12/4/09

Baked Vegetarian Casserole

For many people free time is a thing of the past. If only there were 30 hours in the day, we could exercise at any time of the day and sleep wasn't necessary. Especially for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, who try to squeeze in a healthy 6-15 hours of training/exercise per week, meal planning is easier said than done.
I realize that a lot of my recipes on my blog involve a little prep. However, I try to keep my meals easy to prepare and yummy to eat. Because of my grocery budget, it is likely that my ingredient list for my recipes will be small. And, because I am a vegetarian, you will see a lot of the same foods which I often rely on to meet my protein needs.
I am at a point in my life where I have a bit of time to prepare meals. Lucky for me, it is also my passion and hopefully a future career. However, I understand that not everyone has the time to prepare meals every day of the week and one day, I'm sure I will miss days of an extra hour or two to dream up, and prepare, my yummy creations. However, I am sure I will never lose my enjoyment for cooking and will never give up my home-cooked dinner meals every night of the week.
You must understand that when you embark on a lifelong decision to live a healthier life (aka change eating habits and/or become more physically active), it takes slow transitions to find what works for you. Depending on the time of your life, you will likely change your eating routine to complement our lifestyle. Although there may be a few days per month that you just can't find the time to exercise or prepare meals, you will hopefully compensate by staying healthy on all of the other days during the year.
For some people, frozen meals are the only way to eat a "hot" meal. Since I attended the Denver ADA Weight Management Certification Course in Oct. I have changed my opinion about a lot of controversial topics, such as bariatric surgery, prescription weight loss medication, meal replacement bars and physical activity. Each one of those topics could be a separate blog post, but overall, I have become very open minded when it comes to how people eat and take care of themselves.
Think about it. Are you an athlete who struggles with a 10 lb weight loss? Now, think about the person who needs to lose 50 lbs, 100 lbs or even 200 lbs? With your "only" 30 mile bike rides on an easy "training" day and your 2 hour runs on the weekend, it would be wrong to assume that the obese individual, suffering from metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea and many other life-threatening conditions, should just get moving and eat healthier. If it was that easy we would all have a healthy body fat percentage and feel great on the inside and out. Although many athletes strive for a body composition that is unrealistic to maintain, with the hope to likewise improve performance, I think we should all keep an open-mind (or for many, judge a little less) when it comes to methods for weight loss. I have never been one to judge or assume because, in my profession, there is no reason to believe that a person is going to fail because of one or two not-so-good eating habits. Therefore, don't let others, or yourself, bring you down when you have a "bad" eating day. Although there is always tomorrow, there is also an hour from now.
So, maybe you are the person who seeks frozen meals as an alternative to fast food. While companies, such as Amy's Organic, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice provide convenient, portioned controlled meals, there are many frozen meals on the market that are not so friendly to your waist line.
For example:

Stouffer's White Meat Chicken Pot Pie

10 ounces - 1 serving
Calories: 660 calories
Total Fat: 37 grams
Saturated fat: 14 grams
Sodium: 1060mg
Carbs: 62g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 19g


Stouffer's Chicken Lasagna

7.8 ounces per serving - 5 servings
Calories - 400 calories
Fat - 13g fat
Sodium - 740 mg
Carbs - 54g
Protein - 16g

A problem with frozen dinners is that the servings may be deceiving when trying to serve 5 people after the meal is defrosted. On the other hand, because frozen dinners are very low in calories (often 350 calories and below), such as Amy's Brown Rice and Vegetables at 250 calories, you may be likely to overeat later in the evening because you are hungry. Although I do believe that you can feel satisfied with a 350-400 calorie meal (with the right foods) you may feel hungry because of the lack of nutrients in the frozen dinner to provide a substantial filling factor.

For people who want a hot-cooked meal but just don't have the time to chop and prep, how about a baked vegetarian casserole that can be prepared in about 5 minutes and ready in about 20-25 minutes (about the time it would take you to microwave a box of rice)?


