Make THIS Today!

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Hello, friends! It’s a gloomy day in Indiana, and looking at the forecast for the coming week fall weather has returned! I LOVE fall. There are so many wonderful things about fall. Warm days, crisp evenings, apples, bonfires, sweatshirts and jeans are just some of the many things I enjoy about fall. Another thing I like about fall is the return of comfort food to my menus. Don’t get me wrong, I love homegrown produce and grilling in the summer. However, after a while I’m ready for soups, stews and pot roast.

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Can you smell the deliciousness?!!

 

Pot roast is the focus of my blog today, but not just any old pot roast, my yummy, warm, comforting Mexican pot roast. I used my homegrown tomatoes, onions, and peppers, as well as my homemade Mexican tomato sauce to make it. See my previous post, “Roast These For Optimal Nutrition!” to make my delicious sauce, read to the end for the Mexican version!  https://vitalvaldecap.com/2016/08/12/roast-these-for-optimal-nutrition/ If you don’t grow your own veggies, you can easily use produce from the grocery store or farmer’s market. Just make sure to use organic products whenever possible.

When I made my pot roast the other day, it was so delicious that I forgot to take pictures of the finished product; I was busy shoveling it into my mouth! Because Danielle is now in her own apartment, I’ve been diligently freezing leftovers for her to take with her for days when she doesn’t have time to cook. I  froze the leftovers and sent them with Danielle to her apartment, and she was kind enough to take pictures of the plating for me. This roast is EASY to make, just use your crockpot and assemble the ingredients in the morning, and by the time you’re ready to eat it will be done. The smell in your house/apartment by the time you return will be to-die for!

Crockpot Mexican Pot Roast

  • 2.5-3 lb chuck roast
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion rough chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, any color
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (ribs and seeds removed)
  • 2 cups Mexican flavored tomato sauce or red enchilada sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

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Place the chuck roast into your crockpot. I used one of these cool crockpot liners that I found at Target, you just line your crockpot with one, add the ingredients, cook, and after you serve your meal you can just throw away the liner. No clean up- fab! 🙂 Add half of the chile powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper directly to the meat. Next, include the extra virgin olive oil.  Pour the sauce on top of the meat. Sprinkle the rest of the chile powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper on the sauce.

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Chop onions, peppers and tomatoes, and then place them on top of the meat and sauce. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or 4-5 hours on high. Serve with green beans, potatoes, or tortillas. Olé!

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Thanks for the pictures, Danzy! 🙂

 

This roast is protein rich, as well as full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so it’s super healthy, and the flavor is warm, juicy and bursting with deliciousness.  You’ll love it, I promise! It’s also inexpensive to make, as chuck roast is one of the cheapest cuts of meat, and the vegetables are not expensive either. Eating food that is good tasting and good for you like my Mexican pot roast will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

You need THIS at your Labor Day Cookout!

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Jacsy was the inspiration for this post, as she has loved veggies and “dip it” since she was a little girl!

 

Hello, friends! Are you ready for Labor Day weekend? Doesn’t it seem like instead of one day of feasting, it’s a three day gorge-fest?!! It is like that for me. If your holiday weekend is like mine, I have two delicious dips you can make that are super easy to prepare, and healthy to boot. You can make these in advance, put them out whenever you are celebrating, and they won’t derail your healthy eating plan.

One common ingredient in both dips is Greek yogurt. I wrote all about the health benefits of Greek yogurt in a past post “One of the BEST ways to start your day!”    https://vitalvaldecap.com/2016/03/10/one-of-the-best-ways-to-start-your-day/  Click on the link provided to check out all the great Greek yogurt facts. I also provided a scrumptious morning yogurt recipe in that post.

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To summarize, FULL FAT plain Greek yogurt has loads of calcium, probiotics, and protein. It has little sugar or carbohydrates. It also contains high quality fats which are essential for every part of our bodies. But that’s not all the healthy ingredients my dips contain.

One of the dips is made with cannellini beans, which are actually white kidney beans. Kidney beans are considered one of nature’s superfoods owing to their high mineral, vitamin, protein and fiber content. Due to that high fiber content, they are also among the best foods for weight loss, because fiber leaves you feeling full for longer and keeps food cravings at bay. They are also rich in antioxidants, which are are known to have anticancer properties. Kidney beans are high in vitamin B9 also called folate or folic acid, which makes them heart healthy, and in B1 or thiamin, necessary for formation and operation of brain cells.

