Crispy Carnitas

Since I made this the first time a couple weeks ago, I haven't stopped telling my friends and clients they need to try it. The meat is juicy and flavorful, making you feel like you're eating out at a Mexican restaurant, without all the grease. 

It feeds a large group, and keeps well if you’re like me and plan to re-heat it throughout the week for lunches. Throw into a corn tortilla for tacos, or serve it bowl-style with rice, beans or lettuce. Top with cilantro for an extra fresh twist, and throw green chilis into the crockpot for a kick. Recipe adapted from @FeedingTheFrasers.

Ingredients:

4lbs pork butt or shoulder

3-4 teaspoons of salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried cumin

½ cup sweet onion, diced

4 teaspoons minced garlic (or 8 cloves, smashed)

2 limes, juiced

2 large oranges, 1 juiced and 1 sliced

Directions:

  1. In the slow cooker, add pork, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, onion, garlic, lime juice and orange juice

  2. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8-10 hours, or high heat for 5-6 hours (until meat is falling apart)

  3. Remove pork and shred with two forks (keep the liquid!)

  4. Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot, add pork in batches of two or three, and sear until just beginning to crisp. Pour about ½ cup of leftover liquid onto meat in pan, and continue cooking until the juices reduce down and the meat is crispy.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Recipe: Summertime Fiesta Bowl, Cilantro Lime Chicken and Rice

This dish is easy, super satisfying and tastes like a summertime fiesta in your kitchen. Oh, did I mention it’s ridiculously easy?

This serves 2-3 people with big appetites, and there’s about 3/4lb chicken left that will store great in the fridge to pair with regular rice, quinoa, sweet potato, beans or a salad for quick meals later in the week. Score!

Cilantro Lime Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen)

  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix (I used Casa Fiesta)

  • 1 16 oz jar salsa (use your favorite; I used Sprouts brand classic mild)

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • Juice from two fresh squeezed limes

Instructions

  1. In your slow cooker, place the chicken breasts first, and top with taco seasoning.

  2. Top with salsa, lime juice and cilantro.

  3. Put lid on top and cook for about 4 hours on high, or 6-7 hours on low.

  4. Move chicken to a bowl, and shred with two forks. Pour a small amount of juice from the slow cooker on the chicken to add moisture, based on preference.

  5. Set aside to put on top of Fiesta Lime Rice (below), or enjoy by itself or on top of a salad - yum!

Nutrition: Per 4oz - 8g carb, 2g fat, 24.4g protein (149 calories) and high in Iron.

Fiesta Lime Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 package Uncle Ben’s Jasmine Ready Rice (90 second microwave kind, SO easy! You also can use dry rice, you’ll need about 1-½ cup cooked)

  • ½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and heated

  • ¾ cup cooked corn (I grilled mine, but you can also get the frozen steamable kind!)

  • 1 small-medium tomato (diced)

  • ½ cup chopped bell peppers

  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • Juice from one fresh squeezed lime

  • Salt to taste

Directions

Toss all ingredients in a bowl, stir, and serve warm.

*If you made the chicken, mix in with rice and enjoy! Any lean protein mixed in with this rice would be delicious. Other good toppings or mix-ins could be shredded cabbage, avocado, sour cream, onions, jalapeños and/or cheese.

Nutriton: Per 100g rice - 20g carb, .7g fat, 3.2g protein (98 calories), and high in vitamin C and Potassium. 

If you need help tracking these recipes in MFP, check out my step-by-step guide here.

 

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Recipe: You won't believe how easy (and delicious!) this spaghetti squash is

It's no secret I love spaghetti squash. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the health benefits and basically why it rocks, so check it out if you haven't already. This recipe is my latest take on the versatile vegetable, and it's easily now one of my favorites. With the perfect amount of flavor, it's a staple side or base to a main dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti squash

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt

  • Black pepper

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

  2. Cut spaghetti squash length-wise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon

  3. Brush the inside of the squash halves with 1 tbsp oil (1/2 tbsp each) and season generously with salt and pepper

  4. Place the halves face up on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. Then, remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to touch.

  5. Use a fork to scrape the inside of the squash, creating spaghetti-like strands. Set aside.

  6. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly brown (about 3 minutes).

