Sunday, December 10, 2017

2018: A Year for Celebrating

Have you started to make plans for the new year yet? Writing down your goals and ambitions? One thing I love about this time of year is taking the time to really map out how I want the following year to go for myself and my family. In addition to writing down all of our goals, I have recently started to choose a theme word for the year. One simple word that I can focus on and remind myself of often.

It started a couple years ago, when for 2016 I wanted to focus on finding joy in each and every moment. "Choose Joy" was my mantra for the whole year, no matter what was happening. After living through some very painful and emotionally hard months the year before, it was just what I needed. And so I did, I sought out to have a joyful spirit as much as possible.

This year for 2017 my word was "Focus". I suppose I was being a little selfish of myself when I first chose this year's theme; but I wanted to focus on a lot of different areas in my life. Mainly focusing on myself, improving my health and continuing this fitness journey. It has brought me happiness and so it was important that I continued to focus on that feeling and moving forward. That focus has helped me to build a part time business this year helping other busy women improve their health and to also have the courage to become a certified group fitness instructor.

And so, for the upcoming year, I am choosing "Celebrate" as my word and theme. It is going to be a wonderful year of celebrating so many great things in our life! Our oldest daughter is graduating high school. Josh and I will be celebrating twenty years together. We have some wonderful family trips planned. I have some important milestones in my business that I am aiming to reach, including teaching fitness classes twice a week. Plus many more goals we anticipate on crushing! 2018 is most definitely going to be a year of celebrating in our family.

Rather than making a long list of new year's resolutions that you might not work on past January, I encourage you to take some time to think and consider coming up with one word or a short phrase for your 2018. Keep it close to you and live it out each and every day. It just might make a difference in how you live and how successful you become in reaching those personal goals.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What a Difference a Year Makes

I'm going to get a little sappy with you today. Since I'm a writer at heart, this is my favorite way to talk to you.

Where do I begin?

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I love to cook. And baking is like my second language. It's really the whole reason I started this little blog six years ago. I wanted a space to share my favorite recipes with friends, family and my new readers.

And if you've recently started following me in the last year; then you know I have since found a new passion in this life. But in all reality, I have rediscovered something that has been buried deep inside my soul. I've always had a deep interest in health and nutrition. It's probably why I love cooking with veggies and visiting our farmers' markets so much. I love talking to others about healthy eating and helping others with their menu plans. And back when I was in high school I had my heart set on becoming a dietitian. Plans had to change though in the spring of my senior year, when the school I was already accepted to dropped their dietetics program. It just wasn't feasible for me to go to another college at that time. I guess I just sort of forgot about that dream and decided on another path at that time.

One year ago today I decided I needed to challenge myself. I had recently started running and instantly fell in love. I had just ran my first 5k and that's when I wanted more. That's when I reached out to an old friend. In fact, funny story; we were driver's ed partners and her brother is actually married to my husband's sister. So we're like family. I joined her online fitness group and committed to a brand new 30-day program that had just been released. I had never completed any sort of workout program before in my life. I was the type of person that would get through a week and could barely walk, and quit.

Not this time, I made it my mission to complete those 30 days no matter what. No excuses this time! And I did it. It felt amazing to start and finish something. That's when I became hooked. I ran with it and haven't looked back yet. Since then I have completed four 5k's and plan to run two more before the year is over, and I've also finished 4 different fitness programs with some of those being more than one round.

It hasn't been sunshine and rainbows this entire past year. There have been rough days, weeks and even months. I've lost motivation and had to pick myself back up. During this process I had lost my grandmother and our daughter suffered a compound fracture to her arm one week before dance competition season kicked off. It's never going to be easy, I have learned this is something you have to constantly work at. It's taking it day by day.

But, it honestly brings tears to my eyes to see how far I have come. This journey has really just begun. In less than two weeks I will be obtaining certification to teach that very first fitness program I started with. I've made it my mission to help empower other women so they can feel as happy as I do. To show them that they can do this. That it's alright to take care of themselves so they can be a better wife, mom and woman for their loved ones. And it's scary, believe me, oh how I know. But the joy you feel makes it all worthwhile!

