My favorite ways to eat kale

Good morning! Happy National Peanut Lover’s day (I love having random “holidays” to celebrate and this blog gives me many new food-related things to look forward to….). I made some pb&j oats to celebrate (since it’s  also National Fruit Compote day)…. if you were curious.

Anyway, today I want to discuss something that I could go on and on about for hours: vegetables.  I love vegetables. Before you start thinking I’m crazy, hear me out…..

So, like I said, I love vegetables. I love them raw, steamed, roasted, sautéed and baked.  I love kale chips, baked sweet potatoes, big salads full of raw and crunchy veggies, and stir frys. When someone tells me they don’t like vegetables, I have an intense desire to force feed them roasted brussel sprouts with maple syrup, sautéed green beans with garlic or roasted sweet potatoes to change their minds.Vegetables are delicious! They are good for you! They are fun! What’s not to love?

Now before I start coming across as a crazy vegetable fan, I’ll admit that I wasn’t always such a lover of all things that are green and come from the ground. Most of my veggie consumption when I was younger came from a can or from the freezer.  I knew of corn on the cob in the summer and of mixed green salads before dinner, but I usually stuck to the carrots and celery in the produce aisle when it came to any sort of veggie consumption. The rows and rows of greens were intimidating and looked more like rabbit food than of something I should be consuming. I didn’t even know kale existed until a couple of years ago (the horror!).  It was not until I started to delve headfirst into the world of health that I realized the deliciousness that exists in the world of vegetables.

So, where do you stand? Are you a fan of vegetables (maybe certain ones?) or do you avoid them like the plague? What’s your favorite way to prepare them? Any you don’t like?

I honestly believe we can all like to eat our vegetables, it just takes a little experimentation and fearlessness to make it happen. I understand that a bunch of kale can be intimating when you’ve never prepared it or that a rutabaga or acorn squash may not even look edible at first glance, but I am here to help you! I want us all to discover the deliciousness that comes from consuming these good-for-us foods.

Top reasons I love veggies:

  1. They are delicious
  2. There is sooo much variety (you can never get bored…there is always something new to try!)
  3. They are filling (full of fiber)
  4. You never have to worry about portion control (the more you eat, the better)
  5. They are colorful and make meals look more appealing
  6. They make you feel good (they contain essential vitamins and minerals)
  7. Cost effective (if you buy what’s in season, veggies can be very cheap!) – I just bought a HUGE bag of kale for $2(!)…..this isn’t the case if you’re trying to buy summer squash and red peppers in the dead of winter…..

So, I hope I am getting my point across that vegetables are worth eating. If I haven’t convinced you yet, maybe I can spotlight some of my favorites and my favorite (easy) ways of preparing them? Maybe I can convince you to buy/try something new next time you are at the grocery store?

If you already are on the veggie bandwagon, maybe we can use this space to share our favorite veggie-focused recipes?

To start things off I thought I would talk about one of my favorite vegetables: Kale.

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Kale is so good for you (here is some info if you’re curious), and it is also so delicious if you prepare it correctly. Some of my favorite ways to eat kale:

1. Kale chips

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These are so easy to make…. if you haven’t done this yet, DO IT! All you need is a baking sheet, cooking spray(or olive oil), kale, and whatever seasonings you’d like (salt and pepper are perfect if that’s all you have on hand)…. I swear they are delicious (I am talking to you, Lindsay)!

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Wash and dry kale (make sure it’s completely dry so it will get crispy!)
  • Break the kale into little bite-sized pieces (tearing away from the stalk)
  • Spray cookie sheet with nonstick spray, layer kale into one even layer and spray the top of the kale with nonstick spray
  • Add seasonings (i love s+p, nutritional yeast, or adding spicy seasonings, like red pepper flakes)
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes, flip, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes (checking to make sure they don’t burn!)

When done, they will be crispy and crunchy and very addicting. They are the perfect snack or side to dinner and taste amazing dipped in ketchup (this may just be a personal preference though….)