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I have always loved white kidney beans or cannellini beans. They have such a delicate texture and flavor. I’ve always found red kidney beans’ flavor to be too strong and aggressive for me, however the white ones are versatile to use in many dishes due to their mild flavor. Does that convince you of the health benefits derived from these dips? Then, let’s move on to the recipes!

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White Bean Dip

  • 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained (if not using organic you must also rinse them)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons full fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Put all ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Add fresh chives on top for garnish.

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Veggie Dip

  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 scallions, sliced with greens and whites separated
  • 1 1/4 cups full fat Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

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Heat oil over medium heat and add onions and scallion whites. Cook about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from heat and cool.

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Combine the rest of the ingredients. Add the sautéed onions to the mixture. Chill for an hour before serving.

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Still have lots of veggies from my garden, and this is a great way to eat ’em up!

 

And that’s all there is to both dips. I made them both in about 15 minutes and stuck them in the fridge to chill until ready to serve. I served them with various vegetables which also adds to the health quotient. I think the second dip tastes EXACTLY like the French onion dip my mom used to buy in the grocery store when I was young, and into which I loved to dip ruffled potato chips.I’m not judging if you want to dip a few chips, and I might have done so myself when I was making it. Chips are my guilty pleasure, so salty and crunchy, and the creaminess of the dip is perfectly balanced by the saltiness of the chips. Sometimes you’ve got to have a little of your guilty pleasure, whatever it is, so go for it and I won’t tell anyone! 🙂 Eating these healthy and yummy dips (and having an occasional guilty pleasure) will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

Yet ANOTHER Source of Cancer Prevention For You!

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Wild and crazy garden!

 

Hello, friends! Happy late summer to you! We had some MUCH NEEDED rain this week, and my garden is growing like crazy with the added moisture. The herbs, tomatoes, onions and peppers are even more plentiful than they were! Another thing in my garden that is exploding right now is my tomatillo plant. I’ve never grown tomatillos before, but we found a plant when we were looking at tomatoes. I decided to get one to see what I thought about it. Now, I’m so glad I did! They are a delicious change from tomatoes, and I’ve made some great meals including them. I want to share what I’ve learned about tomatillos, and two different ways to utilize them in dishes.

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My tomatillo plant, with little tomatillos on it!

 

The tomatillo is actually not a tomato, it is a vegetable from the nightshade family, and is actually related more closely to cape gooseberries. Their scientific name is Physalis philadelphica and they are a staple in Central and South America. They have a light brown husk that will eventually break off when the tomatillo is ripe. The tomatillo has a tart flavor, rather than a sweet flavor like tomatoes.

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Tomatillos in their husks!

 

Tomatillos have high levels of dietary fiber, very few calories (approximately 11), moderate levels of vitamin C, A, K, niacin, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. They also have withanolides and flavonoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene.

Because tomatillos have high levels of fiber they are excellent for digestive health, as fiber can help add bulk to foods and speed their transit through the digestive tract, thereby eliminating constipation, excess gas, bloating, cramping, and even colon and gastric cancers. Fiber is also good at regulating the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, thereby regulating blood sugar levels, which is important for people with diabetes.

They also contain phytochemicals called withanolides, which have been directly linked to anti-cancer and antibacterial functions. Antioxidants help combat the effects of free radicals, which are the dangerous byproducts of cellular reproduction, that can kill or mutate healthy cells and turn them into cancerous cells. In addition, the vitamin A, C, and other flavonoids within tomatillos provide other cancer-protective effects, particularly lung and oral cancers.

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This is what they look like once they have been peeled!

 

The vitamin C in tomatillos is good for the immune system and collagen production, and the vitamin A and beta carotene helps with our vision and eye health. The high nutrient, low calorie and low fat in them also help with weight loss, because they help us feel full, acquire the necessary nutrients, and reduce the chances of overeating. The niacin helps us to increase energy, and the potassium is heart healthy. Did I convince you to try them?!!

I made two sauces with my tomatillos, one in which I roasted the tomatillos, and one with raw tomatillos. They’re both easy to make, but the raw tomatillos give the sauce a bright and vibrant flavor, and the roasted tomatillos make the sauce deeper and more intensely flavored. I loved them both, and I can’t decide which one I like better so I’m sharing them both with you.