Thank you for the constant support, love, encouragement and loyalty as I continue on this path, this journey. xoxo

Monday, September 25, 2017

Layered Mason Jar Salads

I'm a big salad girl, I would be alright eating them most days of the week. As long as I can change up the ingredients a bit, I'm game. Josh and I had this particular salad during the first week of our 21 day program we completed in August. Mason jar salads have been around for a little while, but it wasn't until recently that I actually gave them a try. They've made my lunch prep a lot easier and have saved me from using up many of my glass Pyrex bowls at once.

You can change up the ingredients a bit with this one. Before, we used hard boiled eggs as our protein source and avocado for our healthy fat. This time though, I took advantage of a rotisserie chicken from the store and cheese. The object is to layer the ingredients, putting the "wet" foods at the bottom so they will not make your greens a soggy mess. Since I am not sure what salad dressing everyone wants, I left that out. Otherwise you'd want that at the very bottom.

I made a total of 5 salads to start the week off. These will be plenty for me to eat, there's really quite a bit of food in that jar. Plus I'll add a fruit to my lunch. Josh will need a little something else I'm sure. But really, these are so cost effective. So much cheaper than any lunch I could go out for. It's definitely an estimate, but I figured each salad only cost me $1.96 to make. Obviously, depending on the current sales, where you shop and the season can all affect the price. You get my point though. Packing your own lunch will always be cheaper and generally more healthy.

Layered Mason Jar Salads

Pint size mason jars

For each salad you will need:
1/3 cup black beans
3/4 cup shredded, cooked chicken
1/8 cup cheese (I used grated pepper jack)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup lettuce or salad greens
choice of dressing to serve with

Layer each mason jar starting with the black beans, chicken, cheese, carrots and top with salad greens. Put lid on and store in fridge until ready to serve. Then you can dump everything on to a plate or in a bowl to eat, top with your salad dressing or salsa. These will keep for 3-4 days.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Marinated Summer Veggies

This is definitely my favorite time of year. I love how for our family; our schedules slow down a bit now that school is out and our evenings don't feel quite so rushed. I also love all of the fresh produce available during these months. Every Saturday morning my family knows to expect making a trip to our local farmers' markets, whether they decide to join me or I happen to get a few moments to myself. It's a favorite part of my weekly routine.

I haven't always loved vegetables as much as I do though. It was about seven years ago when I really started to become interested in sourcing local foods, learning more about farmers' markets and gardening. Sure, I've always liked a good veggie tray and corn on the cob is a must here in Iowa. But vegetables like asparagus, eggplant, kohlrabi and zucchini. I just had never tried them before.

Growing up, mom made plenty of meat and potato type meals. Lots of pot roasts, mashed potatoes and maybe even some steamed green beans on the side. I don't ever recall trying some of the grilled veggies we now like to make. It honestly took me a long time before I came to like cooked vegetables. You could give me any of them to eat raw, but the mushy texture of anything cooked made me turn my nose away.

It wasn't until the last several years that I've started to change my mind. Now we eat so many different varieties of vegetables each week, plenty of them grilled, roasted and even raw. I think it just takes time, trying new methods and new recipes. The kids aren't always the greatest at eating them cooked. I tend to have them try a bite and if they don't want anymore then that's fine. They'll come around some day, just like I have. The hubby has come full circle too. In the past few years he's gotten so much better at eating healthier foods, as long as I let him drizzle hot sauce over those veggies. Hey, anything to sneak in extra nutrients.

Most of the time during the summer we'll just slice up the veggies, toss them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder and then throw them into a grill pan. They don't need much else as far as seasoning. But I did try a new little marinade this past week. It was a nice change up from our typical side dish yet still let the natural flavors from the vegetables shine through. It was also nice to assemble ahead of time, I always appreciate having dinner ready to go. Gives us more time to spend with each other in the evenings.

