High-Protein Freezer Breakfast Burritos

If you are or have ever been one of my clients (or friend or family member), and you tell me you don’t usually eat breakfast, chances are I’ve given you a lecture. I pause, I take a deep breath, and I start ranting about why you should eat breakfast and easy ideas of things you can eat and so on. Most people hang their head and say “I know, I know,” but do they really know? Why is it that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day?” Let’s discuss:

Why Should I Eat Breakfast?

This is where I get all science-y in explaining why your body loves breakfast. I’m going to explain this very simply and if you need more information, just Google it. Your body has many mechanisms in place to keep you alive when you’re sleeping (and not eating). One of these mechanisms is your liver releasing stored sugar to stabilize your blood sugar and keep your brain functioning while you’re off in dreamland. Unfortunately, your liver doesn’t have a high, medium, or low switch which means that it’s pumpin’ sugar with all its might, slowly but surely raising your blood sugar. When you wake up, since we can’t say, “Okay liver, I’m good, you can stop producing sugar now,” it’ll just keep going and going until… you eat breakfast! Wow, what?! It’s that easy? Yes! When you eat breakfast, specifically a breakfast with carbohydrates, you’re telling your body that you can now control your own blood sugar. In this article, which happens to be another easy breakfast option, I talk about why you want a stable blood sugar.

Who is Breakfast a Non-Negotiable Meal for?

You must eat breakfast if you have diabetes, (including gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes both taking medication/insulin and diet-controlled, as well as type 1 diabetes), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), have ever experienced “hanger,” feel like your mood fluctuates throughout the day, battle with fatigue, are thin, are overweight, are pregnant, are an active person, are a woman, are a child.. you catch my drift?

Reasons People Don’t eat Breakfast:

  • I don’t have enough time in the morning. If you feel like you can’t spare 10 minutes in the morning to make or eat breakfast, your only option (other than grabbing fast food) is to make your breakfast ahead of time. I might be foreshadowing here…
  • I’m just not hungry. I’d encourage you to still eat breakfast. First, ask yourself how late you’re typically eating at night. If a late dinner time or evening snacks are hindering your morning hunger, I suggest you adjust/eliminate that. Otherwise, start eating breakfast consistently and I guarantee you will start to wake up hungry. It just might take a few weeks.
  • I’m trying to lose weight or cut calories. Remember how I mentioned that your liver produces sugar until you eat in the morning? Well, a high blood sugar level causes your body to release that hormone insulin which, in excessive amounts, can lead to weight gain. Bottom line: Skipping breakfast to lose weight is counter-productive.
  • When I eat breakfast, I get hungry again sooner than normal. Good news, that’s your metabolism working for you! Two suggestions: 1. Make sure your breakfast has adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein to keep you satiated longer. 2. Plan to have a snack between breakfast and lunch, such as an apple with a small handful of almonds.

All of this brings me to why I started making these burritos in the first place. My adorable husband often skips breakfast, gasp. Well I should say, he used to skip breakfast until these burritos came into the picture. His excuse was that he wakes up super early to go exercise and doesn’t come home afterward so would have to buy something which is either unhealthy or expensive and blah blah blah. He’s not immune to my lectures so he’s heard my “why you should eat breakfast” speech a time or two. I eventually figured, as his loving and concerned wife, I should help him out. I wanted to make him something hearty enough to fill him up and keep him full until lunch. For an active guy with a big appetite, a breakfast burrito is not only hearty and filling, but delicious as well. The beauty of these is that they are also completely customizable.

burrito ingredients
Ingredients for simple breakfast burritos

I found these humongous tortillas at the commissary on post one day and I knew they were a winner. With a whole wheat option that provides a few grams of fiber, contains no shortening or partially hydrogenated oils, and a whopping 9 grams of protein, these were a no brainer. I chose an all-natural, uncured sausage to add protein and flavor but not a ton of sodium and preservatives. For the herbs, feel free to add any herbs you like, fresh or dried!

burrito potatoes
A medley of potato, onion, and herbs. Yum!

I always cook the eggs first then let them sit to cool. Cooking eggs is so easy that maybe I just want to get that out of the way first. I usually crack my eggs straight into the pan so I don’t dirty a separate bowl in the process. While the sausage is in the oven, I then start on the potatoes. It takes a little practice to get the potatoes perfectly fork tender, while allowing them to sear long enough to develop that golden brown crust. They’ll taste delicious whether they’re perfectly cooked or not, so don’t worry.

Spinach added for more nutritious & filling fiber!
Spinach added for more nutritious & filling fiber!

I add spinach to anything I can since it adds so much nutritious fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Spinach pairs so perfectly with eggs, especially in a quiche, yum!

This tortilla is ready to roll!
This tortilla is ready to roll… literally!

Allowing all of the ingredients to cool before assembling is crucial. You don’t want your tortilla getting soggy from the steam accumulating inside your burrito.

Assembling these burritos makes me so hungry, it’s hard not to shove one in my mouth right then. With all the vibrant colors, tastes, and smells, this is a breakfast that’s sure to provide you with the energy you need to have a productive morning.

An assembly area makes it easy to portion out the ingredients equally.
An assembly area makes it easy to portion out the ingredients equally.

Rolling the tortilla into a burrito takes practice, I’ll be honest. You can probably find some YouTube videos on how to do it but for me it just took patience. Once you get the technique down, you’re golden. The key is to fold the bottom over the ingredients and squeeze everything together firmly. Then you fold in the sides, then the upper edges, then roll until closed. Do the same thing when you wrap it in the aluminum foil.

