Weight Watchers – Veggie Side Dishes

It is always a challenge to get enough fruits and especially veggies into my daily meals, and when you have small children, it becomes even more difficult.  Here is a list of things you might try (and as I have written them down, I realized that I need to keep that list handy, also).

Okra & tomatoes – 0 points – Try this even if you don’t like okra.  Combine raw or frozen okra and 1 can of diced tomatoes.  Microwave or boil until okra is tender.  It is even better if you fry a piece of bacon – 1 point – and some diced onion in the pot before adding the okra and tomatoes.  I guarantee that there isn’t even a trace of okra’s characteristic sliminess.

Stir fried veggies – 2 points with 2 teaspoons of oil – (mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, green onions, zucchini, etc.) Cut everything into  pieces or strips and stir fry in a little oil until tender, starting with the veggies that take longest to cook (peppers, carrots, broccoli) and then adding the rest.  When done, sprinkle with soy sauce. A good way to use small amounts of raw veggies, or buy the frozen stir fry mix. To make this a meal, add some protein if you like and serve over cauliflower rice.

Cauliflower rice – 0 points. Separate raw cauliflower into individual florets and pulse in a food processor briefly just until it looks like rice (or grate it).  I usually heat mine in a dry skillet, stir frying it just until hot.  You can also microwave it briefly.  When used as a base for stir fry, stroganoff, etc. you can’t tell the difference.  It also freezes well (uncooked) – I do a whole head at a time and put the extra in a baggie in the freezer.  You can also try Oven-Roasted Cauliflower Rice (I use olive oil instead of the coconut oil called for in the recipe).
Crudites – 0 points. whatever raw veggies your family likes, such as baby carrots, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, raw broccoli or cauliflower florets, etc.  Adding a dip is a bonus, but will add Weight Watcher points.

Kale salad – 3 points.  Go light on the dressing and add-ins, the veggie part is free of points. Available at most grocery stores in the package salad section, this is a great change of pace.  It comes complete with poppy seed dressing as well as cranberries and pumpkin seeds.  If the veggie part gets a little past its prime, stir fry it and serve it hot.
Cole Slaw2 points with 1 tablespoon cole slaw dressing. (Reduced fat is same points as regular, probably because of the added sugar). Shred cabbage or buy the slaw mix in the produce section, and add cole slaw dressing. If you mix it up 30 minutes or an hour before serving, the cabbage softens a bit and the flavors meld.
Salad Bar0 points. Set out some greens, torn into pieces, and a variety of veggies such as diced or grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, sliced or diced raw mushrooms, sliced or diced peppers, raw broccoli or cauliflower, etc.  Sliced or diced apples, strawberries, or other fruit, craisins, chopped hard boiled egg, nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds (points depend on amount added) make it even more interesting.  Provide a variety of salad dressings (2 points for 2 tablespoons reduced fat).  Let everyone build their own salad.

Fruit salad or just plain sliced or diced fruit – 0 points.  Not really a veggie, but a great side dish and it doesn’t need a dressing (which would add Weight Watchers points).  The other bonus is that kids usually love it.

Roasted veggies – 0 points if using a spray of Pam instead of oil, although I like the taste better with a little olive oil – 1 point per teaspoon. Do a combination of your favorite veggies or try some you don’t particularly like but know you should eat.  They have a completely different taste.
Oven-baked French fries – 6 points (medium potato + 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil). These are really easy and I actually prefer the taste of them to the traditional deep-fried ones.  Try this with sweet potatoes, also.
Grow-your-own sprouts 0 points. it is really easy to grow your own sprouts and they are great on a sandwich or salad.  The thing I like best about growing my own is using a variety of seed mixes, not just plain alfalfa.

Here are some links to previous posts in this series:

Weight Watchers, Week One
Weight Watchers, Week Two
12 Last Minute Meals
Weight Watchers, Week Three

#TBT – Revisiting the Clean 15

We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us all about how everything we eat, put on our bodies or clean our homes with should only be organic and non-GMO.  In an ideal world with unlimited funds, I totally agree!  However, nearly all of us live in a reality where that just isn’t feasible.  Each of us must decide what is the most important to our family and be realistic in knowing what we can afford.  Most people are aware of the Dirty Dozen, the list of produce that is most contaminated, but not everyone knows about the Clean 15, a list of the least contaminated produce. It makes sense to buy conventionally raised items from the Clean 15, and spend the extra money for organic on things on the Dirty Dozen (or don’t buy at all).  To read the previous post, click here.