Bake Vegetarian Casserole


Veggies - canned, fresh or frozen (if using canned, give a rinse before using)
(I used fresh jalepenos, canned chickpeas, fresh chives, fresh whole mushrooms (sliced), fresh roma tomatoes (sliced), canned black beans, frozen corn and fresh onions.
Veggie burger - my favorite is the Bruschetta Boca burger
1/4 cup cooked rice or pasta (I used long grain rice)
4 egg whites + 1 whole egg
1/8 cup skim milk
1/3 cup vegetarian stock (you could even use 1 can of vegetarian soup with vegetables if you'd like, instead of the vegetarian stock)
1/8 cup stuffing cubes or croutons
Spices - pepper, paprika, no salt garlic and herb (or your favorite no salt seasoning)
2-3 tbsp. shredded cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a non-stick loaf pan, sprayed lightly with non-stick spray, put all the veggies in the pan and mix. Add crumbled veggie burger (cook for about 1 minute in microwave to defrost).
3. Scramble eggs and milk. Add vegetarian stock and spices. Scramble again with fork.
4. Pour liquid mixture over veggies in loaf pan and press down veggies with a spatula.
5. Crush croutons or stuffing cubes either in baggy or between two plates.
6. Sprinkle croutons/stuffing over veggies.
7. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes or until top is golden brown.
8. Turn off oven. Place cheese evenly over crumbs and leave in oven until ready to eat (or until cheese is melted).

Serve with Asparagus:
While casserole is cooking, lightly coat asparagus with 2 tsp olive oil and lemon pepper seasoning. Cook for 5-8 minutes or until asparagus is soft.

*this meal was SO yummy. I can't wait to make a pizza version with marinara sauce on top.









12/3/09

Vegetarian meal planning

I think the biggest fear for soon-to-be athlete vegetarians, or people seeking a semi-vegetarian eating routine, is the worry about getting enough protein. One of the main reasons people turn to vegetarianism is the desire to add more fruits, veggies and non-meat protein in the diet, in replacement for higher calorie and fat foods. However, I find that many people quit the meat-free lifestyle just when they are learning to enjoy the addition of fruits, veggies and non-meat protein because they are constantly hungry.
First off, when a large amount of calories are cut out from the diet, it is likely that you will feel hungry and your body will ask for more food. The trick to eating vegetarian is to well, eat more vegetarian-friendly food.
Now, just because a food doesn't have meat in it, doesn't mean that you can eat as much as you want of it. For a good part of my vegetarian life, I lived off cheese, cheese and more cheese. Cheese on anything and everything because I don't eat meat. However, that was super unhealthy and I'm glad I learned to appreciate the value of fruits, veggies and vegetarian protein.
I think the first part of being a vegetarian is to learn to enjoy fruits and veggies. Although beans and rice are great complementary proteins for a vegetarian, you will likely fill up on a salad with less calories than filling up on a big portion beans and rice. But, if you are only eating salads, you are likely to feel hungry an hour or so after your meal.
If you are thinking about a more vegetarian-friendly eating routine, I don't recommend eating only fruits and veggies for all meals and snacks. Obviously, you need some quality protein with a high biological value to repair damaged tissues after a workout. But then again, who says you can't fill up on veggies?
There are many nights during the week where Karel and I will have a huge salad for dinner. But this isn't the typical $5 side salad at a restaurant that is filled with iceberg lettuce, a few baby tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, bacon bits and croutons..and a side of fat-free dressing. I'll be honest, the first few weeks (or months) of eating vegetarian are tough because you are learning how to prepare balanced meals and feel satisfied after the meal. For many people, it is really easy to fill up on a huge salad and then feel starved 1 hour later and then justify your "saved" calories by eating a high calorie desert.