Burritos ready for the freezer
Burritos are ready for the freezer. Don’t forget to remove foil before microwaving.

After the burritos are rolled and nicely stacked, I’ll put them into a bag and label the bag with the instructions: Remove foil before microwaving. Trust me, sometimes we all need a little reminding, especially if you’re eating this before you’ve had your morning coffee.

Freezer Breakfast Burritos

Ingredients

  • 5 large tortillas, preferably whole grain
  • 12-15 eggs
  • 6-7 red potatoes, skin on (or one large sweet potato)
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6-8 oz shredded cheese, I use cheddar
  • 2 large handfuls fresh spinach
  • 1 Tbsp butter (or canola oil or avocado oil)
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp parsley
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • Pinch of salt and pepper, plus more to taste
  • *Optional: 2 sausage links, preferably all natural/no preservatives, low-sodium

Other optional additions: mushrooms, tofu, zucchini, kale, feta cheese, black beans

Directions

  1. Cook eggs in pan on medium heat. Let cool completely.
  2. *Cook the meat according to package directions. Let cool completely. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Mince the onion and add to a pan (a separate pan from the eggs) on medium heat with the butter or oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook 1-2 minutes.
  4. Chop the potatoes into small bite-sized pieces and add to the pan with the onions. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the potatoes in the butter/oil.
  5. Let the potato/onion mixture cook for about 2 minutes then stir again and cook another 2 minutes. Add the herbs and stir to coat. Let cook another 1-2 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown.
  6. Add water to pan and cover with lid to steam the potatoes for about 5-7 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. If you notice the water evaporate and the potatoes are still hard, add another 1/4 cup water and steam until soft.
  7. Add spinach and replace lid for 1 minute then stir the mixture until the spinach is wilted throughout. Let cool completely.
  8. Place each tortilla on a separate sheet of aluminum foil. Once all the ingredients have cooled, start to assemble your burritos.
  9. Place equal amounts of cheese on each tortilla.
  10. Place equal amounts of eggs on each tortilla.
  11. Place equal amounts of potato/onion/spinach mixture on each tortilla.
  12. Place equal amounts of meat on each tortilla.
  13. Fold and roll each tortilla firmly to keep all ingredients tightly packed inside.
  14. Wrap each burrito in aluminum foil for freezing.*
  15. When ready to eat, remove the aluminum foil and place your burrito on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 3-6 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

*If you plan to store these burritos for longer than one week, wrap the burrito in plastic wrap before wrapping in foil, to help prevent freezer burn.

Coco-Nut Date Balls

As I sit here and type this post with walnut crumbs in my fingernails and the hint of coconut on my breath, I’m excited. I’m excited to share this recipe and I’m excited for you to try it… because I know you will! It’s too easy not to. If you’re getting bored with your post-workout smoothie or your morning snack that usually consists of a granola bar, these deliciously satisfying date & nut balls are for you.

Deliciously creamy and slightly crunchy nut & date balls with a hint of coconut flavor.
Deliciously creamy and slightly crunchy nut & date balls with a hint of coconut flavor.

I was first introduced to these by my good friend and neighbor at the time, when we lived in Colorado, and I was about 20 months pregnant with Laurel, (okay that was an exaggeration but let’s just say she was overdue). My friend walked over to say Hi as she often did when she took her daily stroll with her infant son, but this time she had a clear container in her hand. Little did I know at the time that the container she was holding was full of the most glorious little treats I’ve ever laid my taste buds on.

My friend “instructed” me to eat them in order to encourage my body to naturally progress into labor. Ask any midwife or doula about dates during pregnancy and they’ll likely know what you’re talking about. An old wives tale? Well, although there is really no firm scientific recommendation on the topic of dates supporting pregnancy or labor, there is some compelling data to support a potential relationship. All I knew was that my friend brought me a snack and I was going to eat it because I was pregnant and hungry.

I took the first bite of one of those balls and my eyes grew wide and my mouth started to water. For a moment I wondered if there was a risk of going into labor right there in my kitchen if I ate the date balls too fast. I decided it was worth the risk and I ate the entire container.

Fast forward some time now that Laurel has successfully been born and I scheme different reasons to make these date balls. Other than the fact that they’re delicious, they’re also a perfect snack for pregnant and non-pregnant people alike, including your toddler! Let’s look at the ingredients:

Dates • full of fiber, natural sugar (energy), magnesium, potassium, and folate- all very important nutrients for kids, active adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Walnuts • loaded with Vitamin E, antioxidants, potassium, and omega-3s. I keep mine in the freezer due to their glorious fat content.

Coconut oil • delicious flavor, a vegan alternative to butter that contains saturated fats which provide energy & aid in hormone production.

organic dates, walnuts, and coconut oil for labor inducing snack.
Dates + walnuts + coconut oil = a winning combination.

