Super Easy, Healthy Crockpot Gumbo

This healthy gumbo has been a staple crockpot meal in my home for a couple years now. It’s tasty, low calorie, high protein, and only takes about 10 minutes to put together in the crockpot. It’s so easy, it hardly even requires a recipe. Below is a step by step picture guide to put it together.

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First, assemble your ingredients! Sometimes I will dice up some bell pepper, but didn’t have any on hand yesterday. These are the basic ingredients.

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4 cups of frozen okra, check. Two cans of organic diced tomatoes, check.

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Frozen shrimp, check. I prefer the medium, deveined variety. This was a $5 bag from my grocery store of choice.

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I cut up chunks of the spicy lean turkey sausage and stir the mixture with my hands. If the chunks of turkey sausage are altogether, they will clump up and not create the desired effect. You must mix!

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Season lightly with some Tony Chachere’s or your desired Cajun seasoning. Since it’s better to make it less salty than too salty, I sprinked a conservative amount. The other ingredients generate a nice flavor on their own, but a little seasoning goes a long way.

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Pour enough chicken stock into the crockpot so that there is liquid about half way up the crockpot. I honestly never measure out how much I’m using, but I estimate it may be the range of 3 cups.

Set the crockpot to High for 4 hours OR Low for 8 hours. I use the former option for weekends, such as yesterday, and the latter option for working weekdays.

When the crockpot is done cooking, add as much rice as you like to the mixture. Normally I use one entire “boil in the bag.” I do not recommend adding the rice to the crockpot with the other ingredients, because it will become mush by the end of the cooking process.

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Enjoy! Approximate calories per serving: 25g protein, 300 calories.

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Meal Prep Monday: Skinny Chipotle Burrito Bowls

Despite Chipotle’s bad rep from its contamination crisis over a year ago, I have always loved this chain for its tasty combination of simple, hearty ingredients. My go-to is the chicken burrito bowl, which I frequently copy for my weekly meal prep. As much as I love Chipotle, this version is cheaper and healthier. It costs less than $2-3 a serving and can be prepared as “clean” as you want it. It also takes only 30 minutes or so to prep a week’s worth of these lunches.

Ingredients

4-5 chicken breasts, seasoned with cayenne and garlic salt – grilled or cooked by stove top

2 cans of black beans or pinto beans – I prefer organic, low sodium

4-5 servings of brown rice

Four bell peppers for fajita veggies – onion optional

Lettuce or spinach

Shredded cheese – optional, if you’re really trying to cut down on calories

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This is the brown rice from Costco I’m currently using, although I prefer the generic boil-in-a-bag versions from Walmart and HEB
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These are my go-to black beans from… Costco! No extra salt added, organic.

Begin by cooking the chicken and fajita veggies. I had these going simultaneously in order to save time. Normally I would recommend grilling the chicken, but the weather is crap today!

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This is a fairly simple process. I cut up bite-size pieces of chicken and seasoned with garlic salt and cayenne pepper, then topped with a couple tablespoons of hot sauce for color and a spicy kick. I cut-up the bell pepper and cooked over medium high heat, drizzled with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt/pepper to taste. This step takes about 15 minutes.

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As the chicken and veggies cook, I drained the black beans and microwaved the brown rice — then mixed and placed into a separate bowl.

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Since I didn’t have lettuce on hand, I covered the bottom of my meal-prep containers with spinach, then topped with the beans & rice mixture.

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Finally, top with as much chicken and fajita veggies as your heart desires. If you’re on a strict diet, you can stop there. The shredded cheese really does make it taste better, though:

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Other ways to jazz it up:

-Add some salsa verde or red sauce

-Add lime juice

-Use a combination of black and pinto beans

-Top with some healthy guacamole

-Add pico de gallo (it’s not many calories and tastes delicious!)

-Add corn salsa

Approximate nutritional values: 350 calories, 35g protein, 35g carbohydrates, 16g fiber

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Monday Meal Prep: Mahi Mahi Veggie Ramen “Bowls”

Thanks to the crockpot meals I put together last weekend, I still have dinner food for this work week– that means time for lunch prep this week! I’m trying to get back into a consistent exercise schedule, but with my job duties (which are increasingly eating up more personal time), learning Spanish, taking care of my dogs, keeping my house clean and husband fed, not to mention keeping up with this blog– it’s hard!

Nevertheless, I will always make time for weekly meal prep because it allows me to know exactly what I’m putting in my body and prevent weight gain, even when I don’t have time to exercise often. Diet is 80% of the battle, and if that part is squared away, then you continue to look and feel good!

On the lunch menu this week is a lovely concoction of Mahi Mahi marinated in garlic and ginger sauce, steamed Asian veggie medley, millet & brown rice ramen, and pot stickers. I call it the Mahi Mahi Veggie Ramen “Bowl”:

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I found this item at Costco a few weeks ago and thought it would be a great change from the usual brown rice that I include in my lunches. I also haven’t eaten ramen since I was overweight and in college, but this version is definitely much healthier. Hence why I bought it!