2. Massaged kale

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Kale can be kind of rough/tough on its own, so massaging it is a great way to wilt it down a little and make it extra delicious.

  • Break kale into bite sized pieces (as stated above)
  • Put kale in bowl and add in any dressing/marinade of your choice (any garlicy/cheesy dressing is a good choice if you’ve never done this, but I also like to use vinegar-based dressings as well)
  • Use you hands (make sure they’re washed!) or a fork/spoon/mixing utensil to distribute the dressing into the kale – hands work best!
  • Add in some veggies, a grain, some sort of protein (beans, tofu, chicken, etc.) and fat (nuts, seeds) to make it a meal

3. Sautéed kale

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I love sautéing kale and like to use it as an easy green addition to my dinners.  All I do is rip the kale into bite sized pieces, coat a pan with a little bit of olive oil, and saute the kale until it begins to wilt and turn a deep green color (usually takes about 3-5 minutes). I then just season with a little salt and pepper and call it a day! It’s so easy. (You can also add other seasonings as well depending on taste/what else you are preparing).

So, those are the top 3 ways I prepare kale, and, as you can probably tell, I am all about easy meal preparation. I never do anything that takes much time and most of my meals come together in 20 minutes or less (so there is no excuse not to eat your veggies!).

If you do want a more “pulled together” or complete meal idea using kale check out these recipes (I have them bookmarked to make soon… they look so good!):

and some more kale recipes/ideas:

Let me know if you eat some kale (or if you have any questions)!

What is your favorite vegetable? What are you favorite ways to eat kale?

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Getting out of my food rut

So I have a confession to make. For the last couple of weeks or so I have been in a bit of a food rut. I have been packing and eating a lot of the same foods over and over again, and while they have been tasting good and have been good for me, I haven’t been enjoying them as much  as usual.  As a result, I also have not been feeling very satisfied with any of my meals, and I have been resorting to some not so healthy habits. Some habits I tend to develop which cue me in to the fact that I am most likely in a food rut include:

  • eating my meals and finishing them without feeling like I ate at all (probably due to the fact that I am not really paying attention when eating)
  • becoming really snacky and never feeling fully satisfied… (probably due related to the bullet above)
  • craving  a lot of “junk”-type foods that I usually don’t normally crave
  • feeling out of control and in regard to eating in general

I don’t always experience all of these things at once, and while they can occur because of a “food rut,” they can also be caused by multiple other factors as well (stress, eating our of boredom/habit, getting stuck in a routine in regard to food, etc). I don’t want to say that I am only snacky and/or crave copius amounts of chocolate during these times(because I KNOW that this isn’t the case), but I find when I continuoulsy feel this way and am engaging in the above habits often, a boredeom with my food choices is usually a major culprit.

I have also begun to identify when these moods tend to strike:

  • when the end of a season is near (I tend to eat the same things during certain seasons….)
  • when I am really busy and don’t have a lot of time to devote to food/meal prep.

 As both of these situations appear to  be releveant here, I have decided that there must be something I can do to end the cycle. The crazy thing I have come to learn about food ruts is that they are so easy to fix. Once I recognize that it is the problem, all it takes is a few tweaks in my diet to make my food seem “fresh” and “new” and “exciting” again.  Now, if I could only remind myself of this sooner instead of waiting three weeks to come to this conclusion….

Does anyone get in these type of ruts?

To end this cycle and to get excited about eating again, I decided to spruce things up this week and do what I could to make my meals exciting again.

Some tips/tactics I use to get out of a food rut:

1.I buy something new at the grocery store to spruce up my meals

This week I got a little excited and purchased….

A few new salad toppers and/or snack mix ingredients:

2 new-to-me oranges to enjoy as my post-lunch fruit:

minnelos(?) and some FL orange I never heard of....

