Creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinach

creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinachWell, it’s official, winter seems to have arrived. Today was the first really cold morning that I left the house wearing a winter coat, scarf, gloves and ear warmers. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with winter…snow is fun only during the first snowfall, until you have to shovel or dig out your car. I hate being cold but I love skiing, ice skating and hot chocolate (with marshmallows).

While I miss the warmer summer months, the best thing about winter (and the holidays) is all the rich food we get to eat! Holiday cookies, cakes, drinks – winter is definitely “eating” season. When you feel like curling up with a warm comforting dinner but you don’t want to completely ruin your diet, caramelized onion and spinach butternut squash pasta is the perfect dish. I had never thought to use squash as a pasta sauce until I found this recipe from Lauren’s Latest. Genius! The pureed butternut squash feels like a creamy, decadent sauce, but in reality you’re still eating your veggies! I added caramelized onions and spinach to bulk up the dish without adding meat, but you could surely add in chicken, sausage, etc.

creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinach

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Make-ahead meals: ground turkey 2 ways

make-ahead meals: ground turkey 2 waysNow that the birthday/holiday/work travel rush is officially over, I’m back in the kitchen after a few weeks of running around and eating restaurant food for almost every meal. I missed cooking (really, I did!), but of course I came back to a CRAZY busy week at work. What could possibly make me happy in this situation? Coming home from a long day of work and having dinner practically made for me! In this case, one pound of low-or-no-fat ground turkey does the trick. The ground turkey is mixed with fresh, smoky southwestern ingredients and spices to create two delicious recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and chock full of veggies! Turkey stuffed peppers are fantastic to make when you have some extra time (aka Sunday night) since they take about 40 minutes to bake. Just whip up the whole pound of turkey and keep leftovers in the fridge for Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday)!

Turkey stuffed peppers are the perfect one-dish meal! Smoky cumin-spiced turkey mixed with hearty black beans and sweet tomatoes and onions make for a healthy yet filling meal. I ate one red pepper half (the hubby had two) and I had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.

The spiced turkey/bean/veggie mixture does double-duty as delicious taco filling! I sliced up some avocado and served the tacos with toppings like cheese and Greek yogurt. Heat up some rice and serve with a big side salad for a complete meal. This turkey taco filling would be great for game day or for your own family taco bar!

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Lightened-up egg salad

lightened-up egg salad

Sometimes it’s funny how my meal planning skills work (or don’t…). I can have meals planned out perfectly for every day of the week, but by the time Saturday rolls around there’s NOTHING left in the fridge. I admit that weekend lunches are not my strong suit, mainly because I don’t always feel like breakfast food past noon, yet I’m at the point where I just can’t bear to eat another salad…thank you, weekday work lunches. And there lies the conundrum.

I noticed that more often than not, the hubby’s answer to my question “what did you have for lunch today?” was egg salad…something I’ve never actually made myself. After another Saturday of scrounging around for lunch, I decided to try it and I’m so glad I did! Egg salad is pretty simple, it just requires hard-boiled eggs (the hardest part is peeling them) mixed with mayo (usually) and Greek yogurt in this case. This lightened-up version has half the yolks (aka half the cholesterol) and only 2 Tbsp of mayo! The Greek yogurt lends the perfect amount of tang and creaminess, and thanks to this magical ingredient you’ll never miss the calories and fat! Egg salad is great in a sandwich, or try it over greens for a low-carb lunch.
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Lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoes

lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoesWhile I love to cook, side dishes always seem to throw me for a loop. Isn’t it enough that I’m cooking a main course? Now I ALSO have to figure out what to cook as a complimentary side dish? That seems like a lot of work! Luckily, I came up with this recipe which can double as either an entree or a side dish! Fresh and lightly dressed pasta tossed with fresh vegetables makes for a bright and delicious vegetarian dish. I had broccoli and tomatoes on hand, but any veggies you have in the fridge would work.

Simply cook up the veggies, cook up the pasta and mix them together with a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. This is the perfect side dish for fish, poultry or meat. I especially love pairing the pasta with salmon or shrimp since lemon and fish are a match made in heaven! Top the veggie pasta with a little grated Parmesan (or a lot, in my case) and a light, easy dinner is ready to go in 30 minutes.

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Citrusy Mexican-style Quinoa

citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten UpQuinoa may be my new favorite go-to side dish for a number of reasons:
1. It’s super easy to make — just like pasta, all you need to do is boil water!
2. It’s called a “superfood” for a reason. Quinoa is a seed that is actually a complete protein because it includes all 9 essential amino acids. As if that wasn’t good enough, it’s also cholesterol-free and gluten-free!
3. It takes on whatever flavors you put into it…that means endless possibilities for quinoa recipes!
4. It can be used a million different ways and is a perfect make-ahead meal. Cook up a big batch and have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love bulking up my salads with quinoa for lunch!