You'll want to pop on out to your local market and gather some of your favorite veggies for this marinade. It's very versatile, use what's in season and those that your family enjoys most.

Marinated Summer Veggies

2 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium zucchini,sliced
1 medium summer squash, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into small pieces

In a small bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic. Set aside.

Add all chopped veggies into a large gallon ziploc bag or into a medium sized pan with a lid. Pour marinade over veggies and toss all together. Cover and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes before preparing.

When ready, add veggies to a prepared grill pan lined with foil, season with salt and pepper, and cook over heat for about 15 minutes or until veggies start to soften. You can also cook them over the stove top in a large skillet.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My 3-Day Refresh Experience

Last week I did something a little scary, but really was an eye opening experience for my body. I followed a three day cleanse program, it was my very first... and I survived.

So, you might be wondering why on earth I would want to do such a thing? Well, since I've started on my fitness journey I have heard many friends and fellow coaches talking about this particular three day cleanse and I just have been interested in giving it a try. Now, I understand the body naturally detoxes itself, but this was much more than that. I have been getting some great results through my workout programs and getting my nutrition back on track. But through this experience, I really feel like I've been able to break through any sort of sugar addiction my body still had from when I very first started.

I decided to use the days after Memorial Day to focus on getting back on track. I had just came off of finishing a ten week fitness program, but I did splurge more during my extra long weekend. As you can see from my starting point photo, my stomach was looking and feeling a little extra fluffy that morning. It's amazing what a few adult beverages and a couple treats can do.

I took the afternoon on Memorial Day to prep all of my food. It only took a matter of a couple hours and it was a wonderful feeling to have everything ready to go in the fridge. I'm really not sure how successful I could have been if I wouldn't have taken the time to prep. Included in my program box I received a booklet with all the foods I could choose from. It made it so simple and took all the guesswork out of meal planning.

I chose to eat a lot of the same things throughout those three days, not only because it was cheaper on my pocketbook, but I also really enjoyed the foods I picked out. Breakfast each day was my daily Shakeology drink I typically have, this time it was only prepared using water, a little ice and a serving of fruit mixed in. Mid morning I would drink a quick fiber sweep. It did typically fill me up because I was used to just having a few almonds and yogurt to snack on when I get hungry in the classroom. I had to make sure to quickly drink it though because I have heard and could tell it would get very thick if I didn't. Lunch was a fruit (usually watermelon) and veggies (typically bell peppers) and a healthy fat (avocado) plus my vanilla fresh. It was similar to my morning shake, lots of nutrients included: 200 calories and a good amount of protein. I always felt satisfied after eating lunch. After work I would have a snack of almond butter and celery sticks. It was a sweeter snack that filled me up and let me think I was also getting a treat. Then dinner each night I chose to make a salad, it was one of the larger looking options in the plan.

Going into day 1 was a little exciting and a little scary all at the same time. I did go through spurts in the day where I'd feel hungry, even tired and by the end of the day I had a pretty bad headache. I don't drink coffee, nor caffeine or really any pop at all; so I doubt it was a caffeine withdrawl. But sugar was most likely the cause. I ended my evening with a little peppermint tea and went to bed. By morning I was feeling much better.

Day 2 started off pretty good but I quickly felt really irritable, lousy and just plain hungry by pretty early in my morning. It was also our planning day at school where that day just generally drags anyways plus there was an ice cream machine with all the toppings in the lounge and it was our end of the year potluck celebration. I had decided to make a coleslaw to bring for everyone, but I was sticking to my plan and enjoyed my own prepared lunch. After I got my fiber sweep in later that morning I really started to feel better and really felt great after lunch. I was proud of myself for resisting all the temptations that day.