  7. Turn off heat, add cheese and reserved spaghetti squash to the pan. Use tongs to evenly coat.

  8. Enjoy!

Note: If you want to use this as a main course instead of a side dish, just add protein! Ground turkey, lean ground beef, chicken sausage, shrimp, salmon or chicken (grilled, baked, rotisserie) are all great options.

To have extras for later and/or use as the base of a meal, consider cooking 2 spaghetti squashes at the same time.

Nutrition: Per serving (about 1/4 of recipe): 3g carb, 3g protein, 8g fat - 96 calories

Recipe: Turkey Stuffed Peppers

I tend to keep my cooking pretty easy by focusing on rotating between a few staple items and mixing things up with spice and flavorful, nutrient-dense complimentary ingredients. For more on my simplistic approach, check out my meal prep strategy here. But in this case, it was a chilly evening and I was feeling creative, so I decided to try something new in the kitchen and it did not disappoint. These turkey stuffed peppers are full of flavor, perfectly satisfying and packed with wholesome goodness. Give them a try, and let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • Nonstick spray
  • 6 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat medium skillet with nonstick spray and turn to medium heat.
  3. Add onion, garlic and cilantro to pan and sauté about 2 minutes
  4. Add ground turkey, salt, garlic powder and cumin to pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of chicken broth to pan, mix well and simmer on low for about 5 minutes.
  6. Combine cooked rice and meat together.
  7. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove all seeds. Spoon 2/3 cup meat mixture into each pepper half and place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top each with 1 tbsp cheese.
  8. Pour the remainder of the chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
  9. Be careful when removing the foil. Let cool for a few minutes before eating, and enjoy! 

Nutrition:

1 serving = half a pepper, makes 6 servings. Per serving: 30.4g carb, 24.2g protein, 4.5g fat | 259 calories

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Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe

Hot chocolate is a crowd favorite this time of year, and whether you’re bundled up at home or out looking at Christmas lights, the smooth, sweet flavor quickly warms your heart and hands.

A tall hot chocolate from Starbucks traditionally made (with 2% milk) packs 320 calories (39g carb/13g fat/11g protein), and made with almond milk it has 250 calories (33g carb/12g fat/4g protein). And both have about 30 grams of sugar - yikes!

Don’t miss out on this seasonal staple, make it at home to save calories and money. This recipe requires only four main ingredients and takes less than five minutes to prepare. Nutrition before topping options: 64 calories per serving (5g carb/3.5g fat/7.5g protein).

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp collagen protein*

8 drops vanilla creme stevia or 2 regular stevia packets

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and whisk together until cocoa powder is mixed well. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently for a few minutes until hot. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Topping ideas:

  • Ground cinnamon is a great option -- 1 tbsp has only 3 calories (1g carb/0g fat/0g protein) and adds just a hint of Christmas spirit.

  • Top with 2 tbsp whipped cream for only 15 cals (1g carb/1g fat/0g protein).

  • To make peppermint hot cocoa, add 3 drops pure peppermint extract and break half a candy cane into pieces and sprinkle on top of finished drink, adds 25 cals (6.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

  • Chocolate lovers rejoice! Cocoa nibs have delicious flavor and great texture, and 1 tbsp is only 60 cals (3g carb/5g fat/1g protein) -- sprinkle on top or mix and melt in.

  • A classic: mini marshmallows, just 15 grams gets the job done for 45 cals (11.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

Notes:

You can also use cashew milk (a little creamier than almond) or coconut milk based on preference.

*Collagen protein is beef based (non-dairy). It is flavorless and dissolves in water, so be cautious if substituting for a different protein powder.

Sources:

Various nutrition facts may vary based on brand. Starbucks information from their website

How to Track a Recipe in My Fitness Pal

Creating a recipe in My Fitness Pal (MFP) makes tracking your food so much easier if you’re someone that likes to get creative in the kitchen, cooks in bulk for the week or makes large portions, such as for a family. It also improves the accuracy of your tracking and makes it quicker to log next time you eat the dish and/or make the recipe. Follow the steps below to learn how, and reference the set of pictures at the end of the instructions if needed. Happy cooking! 