To make this recipe, throw your dates into the food processor first. I keep my dates in the refrigerator so they tend to be firm, which is why I like to let them get a little head start in the processor before adding the other ingredients. Process until dates are broken apart as shown below.

dateballsdates2

Add the walnuts and coconut oil (no need to melt first) and process until a mealy texture develops, as shown below. You can really tailor the texture to your liking at this point, whether you prefer bigger chunks versus smaller will determine how long you process the ingredients. I usually go for about 15-20 seconds on High.

dateballsmix

Now pop open the lid to your processor and take a big whiff.. yummm! Remove the blade before you scoop these bad boys into your hands for rolling. Again, personal preference on the size you choose to make your balls. I usually make a variety, some small I can just pop in my mouth, others larger I can take bites from. Laurel prefers the smaller ones. The sky’s the limit!

dateballsdone

Coco-Nut Date Balls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened, dried pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup unsalted walnuts (I use raw)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil

Directions:

  1. Place the dates into your food processor and process until broken apart.
  2. Add the walnuts and oil and process until a chunky/mealy texture develops, about 15-20 seconds.
  3. Scoop desired amount into your hand and form into balls.
  4. Consume at room temperature or store in fridge and eat cold (my preferred method).
  5. Option: Make a double or triple batch and freeze your coconut date balls for up to 2 weeks (if you can wait that long to eat them).

Recipe makes about 12, 1-inch balls.

Recipe from Enso: Motherhood Revolution

Peanut Butter & Love Letters

Are you a peanut butter junkie? Yes, that’s a thing. If the thought of a peanut-butter-smothered-anything tickles your fancy, then you’re in the club. As a peanut butter junkie myself, I’ve come to appreciate the simple, yet complex, taste of peanut butter made from fresh, wholesome peanuts. Seriously, have you ever looked at the ingredients in most store-bought peanut butters? Many include partially & fully hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, sugar, palm oil… yikes. With peanut butter being an adult- and kid-friendly staple in many households, we have to do better!

If peanut butter is your go-to but you’d just like to have other options, look no further. You can swap peanuts in this recipe for any other type of nut or seed OR a combination! Peanut allergy? No problem, feel free to substitute almonds, sunflower seeds, or cashews for a delicious homemade nut butter that’s sure to please! Looking for a cute gift idea? A jar of homemade peanut butter will make family, friends, and teachers smile.

homemade organic peanut butter
Creamy. Smooth. Homemade. Add chopped peanuts for a crunchy twist!

I love knowing exactly what ingredients are in the food I’m eating and feeding to my family. I was so surprised at how easy it is to make my own peanut butter! The fact that peanuts are fairly cheap made this recipe a no-brainer.

organic peanuts in bulk
Dry roasted organic peanuts. Yes please.

Let’s talk about these nutritional powerhouses: Peanuts.

In a serving of peanut butter (about 2 Tbsp or the size of a ping pong ball) you get:

  • 12 grams healthy fats (monounsaturated + polyunsaturated)
    • These healthy fats are good for our eyes, brain, heart, and hormone production, among other things!
  • 2 g fiber
    • Fiber helps to keep us full longer, keep our blood sugar stable, and keep our bowel movements regular.
  • 8 g protein
    • Protein is necessary for our body to build and repair tissue, including skin and muscle.
  • 200 mg potassium
    • Low levels of potassium can contribute to constipation, fatigue, and muscle weakness.
  • 10% DV magnesium & Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin B6 plays a role in our immunity and metabolism. Vitamin B6 deficiency is linked to depression.
    • Magnesium plays a role in blood sugar control, nerve and muscle function, and blood pressure regulation.
    • Source: USDA Food Composition Database

Peanuts are:

  • Delicious
  • Vegetarian & vegan
  • Versatile
  • Gluten-free
  • Diabetic friendly
organic raw peanuts used for homemade peanut butter
Organic raw peanuts that I purchase in bulk.

So how are love letters related in any way to peanut butter?

Well, back in February of 2010, Ryan volunteered to go to the United States Army Ranger School. We were about 6 months into our courtship at the time so his Army lifestyle was all still new to me. I didn’t realize then that Ranger School is one of the Army’s toughest combat leadership courses. It was over two months long and included intense, physically demanding training paired with food and sleep deprivation. Needless to say, he wasn’t going to be able to visit me or even call me at all while actively training at Ranger School. He said that he would be able to write and receive letters. Letters!

I wrote Ryan a letter every single day he was at Ranger School. I used brightly colored paper and put stickers all over them to bring some cheer into his life and maybe a smile to his face. He had told me that he wouldn’t be given his mail every day. I couldn’t bare the thought of everyone else receiving mail except him, so I wrote him every one of the 63 days he was there.

I received 19 letters from him and as I was sifting through them last night before writing this post, they made me smile, laugh, and cry. They brought me back to our early dating days when I would only see him on weekends that he wasn’t training. He’d drive down to Tallahassee with friends (I was in my senior year at FSU and he was stationed in South Georgia at Fort Benning) and his friends and my sorority sisters would hit it off. The first year of our relationship was a big party. Ryan had told me early on that he would deploy to Iraq when he was done with his initial officer training, so that was always looming in the back of my mind. I vividly remember conversations with my sorority sisters, late in the evening as we all huddled around each others’ bunk beds, where I voiced my concerns about dating a guy in the military. I wasn’t sure I could “handle” a year-long deployment. I didn’t think I could handle dating a guy in the military.

letters from my soldier
The letters I received from Ryan while he was at Ranger School, sent to my sorority house where I lived.

Maybe it was the poems he wrote me or the crossword puzzle he made for me or the itemized list of what I should look for in a grad school (yes, he included “me” on that list since one of my school choices was close to where he would be stationed at the time). Maybe it was how often he called me “sweetheart” or scribbled little hearts and kissy faces in the corner of those letters, designated by an arrow and “I kissed this spot.” Maybe it was the romantic lines in French he included with parentheses to show the English translation, including “Your Dreams are my Dreams” when he wrote about getting a puppy and our vacation we’d take after he returned. Maybe it was all of those things he wrote, but most likely it was because he is the type of man that would write those things, that kept me close to him.

love letter
Letters of love, love for me and for pancakes.

