Homemade no-bake granola bars

homemade no-bake granola barsNew year = new goals! My food goals for the year include eating more ‘whole’ foods and less sugar (says the girl with the serious sweet tooth). I’m starting off 2015 right by eating less processed foods and if you have a similar goal, this is a great recipe to start with! Since the hubby and I were home over the holidays, I knew we would be snacking more than usual but I didn’t want us to snack on junk food. I came across a recipe for homemade granola bites and turned them into granola bars, which were SUPER fast to whip up (like 10 mins fast) AND they were just sweet enough to satisfy any sugar cravings! Simply change up the “mix-ins” to totally transform these soft and chewy bars made with oats, melted peanut butter and honey as a base.  These are the perfect snacks for gluten-free and dairy-free diets, just be sure to use gluten-free oats and mix-ins that fit in your diet. I used dried cranberries and whole peanuts for some extra crunch, and here are some other ideas:

Chopped dried apricots
Chopped dried dates — try using less honey since dates are naturally sweet!
Coconut flakes
Chopped nuts
Mini chocolate chips — a little goes a long way!

And some delicious combinations to try:
Tropical — chopped dried mango + coconut flakes
Decadent — mini chocolate chips+ chopped peanuts
Classic — raisins + chopped nuts
Sweet ‘n Tart — white chocolate chips + dried cranberries

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Skinny red, white & blue parfait

skinny red white and blue parfaitIt’s hard to believe that the fourth of July is right around the corner…the summer is flying by! We’re trying to enjoy every second by hitting the pool and beach, going to our favorite outdoor bar, and eating outside as often as we can. With July 4th coming up quickly, I wanted to create a “skinnier” dessert that was still patriotic, so I made my lightened-up seltzer cake and layered it with fruit and whipped cream…so easy and perfect for your Independence Day BBQ! About 1/16th of the cake itself clocks in around 140 calories — super reasonable for dessert, even when you add in the fruit and lite whipped topping!

This recipe is great with light-colored cake (white, yellow, butter, or funfetti) to add to the red, white and blue theme. I listed out the filling ingredients to create one parfait, but keep in mind that the cake will make enough to fill multiple mason jars or parfait glasses (likely 6-8, or more depending on how much cake you use in each). I added a tropical twist to the recipe by adding sweetened coconut flakes, because they make everything taste like summer! If coconut is not your favorite flavor, simply leave them out. The sweet cake combined with the creamy lite whipped topping and tart fresh fruit is the perfect combination for a summer dessert — fresh and light with enough sweetness to satisfy any sugar craving! Happy 4th of July!

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Grilled Peaches with Cream Cheese & Cookie Topping

grilled peaches with cream cheese and cookie topping | Lighten Up!BBQs, after-work frozen yogurt runs, toes painted with neon polish, and the freshest fruit — oh, how I love summertime! Peaches will be in season soon and popping them on the grill makes for an unexpected and elegant dessert. While we have access to an outdoor grill, I find that it’s much easier to use a grill pan indoors (especially if it’s raining!) Grilling the peaches brings out their natural sweetness and those beautiful grill marks make this an impressive dish to serve to guests. The peaches stay on the grill for about 5-7 minutes, until those grill marks start to appear. The filling is quick to whip up and adds the perfect amount of sweetness, creaminess and crunch to satisfy your sweet tooth. This dessert feels indulgent but since we’re really just jazzing up amazing piece of fruit, it’s light on calories!

I happened to have leftover sweetened cream cheese and sugar cookies, so this dessert took no time to whip up. I mixed cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla to sweeten it up, then put a dollop in the center of each peach half (where the pit used to be), plus a crumble of cookie on top. If you’re gluten-free, just substitute a gluten-free cookie and you’re good to go! To make this dish even more figure-friendly, you could swap out the cream cheese for Greek yogurt mixed with honey as the filling. So refreshing and delicious, my hubby (the fruit-for-dessert-guy) asked for seconds! Happy summer entertaining season!

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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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