A few new granola bars to eat as snacks (Courtney inspired the SoyJoy purchase…):

I also bought some barley to make as a new grain for lunches:Other healthy purchases I buy to spruce up meals and snacks:

  • A new type of vegetable and/or fruit to throw into salads/sandwiches/stir fries or veggie bags
  • A new type of cereal to enjoy for breakfast or in a baggie for a snack (add some nuts for more staying power!)
  • fun toppers or add-ins to throw into snack mixes, on top of salads or meals (any type of seed or nut, dried fruit…)
  • A new flavor of yogurt (for breakfast or as a snack)
  • A new type of cheese to use as a salad topper, in sandwiches, sprinkled on top of meals…. (goat, feta, parmesan, cheddar, gouda…..)
  • Granola bars or snack bars (Kashi makes a lot of fun flavors of granola bars… and they don’t contain a lot of additives or unnecessary ingredients) – I also love Clif Z bars, Larabars and KIND bars
  • A new grain to enjoy with lunch or dinner (there are so many like barley, quinoa, different types of whole grain pasta, brown rice, bulgar wheat…. you can find most of these in the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
  • A new condiment to use as a dressing, marinade or sandwich spread…. (I love condiments!)
  • A new seasoning/spice to add to meals (I love Spike!)

2. I make a new recipe or search through cooking magazines or cookbooks for cooking and/or meal packing inspiration

I made a new soup yesterday (another one from Natural Health Magazine) to eat for dinner and/or pack for lunches… Red Kidney Bean Curry Soup (yum).

I actually ate this for dinner last night on top of some kale (mine was more like stew because I let it simmer too long), and it was delicious (and so simple to make too!). I am looking forward to eating it again….

I also brainstormed some new/”fun” lunch ideas for the week (which I’ll share if they turn out as delicious as they seem in my head) by looking through some of my cookbooks.

Not my current collection, but I thought a visual would be nice to include. I would love a copy of Clean Food though….

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So lets hope my food rut ends this week. I am already excited to dig into my new trail mix concoction later and to eat my minnelo!

How do you deal with food ruts and/or keeping meals exciting? Do you have any other tips to share (I am always open to advice on this!)?

Staying sane on busy days

Good morning. How are you doing today?

breakfast - greek yogurt, quinoa, banana, strawberries, pb

So yesterday was a long day. I have decided that  Wednesdays are definitely the toughest day of the week for me to get through. Between  8 hours of work + 90 minutes of Bio lecture + 2 (or more) hours of Bio lab, I always feel exhausted by the end of the day. While I usually try to make the best of it and not complain (I know we all have busy days), I have found that some weeks/days are just easier than others. Yesterday was one of the more rough days.

Anyway, instead of going over why I was it was hard day or why I didn’t have as much energy, etc., I’d rather move forward and discuss strategy. I have realized that I employ a few tactics every week to keep my spirits up. Since I am not one to dwell on a negative mood for long and am a  firm believer that the little things in life are what make you the happiest, I guess it comes to no surprise that I’d try to make the most of my more stressful days. Why be happy tomorrow or “when I have accomplished _____” when you can be happy right now (even at times when you are learning about entropy and enzymes)? Life if happening everyday so why not enjoy it (even if it’s the little moments….)?

So on that note, I thought I’d share some things that I do to attempt to stay positive/remain optimistic when days are long or stressful or feel never-ending  (and then maybe you can share some of your strategies? I’m always looking for new tips…):

I pack/plan to eat “fun food” and/or make eating an “event”

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but food makes me really happy. I love looking forward to a meal and love to plan fun (and healthy(!)) meals for myself on days when I am stressed or busy or blah. A good meal just lifts my spirits (and keeps me well fueled!). I legitimately get excited to dig into my packed dinners before class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Even on super busy days when I rely on granola bars and trail mix to keep my energy up, I try to take the time to just slow down and enjoy them. Food doesn’t need to be fancy to be special. Meals (for me at least) not only serve as good “fuel” but always create a time/space where I can tell myself to just STOP and enjoy the moment. I love how food has the power to create such a space. You have to eat at least 3 times a day, so why not use the time to enjoy yourself?