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Roasted tomatillo Sauce- See the blackened bits in the sauce?! They add such a nice, smoky flavor!

 

Roasted Tomatillo Sauce

  • 10 tomatillos, peeled, rinsed and cut in half
  • 5 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed for a milder sauce
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat broiler in oven. Peel tomatillos and MAKE SURE TO RINSE THEM AFTER PEELING. Tomatillos are very sticky and must be rinsed to remove the stickiness.

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Make sure you rinse them, to remove the sticky film!

 

Chop them in half and put them on a baking sheet with the chiles. Roast them 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4-5 minutes more. They will be splotchy and blistered, and that’s perfect.

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Looks wrong, but it’s oh so right!

 

In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos, chiles, juice from the baking sheet, cilantro, water, onion, and salt until it’s a rough puree. Serve immediately or store it in the fridge.

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I served the sauce over a pork tenderloin I made in the crockpot. I added shredded Mexican cheese, and served with corn tortillas. It was smoky and yummy!

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To make the sauce without roasting the tomatillos, just throw all the ingredients into the blender or food processor, and blend until coarsely pureed.

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Raw tomatillo sauce, brightly colored and flavored!

 

The sauce is a brighter green when the tomatillos are left raw, and it has a more tart, mild vinegar flavor, but it’s still really, really good. I served it over ribeyes we had made, and added black beans on the side.

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That’s all there is to it! It’s a versatile sauce, whether raw or roasted, and can be used on tacos, nachos, burritos or enchiladas, on pork, chicken, beef or seafood; really any way you can think to use it. It’s delicious and healthy too, what more could you want?!! Eating tomatillo sauce is so good for you, and will help you lead a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

Roast these for optimal nutrition!

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A cornucopia of tomatoes!

 

Hello friends! These are the “dog days” of summer, aren’t they? At least they are in Indiana. According to dictionary.com, dog days are “the sultry part of the summer, supposed to occur during the period that Sirius, the dog star, rises at the same time as the sun: now often reckoned from July 3 to August 11. A period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.” Well since most of the children are back in school, I’d say the inactivity part has passed, but the heat certainly causes me to feel a bit lethargic!

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However, I have no time for lethargy because my garden is producing in full abundance right now. It is certainly not lethargic either! I have more tomatoes, peppers and onions than I know what to do with, and I am very determined not to waste one thing that comes from my garden.

So, I’ve gotten creative at different ways to utilize all of my fruits and veggies, because there are only so many sliced tomatoes you can eat before you get tired of them. I started thinking about making my own tomato sauce. However, I wanted to roast them because I thought it would add a depth of flavor that non-roasted tomato sauce would not have. I began to look around for recipes and combined a few to create my own version of roasted tomato sauce.

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But here is another benefit to roasting the tomatoes to make a sauce besides taste, they are MORE NUTRITIOUS than an unroasted tomato! I’m totally serious! I didn’t know that, I only knew I liked the taste better. When tomatoes are roasted or cooked in a sauce, it helps to break down the plant cell walls, allowing us to better absorb the antioxidant lycopene. This nutrient helps safeguard our cells from environmental damage, may protect us from certain cancers, and is heart-friendly. Tomatoes do lose about 10% of their vitamin C from the cooking process, however the benefits of the increased absorption of lycopene far outweigh the loss of vitamin C. Some vegetables like peppers and broccoli are healthier when eaten raw, because cooking causes them to lose essential nutrients. This is not the case with tomatoes, as they are best for you when eaten roasted or cooked.

Now that you know how good roasted tomatoes are for you, I’m going to share my roasted tomato sauce recipe with you. It is SO AMAZING, if I do say so myself. I’m eating it right now over an Italian sausage with a piece of Colby Jack cheese melted on it. The sauce is creamy and it’s flavor can best be described as spunky! Please enjoy!

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My trusty sous chef, Danielle! 🙂

 

Valerie’s Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • 30 tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Take the halved tomatoes, core them, remove the seeds, and place them on 2 large sheet pans halved side up. Coring and removing the seeds is optional, and makes a more concentrated sauce. If you’re short on time, just halve the tomatoes and place them on the sheet tray. Make sure you add a half hour more to the cooking time because the tomatoes with the seeds and cores will have A LOT more juice to them, and therefore will need to cook a half hour longer. I sprayed my trays with organic olive oil cooking spray so the tomatoes wouldn’t stick, which would aid in my clean up.