I couldn't believe how much my stomach had gone down just from the first day and by the time I woke up on day 3, I realized how amazing I was sleeping. I generally do sleep pretty well, but this was a completely different feeling. From not having any added sugars and all the carbs in my diet, I was really feeling wonderful. And I really was not craving anything like I thought I might have been. I will admit that it got a little tempting when cooking my family supper. By the end of my cleanse, I was really just wanting more food. Not that I was feeling really hungry, but I just wanted my typical piece of toast with peanut butter for breakfast.

In the end, the scale was down 5 pounds. My husband noticed my face seemed thinner and I could tell a difference in my waist and the pants I wore.

Following last week, I obviously have not kept up with that strict of a diet. I've since added back in some carbs, like my daily piece of toast. The scale has not gone back up. Over the weekend I did enjoy an adult beverage and an ice cream cone. I will say that Sunday night my stomach felt a little bloated and yucky from adding some of that back in. But by morning, it was feeling back to normal. It's just proving to me that I can't eat all the foods, especially on a daily basis, that I used to. I feel so much better when I fuel my body the right way. And while it might not always be the most fun, in the end I'm much happier.

Would I do it again? I think so. Not often, but maybe anytime I'm feeling I might need to clean up my nutrition. It's a great way to get back on track. And I'm glad I gave it a try. I think I learned quit a bit about what my body needs.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pineapple and Shrimp Bowls

I'm loving the fact that it's still light out when I make supper each night. It's always so hard to try photographing dishes during the winter. I'm lucky to even get supper started before it turns dark, let alone get an actual good photo of it.

I had these on our menu for Sunday, but we had such a busy weekend that I wasn't able to get our groceries purchased until late Sunday afternoon. My pineapples were not ready for this recipe, I always like to let them set for at least a couple days before I cut into them. They just seem to taste better.

We have a local chef that makes these amazing looking shrimp and chicken pineapple bowls. I've seen some of my friends posting pictures of them and they look delicious. And the fun part is he serves them up in a pineapple bowl, literally. I've yet to try one, but they've been on my mind for quite some time now. And so I decided to try creating our own version at home, a healthy version.

So that's what I did last night. Unfortunately, we've had some sort of stomach bug being passed between the two youngest girls and our oldest was at work for the night, so I didn't have too many mouths to feed. But really that just means more leftovers for lunches, right? Not such a bad thing after all I suppose. My vision with these was to really keep them healthy, but I know a nice teriyaki sauce would taste delicious mixed in. I used a mixture of garlic, a little pepper and soy sauce for seasoning. Then sprinkled fresh cilantro on top and it gave such a wonderful fresh taste to the dish. Feel free to adjust seasonings and spices to your liking though.

Oh and I tried making my own pineapple bowls, but that just felt like a major fail! Between trying not to waste all the pineapple or cut my own finger off; I gave up and just started cutting the fruit up. We love pineapple too much to waste any. Regardless of what it's served in, I think you'll be happy with this new dish.

Pineapple and Shrimp Bowls

12 oz. bag medium sized shrimp (peeled, devieined and cooked)
3 cups cooked brown rice
2 tsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 orange or red bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
black pepper, to taste
2 cups diced pineapple
chopped cilantro, for serving (optional)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic, bell pepper and onions for a couple minutes. Remove from skillet and set mixture aside on a plate.

In the same skillet, cook shrimp for about five minutes. If they came already cooked, you just want to heat them up. If they are still raw, make sure to cook long enough so that they turn a pink color.

Once the shrimp is heated through and a nice light pink color, add pepper and onion mixture back into the skillet. Add in rice, soy sauce and pepper. Let continue to cook for a few more minutes to soften the peppers a bit. Toss in pineapple, cooking for one more minute. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Remove from stove and serve into bowls. Top with fresh cilantro if desired. Serves 4-5

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Veggie Garden Soup w/Pesto

I posted a couple pictures of this soup on the Facebook page late Sunday night, I was rushing to finish up prepping it for my lunches for the week and get to bed. We had a bit of a bad ending to our weekend when our seventeen year old daughter came home from work that evening and said that someone broke into her car. Nothing of value was taken, but it still had her a little shaken up. So it was definitely very dark by the time I was able to get the soup on the stove and a couple snapshots on my phone were all I got for pics. Good thing this is a favorite soup of mine, so I'll be able to update later, but for now, these will do.