I believe that food should always be “fun” and should never be an afterthought. It’s important! Even a snack of a granola bar or a dinner of a pb&j can be exciting if you focus on it.

Use my commute time as “me” time

It can be really hard to travel to school from work and come home at the end of the day feeling like I haven’t stopped moving for 14+ hours. I am the type of person that needs time to myself to just relax. I usually do this by running or at night by just unwinding, but my current schedule doesn’t allow as much time for this (I need to sleep too!).

I have found that my car ride to and from school is a great time for me to unwind and just relax. My activities range from belting out songs (I am really liking Kelly Clarkson’s new song for this… is that embarrassing?) to pondering life, to completely zoning out (while watching the road, of course). Whatever the activity though, I realize that these rides are definitely beneficial to let me just be.

Repeat positive mantras and try to learn fun facts

When all else fails and I feel super exhausted or would rather do anything than go to class or measure 2 mL of water into 15 different beakers during lab, I either repeat positive mantras in my head or try to extract fun facts from class to keep myself motivated. Basic biology can be much more fun when you are trying to learn something new and exciting at every moment.

I find myself doing this at work too when things are especially slow or stressful. It’s never to late to learn something new (I got to learn all about assessment of nonverbal children with autism yesterday….). I had a professor once that always said, “It’s not for school but for life we learn…” so maybe that’s where I learned this little tactic?

My go-to mantras:

  • “This will be worth it….. This will be worth it”
  • “You can do this. You are smart. You are going to be someone someday”
  • If you focus on the moment/be present… time will go faster (and you actually may gain something from this)… which is usually always true

Fun Facts:

  • Penicillin was discovered by accident
  • It is NOT fun to make “onion water” (not a fun fact but is the truth)….yesterday was more of a positive mantra day than a learn fun facts kind of day

So these are just a few things that I try to keep in mind when stressed/busy.  Even when days are hard and life is overwhelming, I like to think there is something I can do to change it (or at least make it a bit more enjoyable).

How do you stay sane when life is crazy? Do you have any suggestions/tips? I’d love to hear some!

Have a great day everyone!

You eat with your eyes first – How to make food look “pretty”

Last week, I shared a few tips on how to make meal packing fast and cheap. Today, I thought I’d share some tips on how I make my packed lunches/meals look “pretty.”

This might seem like a pointless tip or something that isn’t worth your time, but I am a firm believer that you eat with your eyes first. Food that looks better, tastes better… I promise.

Now, I know when lunch packing already seems like a hassle, the last thing you  probably want to think about is, “How can I make this look “pretty?” or “How can I make this sandwich look better?”” I realize it can sound ridiculous, and I know it is definitely easier to throw things in some tinfoil and plastic baggies and call it a day.

I am not saying that it is necessary to spend hours upon hours on food presentation everyday, but with just a few extra seconds each day, it is possible for all of us average joes and Tupperware  packers to have Whole Foods salad bar worthy food(or insert your own “best looking food I can think of here”) .

I find that when I focus more on how my food looks, I focus more when I actually eat it (and don’t just shovel food into my face). Food becomes more important. It tastes better, and I appreciate it more. The simplest foods can taste amazing when you take the time to make them look nice.

So without further ado, here are some of my tried and true ways to make food look appealing. Please come back and tell me when you get asked where you bought your lunch…

1. Focus on color!

Colorful food is more exciting to look at and to eat. When you focus on adding color to meals, you are also guaranteed to be eating more healthy/nutrient dense foods as well (it is an idiot-proof way to incorporate more veggies in your diet!). I always try to include at least a few colors in each meal.

One way way I do this is by trying to add something green in my lunches and dinners (whether it be spinach, kale, broccoli, celery….).