In order to feel satisfied at my meal and not feel starved an hour later, I love dressing up my salads with nuts, fruits and an assortment of veggies. But with my salad I always have protein and healthy fats.
For our meal last night I wanted to create a meal that any vegetarian or non-vegetarian would enjoy without feeling like they are in veggie-overload.
The majority of my plate is my salad. In my salad (which I made a huge salad for other meals in the week) I have:
cucumbers
chives
hard boiled egg whites (w/ 1/2 yoke)
trail mix (nuts, soy nuts, raisins)
tomatoes
celery
romaine lettuce
carrots
I topped my salad w/ salsa and a little shredded cheese

For my sides:
Chickpeas, beans, mushrooms and onions - cooked in 1/2 tbsp olive oil and seasoned with pepper and 1 tsp of horseradish

Long grain rice - cooked in the microwave WITHOUT the seasoning packet in the box. I added my own seasonings of cayenne, pepper and no salt garlic and herb.

Tofu - 1/2 block firm tofu cut in cubes, cooked in 2 tsp olive oil and seasoned with paprika

Protein and carb content of higher protein foods in the meal:
(I am not a high-calorie eater so the portions I listed are likely to be small compared to Karel or other individuals...thus, with bigger portions you will eat more protein, carbs and calories)

1 Hard boiled egg white - 3.6g protein, .2g carb
4 medium Mushrooms - 2.2g protein, 2.4g carb
1/4 cup long grain rice - 1.3g protein, 11.2g carb
1/4 cup black beans - 3.8g protein, 10.2g carb
1/4 cup chickpeas - 3g protein, 13.6g carb
1/4 block tofu - 6.6g protein, 1.4g carb
5 slices tomato - 1.2g protein, 5.3g carb
3 baby carrots - 2.5g protein
.5 oz trail mix - 3g protein, 5.5g carb
Total: 27.2g protein

Compared to 1 can tuna: 28.8g protein

Although I haven't had a fish or animal protein in almost 16 years I think I would enjoy my selection of foods to feel satisfied at my meal compared to 1 can of tuna. Don't forget your water! For me, no meal is complete without my 20 ounce water bottle (filled with water) at every meal. Even Karel is satisfied after our meals...and that's saying a lot for someone who loves to eat! I am still wondering where that food goes after he eats. :) He is a lean machine.
Although I have spent 16 years learning to live a balanced and healthy life, spend a few days swapping out our higher calorie and fat foods for more fruits, veggies and non-meat protein and see if you can find enjoyment of eating less calories and still feeling satisfied at your meal.

What's your favorite non-meat protein or vegetarian dish?

12/2/09

Gotta love animals

Sometimes I have my bad days but usually I have good days. I always wake up happy, say something good about the day and look forward to crossing items off my to-do list. But then there are days when I wake up and think about the future and wish it would come a bit quicker. I guess there are times in our life when we can't rush the days and have to stay busy to pass the time. My bucket list of my nutrition-related books, videos, shows (I'd love to have a show on the food network), articles and so much more, grows every day. My head is filled with a gazzillion ideas but not until I get that RD behind my name will I pursue my big dreams. For now, I'm enjoying helping as many people as I can through my articles on beginnertriathlete.com and irongirl.com, in addition to my blog.
My life is very routine. Wake up around 5-6am, workout, stay busy all day, cook a Marni-creation for dinner, watch TV and hang with Karel in the evening and go to bed around 9:30pm. Although I really love my life, I really really really love my pets. Smudla, Madison and Campy never have a bad day. Everyday is a lottery day, a new day, an exciting day worth waking up for. Campy's life, for example, is very routine. I could write down his routine, leave him with a friend and he would follow it to the minute. But now matter what the day, he is happy. He greets me at the door as if I was gone for a week when I was only gone for a few hours.
Madison is living a dream. She cried her way to our door a few months ago and now she is living the life of luxury. She is no longer sleeping in bushes, she sprawls out on our couch every afternoon. She absolutely loves Campy but Smudla has yet to give her a proper welcome to the Smulda-kingdom. Then there is Smudla, who has a huge personality and lives in her own world. I like to say that this is Smudla's apartment, we just pay the rent and feed her.
I just couldn't resist taking these pics today. Although Smudla was sleeping under the bed, my day goes from Blah to YAY when I am with my furry little ones.