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Once I set the fish to bake, I steamed about 5 cups of veggies– I’ll be honest, I eyeballed the amount for four equal-sized portions.

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Immediately after setting the veggies to steam, I boiled some water, then dropped the ramen in when my veggies had about 7 minutes to go. This particular kind of ramen cooks VERY fast!

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Next up was the Pot Stickers! I wish I could take credit for hand-making these, but it was from Costco. This item is not whole grain, but it carries quite a bit of protein with each piece. Each potsticker is about 52 calories, and I included 2 in each lunch container. The rest were for my husband to snack on.

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And that’s basically it! Just dress up with some soy sauce or Sriracha and this is a delicious, healthy lunch. As you can see, I’m a big fan of Costco’s frozen organic produce and miscellaneous organic items. It makes meal prep a breeze… these four portions took me less than an hour to put together. Even my lunch containers are from Costco!

Hope this gave someone a good lunch prep idea! Approximate numbers: 350 calories, 30g protein

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My Secret for Weight Maintenance: Daily Breakfast Smoothies

My only regret during my weight loss journey was that I didn’t discover the breakfast protein smoothie sooner. While I managed to lose plenty of weight without drinking a smoothie every morning, protein smoothies have been my secret weapon for keeping my weight consistent these past 3 years. When times get so busy that I’m not able to exercise for days or even weeks, I have managed to maintain a steady, lean 120 lbs – – largely due to these awesome smoothies!

I’d recommend at least one smoothie a day for breakfast to anyone looking to 1) lose weight, 2) maintain a certain weight/size, or 3) have a healthy, easy breakfast option on the go. People at work who see me drinking my smoothies often ask me how I decide what to put in them, how to make it, etc. The truth is: there is nothing to it! ANYONE can prep these over the weekend and have them ready to dump into a blender during the work week.

NOTE: These portions are for 2 smoothies each, since I drink these smoothies with my husband daily.

Step one: Protein + Fiber

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A big reason why these smoothies are so effective at weight loss/weight maintenance is that they are chock full of protein, which encourages muscle growth (supplemented with a weight training routine, of course) and prevents muscle loss. For those of you who are not big on Whey Protein, you can also use Plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt — though the smoothie will taste less sweet.

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The fiber and additional protein comes in the form of Flax seed (2 tablespoons) and Chia seed (1 tablespoon). Both are of filling fiber, which will keep your appetite at bay until you are ready for a mid-morning snack. Both are also full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which is amazing for fat burning– among many other health benefits!

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These have been the products I’ve used in my smoothies since this tradition began three years ago. All of these were purchased at Costco! The chia seed I purchased in bulk when it was on sale for $6 a bag, and the Flax seed runs at about $7. This particular brand of whey protein has the perfect protein/carbohydrate ratio and tastes great. One giant bag is about $35 at Costco, but will last us at least 2 months.

Step 2: Fruits + Veggies

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This is the basic combination of produce my husband enjoys. I will often alternate my fruits by the week. For example:

Week 1: frozen strawberries + spinach + banana

Week 2: blackberry/raspberry blend + spinach + banana

Week 3: mango + spinach + bananas

Some form of greens, whether it is spinach or spinach/kale, is a non-negotiable. I aim to get at least 3-4 servings of greens in each gallon-sized zip lock back, just in case I don’t get a ton of veggies in that day. The bananas are equally important, because without them, the texture and taste of the smoothie just isn’t the same. Plus, bananas add additional fiber and potassium. If a banana is browning, I may dice it up and include it in the gallon-sized zip lock bag. If bananas are perfectly yellow, I will typically add them into the smoothie the morning of.

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Step 3: Putting it all together

In the morning, these smoothies take me a grand total of 3 minutes to put together, because I’ve already put everything together over the weekend. Now it’s just a matter of dumping the protein + fiber bag and the fruits + veggies bag into my Blender Ninja, then adding either almond milk or coconut water (24-32oz, though I usually eyeball the right amount). I serve into two big cups and breakfast is served!

I drink my smoothie between 7-8am, and it’s so filling that I’m usually not hungry again until 11am or close to noon. I usually pack a protein car as a mid-morning snack just in case, but a lot of times the hunger just doesn’t kick in or I’ll forget.

Hope you’ll enjoy, if you haven’t already gotten into a daily smoothie routine of your own!

Approximate calories/protein/carbs per serving:

330 calories; 35g protein; 35g carbohydrates

 

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Four Awesome Crockpot Meals

…in 1 hour, for less than $25!

In my case, these meals didn’t cost anything because I was in the process of clearing out my pantry and freezer. I whipped up these four meals, each good for at least 1-2 days between two people, in about 1 hour this morning.