2.Put food in “sections”

I do this all the time, and it is an easy way to make food look more “pulled together.” I always get compliments on my meals when I do this (and sometimes get asked where I bought them!), so this definitely works.

I usually will chop everything I am using at once ,and I then just put each item on the salad/concoction that I made in a different area. It is an easy, instant way to look like you are a meal packing pro.

3.Don’t underestimate the power of mix-ins/additional “fun” items

This is the fun part. A meal automatically looks better and tastes better when fun and/or “themed” items are thrown into the mix. If you make an “Asian-themed meal”, add sesame seeds or sriacha (if you like spicy foods); If you are making a more basic salad with veggies and beans, add some dried fruit and nuts to make it “fancier.” If you have a few extra items on hand you can really make any meal look and taste more exciting with this simple step. Some “extras” I like to have on hand:

  • a variety of nuts
  • seeds (pumpkin, sesame…)
  • dried fruit (apricots, raisins, currants, mango) I love to go to Trader Joes and the bulk bins at Whole Foods for stuff like this
  • additional veggies (my sister and I like to add “fun” veggies to our meals like roasted brussel sprouts, jicama sticks, shredded carrots, chopped peppers, chopped green beans, beets, cubed sweet potato chunks… the options are endless)
  • other (wasabi peas, a small sprinkling of cheese, crackers, condiments…)

4. Invest in simple, well-sized Tupperware containers

Your salad/sandwich only looks as good as the container it is in. It seems silly, but it is true. I used to HATE all my Tupperware and could never find what I was looking for when I was packing my lunches. As soon as I bought a 4-pack of salad-appropriate containers and a 4-pack of dressing containers, meal packing became SO much easier. Plus, it was so much easier to make my food look more appealing. It is hard to make a salad look good in an old yogurt container… trust me.  This applies to plates and dishes too. A simple, white square plate will make your food look better than a cracked, beat up plate any day. I love to go to Target for cheap dish options.

5. When in doubt… layer

I like to think that layering is always a fancy way to make food look nice. I mean, parfaits always look good, so why not apply the concept to other foods? I tend to do this with salads or with dinners. In a salad situation, I will prep all my ingredients and then just place them on the plate one at at time. For example, Ill lay out 1/2 my lettuce base, then add 1/2 of the veggies one at a time, then  1/2 of the beans, then 1/2 of the “extras”… then just do it all again. Its fun to do and always makes a meal look a little more “special.”

So, there you have it, some of my tried and true ways to make food look and taste better. I swear this is an important part of meal packing and in the enjoyment of meals – and it is so easy to do! Let me know if you try any of this out (or have any other tips to add to the list).

Do you focus on how your meals look? Do you think food presentation is important?

How I make lunch packing quick, cheap, and exciting

About a few months ago I had the idea to start up a lunch making service. I thought I could create a “menu” of a few different options, charge enough to cover the cost of my ingredients (and enough to make some profit), and show people that eating vegetables, whole grains and “out-of-the-box” protein sources is fun and delicious.
 
I know a lot of people HATE making their lunch for work/school, so why not put my love of organization and veggie chopping to good use?
 

Unfortunately, my current schedule doesn’t exactly permit me to take on such an undertaking (working 40 hours/week plus being in school 10+ hours a week isn’t exactly ideal for a lunch making service…).

So… even though my business venture isn’t exactly attainable right now, I still love packing myself healthy and fun lunches, and I still have the desire to show people how delicious vegetables are and how easy it can be to incorporate them into daily life.

I mean, food is an important part of life. We eat at least 3x a day. Why not make meals as exciting (and nutrient-packed) as possible (even when they are in Tupperware containers)?

lunch and dinner packed for today

Since I feel like the issue with lunch packing is less about what to do, and is more about how to do it, I thought I could share a few tricks and habits I have developed over the last couple years that allow me to pack healthy, quick and delicious lunches for myself on a daily basis.

I truly believe it is possible to be busy and make time for your health and well being as well.