Where's Campy?


12/1/09

How dense are your snacks?

One of the biggest successes in my quest of living a healthy and balanced life has been my density approach to meal and snack planning.
Especially around the holidays, I find that many people struggle with eating (especially unplanned eating) due to the high amount of processed foods, in addition to sweet treats which consume the work office, grocery store, friend's houses and well, your own house. It's as if people who attempt to diet during the holidays feel hungry 24/7 and then go overboard when the big eating day comes, all because of poor meal and snack planning. But then, on the other hand, there are so many people who feel stuffed, bloated, gross and out-of-control from late November until Jan 1st, due to the high quantity of high fat/high sugar food associated with the holidays. Although there are many people who stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine and enjoy a little sweet treat every now and then throughout the year, many people struggle with the concept of healthy eating 12 months out of the year. I think November and December just put the icing on the cake (pardon my pun) when it comes to uncontrollable and unhealthy eating.
Unfortunately, people aren't snacking unconsciously on celery sticks. While an occasional cookie, brownie, piece of candy or high calorie entree is acceptable a few times throughout the holiday season, the tendency to overdo-it on these delectable holiday treats is easier said than done.
In terms of planning meals and snacks, nutrient density can really save you when you want to stick to a lifestyle of healthy and balanced eating. And when I say balanced, there is room for that sweet treat every now and then. But rather than trying to save your calories for a 400 calorie piece of energy-dense pie, focusing on nutrient dense foods, without a lot of calories (low in energy density) will allow you to feel satisfied during the day without going overboard on your daily calories. Thus, in the long run, when it is time to sit down and enjoy a piece of pie, you can truely enjoy a 100 calorie piece of pie and feel satisfied after your clean your plate.
I hope you enjoy my latest article from the FREE Iron Girl Newsletter. By the way...IG just announced the 2010 calendar and there are a few new races which look fabulous!
If you have any questions about my article, don't hesitate to comment


How Dense are your Snacks?

Pre-planned, healthy snacks are essential in a balanced and heart-healthy lifelong eating plan. Although some people graze on unhealthy snacks due to poor daily nutrition choices, emotions and/or boredom, you should seize the opportunity to eat nutritious foods between meals for several reasons.

Consuming healthy snacks can help to control blood sugar, prevent overeating and indulging, manage hunger and cravings, maintain energy levels throughout the day, support weight loss or weight maintenance and provide fuel for physical activities.

Portions, calories and nutrients should always be kept in mind when planning and preparing healthy snacks, but factors such as energy density should also be considered. Processed and packaged foods, sweets and fast-food meals are typically energy dense, packing a lot of calories in a relatively small portion. Consequently, energy-dense snacks are generally low in nutritional value. In contrast, fruits and vegetables are viewed as low energy density foods, meaning that you can eat a large quantity without a lot of calories.

Nutrient-dense foods, which are naturally low in calories, are filling because of fiber and water content. Alongside high-fiber vegetables, whole grains and fruits, which provide volume and a subsequent slowing of digestion, protein food choices, such as nuts, yogurt or lean meat, provide healthy fat and/or protein to help fill you up. If adding nuts to your snack repertoire, be sure to monitor the portions because although they are energy-dense, they are also high in calories and fat.

As you make the change to smart, low-energy density snacking, you will learn to choose foods that are low in calories (energy density), yet still high in nutrients (nutrient density). In the long run, you are teaching yourself how to eat more nutritious food throughout the day while feeling satisfied with less total calories.
If you were planning to eat a snack of approximately 200 calories, which of the following would leave you more satisfied after eating? Additionally, which snack would you look forward to eating as a way to postpone hunger between meals?