So you may still be wondering, where does peanut butter come into this picture? Remember how I mentioned that an aspect of Ranger School was food deprivation? Ryan was hungry, very hungry, and often his letters would include fantasies of what he was going to eat after he graduated, to include Twinkies, a burger, and pancakes. He would go into detail as to why a certain MRE (meal ready-to-eat) was his favorite and he’d mention things he would want me to include in his care package (that they would receive at the end of the last phase). Included in the items he wanted me to send him were Red Bull and… here it comes… “cinnamon raisin swirl peanut butter.”

img_2385.jpg

The moment I read those words I began to panic. As you can see, he wrote that letter on April 12th, which means I didn’t receive it until after that and I had to have his care package to him before the 25th. Back in early 2010, nut butter varieties weren’t a huge craze like they are now. I don’t think you could find honey almond butter or sunflower seed butter on regular grocery store shelves. Needless to say, all I knew at that time was I had to send his package with cinnamon raisin swirl peanut butter and I wasn’t sure it even existed. Three stores later and probably a few mmHg up on my blood pressure, I finally found the elusive cinnamon raisin swirl peanut butter, thanks to Peanut Butter & Co. I was able to put it in his care package and all was right in the world. He later told me that he and his buddies dipped Snickers bars and Twinkies directly into the jar and devoured the whole thing. I guess you can say it was appreciated.

That brings me to the reason I think of Ranger School any time I think of flavored peanut butter. Since my recollection of Ranger School includes fond memories of love letters and happy reunions, when I made peanut butter for the first time I naturally wanted to make a cinnamon raisin swirl variety. Ryan was the one who actually suggested it. Yes sir!

Underneath the recipe for homemade peanut butter you’ll find my cinnamon raisin swirl recipe. The first time I made it I ate the entire batch. I kid you not. It is so delicious. It took several, five to be exact, attempts to get it perfect. I hope you have more self control than I did so you can share your peanut butter with a friend. Either way, enjoy it!

Bonus, I’ve also included a recipe for Cacao Hazelnut Butter aka kNockoff Nutella. It’s healthier than the store-bought version, it’s chocolatey, and it’s delicious. Put it on a sandwich, dip your pretzels or crackers in it, or make the apple nachos shown below. Cue drool.

Apple slices topped with homemade peanut butter, cacao hazelnut butter, shredded coconut, and cinnamon.
Apple slices topped with homemade peanut butter, homemade cacao hazelnut butter, shredded coconut, and cinnamon.
Apple slices topped with homemade peanut butter, cacao hazelnut butter, shredded coconut, and cinnamon.
Flavors of pure bliss: peanut butter, chocolate, and cinnamon.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Ingredients (Yield 2 cups)

  • 2 cups peanuts (raw or roasted, preferably unsalted)
  • optional pinch of salt (if using salted peanuts, do not add more salt)

Directions

  1. If using roasted peanuts, skip to Step 2. If using raw peanuts, you’ll want to roast them before proceeding. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place your peanuts on a sheet tray in an even layer. Roast for 5-7 minutes or until peanuts become golden and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. Place peanuts (and salt, if using) into your food processor and turn on high.
  3. Each minute or so, scrape the sides of your food processor with a rubber scraper.
  4. In the span of 5-7 minutes, your peanuts will go from ground to chunky to clumpy to a ball then magically, it will transform into peanut butter. You might question whether it will ever happen, but give it time. If your machine starts to overheat, turn if off for a minute and continue.
  5. Once your peanut butter becomes smooth and creamy, turn your processor off, scoop your peanut butter into a jar with a tightly fitting lid and resist the temptation to eat the entire thing… or don’t, it’s up to you.
  6. You can keep your peanut butter in the cabinet if consumed within a week, transfer to fridge if storing longer.

Tip: Use room temperature peanuts to facilitate them releasing their oils. Since I keep my nuts in the freezer, I let them sit on the counter for about an hour before making my peanut butter.

Recipe inspired by Sproutly Stories

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter.
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter. What dreams are made of.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter 

Ingredients (Yield 1 cup)

  • 1 cup peanuts (raw or roasted, preferably unsalted)
  • optional pinch of salt (if using salted peanuts, do not add more salt)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp to swirl in
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil such as canola or peanut oil, more as needed for desired consistency

Directions

  1. If using roasted peanuts, skip to Step 2. If using raw peanuts, you’ll want to roast them before proceeding. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place your peanuts on a sheet tray in an even layer. Roast for 5-7 minutes or until peanuts become golden and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. Place peanuts, cinnamon (minus 1/2 tsp), maple syrup, and vanilla (and salt, if using) into food processor.
  3. Turn food processor on high and each minute or so, scrape the sides with a rubber scraper. If your machine starts to overheat, turn if off for a minute and continue.
  4. In the span of 3-5 minutes, your peanuts will go from ground to chunky to clumpy to a ball. When this happens, slowly drizzle in the oil, as needed, to thin out your peanut butter until you reach your desired creaminess.
  5. Once your peanut butter becomes smooth and creamy, turn your processor off. Add the 1/2 tsp cinnamon and, without mixing, gently scoop your peanut butter into a jar with a tightly fitting lid. This will create swirls of cinnamon, allowing some bites to be cinnamon bombs in your mouth, while other bites are more mild cinnamon flavor.
  6. You can keep your peanut butter in the cabinet if consumed within a week, transfer to fridge if storing longer.