One thing I try to do on Sundays is prep lunch/dinner ingredients to use through out the week. It literally saves so much time and makes meal packing so much easier.  Yesterday, for example, I had about 30 minutes of time to spare, so I prepped a lot of things for the week to make meal packing a little easier:

1. I made some grains for fast lunch/dinner making

quinoa and whole grain pasta

 This is something I try to do every Sunday, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to save some time during the week. It is such an easy way to create a variety of quick and healthy meals without waiting for anything to cook (or relying on packaged bread or wraps).

There are so different many grains to try out. They also store pretty well and are easy to prep. Some of my favorites (with cook times):

  1. Quinoa (20 minute approx.)
  2. Brown Rice (ranges depending on the type… I personally like the quick cooking kind which takes 10-15 minutes)
  3. Barley (30-45 min)
  4. Whole grain pasta (15 minutes)… I love to make make-shift “pasta salads” 

2. I prepped my protein sources (beans, tofu)

One thing I try to keep in mind when meal planning is incorporating good protein sources into my meals. I know opening and rinsing a can of beans doesn’t seem that difficult, but for some reason, I hate having to do it when packing my lunch. By rinsing a few cans at once, I have now have 2 different protein sources waiting for me to use. When it comes to quick meal packing, the more convenient, the better.

I also pressed a block of tofu with my tofu press while I opened the beans. I LOVE my tofu press. It makes tofu-making so  convenient. I used to avoid making it because of the the whole paper towel/dish towel/book stacking process (which isn’t so bad, it just takes a bit more effort)… this makes it SO easy.

Other easy protein sources I like to use:

  1. Any type of canned bean (kidney, black, white, chickpea)
  2. Edamame (perfect for “Asian” inspired meals… I buy prepackaged, individually-sized bags at the grocery store that are located in the freezer section).
  3. Canned tuna and canned salmon
  4. Tempeh/Tofu
  5. Veggie burgers

1. I premade trail mixes

dried fruit, mini chocolate chips

almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios

 This is the first time I ever took the time to pre-make some mixes, and it literally took 5 minutes. I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. Packing snacks is something I rarely think to do ahead of time, which usually leads to me eating a lot of granola bars and almonds as a snack, or spending a few minutes every day putting some “fun” mixes together.
 

While I don’t mind packing snacks everyday, doing it all at once was pretty simple, and it was actually pretty fun to mix and match my different “ingredients.” I even rediscovered  some things I forgot I owned (pistachios and dried mango!). I love that I have a variety of mixes waiting for me to grab. This is such an easy (and cost effective!) way to ensure you have a fun, healthy, filling snack available when hunger stikes.  

So, I guess the first step of healthy/fun lunch making is all about the prep work. It might not be the most “fun” thing to do, but I promise it is worth it when you have something delicious to eat everyday (that took almost no time to prepare). I also have some tips on making food “pretty” (you eat with your eyes first!), but I think I am going to save that for another day….  
 
I hope you have a great Monday!
 
Do you pack your lunch for school/work? How important is it for you to pack healthy/delicious meals? Any barriers to doing this?

A new lunch packing adventure

I have mentioned before that I love packing my lunch for work and creating healthy meals for myself. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that I like to spend hours in the kitchen everyday doing so. While I think it is important to make health a priority in your life and eat as much real, unprocessed, “clean” foods as possible, I don’t think it must be a time consuming  process either. Other things in life are important as well!

This week, my schedule is about to change a little. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from now until May, I will start attending night classes at my local community college. I am starting a long (well, about a year) journey to gain prerequisites for grad school (I have mentioned that I am confused about my future a few times on here).

I enjoy packing my lunch now, but I am going to need to take it to a whole new level. Instead of packing just one meal a day, I now will be responsible for two (3x a week). On these days, I most likely will be going straight from work to school, so I will need to be prepared with meals in advance.