Step 1. Open the MFP app on your phone and select More on the bottom right of the screen

Step 2. Select Meals, Recipes and Foods

Step 3. Select Create a Recipe at the bottom of the screen

Step 4. Select Enter Ingredients Manually

Step 5. Under Recipe Information, give your recipe a title. Then change the Serving Size to 1, and press the arrow in the top right corner to move on to the next step.

Step 6. Select Add Ingredient. This will enable you to search the MFP database for millions of foods so you can add ingredients individually. Try to check your ingredients for accuracy because there can be some incorrect listings in the database -- the more specific you can be with your search (brand name, store you purchased it at, etc.), the better. You can also scan the barcode of items you have on hand by pressing scan on the bottom right. Begin adding ingredients, adjusting their quantities to reflect how much you’re using for the total recipe.

Step 7. Once you’ve added all your ingredients, make sure the serving size is set to 1 before completing -- you’ll see it next to the Calories Per Serving at the bottom of the page. Click the arrow in the top right of the screen, and you will be taken to the Save Recipe page. Note that the nutrition facts shown are for the entire recipe, because your serving size is currently set to 1.

Step 8. You need to weigh the finished product in grams, which may have to be done in several bowls if the quantity is too large (then just add the measurements together). When you set an empty container on the food scale, press “tear” or “zero” to zero out the scale, then start adding food to get the weight -- otherwise it will include the weight of the bowl/container in your measurement.

Step 9. Once you have the total grams of the recipe, you’ll return to the Save Recipe page you left on and update the servings from 1 to the grams total you just measured. Then press Save Recipe. You’ll notice that the nutrition facts updated (and are much lower) because they now reflect a single gram of the recipe.

Step 10. Now you’re ready to enjoy and log your recipe! When you go to track the food, you’ll see Recipes on the food diary page. Recall that 1 serving = 1 gram, so when you weigh the portion you’d like to eat, just change the amount to the grams you weighed for that meal. As you can see in the example, the tracker is eating 100g of the recipe.

All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!

A healthier take on the pumpkin spice craze

Do I think it's silly that every girl (+ the guys who won't admit it) obsess over all things pumpkin this time of year? Yes. Will I still partake in the seasonal nonsense? Also yes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - you can have your PSL and drink it, too. ️

Here are some things to keep in mind this fall to keep indulgences in check:

  • Order a low-fat latte (non-fat or almond/coconut milk), add 1 pump pumpkin spice, ask for pumpkin spice sprinkles on top and skip the whip. That cuts the originally 340 calorie drink in HALF (literally). PS: the actual pumpkin spice sauce has dairy, so the alternative milk doesn't make it completely dairy-free, if that's something you're cautious of.
  • For an even lighter coffee, order an Americano (espresso + water) with some steamed cream or coconut milk (the steaming makes the milk taste sweeter), and add 1 pump pumpkin spice. Boom! 
  • Snag some pumpkin spice K-Cups for your Keurig.
  • The store bought pastries are hefty: running 380-500 calories (+ lots of sugar) per muffin or scone. Make baked goods yourself with healthy tricks like utilizing apple sauce, Greek yogurt, egg whites and/or protein powder. Test one, and give the rest away. I found a handful of ideas (complete with nutrition facts) on Cookie and Kate and on Amy's Healthy Baking.
  • Treat pumpkin pie like Thanksgiving food, not "because Costco has them already" food. You're in control of your choices, not the supermarket.
  • Pick up some pumpkin spice tea on Amazon for all the warm-your-heart-deliciousness and none of the calories (seriously zero, it's just tea).
  • To make a macro-friendly pumpkin spice hot chocolate, steam 8oz of chocolate almond milk (or heat in the microwave), add 1/2oz pumpkin pie sauce and top with cinnamon, nutmeg and if you're feeling super festive, finish with a dollop of whip (15 cals per 2 tbsp). This version: 132 calories. An 8oz pumpkin spice hot chocolate at Starbucks: 438 calories. Whoa!

Lastly, below is a shake recipe I love to make this time of year. By utilizing real pumpkin and no added sugar, it satisfies the craving without the added empty calories. And, sneaking protein in throughout the day is always a plus! This blended treat has good sources of protein and carbs, and is low in fat -- perfect for a post-workout meal.