Tip: Use room temperature ingredients to facilitate them releasing their oils. Since I keep my nuts in the freezer, I let them sit on the counter for about an hour before making my peanut butter.

Bonus Recipe

nutella
Cacao Hazelnut Butter

Cacao Hazelnut Butter aka kNockoff Nutella

Ingredients (Yield 1 cup)

  • 1 cup hazelnuts (raw or roasted, preferably unsalted)
  • pinch of salt (if using salted hazelnuts, do not add more salt)
  • 1/8 cup cacao powder
  • 1/8 cup + 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used whole cows milk)
  • optional 1 tsp oil for creaminess

Tip: Use room temperature ingredients to facilitate them releasing their oils. Since I keep my nuts in the freezer, I let them sit on the counter for about an hour before making my nut butter.

Directions

  1. If using roasted hazelnuts, skip to Step 2. If using raw hazelnuts, you’ll want to roast them before proceeding. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place your nuts on a sheet tray in an even layer. Roast for 5-7 minutes or until hazelnuts become golden and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. Remove skins on hazelnuts by rubbing them together between a paper towel. You don’t have to get all of the skins, just the majority that comes off easily.
  3. Place all ingredients, minus the oil, into food processor.
  4. Turn food processor on high and each minute or so, scrape the sides with a rubber scraper.  If your machine starts to overheat, turn if off for a minute and continue.
  5. In the span of 3-5 minutes, your hazelnuts will go from ground to chunky to clumpy to a ball. When this happens, slowly drizzle in the oil, as needed, to thin out your nut butter until you reach your desired creaminess.
  6. Transfer your finished product into a jar with a lid. You should keep your cacao hazelnut butter in the fridge, as there are no preservatives and your nut butter contains milk.

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

Easy Baked Falafel: A Healthy Twist on a Middle Eastern Classic

My love of falafel started in Key West. My parents would take our family there every summer growing up and we’d walk along Duval Street to explore and eat. We’d rent jet skis and my brother would take pleasure in throwing me off by going really fast then taking a sharp turn. My dad would usually charter a fishing boat and we would fish, snorkel, and enjoy our time in the sun. He always reminds us of the time when my sister and I had our feet hanging off the back of the boat and he casually tells us to bring them in. It wasn’t until years later my dad informed us that he saw an 8-foot hammerhead shark swimming in our direction. I’m glad he didn’t tell us at the time, since I had seen the movie Jaws one too many times at that point and probably would’ve had a heart attack.

My mom was the one who always insisted we get falafel while in Key West. If I remember correctly, that was the only time we ate it. Maybe they didn’t have good falafel in Jupiter. Maybe it became more of a tradition while we were there. I know my mom looked forward to it all year. Needless to say, we’d always make sure to stop at the little stand and get our falafel, wrapped in a fresh pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce. Yum.

Sprouted whole grain pita stuffed with falafel, cucumber slices, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce, garnished with cilantro.
Sprouted whole grain pita stuffed with falafel, cucumber slices, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce, garnished with cilantro.

I found a place in Manitou Springs, CO that served authentic Middle Eastern food. You better believe every single time I went there I ordered falafel because it was so dang good. The place was called The Sahara Cafe and I think I probably ate there 20 times while we lived in Colorado. We took all of our visitors there, because it was delicious but also because Manitou Springs was a really cool town to explore. I went to Sahara a couple times after hiking The Incline, an intense hike that starts at 6,600 feet and goes up 2,000 feet in less than a mile. I had heard about this hike before we even moved there so of course I had to conquer it.

Falafel is a Middle Eastern food and traditionally deep fried. As we all know, deep fried anything is delicious but probably not something you want to eat regularly. Fried foods are not only a lot higher in calories (versus the same food baked or grilled), but also likely contain trans fats, which are the bad fats that you want to avoid. Trans fats contribute to everything from heart disease to diabetes to infertility.

Before you think that you can never enjoy some of your favorite foods again, the good news is that most foods that are traditionally fried can also we baked or grilled– like falafel! This recipe uses the same ingredients as traditional falafel, but is baked in the oven. This allows you to enjoy falafel regularly, as it’s actually a healthy option for the entire family, kids included! So what’s in it?

Garbanzo beans. Fear not carnivores, in 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas, you get a whopping 20 grams of protein. The beauty of plant-based protein is that you typically get a healthy dose of fiber too, about 15 grams to be exact. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals as well. Chickpeas are a great addition to your salad or bean chili but are the star of the dish in falafel.

Fresh herbs. Speckled with green, falafel is not only healthy, but it’s pretty, thanks to the fresh herbs in this recipe. Cilantro and parsley add flavor that make your taste buds sing. Herbs are the best way to add flavor to a dish without adding a bunch of salt. They contain an array of healthy stuff as well, including anti-inflammatory properties and several essential vitamins.

Garlic. Just do a quick online search for the health benefits of garlic and you might be surprised at the millions, yes millions, of articles you find. Garlic has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and it’s widely used for the tremendous amount of flavor it provides. To put it simply, garlic is good for you: your heart, your blood, and your GI tract too.

The ingredients of falafel minced in the food processor.
The ingredients of falafel minced in the food processor. Almost done!