Mini stuffed mushrooms

Have I mentioned before that goat cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms are pretty much my favorite foods? These stuffed mushrooms were absolutely delicious. I doctored this recipe from The Joyful Foodie to suit my taste and the ingredients I had on hand. They were scrumptious.
I essentially halved the recipe, mixing bacon bits, caramelized onions, and equal amounts goat cheese and cream cheese. I sauteed the mushrooms with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette before stuffing. Once stuffed, I baked for a little bit then allowed to cool. Try it now.

Spinach, Mushrooms, and Onions – Pt 3

The first post last week was about a delicious spinach, onion and mushroom recipe. I used this recipe to make a chicken bowtie pasta. In the second post, I talked about how I used this recipe to make a delicious pizza, in just a few minutes. Believe it or not, I have TWO more uses for that scrumptious blend. The second time I made this recipe (only a week later, I might add) – I also doubled it, then split it in half.

First up is this delicious egg scramble we made for a weekend brunch with the left overs. I intended it to be an omelette, but I am impatient, and just plain awful at making them – omelettes usually turn into a scramble. Same ingredients, same textures, different presentation – still delicious. I added mozzarella cheese, and some breakfast sausage. 
Next up is another bowl of pasta! I think we used linguine – the noodle doesn’t really matter. A friend had forwarded me a delicious looking recipe for a spicy smoked sausage alfredo bake. I purchased the smoked sausage, but forgot the remaining ingredients. We always keep a few jars of different types of pasta sauce on hand in the pantry, so I sliced the sausage and threw it in a pan for a few minutes. I added the spinach,onions, and mushrooms, just for long enough that everything was warm, and then I poured in the Alfredo sauce. It was so delicious, and it may be my husband’s new favorite! 

Spinach, Mushrooms, and Onions – Pt 1

Bowtie pasta covered in a cream sauce 
with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and caramelized onions

I somewhat recently confessed to not liking veggies. That’s a fairly simply version of it. I have a difficult time incorporating a variety of veggies into our meals. I don’t hate vegetables, I just tolerate most of them. There are, of course, a few exceptions – two of these being onions and mushrooms. I am of the opinion that you can never have enough caramelized onions, or sauteed mushrooms. Its just not possible.

Cooking onions & mushrooms, while holding baby

I haven’t published too many post on either of these things (don’t worry, they are coming), but the making of this French Onion Soup – definitely had us discussing how to cook, and use caramelized onions. Just thinking of it makes my mouth water.

This Spinach, Onion and Mushroom recipe from Julia’s Album has already become a favorite in our house. Its incredibly simple, and with a bit of creativity we’ve been able to use it in a variety of dishes. This recipe is intended as a topping or side for meat (chicken, steak, etc) and comes with an optional “cream” recipe. Julia even list a few other ideas. This post is part one of three about different uses for this combo.

Plain spinach, onions and mushrooms

I have used it as a steak topper, pasta w. chicken, Alfredo pasta w. sausage, and for flat bread pizza. I even threw it in an egg scramble with some sausage!. I think it would be delicious in a red-sauced pasta. I’m sure you could make some kind of quesadilla, or even some kind of fancy veggie taco or burrito. Each time I have made it, I have varied the ratio of onion, mushrooms, and spinach based on what I have on hand. I have always “doubled” it though, and used a portion of the left overs for another dish.

With the cream sauce

This recipe is three basic steps: (1) caramelize the onion, (2) saute the mushrooms, (3) combine mushrooms and spinach with onions. Then use as you see fit.The first time I made it, I doubled the recipe, then removed half when finished. I added 1.5-2x the cream sauce, and added costco rotisserie chicken, and poured over pasta.I saved the remaining recipe (without sauce) for another recipe.

Spinach, Mushrooms & Onions
Ingredients
  • 3 Onions, sliced
  • 10 – 15 small mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
  • 2 Tbl Olive oil
  • 1 Tbl Balsamic Vinegar (I use dressing)
  • 3 Garlic Cloves
  • 3 C Spinach
  • Salt
Directions
  1. Caramelize the onions: heat 1 Tbl olive oil in a large pain, add onions. Begin on high heat, then lower and add a pinch of salt. Cook until caramelized (approx 30 minutes). Use 1TBL balsamic to deglaze the pan. 
  2. Saute Mushrooms: while onions are cooking, heat 1 Tbl olive oil in another pan, add mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook approx 20 minutes.
  3. Combine mushrooms with onions, and add spinach on low heat until spinach wilts
*Note More detailed instructions on the original website*
Optional Cream Ingredients:
  • 1/3 C Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 C Milk
  • 1/2 C Parmesan Cheese (I used italian blend)
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
Instructions for Cream Sauce: Add listed ingredients to mix on med-low heat and mix until melted and coating all vegetables. 