Recipe: Pumpkin Protein Shake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • 1 scoop protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 banana
  • Ice cubes (about 6)

Directions

Throw it all in a blender and mix until ingredients look smooth. Top with nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Macros

32g carb, 6g fat, 27g protein (290 calories) for one shake.

Modifications/Suggestions

  • For extra protein, add 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of collagen protein, or 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter.
  • For extra fat, add a tablespoon of almond butter or MCT oil.
  • For extra sweetness, add 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs, a pinch of stevia or a few drop of liquid stevia.

Enjoy, 'tis the season!

Resources:

Starbucks Nutrition Facts

 

How to Beat Nighttime Sugar Cravings

Craving some sweet, chocolaty and delicious before bed is totally normal -- but it's no basis for derailing your progress. The best thing you can do is to know the craving is coming and be prepared with a strategy to win the day. Plan for your roadblocks to happen so you're ready to get through them, until they don't happen anymore.

Below are a bunch of strategies you can utilize to kick those cravings, overcome them completely, or simply make a more mindful choice. If you find any of them helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or share with a friend!

Try these out:

  • Plug in something small and sweet into your food log for the evening before logging the rest of your day so you can account for it and it's planned in later; like a piece of dark chocolate. Then, you can look forward to it all day and it doesn't throw you off when you have it.

  • Have some fruit, its naturally sweet and will curve the craving a little bit. Fruit breaks down into sugar the same way sweets do, and they have way more micronutrients (vitamins + minerals)! Try: strawberries with a little whip cream on top, peaches warmed up and topped with granola, apple slices topped with cinnamon or a little peanut butter, frozen grapes, or some raspberries topped with Stevia.

  • Drink more water at night; that helps with cravings -- and you could do something fun like add orange, cucumber or lemon slices to your water.

  • Have some hot, decaffeinated tea. There's plenty of naturally sweet teas (no added sugar) you can find at a local Fry's or Sprout's store, or via Amazon that come in decedent flavors like caramel and actually promote restful sleep.

  • Brush your teeth right after dinner so you're less likely to snack on something.

  • Set an alarm to go off on your phone about the time this usually happens at night; change the name from "alarm" to "you've got this!" or a brief message about your why behind your goal you're working toward. This literal reminder will come at the perfect time to re-instill that motivation.

  • Ask yourself: are you tired, stressed, bored, or upset? Those feelings may increase your cravings, and I encourage you to recognize that you are in control of your actions, not your emotions at the time.

  • Journal about what you're craving -- seriously! Write down why it might be, how committed you are to your goal, and then how proud of yourself you are that you stuck to the plan. Then, in your next moment of weakness, you'll have this to reference.

  • Distract yourself: go do some meditation (Headspace, for example), go for a walk outside, or write in your gratitude journal.

  • Just go to bed -- seriously! I know that one seems silly, but really, you probably just need to catch some zzz's. I promise you'll wake up being glad you stayed strong. If you need some ideas for before bed rituals to get your mind off the candy drawer and on the pillow, check out this blog post.

Good luck, and cheers to empowered, healthy evenings! :)

Prepping for success: Snacking secrets

Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:

  • Keeping your hunger in check between meals
    • You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
  • Getting extra nutrients in
    • I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
  • Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
    • Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
  • Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
  • Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
  • Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
  • In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
  • Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
  • Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.

When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?

For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.

The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.

For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.

Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).

For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.

Nature’s Pasta: Spaghetti Squash 101

I’ll be the first to admit I was a little skeptical of this imposter-like vegetable. Quit trying to be something you’re not, spaghetti squash. You’re not pasta and I will not be tricked into thinking so.

That’s how I felt anyway, but as of late you could say I’m pretty obsessed with this piece of produce. I cut it some slack and gave it a shot, and now I’m a big fan. I’ll get into a few ways to enjoy it, but first I want to explain why it rocks. And if you’re anything like me and may have been too intimidated to buy it because you don’t know how to cook the darn thing — well, I’ll cover that too.