Next, get a big bowl and add the rest of the ingredients to it. Microwave the bowl for 2 minutes and pour the contents equally over the tomatoes. Use your hands to make sure the oil mixture gets all over the tomatoes.

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Bake the tomatoes for 2 hours (2 1/2 hours if you didn’t remove the seeds and cores). Rotate the pans halfway through the baking process. Then, turn the oven up to 400 degrees and roast them for another 30 minutes. They will turn kind of blackened but that is PERFECT. You won’t believe how wonderful your house will smell while you’re doing this.

Now you have two options, you can either use a food mill and pulverize the tomatoes that way, or use a blender or food processor to beat up the tomatoes. I started using my food mill, but I felt it was leaving too many tasty bits unused, so I switched to using my trusty Vitamix. What I did was pour all the tomatoes into my blender, and blend on medium for about 20 seconds. Then, I poured the blended tomatoes into a pot, and cooked the roasted tomato sauce until thickened, about 15 minutes. I tasted it, added a 1/2 cup of red wine, and another 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

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Here’s a cool thing, the trays will have all kinds of bits on them and you may think, “oh my goodness, clean-up will be a huge ordeal!” but fear not, dear readers, I have a great and easy clean-up method that adds to the flavor of the sauce too. Take a cup of water and microwave it for 2 minutes, pour it onto the sheet pan, and wait a minute. Then, take a spatula, scrape off the bits, and pour the water/tasty bits into the sauce. It definitely adds flavor and makes clean-up easier too! That’s a win-win, my friends!

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This sauce is so versatile, you can use it on pasta, to make Italian sausage sandwiches, as a sauce for steaks, or the way I used it the other night, over my healthy chicken Italiano. I took chicken thighs, salted and peppered them, and cooked them on the stove in a little EVOO. After they were cooked through, I added a piece of prosciutto and provolone cheese to the top and cooked for another minute until the cheese melted. Then, I poured the sauce over the top and served with fresh green beans- DELIZIOSO!

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You can also turn this sauce into a Mexican sauce by adding chili powder, cumin, and jalapenos, and use it on enchiladas or in a taco sauce. Another variation is that you could add croutons, and turn it into a tomato soup. This sauce is so amazing, the sky’s the limit with it. You should definitely make this sauce, and if you make something super cool with it, let me know! Remember, cooked or roasted tomatoes are healthier than uncooked tomatoes, and far more delicious too! Eating like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

Eat this to prevent cancer and heart disease!

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The family is gathered for dinner, Danielle is helping me prep the food, and life is good!

 

Hello, friends! I want to talk to you today about one of my FAVORITE things to eat. The greatest thing about it besides the deliciousness is how totally good it is for you. What I am referring to is…. the avocado. A simple and humble fruit, but WOW does it pack a healthy punch of nutrients and antioxidants that helps prevent all kinds of really bad illnesses. So my goal here is to tell you why you should be eating more avocados, and then show you a recipe for a scrumptious and easy avocado salad that I made the other day.

The main thing to remember about the avocado is that it is a fruit, but unlike most other fruits it contains healthy fats instead of carbohydrates. Each avocado has approximately 160 calories, 2 grams of protein and 15 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Although it has 9 grams of carbs 7 of them are fiber, which means there are only 2 net carbs, making avocados a low-carb friendly plant food.

Avocados have:

  • Vitamin K: 26% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 20% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin C: 17% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 14% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B5: 14% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B6: 13% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the RDA.
  • Small amounts of Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorous, Vitamin A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin) and B3 (Niacin).

Again, avocado is a high fat food. In fact, 77% of the calories in it are from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. But they don’t just contain any fat… the majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid. This is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component in olive oil and believed to be responsible for some of its beneficial effects. Oleic acid has been linked to reduced inflammation and been shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer.