When I was making my falafel, I probably said 10 times “Mmm it smells so good.” When herbs, garlic, lemon, and onion are minced together in the food processor, the aroma is intoxicating. I wonder if they sell a falafel scented candle… 

Forming the falafel is easy by hand, although I’ve heard they sell fancy falafel-making scoops. I emptied the minced falafel ingredients into a bigger bowl which made scooping by hand easier for me. Bonus: Your hands will smell delicious during this process.

falafel patties ready to be cooked
The patties have been formed, now to be brushed with olive oil and put into the oven.

After I made these for the first time, I broke open a steaming hot falafel and dunked it into a bowl of hummus. Falafel + hummus = a match made in heaven. Ryan is always amazed at my ability to eat food straight out of the oven, when in reality, I just don’t have the patience to wait for it to cool. Most of the time, I can’t even taste whatever I’m eating because I’ve burned the inside of my mouth. Why is it that I continue this habit? I’ll never know.

falafel with hummus
Falafel atop a bed of creamy homemade hummus, garnished with cilantro.

 

Easy Baked Falafel

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped and roasted
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing pan and brushing falafel

Suggested sides/toppings: Homemade Tzatziki sauce, hummus, cucumber slices, whole grain pita (warmed), sriracha, minced onion, diced tomato, shredded lettuce

Directions: 

  1. Put garbanzo beans in a large bowl and cover with 3-4 inches of water, (the beans will expand as they absorb the water). Let sit for 18-24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet.
  3. Place the onion and garlic cloves on your baking sheet, roll the onion and garlic with your fingers to coat with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes. The onion will be slightly translucent and the garlic with be slightly charred.
  4. After they have soaked, drain the garbanzo beans and add to your food processor. Pulse the beans alone for 5 pulses to break apart.
  5. Add all other ingredients to food processor and blend until minced (not pureed), scraping down the sides as necessary.
  6. Scoop falafel mixture with your hand and form “patties.” The mixture is very delicate so handle gently. Gently brush the tops of your falafel with olive oil.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, then bake for 10 more minutes.
  8. Enjoy your falafel warm from the oven, dipped in hummus or cool in a pita with cucumber and Tzatziki sauce. Falafel can be frozen, but try to consume within 2-3 weeks.

Adapted from: Just a Taste

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce

If you’ve never heard of tzatziki sauce (pronounced: tut-ziki), I’m glad you stopped by. I could eat this stuff by the bowl. It’s a sauce that’s healthy, incredibly easy to make, and can be used for a variety of purposes, such as a dip for veggies or crackers, drizzled over grilled meats like chicken or lamb, scooped onto salmon before baking in the oven, or my personal favorite, as a sauce with falafel. If you’ve never heard of falafel… oh my… read about that here.

There are many different variations of Tzatziki sauce, as this sauce is made all over the world. Perhaps it’s best known for it’s use with Greek and Middle Eastern foods. I usually don’t measure the ingredients, but just throw them all in a bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight. It actually tastes better the longer it sits.

Tzatziki sauce in a sprouted whole grain pita with baked falafel, cucumber slices, and tomato.
Tzatziki sauce in a sprouted whole grain pita with baked falafel, cucumber slices, and tomato.

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small seedless cucumber, peeled and grated
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp dry dill or 1 Tbsp fresh dill
  • the juice from 1/2 lemon
  • a pinch of both salt and pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Peel and grate cucumber. Remove excess liquid by wrapping grated cucumber in paper towels and squeezing.
  2. Add all ingredients to bowl and mix with fork. Let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight. Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil before serving.

Adapted from: What’s Gaby Cooking

Secret Ingredient Smoothie Bowl

I have to admit, I’m not a huge smoothie person. I read an article years ago that argued we don’t feel as satisfied when we drink our calories versus when we eat them. It suggested that the actual sitting down for a meal, tasting our food, and being mindful of what we’re eating helps us to stay full longer. I get it. It’s so easy to drink our calories that people often wonder why they’re slowly gaining weight when they drink over 400 calories per day in <insert sugary beverage here>. Dr. Cheung a lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health, suggests that mindless eating is contributing to the national obesity epidemic we see today. Why is this smoothie different? Why does this smoothie allow us to eat mindfully? Because you eat it out of a bowl

A smoothie contains ingredients you likely already have at home. You can even put your smoothie ingredients together the night before, so in the morning it literally takes you 5 minutes to blend. A smoothie is a great option when you’d otherwise skip your meal because you’re in a hurry or you don’t feel hungry. Smoothies are also kid-friendly! They’re a great way to sneak fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet.

I always talk about blood sugar regulation and how it affects everything from our mood to our energy. Smoothies can be “dangerous” in the sense that it’s easy to add a lot of sugar into one. Most of the ingredients that go into a typical smoothie have carbohydrates aka sugar, including the fruit, milk, juice, and yogurt. The problem with this is that people don’t balance those carbohydrates with protein. Protein is the secret weapon in a smoothie. Protein helps those liquid calories keep us full longer, but most importantly, it helps to mitigate the blood sugar spike we get from drinking a fruit smoothie. I add a scoop of grass-fed whey protein to my smoothie. It’s flavorless so I can’t even tell its in there. The protein is crucial, as I’ve mentioned, and ultimately transforms your smoothie from a snack into a balanced meal.

cauliflower berry smoothie with coconut
Smoothies are versatile and can be sipped from a cup or eaten with a spoon from a bowl!