First, it’s a nutrient powerhouse! Those little strands are packed with fiber, vitamins C, A, K, B-6, thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin and the minerals manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Friendly reminder/disclaimer: some of these are found in smaller amounts than others, but beneficial nonetheless.

Secondly, spaghetti squash is a big bang for your buck kind of ingredient. You can eat a lot of it without consuming a copious amount of calories. I like to think of it as a macro-counter’s secret weapon. At approximately 42 calories/10g carbs and little to no fat or protein per one cup serving, it makes a great substitution for traditional pasta. It’s also naturally gluten-free and Paleo-friendly.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not a pasta and this is true. However, it’s an extremely versatile vegetable and can add tons of volume to your meals (volume meaning eating lots of food for not all the gross fullness feeling). It helps you stay on track with your healthy eating regimen and doesn’t make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. I don’t consider it a substitution for spaghetti, rather a completely alternative ingredient that can be used how pasta can.

Lastly, there’s dozens of ways you can serve it, which keeps the creative juices flowing in the kitchen and the feeling of variety in your diet (read more about how variety leads to success in another one of my posts here).

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to remove the seeds in the middle, then drizzle olive oil and dash some salt and pepper, and any other handy cabinet spices you enjoy, all over. Next, turn the two halves facedown on a foil-covered sheet (yay for easy cleanup!) and bake for 25-35 minutes or so, until you’re happy with the texture (test this by scraping the inside with a fork). Lastly, let cool and scoop out the squash with a fork to get the spaghetti-like pieces.

My Tips:

  • I usually do this while I’m doing something else (like making a different meal, cleaning, studying, etc.) because most of it is baking time and doesn’t require hands-on work.
  • Cook 2-3 squashes at a time so you can enjoy it for a few days following without having to get the baking pan out everyday; it stores perfectly well in a big container in the fridge.
  • Keep the seeds, roast separately, and enjoy as a snack later.
  • If it’s too hard to cut in half initially, try cooking it in the microwave for 2 minutes to soften before cutting. If only you could see the several times my roommate and I have switched off max effort attempts and different knives trying to get some of these suckers open. I’ve read you can poke fork holes in the squash and roast it whole (though it takes a little longer to cook) and cut it after to get to the stringy-goodness.
  • Lastly, use it as the base of a meal and get creative! It goes well with most proteins and vegetables and takes on the flavor of added ingredients wonderfully. I like to start with a heaping amount, and then use up whatever’s in the fridge and eat a big ‘ol bowl style dinner.

Try adding things like:

    • Bacon! Bacon goes with everything, duh
    • Mexican-inspired ingredients like black beans and salsa
    • Lemon juice and shrimp
    • Shredded cheese and avocado slices
    • Sautéed mushrooms and spinach
    • Ground beef, ground turkey or shredded chicken
    • Steamed zucchini and broccoli
    • Grilled asparagus and light soy sauce
    • Tomato sauce – mmm! Remember: you don’t need much sauce to get plenty of flavor, and either use real tomatoes, make your own sauce or be mindful of the ingredients of a store-bought brand. Packaged tomato sauce usually has lots of added ingredients, especially sugar.

Now go enjoy a big plate of spaghetti squash for me! I’d love to hear your favorite things to pair it with in the comments below.

Recipe: Peanut butter protein balls

Not to brag, but I’ve never made these for someone who didn’t love them. They’re a hit! Peanut butter-y, satisfying, filling and the perfect amount of sweetness. They’re best served and stored cold, and can be frozen and taken on the go to work or up a mountain for a mid-hike snack. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 cup dry oats

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

½ cup peanut butter

½ cup ground flaxseed

1 scoop whey protein

¼ cup honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 spoonful of coconut oil

A healthy dash of cinnamon

Directions:

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl, then place in fridge for 30 minutes. Then, roll out into balls and store in the fridge. Yum!

Suggestions and modifications:

  • Add raisins, dried cranberries or chocolate chips to the mix for added sweetness.
  • Substitute almond butter for peanut butter if that’s more your jam.
  • Double the recipe: I almost always make at least a double batch, because I’ll eat plenty of them or end up giving some away to family or friends at the gym.
  • Use a protein powder that compliments the other ingredients well (such as chocolate, peanut butter or vanilla).