In order not to drive myself crazy, and still keep meals healthy and fun, I thought I’d draft some ideas of how to make my Tupperware/tinfoil  lunches and dinners exciting (and possibly start documenting them on here to help me keep track of notable meals).

I feel like I already have a few secrets as to how to keep packed lunches exciting, so I plan to continue with my current methods and possibly switch things up as I develop new ideas. As long as my meals are,

1. well-balanced (include a mix of grains, proteins, veggies, healthy fats)

2. easily transportable

3. healthy and exciting (eating more than just hummus and veggie sandwiches every day)

I will be a happy camper.

So to start off this lunch packing adventure, I thought I could share a tip as to how to I make packed meals exciting (and then I thought I could add to the list as time goes on and as I develop new ideas). I always love reading blogs that discuss topics like this, so I am hoping others feel the same.

So for Tip #1:

The secret is in the sauce…. Condiments!

I won’t lie, I tend to eat pretty much the same thing for lunch everyday. The thing is, is never get boring! Although I tend to follow a lunch packing formula:

grain (1) + protein (2) + veggie (3)

(1) grain = whole grain bread, whole grain wraps, brown rice, quinoa (technically a protein), barley, bulgur (there are sooo many options here)

(2) protein: beans (kidney, black, chickpeas, great northern, pinto… many options here as well), edamame, soy proteins (tofu, tempeh), veggie burgers, canned tuna, canned salmon, cheeses (usually an additional, not main source for me), nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans)

(3) veggies: whatever I have on hand…. carrots, cucumbers, celery, spinach, arugula, romaine, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms….

I keep things exciting on the condiment front.

My usual supply:

sorry for the blurry pic (I am working on it), but this is a mix of dressings, vinegars, mustards, salsas, bbq sauces, hummus...

I swear there is a condiment for every taste/mood. Plus, condiments tend to last  a pretty long time as well. If you buy one “fun” condiment every week for a couple of months, you, honestly, will have an endless supply of delicious/inspired meals at your disposal. For anyone on a tight budget, this is always a good thing.

(I love Trader Joe’s and the ethnic isle in larger grocery stores to find interesting condiments)

Some lunch/dinner packing ideas using the above formula (1,2,3…) + condiment:

Indian: Indian-inspired wrap: whole wheat wrap (1) + lentils or chickpeas (2) + spinach, cucumber, shredded carrots (3) + curry sauce/masala sauce

Mexican: “Taco Salad: ” brown rice (1) + black beans and Greek yogurt (2) + romaine (as a base), avocado, carrots/any other veggie you have on hand + salsa (can also add a little guacamole)

Greek: Greek salad: quinoa (1) + chickpeas and feta (2) + spinach/romaine (as base), cucumber, tomatoes…. (3) + greek dressing (can add olives)

American: a BBQ-inspired wrap/sandwich with a veggie burger +cheese +tomato/spinach + BBQ sauce

Asian: brown rice (1) + tofu/edamame (2) + onion, carrots, peppers (3) … + teriyaki sauce

and, of course, the old standby:

you can never have too much hummus...

Veggie and hummus sandwich: whole wheat bread(1) + veggies (3) + hummus (2/condiment as well….)

The options are really endless. Plus, none of this is an exact science. You never need a specific ingredient to make any of these lunches/dinners. Mixing and matching of grains, proteins and veggies is  encouraged and also keeps this exciting. There are always new flavor combinations to discover!

One way I definitely plan to keep my meals exciting/healthy/not too time consuming is to continue to incorporate this idea into my daily meal packing. Plan to see some documentation of this in the future (I’m hoping this will keep me more accountable and help me avoid any food ruts in the next few months).

Anyone else have to pack their lunch everyday? do you have any tips on streamlining/simplifying the process while still keeping things healthy/exciting?

How to order beer at a bar without feeling clueless

Hi everyone! I hope your having a lovely (3 day!) weekend so far.

So today I thought I’d discuss beer (an appropriate weekend discussion, I think).

