the sweetness. Together, they make a rather refreshing combination!

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 peach, ripe, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • Your choice of one of the following peppers:
    • 1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and finely diced
    • 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 tilapia fillets
  • Olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place all ingredients – except for the tilapia and olive oil! – into a food processor, and pulse about 10 times or until the pieces are diced small and mixed.
  3. Transfer mixture into a bowl, cover and place in the fridge for about an hour so the sweet and spicy flavors have the opportunity to blend.
  4. After the salsa has been marinating for at least 45 minutes, lightly coat pan with olive oil. Place the tilapia on the pan, and flip them a couple of times to lightly coat them with oil. Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove tilapia from oven. Once cool, divide among six plates, and top each fillet with salsa.

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3 reasons Dad doesn’t have to grill this Father’s Day

I grew up in a household where only Dad did the grilling. While working hard to support a family of six, he still had it in him to grill burgers, hot dogs (in our household, it was Nittany Lion Franks – it’s a Penn State thing!), steak, chicken, you name it. I even remember him making tuna steaks that he caught on a fishing trip to the Chesapeake Bay.

If dad is the grill master in your household, and you want him to take a load off – AND, like me, cooking over an open flame isn’t your thing, unless it involves holding marshmallows on a stick and sinking your teeth into a gooey…

Ahh, FOCUS!

…anyway, then you might want to consider incorporating these three lightened-up versions of Dad’s favorite foods into your Father’s Day feast.

  1. Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers with Feta
  2. Pulled Chicken with Homemade BBQ Sauce
  3. Turkey Meatloaf

I’m sure he’ll appreciate not having to stand outside in the summer heat over a fire!

Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers with FetaIMG_8787

As soon as I went off camera during my WJBF appearance in April and made it back to the control room to return my mic, I received an email from a reader who was interested in a healthier hamburger recipe that doesn’t involve turkey. I was stumped – until I thought of the store-bought black bean burgers that I eat sometimes.

I tested these on my friends at a Memorial Day cookout, and they loved them! In terms of nutritional value, between the black beans and quinoa, this burger is packed with plant-based protein!

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup red quinoa
  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 15-oz. can reduced-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ of a 15.25-oz. no-salt-added corn, rinsed and drained
  • 3.5 oz. reduced-fat feta crumbles
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • Optional: 8 whole-wheat hamburger buns

Instructions:

  1. Cook quinoa per package instructions.IMG_8785
  2. While quinoa is cooking, heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion or shallot, and cook for about 5 minutes or until onion or shallot is translucent. Stir in half of the black beans and the garlic, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about a minute, just long enough to warm and soak the beans in the oil for easier mashing.
  3. Transfer mixture to a bowl, and mash with a fork. Add cooked quinoa, and stir in remaining black beans, corn, feta, chili powder and cumin.IMG_8786
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and generously coat baking sheet with cooking spray.
  5. Shape bean mixture into 8 patties, and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, or until patties are crisp on top. Allow patties to cool for about five minutes.
  6. Coat the top side of a spatula with cooking spray, and carefully flip patties. You’ll likey need to reform them a bit with the spatula and with your hand. Bake 15 minutes more, or until both sides are crisp and brown.

Pulled Chicken with Homemade BBQ Sauce

I love pork BBQ – so much, in fact, that we served it at our down-home wedding in rural Virginia. I think that the best pork BBQ sandwich I ever ate was at a tractor pull that Nate took me to just a couple of weeks after we moved to Augusta. However, I choose to eat this very rarely due to the fattiness in the cut of meat used to make pork BBQ – anything from the shoulder to the belly – and calories, sugar and carbohydrates in the sauce.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

BBQ Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup mixture (from turkey meatloaf recipe below, minus the stevia):
    • 1 Tbsp. water
    • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
    • 6 oz. can tomato paste
    • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sauce

Pulled Chicken

  • 2 lb. chicken breast, trimmed
  • Water

Instructions:

BBQ Sauce

  1. Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium, and allow to simmer while you prepare the chicken.
  3. Serve by spooning on top of pulled chicken.

Pulled chicken

  1. Place chicken breasts into a saucepan, and pour in enough water to cover.
  2. Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked and no longer pink, about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Transfer chicken breasts to a separate dish, allow to cool and shred with two forks.
  5. Serve on top of a whole wheat bun.

Note: You can also cook the chicken in a crock pot set on high for 3-4 hours or set on low for 6-8 hours, but I find that this approach makes the chicken shred too finely.

Turkey Meatloaf

IMG_8784My husband, Nate, loves the turkey meatloaf I make. In fact, it started off as a Christmas tradition that lasted two years, until we decided to do something different for our first Christmas as a married couple, in 2014.

This recipe is lighter than the traditional beef meatloaf recipe and even most turkey meatloaf recipes all the way down to the ketchup mixture. Here’s how:

  • Meat: lean ground turkey breast instead of ground turkey and beef to cut back on fat
  • Filler: wheat flour or oat flour instead of bleached flour
  • Binder: egg whites instead of egg with yolk to cut back on calories, fat and cholesterol
  • Ketchup mixture: easy-to-make homemade mixture instead of ketchup to cut back on sugar and sodium; ketchup contains 4 grams of sugar and 190 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon

Serves 8

Ingredients:

Ketchup mixture

  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 8 Tbsp. or packets stevia
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2-6 oz. cans tomato paste
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder

Meatloaf

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 white or yellow onion
  • 1 tsp. or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.25 lbs. lean ground turkey breast
  • ¾ cup wheat bread crumbs or oats, ground into flour
  • 2 egg whites
  • ⅛ cup ketchup mixture

Instructions:

Ketchup topping

  1. IMG_8783Pour water into medium saucepan, and set heat to medium-high until boiling. Add stevia, stir and reduce heat to medium.
  2. Pour apple cider vinegar into same saucepan.
  3. Add tomato paste and garlic, stir and reduce heat to low.
  4. Mix well, and remove from heat. Set aside.

Meatloaf

  1. Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and generously coat loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Heat oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute for about five minutes or until onions are translucent and slightly golden, then transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  3. Mix together onion/garlic mixture, turkey, wheat bread crumbs or wheat flour, egg whites and ketchup mixture (just ⅛ cup!), place in loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. Spread thin layer of remaining ketchup mixture over the top of the meatloaf, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Links to Other Recipes for Dad

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