We're heading into the final week of the Live Healthy Iowa challenge and it's been a great ride. During this time I was able to complete one round of the Insanity program. It was definitely one I struggled with, it's by far the most challenging workout I've ever done and while I didn't lose a ton of weight like some do. I'm so proud to say I finished and I feel so much stronger overall! This past week I've begun a new program called T25, it's a cardio based workout that is only 25 minutes a day. It feels wonderful to be done in such a short amount of time, yet still leaves me dripping with sweat. I've also begun training for a Mother's Day four mile race, so I'm dedicating a few days each week to running. Now that it's officially spring, I can't wait to get back outside for my runs.

So I've gone back to using what I call the portion fix container system. If you've ever heard of the 21 Day Fix, then you probably know what I'm talking about. They are small color coded containers I use in planning out my meals. I know a get a certain number of each color for the day so I can just measure my foods in there to coordinate my meals, etc. I haven't always been a believer in them, but I seen some great results when I first started really working out so I knew it was time to get back to it. I feel like it's a great way for me to ensure that I'm eating enough veggies in a day and not too many carbs, which are always a downfall for me.

My husband helped me create this detailed spreadsheet so I can plan out my weekly meals and workouts. I loved having it for the week and always knew what I was planning to eat next. I did realize that I'm not eating enough early on in my day and that's leaving me really hungry by the time I get home from work and I don't feel like having an after dinner snack usually so I'm going to eliminate that I think. A lot of you let me know you like my sharing this, so I'm aiming to keep on top of it and make sure I share it each week, either in a blog post or on Facebook, maybe even both.

Wow, so I've gone a little off topic from the soup. I love Panera, if I ever do eat out for lunch I almost always choose there. They've got fresh salads that I really like and good soups. My favorite by far is the garden vegetable with pesto. I knew it would be much more cost effective if I would just recreate my own version at home so I've been doing this since last fall I believe. Now, Panera adds barley to theirs but I chose to keep that out and just used veggies. It's still very flavorful and I think the yellow wax beans always look like pasta anyways. Even after eating this for four days straight this week, I still could go for another bowl. I just love it that much!

I've still got one more gift to give to one of my readers as we are wrapping up Live Healthy Iowa. Scheels is a favorite store in our family, especially with the hubby; and I've got a $25 gift card to send to one of you compliments of the Iowa Food and Family Project!  We're keeping it super simple to enter this time again, here's what I want you to do: Leave me a comment with your go-to lunch for work, etc. Feel free to add a link too. I'll draw one winner on Monday, April 3rd. Good luck and I can't wait to read all of your responses.

Veggie Garden Soup w/Pesto

1 small red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped cauliflower
14 oz. can yellow wax beans, drained
14 oz. can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, oregano
1 medium zucchini, cut into slices and then quatered
32 oz. vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 cups chopped greens (I used collard greens, you could use swiss chard or even spinach)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
pesto, for serving

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over stove. Add in onion and bell pepper and let cook for a few minutes to soften. Then add in minced garlic and let cook for one minute, just until fragrant. Dump in beans, cauliflower, tomatoes and zucchini.  Continue to let cook for a couple minutes before adding in vegetable broth and one cup of water.  Season well with herbs, salt and pepper. Add in greens and let come to a boil before turning down to simmer. Let soup simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from stove and ladle into bowl. Serve with a spoonful of pesto on top. Makes about 4-5 servings.

If you're using soup to meal prep: Ladle soup into desired storage bowl. I used two cup glass pyrex containers with lids. I was able to get just over four bowls for the upcoming week. I did add the pesto on top, but be forewarned, it did tend to stick more to the lid when I went to reheat. If you don't want that to happen, I would recommend adding pesto to another small container. I was able to scrape most of it off and mix into my soup so it's really your preference. This soup also does freeze very well!

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