For quicker cooking, you’ll want to dice and slice up all your produce prior to putting together any meals. At this time, label your gallon-sized freezer bags like so:

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Let’s begin with recipe #1: Italian Chicken

Ingredients: 4 chicken breasts, 1 packet dry Italian dressing, 1 8 oz package of cream cheese, 1 can of cream of chicken soup (I used a reduced fat version), approximately 3 cups of frozen or fresh green beans – optional

Directions: Umm… there really aren’t any. Simply put all the above mentioned ingredients together and seal! When it’s time to cook, leave in the Crockpot for 8 hours on low.

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Recipe #2: Spicy Beef Chili

Ingredients: 1 pound ground beef (thawed), 2 cans beans (I used two cans of black beans, because that’s what I had, but you can use kidney beans as well… or one of each!), 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 8 oz can tomato sauce, 1 chopped bell pepper, 2 tb minced garlic, 2tb chili powder, 1 tb cayenne pepper, salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Cook the ground beef by stove top and mix in with chili powder, cayenne pepper, regular salt and pepper

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2. Cool beef. Place in gallon-sized zip lock bag with remaining ingredients.

3. On Crockpot day, cook for 8 hours on low.


Recipe #3: Portobello Chicken Stroganoff

Ingredients: 4 chicken breasts, about 3 cups of chopped portobello mushrooms, 1 can of cream of chicken soup, salt and pepper, veggie of choice (I used frozen organic green beans again)

Directions: Just like the Italian chicken, this one is pretty straight forward. Place the ingredients in the bag and that’s about it. After cooking in the crockpot, top with egg noodles or some other pasta. Cook for 8 hours on low.


Recipe #4: Healthy Meat Loaf

Ingredients: 1 pound ground beef (thawed), 1/2 cup almond milk (regular milk is fine too), 2 cups panko bread crumbs, 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper, 1 teaspoon sage, ketchup and/or BBQ sauce. 1 chopped onion is optional… I didn’t have onions on hand.

Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl

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2. Form into 1-2 loafs with your hands, and place in ziplock bag

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3. I had extra mushrooms left over from the Portobello Chicken, so I topped these loaves with the leftover mushroom. When it’s time to cook these babies, I will top the entire dish with about 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce and 1/2 cup ketchup.

4. Cook in Crockpot for 8 hours on low.

And ta-da, that’s it!

4 Crockpot Meals

Each of these meals will last 2 days in our household. That’s 8 days of dinner I don’t have to worry about. By putting these meals together simultaneously,  I’m also saving myself at least 3-4 hours I would otherwise spend making these dinners on the day of. I’m also saving at least $75-100 this week since we won’t be eating out!

Even if you’re not a health enthusiast like I am, every one can benefit from the time and money-saving rewards of Crockpot meals. There will be more recipes to come!

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MLK Weekend Meal Prep and PB Banana Bread Protein Bars

Hello again! Two posts in one day… I’m on a roll! I wanted to create a separate post about this weekend’s meal prep, since one of my goals with starting this blog was to share easy and healthy recipes with the public. 🙂

Since my weight loss transformation that I wrote about here, meal prep has truly been the key to maintaining my weight and saving time in the mornings. Even during weeks when I don’t get my exercise in, my weight always remains stable. Meal prep allows me more time to sleep (another key for weight loss), and prevents me from spending money unnecessarily and eating unhealthy options for lunch.

Lunch this week: chopped turkey salads. Nothing special, I know, but I didn’t want to dedicate more than 1 hour for lunch prep… so this worked out perfectly. About 20g of protein per serving with very few carbs.

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Recently I started experimenting with homemade protein bars, since these typically cost anywhere from $1-3 each at the store and are chock full of ingredients I can’t pronounce. This is the second recipe I’ve tried out in the last two weeks, and so far I’m a big fan. It only contains 4 ingredients! Behold, Peanut Butter Banana Bread Protein Bars:

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Ingredients (Makes about 20 bars. Cut recipe in half for 10)

1 cup almond flour… I got mine at Costco, but I’ve also seen it at HEB and Walmart.

1/2 cup peanut butter… any nut butter will work!

4 scoops of whey protein (vanilla)

2 ripe bananas

*2 cookie sheets and parchment paper

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Step 1: Combine mashed bananas with 1 cup almond flour, and mix both ingredients.

Step 2: In a small pot, over medium heat, mix the peanut butter and whey protein. Mix one scoop at a time.

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Step 3: Combine the peanut butter protein mixture into the banana and almond flour mixture. Stir well and put on two cookie sheets covered in parchment paper.

Step 4: Optional- You can put another sheet of parchment paper over the dough to flatten it out, or just use your hands. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until firm.

What I love about this recipe, in addition to the fact that it is only 4 ingredients, is that it is inexpensive (the most expensive ingredient is whey protein, which I always have on hand anyway) and easy.  Only about half an hour to whip up!

Approximate nutritional facts per serving: 120 calories, 6g carbohydrates, 8g fat, 10g protein

Muscle Milk Whey Protein

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