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When it comes to nutrients, the total amount of them is not the only thing that matters. We also need to be able to absorb them… move them from the digestive tract and into the body, where they can be used. Some nutrients are “fat soluble,” meaning that they need to be combined with fat in order to be utilized. This includes vitamins A, D, E and K… along with antioxidants like carotenoids. One study showed that adding avocado or avocado oil to either salad or salsa can increase antioxidant absorption by 2.6 to 15-fold. So… not only is avocado highly nutritious, it can dramatically increase the nutrient value of other plant foods that you are eating. This is an excellent reason to always include a healthy fat source when you eat veggies. Without it, a lot of the beneficial plant nutrients will go to waste.

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From a food perspective avocados are also very versatile to cook with and to eat. Besides guacamole, which most people think of when they think about making food containing avocados, you can use them in many different dishes. I slice them on top of meat, use them in salads, slice them on top of tacos or nachos, and I love them with eggs too.

I also love the recipe I’m going to share with you today. It’s an avocado salad and the reason I like it so much is that I love guacamole, but when I eat it I find that I eat half a bag of tortilla chips and that is too many carbs and calories for me. It also has black beans in it, which ups the fiber content as well as the protein, and makes it taste even better as well. I hope you enjoy it too!

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Avocado Salad

  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 seeded and minced jalapeno peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and 1/2 inch diced

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Add the tomatoes, pepper, beans, onion, jalapenos, and lime zest in a large bowl.

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Whisk together lime juice, EVOO, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and pour over the vegetables. Toss well.

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Carefully fold the avocados into the salad before you’re ready to serve it. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. That’s all there is to it!

I know you’ll love the taste of this avocado salad, it’s got the zesty punch of the lime juice and zest, combined with the creaminess of the avocados, the heat of the jalapenos, and the sweetness of the tomatoes. It’s a delicious variety of flavors! And remember, it’s super healthy for you too. Eating salads like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie:)

How Does Your Garden Grow? Deliciously!

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The outer edge of the garden is for my herbs, and the inside is full of vegetables! Chewie likes to sniff the herbs, as you can see!

 

Hello, friends! It’s a beautiful summer day here. How is it where you live? I hope it’s as gorgeous as it is here! Because we now have our forever home, I have FINALLY been able to have the vegetable and herb garden of my dreams. We decided to make raised beds so I wouldn’t have to stoop or kneel to weed or pick my veggies and herbs. Now I’m really glad we made that decision. We also decided to make the raised beds out of stone instead of wood, because stone lasts forever, and we knew we would have to replace wooden beds in 3-5 years. I actually had to make the footprint of the garden larger twice while it was being built because I didn’t want to outgrow it too soon. We used organic soil once the stone was in place, and only use organic fertilizers on it as well. We never use pesticides or any chemicals of any sort on it, as there are lots of great natural ways to prevent infestations of bugs.

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This is my tomato section, you can see how tall and luscious they can get with organic fertilizer and soil!

 

Eventually I would like to have a massive garden, and grow veggies and herbs to sell to restaurants who are interested in providing their customers with organic, scrumptious and beautiful vegetables and herbs. For now, though, I am focusing on growing enough for our family. I am writing about this today because I want to encourage you all to grow your own vegetables and herbs. It’s astonishingly easy to do, and requires very little maintenance along the way to deliciousness. I also want to share my recipe for salsa from my home grown tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro.

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The back side of my garden with more herbs on the outside, and the inside has veggies, veggies and more veggies!

 

You don’t have to use stone, or make raised beds. Making a garden is as simple as clearing a spot for it, planting vegetables, adding organic fertilizer, watering every other day, picking weeds (I used to pull weeds every day and because they’re so small and tender they literally pull out in seconds, but now that the plants are so tall and well established they have pushed the weeds out), and enjoying the bounty of your garden. If you live in an apartment or condo (or like us were renting a home), you can grow your vegetables and herbs in pots on your patio.

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Ok, I admit, I already outgrew my raised garden and had to use the edge of the fenced in area to plant my melons, zucchini, and cucumbers.

 

The vegetables I am growing are onions, peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, kale, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, and garlic. The fruit selection is strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes (they are a vegetable!8 different kinds!), blueberries, and watermelon. The herbs are 5 different kinds of basil, 4 different types of oregano, 6 different types of thyme, rosemary, French tarragon, lavender, 3 kinds of mint, curry, and probably a lot more that I can’t recall right now. As you can tell I love herbs!

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Just outside of the fenced in area of our yard, I am growing potatoes and garlic!