I was hosting dinner for some friends and knew this would be a tasty side dish — it’s so refreshing thanks to the fresh fruit and veggies and has a deliciously Mexican spin because of the cilantro and lime. If you’re looking for a quinoa-based main course, check out the original recipe here. Because I wanted to serve this as a side dish, I swapped out the chicken and added more veggies. The oranges and red pepper add the right amount of sweetness and the avocado is the perfect amount of creaminess. One key element to flavorful quinoa is the “dressing.” I loved the citrusy flavor of the dressing, which is just lime and orange juice mixed with olive oil, honey and cilantro. If you’re not a cilantro fan, just leave it out — you’ll still get the bold citrusy flavors from the dressing. The quinoa was light and refreshing, and because it keeps so well in the fridge, we had plenty of leftovers for the week (aka quinoa salad, see pic below!)
citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten Up

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Chickpea Avocado Smash

chickpea avocado smashNew lunch idea alert! Bored of the same old salad or sandwich for lunch every day? I know I am. There are only so many salad combinations that I can come up with each week! Who knew that mixing avocado and chick peas could result in such a delicious protein?! Avocado chick pea smash is a fantastic substitute for those heavy mayo-laden salads that we typically see at lunchtime – tuna salad and egg salad. In this case, the chick peas provide the protein while creamy avocado steps in nicely for the mayo. Protein + healthy fat = lunchtime winner! Not to mention that this recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian!

No fancy equipment needed! I start by smashing the chick peas in a bowl with the back of a fork. Press the fork down and against the sides of the bowl to crush the chick peas. You’ll end up with a chunky mixture of chick peas.
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How to pack a deliciously healthy, low-calorie lunch (+ snacks)

how to pack a deliciously healthy low-calorie lunch (and snacks)I’ve been packing my lunch since, well, forever…for camp, for school, and for work. Camp lunches usually had a REALLY fun snack like Dunkaroos or rice krispie treats. Oh, the (sugary) good old days! I like to think that my lunches have evolved over the years to include more healthy snacks with the occasional “cheat” snack thrown into the mix.
Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist by any means, but I try to maintain a well-balanced diet. Feel free to use my suggestions and add to them based on your own nutritional needs!

My lunch (and snacks) on a typical day usually consists of…

Main course  Salad or starch with protein
I make my lunch every night for the next day and it’s usually salad — easy to throw together + light on calories = win win situation! A sandwich with protein is a great choice as well, just be sure to use low-calorie bread (I like light-style whole wheat or 100-calorie sandwich thins). I usually switch off between romaine, spinach and kale as the base greens for my salad. Protein could include chick peas/beans, turkey or lean deli meat, leftover grilled chicken, or in the case of my lunch this week (photo above), turkey, ham and cheese from a leftover antipasto salad. Much of my salad prep includes throwing leftovers into my salad, including veggies and fruit. I’m a huge fan of berries in my salads! As for dressing, I keep it simple — a squeeze of lemon or a mixture of olive oil and vinegar are delicious, quick options. Just pack the dressing in a snack-sized Ziploc bag to avoid soggy salad.
New lunch idea: Chickpea avocado smash

Beverages — Drink more water! I start my day with two cups of hot green tea, but then it’s water and only water for the rest of the day. Spice up your water by infusing it with lemon, cucumber or berries — it makes water SO much more exciting! Need carbonation? Try flavored seltzer water — tastes like soda but it’s zero calories.

Fruit – 1 to 2 servings
My mid-morning snack is usually a banana since it keeps me full until lunch. I’ll also pack an apple, berries, or grapes for an afternoon snack or “emergency” snack.

Veggie – 1 to 2 servings
I’ll admit, I don’t eat enough veggies during the day. However, snacking on veggies is a great way to introduce more of them into your diet. Baby carrots and celery are my go-to’s because they’re super portable. I love pairing them with Laughing Cow flavored cheeses (they’re low-calorie) or hummus for added protein.

“Fun” snack – 1 serving
This is my wild-card snack…the snack with some level of ‘indulgence’ that keeps me (and my tastebuds) happy! I recently made a trip to Trader Joe’s so I stocked up on whole-grain fruit bars, but I’ll often be in the mood for a piece of chocolate (I think every office has a stash of chocolate SOMEWHERE), baked chips, or Greek yogurt with granola. I need some sort of “fun” snack to get me through the afternoon slump!
how to pack a deliciously healthy low-calorie lunch (and snacks)

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