The smoothie I’m about to share with you checks all of the boxes I look for when building the perfect smoothie:

  • taste
  • carbohydrate-to-protein balance
  • includes vegetables
  • color
  • texture

The best part about this smoothie is that it contains a secret ingredient that you can’t even tell is in there: cauliflower. Although cauliflower may seem boring, its actually a nutritional powerhouse. Cauliflower contains anthoxanthins, which give this vegetable its creamy white color, as well as its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants fight damage within the cells of our bodies, helping to prevent cancer and degeneration of our eyes and brain cells. Although “green smoothies” are often praised for their health benefits and antioxidant capabilities, other colors including white, offer just as many benefits. Cauliflower also contains Vitamin C (which also acts as an antioxidant), potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Needless to say this often underrated vegetable is the nutritional star of this smoothie.

Cinnamon. The cinnamon flavor is subtle but gives this smoothie a special hint that makes you say, “Mmmm, what is that?” Cinnamon is sweet and spicy at the same time, teasing your taste buds but allowing the other flavors in the smoothie to shine through. Cinnamon might also help to keep blood sugar down for people with diabetes, high five!

Almond butter. Creaminess, protein, healthy fats, and flavor. I can’t think of a better combination than almond butter and banana. To me, the nutty, earthy flavor of almond pairs so perfectly with a sweet banana. This smoothie has both. Throw the cinnamon on top and oh. my. gosh. Enough said.

Avocado. Who would have guessed that this beautifully purple smoothie had avocado in it? Avocado adds creaminess which makes this smoothie spoon-worthy. It also adds monounsaturated fats, potassium, and fiber. Yes please.

I love the idea of eating a smoothie out of a bowl. It’s almost like eating ice cream, but healthier. I love that this smoothie is thick which allows you to scoop a heaping spoonful into your mouth. Feel free to top it with whatever you like- I chose hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. Because I eat mine out of a bowl with a spoon, I don’t have to worry about my toppings getting stuck in a straw.

smoothie bowl with coconut, pumpkin, and hemp seeds
I topped my smoothie bowl with hemp & pumpkin seeds for crunch and coconut flakes for flavor, yum!

Secret Ingredient Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cauliflower, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 banana, frozen
  • 1/2 cup berries, frozen
  • 1 cup liquid (I did 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup water)
  • 1 scoop of protein, plain or vanilla
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Optional toppings: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, cocao nibs, berries, banana slices.

Directions:

  1. If using frozen cauliflower, add that to the blender or food processor first, by itself, to start the blending process. Blend until small (bite-sized) chunks before adding other ingredients.
  2. Add the banana and blend.
  3. Add all of the other ingredients and blend until thick and creamy.
  4. Pour into bowl or cup and top with your favorite toppings.

Makes 1 serving.

Estimated nutrition facts via MyFitnessPal per serving: calories 375. protein 21 grams. carbohydrates 40 grams. Results will vary based on specific ingredients used.

Veggie Lover’s Quiche

Tired of boring eggs in the morning? Looking for the perfect dish to bring to your next potluck brunch? This veggie quiche is a game changer. Make it once and you’ll find yourself going back to this recipe time and time again. It’s fresh, vibrant, and flavorful. Quiche is a one-dish meal, making clean-up easy. I also love how versatile it is. You can literally add anything to a quiche, or omit any ingredient you don’t care for, except the eggs of course. You can also eat it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

This quiche recipe is full of fiber goodness (aka vegetables) and sprinkled with a little bit of tangy goat cheese for flavor. Feel free to substitute feta for the goat cheese, or omit it altogether. Most people don’t tend to think of vegetables as a “breakfast food” but in this recipe, they’re the stars. I love when I can load my breakfast with veggies, as it sets my whole day on the right path.

When we have company stay with us, chances are I’m making a quiche. It’s always a crowd pleaser, or at least I can say I’ve had no complaints. I stock up on pie crusts when they’re on sale and keep them in the freezer. You could make this recipe without the crust and call it a frittata, but the crust makes it extra special and delicious.

Have you ever made quiche? What do you like to put in yours? Let me know in the comments!

quiche2

Veggie Lover’s Quiche

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie crust, preferably without shortening or hydrogenated oil. I love Immaculate brand.
  • 8-10 large eggs, depending on how many people you are feeding
  • Splash of milk, about 1/8 cup (I use whole cow’s milk)
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled (or substitute with feta cheese)
  • About 2 c vegetables*
    • 3-4 mushrooms, sliced
    • 2-3 asparagus spears, chopped
    • 3-4 cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 1 handful of fresh spinach
    • 1/2 onion, diced
    • *Other veggies I’ve used include: bell pepper, zucchini, broccoli, potato
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare the pie crust in a pie dish according to package directions. I usually just bake it at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes.
  2. Cut vegetables as indicated above. Add to pan on medium heat with olive oil and garlic. Sauté for up to 5 minutes to slightly soften vegetables and wilt spinach.
  3. Pour vegetables onto plate covered with paper towel to soak excess liquid from vegetables, then transfer to prepared pie crust.
  4. Whisk eggs and milk in a separate bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to pie dish.
  6. Crumble goat cheese onto quiche. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until center is no longer jiggly.
  8. Enjoy by itself or paired with sliced avocado and a drizzle of sriracha, yum!

Tip: Prepare (cut and sauté) the veggies the night before to make assembly super easy in the morning.