Toddler Muffins

This is a good way to up the veggie consumption of your picky toddlers, but these muffins are delicious, so don’t hesitate to serve them to your whole family (or eat them yourself).  I used cooked sweet potato since that is what I had on hand, but you could also use winter squash or pumpkin.  The original recipe uses a jar of winter squash baby food..  I also think you could get away with adding other veggies – maybe shredded zucchini, chopped greens, etc. – but I haven’t tried that.  If you do, let me know how it turns out!

I had the perfect test subject – my grandson who just turned 2 years old who has apparently decided to drive his parents nuts by refusing vegetables in any form.  I made a dozen mini muffins, and had enough extra batter to make 8 regular size muffins. I served him one of the minis, and he devoured it and wanted more.  The only down side was that after carefully smelling and licking the muffin, he shoved the whole thing into his mouth.  I played it safe with the second one and broke it into fourths before giving it to him which slowed him down a bit.  Since I was trying to get him to also eat a scrambled egg, I didn’t offer him any more of the minis, but he did talk me out of about 1/4 of the regular sized muffin I was eating. (Yes, he ate most of the egg.)

Toddler Muffins
Adapted from All Recipes.com

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, or to taste
  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • ½ cup mashed cooked sweet potato
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Grease 24 mini muffin cups or 12 standard muffin cups with coconut oil. (I used a mini muffin pan with 12 cups and a regular muffin pan for 8 regular sized muffins.)
Cream together the coconut oil and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the mashed bananas, sweet potato, carrots, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt and mix well. Spoon the batter equally into the prepared muffin cups. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. The muffins came right out without sticking.

Store at room temperature for up to two days, or freeze.

Making Changes – Choosing Healthy Foods

Making healthy choices when choosing what food to buy doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  If you approach it that way, chances are you will quickly throw up your hands and give up.  My own journey to making healthy choices has been over a period of years, and has included falling off the wagon more than once.

Start from where you are and take one step at a time, giving yourself time to get that change down pat before you move on to the next one.  For example, if you eat most of your meals out, start cooking at least one meal a week at home.  If you don’t know how to cook, find someone you know who does and ask them to help you learn.  Invest in a good cookbook (try The Kitchen Counter Cooking School or  100 Days of Real Food).  If you can’t afford one, look at your local library – they have lots.  Ask friends to share quick and easy recipes, check the archives in our blog, or look online.  Two recipes from our archives I would recommend for beginners are Clam Spaghetti and Quick and Easy Burritos.  Many of our other recipes are quick, easy and require only very basic cooking skills.

If you are already preparing many of your meals at home, perhaps the first step might be to add a vegetable or fruit serving at every opportunity. If your family doesn’t like veggies, try fixing them in new ways (example – raw, steamed, with sauces or glazes, roasted). It is great if you can afford to buy all organic ingredients, but very few of us can.  If you are on a tight budget, know that it is more important to incorporate any kind of vegetables and fruit in your meals than it is to avoid them because you can’t afford to buy the best. Do the best you can with what you have or can afford. Check out the Dirty Dozen (items to only buy organic if you can) and just as important, the Clean 15 (items that aren’t important to choose organic). A great resource on making changes incrementally is the mini-pledge program on Lisa Leake’s blog, 100 Days of Real Foods.  She also has lots of “real food” tips and recipes.  
One of the most effective ways to manage to cook most meals at home is to Menu Plan. This is also the best way to save money, because you should be buying only what you know you will use, and you can avoid extra runs to the store (and impulse buys).  I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and don’t plan my breakfasts because they are always pretty much the same.  I make a note of anything special I may have going on that day, and plan a simple meal if I have a busy day.  I like to plan a week at a time, but my daughter and daughter-in-law prefer to do a month at a time, and plan only their dinners. On my menu plan (see picture below), the notes in red in the center column are days that I watch one of my grandkids or other special things I have planned. The notes in red in the right-hand column are reminders to do something beforehand, and the ones in black are ingredients that I need to buy for the meals planned for that day.

Look at what you have on hand, check the current sale ads, adjust your menu plan if needed, and then use your plan to list everything you are going to need, and don’t be tempted to buy anything that is not on your list (if you are planning for a month, you will need to plan to make another grocery run or two for perishable items).  Make it work for you – plan to eat out on a specific day, have a kid’s choice day (and let them help you fix the meal), only plan two or three meals a week. Have a plan to use up leftovers, either by repurposing them into a completely new dish (example – Fried Rice), making one dinner a week a leftover buffet, or eating them for lunches. Statistics show that Americans throw away 25% of all the food they buy – those dollars can either come straight off your food budget, be used to buy more or better food, or splurge on a night out.