The thing is, I LOVE beer now, but this wasn’t always the case. For a pretty long time, I thought only of this when the topic of beer came up:

which has its time and place of course....

But this past summer, I learned that a whole world of beer exists outside the big names of Miller, Coors and Bud…. craft beer.

I used to be really intimidated by these “fancy” beers. How do you know what you like? What do you order from a draft list of 10-20 beers that you have never heard of? What is the difference between an IPA, a pale ale and a  stout?

In order to gain some knowledge about this, I took matters into my own hands and did what any clueless, information-seeking person would do. I read Beer for Dummies.

So while I am still no expert and still have much to learn when it comes to beer (which is part of the fun!), I believe I have figured out enough in order to know how to order a beer at a bar without feeling completely clueless. Since I don’t think I am the only one that has ever felt that way, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned, and lend some advice as to how I decipher beer/draft menus. (Note: I am not an expert. I am just a beer loving 23-year old trying to help out any future beer lovers. This is just a compilation of tips that I find to be helpful in a bar setting.)

How to decipher a draft list and look somewhat knowledgeable about beer

1. Be aware of the different types of beer

There are usually a few types of beer you will find when you look at a draft list. The most popular ones you will see include:

IPA

Pale Ale

Brown Ale

Wheat Ale/Hefeweizen

Seasonal Ales (right now you probably will see Winter/Christmas Ales)

Stout

Beers can have crazy names, but they will usually include their type at the end (for example, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Troegs DreamWeaver Wheat Ale). Sometimes they won’t (Victory Storm King), but if you’re first staring out in the beer world, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.

2. Be aware of certain flavors/tastes

Beer is made of 4 ingredients: water, yeast, hops and grains. All beer contains these 4 ingredients, the difference in taste results from how the ingredients are combined, or in the balance of how the ingredients are used (There is much more to it than this and it is a much more complicated process, but that is the basic jist of the process).

There are lots of ways to describe a beer, but the main “technical” terms I tend to keep in mind are: hoppy and malty

hoppy = a bitter taste that can sometimes taste a little fruity, sometimes a little spicy

malty =a caramel-y taste,  can be sweet or dry

Other terms/ways to describe a beer include: fruity, crisp, yeasty….

I have found that beers tend to follow this pattern:

hoppy: IPA, pale ales

malty:  brown ales, a lot of winter/Christmas seasonal ales, darker ales (like stouts – they taste like coffee!)

other: wheat beers I find, taste lighter, and “yeasty,” which  is more of a fruity, lighter taste

There are a lot of different breweries out there and a lot of different variations of beer types, so not all IPAs or pale ales, for example, will taste the same. I like to put the difference types into these categories to make it a little easier to remember, but keep in mind that variations do exist. I like to think thats part of the fun though……. there is always something new and exciting to try!

3. Don’t be afraid to  ask questions and try new things!

If you aren’t really sure if you will like a certain kind of beer, ask! Bartenders tend to be very knowledgeable about beer (who would of thought?) and are very helpful. I know I like IPAs and hoppy beers, so I often will ask a bartender what they recommend I try. Sometimes you can even get lucky and they will give you a sample.

Once you kind of get the taste basics down (hoppy, malty, a balance of hop/malt, fruity… really there is no wrong way of categorizing a beer), you can use it to your advantage. If you know you like IPAs with that are more fruity/citrusy you can ask for a recommendation. If you like lighter, more crisp beers, a bartender can offer advice as well.

So there you go. I hope this was somewhat helpful. If you happen to be reading and happen to be feeling adventerous at the bar this weekend, I challenge you to not order the Miller Lite and try something new!… and then promise come back here and tell me what it was (I love trying out new beers!).

Questions: Any other beer lovers out there with more tips for navigating a beer menu?

What is your favorite kind of beer? It depends on my mood/the season but I am currently loving Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA and Troegs Mad Elf (SO GOOD)