Here’s Why Chia Seed Pudding is an Ideal Breakfast for the non-Breakfast Eater

When I discovered chia seed pudding, I think my life changed. Okay maybe I’m being a little dramatic. The fact that I can easily prep something at night and enjoy it in the morning with the only effort being unscrewing the lid to a mason jar makes me giddy. I’m also a huge “texture person” (is that a thing?) so I drool over its creamy texture. I love adding crunchy toppings to play off the creaminess of the pudding. By now, I’ve probably made chia seed pudding 50 different ways, all of which were delicious and kid friendly!

I’ve counseled numerous people that tell me they skip breakfast for various reasons. The most common reason I hear is that they are often rushed in the morning, trying to get to work on time. Also very common is that many people don’t feel hungry in the morning – sometimes even the thought of food makes them nauseous. I’m here to tell you that if you’re one of these people, I would encourage you to start eating breakfast. You might have to force it at first, but eventually you will start to wake up hungry. Also consider eating dinner earlier in the evening. Eating late at night or right before bed could impede your morning hunger.

Eating breakfast is beneficial in so many ways, both physically and mentally. While you’re sleeping and not eating, your body has systems in place to keep your blood sugar stable, thank you liver. When you wake up, you want to tell your body that you can control your blood sugar now, instead of keeping yourself on autopilot. You do this by eating, preferably within an hour of waking up. Your blood sugar affects everything, including your mood, energy, alertness, and appetite. You’ve probably heard the term “hangry” (hungry+angry), right? If you’re someone who typically gets hangry before meals, it’s likely your blood sugar speaking to you. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can make it hard for some people to lose weight, especially those with insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or diabetes.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal, hence this recipe. The important thing is that your breakfast includes both carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates are what stabilize your blood sugar, while the protein helps keep it stable for longer. The reason chia seeds fit the bill for a well-rounded breakfast is because they contain both carbohydrates and protein, with 11 grams of fiber per serving to boot!

Chia seeds also contain calcium, iron, and essential fatty acids. Due to their fat content, its best to store them in the refrigerator or freezer so they don’t turn rancid. You’ll know your seeds are rancid if they smell “off” or slightly fishy. The soluble fiber in chia seeds give them the unique ability to “gel” when added to liquid. This type of fiber also helps to lower cholesterol and, wouldn’t you know it, stabilize blood sugar.

seeds
The chia seed is a nutritional powerhouse!

The reason I use cow’s milk in this recipe is to bump up the protein a bit. Keep in mind if you use a milk like almond milk with little protein, you could pair your pudding with some eggs, or perhaps a scoop of peanut butter, or even nuts to help keep you satiated longer. You can easily make this recipe vegan by using any plant-based milk you like.

chia_ingredients
4 ingredients for chia seed pudding

Making this recipe in a jar with a lid makes prep a breeze. You literally just add your ingredients, screw on the lid, and shake. A jar is also portable, which means you can take this with you to work or school without worrying about spilling. I usually just eat the pudding straight out of the jar so I don’t have a separate bowl to wash. High five!

I think the pure maple syrup is crucial for taste in this recipe. I’ve tried it with “pancake syrup” and it wasn’t the same. Vanilla is added for obvious reasons, but optional if you don’t like it. If you’re interested in making a chocolate version, add 1-2 tsp cacao powder before you shake your jar. I use Navita cacao powder. I prefer cacao powder to traditional cocoa powder due to its naturally high magnesium and potassium content. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll appreciate cacao’s chocolate flavor without the added sugar.

A jar of chia seed pudding. A jar with a lid is essential for shaking your ingredients and storing overnight.
A jar with a lid is essential for shaking your ingredients and storing overnight.

The topping options are endless with chia seed pudding. I’ve topped mine with mango, strawberries, coconut flakes, banana, and cinnamon, but not all at the same time. Come to think of it, that might actually be delicious. What toppings will you try?! Let me know in the comments section if you’ve found a delicious new combination!

Chia Seed Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup milk (I use whole cow’s milk)
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Tip: for a chocolate version, add 1-2 tsp cacao powder

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients into a large jar with a lid. Shake jar and hips vigorously for 5-10 seconds.
  2. If possible, in about 30 minutes, shake jar vigorously again for 5-10 seconds. This step is not critical, but it helps prevent lumps from forming.
  3. Let sit in fridge overnight and enjoy in the morning with your favorite toppings!

My favorite toppings include: coconut flakes, dark chocolate chips, cinnamon, and/or berries.

Adapted from: Oh She Glows

Rice Cake Revamped

If I lost you at the title please stay with me. I know rice cakes can seem like a snack your grandmother might have enjoyed back in the day, but they’ve made a comeback. I always have rice cakes in my pantry because they’re a simple and crunchy snack for when I’m feeling hungry and lazy. Rice cakes themselves are incredibly crunchy, which hits the spot when you’re craving something you really just want to chew with your mouth open. It’s a nice change from carrots and hummus, believe me.

I personally prefer unsalted rice cakes so I can add some peanut butter and get a little creamy, salty combo that way. I never eat a rice cake without cinnamon either. My classic recipe is below, but feel free to experiment with whatever toppings or flavors you like best.

Rice Cake Revamped

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 rice cakes, I like these
  • 1-2 T peanut butter or almond butter
  • Dash of cinnamon

Optional topping include: raisins, dark chocolate chips, coconut flakes, chia seeds, cacao powder

Directions:

  1. Spread peanut butter or almond butter evenly on rice cake(s). Sprinkle with cinnamon and add desired toppings. Enjoy!