1) High-energy density snack: 1 strawberry Pop-Tart
2) Low-energy density snack: 1 medium mandarin orange + 1 plum + ½ cup plain fat-free yogurt + 11 pistachios + 1 dark chocolate Hershey's Kiss

Hopefully, you choose the second snack. Ultimately, low-density foods will allow you to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet without sacrificing portions. Learn to appreciate the value of natural and wholesome foods as you begin to substitute low density, nutrient-filled foods for calorie- dense, heart-unhealthy foods. As with any healthy diet, planning your portions and food choices will allow you to recognize the most satisfying and nutrient-filled foods for a lifelong, healthy eating plan.

11/29/09

It's almost December!

I can't believe we are 1 day away from December. How time flies.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday which started on Thursday.
Karel and I started our morning with a 80 mile bike ride. It started off ok, it got better and then it finished miserably. The Sumbal ride was just for fun and to enjoy the outdoors but my idea of a 4 hour or 80 mile ride (whichever came first) wasn't so much fun when we approached the dreaded Jacksonville wind.
I have to admit that I have the most wonderful husband ever. After 50 miles we made a left hand turn into strong head wind. We had 30 miles to go and Karel pulled me all the way home. We were going a blistering 16 mph for that section of the ride and with my head down I just stayed calm (can't beat the wind) and stayed close to Karel's wheel. He was a real trooper for riding so slow with me but I just couldn't go any faster. After 4 hours and 15 minutes we were finished with 80 miles and it was time to relax with a whey smoothie and prepare my fruit pizza for Thanksgiving dinner at Laura's.
Laura had an amazing spread of food and it was all soooo yummy. With over 20 people at her house, I felt like I was at home with so many people around. I just love families!
I first have to congratulate Laura on a 7 minute PR from her last 1/2 marathon a month ago. I have been coaching Laura for 6 weeks and besides that fact that she is super busy with work and everything else she does, she has Lupus and beats it every day with her athletic talent. Congrats Laura on a sub 2 hour 1/2 marathon (1:56)!!!
Laura made me a fantastic vegan tofu quiche, alongside her butternut squash soup, sweet potatoes, my fruit salad and a fruit jello mold (all Marni-friendly) that were at the dinner. There were lots more foods but those were for the meat-eaters. Campy decided that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday and is curious why he can't eat meals like this every day of the year? I told him that we all wish that we could eat like we do on Thanksgiving everyday of the year, but then we wouldn't be so healthy :)
Karel worked on Friday for the big Trek sale and later that evening we were off to New Port Richey to visit my parents.
As you know, Karel and I love visiting my parents for many reasons but our 3 favorites are 1) being with my parents 2) seeing the Gearlink cycling team 3) letting Campy enjoy a house and backyard.
We joined the Gearlinkers for a casual 50 mile ride...a cold one that is. It was in the mid 40's on Sat morning so we made sure we bundled up. It was great to catch up and like always, it feels like we never left.
After the ride we went to Chef Nelson's bakery to pick up our free 1 year anniversary cake. Chef Nelson made our healthy wedding cake back in Oct 2008 and he said that for our 1 year anniversary we could get a free mini cake. We thought Thanksgiving would be a good time to get the cake and it was so nice that we were able to share the cake with my family and remember our wedding..and to celebrate 1 year!
There has been a lot of relaxing this weekend. Karel and I watched Breaking away for the millionth time (if you haven't seen it, rent it!) and Campy has gotten in a million naps here. We had a great Thankgiving dinner with my family on sat evening and the weather has been just perfect for lots of Campy runs. This morning I went for a long run and easy spin on the bike and just enjoyed seeing so many people outdoors and enjoying the beautiful weekend.
Enjoy the pics!
(every pic of Campy is him receiving Turkey from generous Turkey carvers :) )