 

One of the main advantages to growing your own over buying store bought produce is price. For example, if you buy herbs from the grocery store it can cost anywhere from $3-6, and you can use them for 1-2 meals. Buying potted herbs costs $2.5-4.00, and they can last anywhere from 8 months to indefinitely. I have rosemary and parsley in pots that I brought with me from our old house that are going on 1 1/2 years old now. They wintered inside our house, I took them outside once it got warm enough, and they are flourishing now! That’s a great return on a $4.00 investment!

Another reason for growing your own is that you can control what goes into your food. You can use organic soil, fertilizer and pesticides like I do. For me it is such a relief to know how my food is grown, and what is used in the process. In addition, store bought produce is often picked half-ripe so that it can ripen once it gets to the grocery store, causing it to not grow to its full potential of nutritional value. Home grown produce can be picked at the peak of ripeness, thereby getting the full value of every single vitamin and mineral it contains. It’s also super convenient, instead of driving to the grocery store, you can walk out into your yard, snip off some basil, pick a few tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and you are on your way to a delicious homemade tomato sauce.

So with the bounty I currently have from my garden, I made my yummy salsa the other day. It is so easy to make fresh salsa, but it’s even easier when I can go into my yard to pick the ingredients for it. I will share it with you now!

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Valerie’s Fresh Garden Salsa

  • 4-6 large tomatoes chopped into smallish pieces FullSizeRender (210)
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  • 2 jalapenos– seeded and insides removed if you don’t like much heat, I put them in intact because we love heat in our salsa! I also used sport peppers (heat index, somewhere between bell pepper and jalapeno) and banana peppers too!FullSizeRender (211)
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  • 1/2 cup each extra virgin olive oil and vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

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Add extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the bowl and mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. It tastes really good right away, but it’s even better the longer it sits. So if you make it in advance of the time you want to serve it, and let it sit and chill in the fridge that would taste extra amazing!

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And voila! The finished product! It tastes delicious and it’s so good for you too. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our bodies need to be healthy. It also helps prevent all kinds of diseases like cancer and heart disease. So remember to grow your own herbs and produce, and make yummy things with that home grown produce like my salsa. It will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

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Herbaceous, Wondrous Herbs! DRY THEM, YOU’LL LIKE THEM!

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These were my herbs at their peak last summer!

These were my herbs, purple basil and oregano,  at their peak last summer!

Hi All! Well I’m super excited today because spring is here and it’s almost time to plant my herbs and veggies for the year. But, I get super frustrated because it seems to take FOREVER for them to grow enough so that I can pick the leaves to use in my cooking. So, you know what I did this past fall? I dried my own herbs and used them in my cooking all fall and winter long. In fact, I’m still using them as I have plenty to last me until my fresh ones are ready this summer! And here’s the thing, my friends, it’s SO EASY TO DO- otherwise I wouldn’t do it :). I wanted to share with you today how I dried my own herbs so that as you’re planning your spring gardens you can think about growing enough herbs to dry for your families. Even if you don’t grow herbs, you can use the organic dried herbs from the grocery store and that’s just fine, but the taste of the ones you dry yourself is SO SUPERIOR to the taste of the grocery store version, it’s not even close. Again I reiterate that It’s super simple, in fact, read on and see!

Basil happily drying in my basement!

Basil happily drying in my basement!

1. Pull the plants out of the ground BEFORE THE FIRST FROST and store them in a cool, dry place. I used my basement and I laid down paper grocery sacks so the plants wouldn’t make a mess on the counters while they were drying.

2. This is the easiest step- leave the plants alone for about 2-4 weeks until the leaves are completely dry and brittle to the touch. I would check them every week until I felt they were dry enough.

Basil all dried and ready to go!

Basil all dried and ready to go!

3. Next take the plant and pick all the leaves off of it. I did green and purple basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Make sure to keep the sticks and dirt out of the dried herbs. I picked VERY GENTLY so as not to add stuff into my herbs that wouldn’t taste good. Then, you discard all the sticks, dirt and things you don’t need anymore.

All bagged up and ready to be used in my cooking!

All bagged up and ready to be used in my cooking!

4. Take the herbs and bag them up, putting the date and type of herb on the baggie, because believe me they all start to look alike after a while and you’ll be glad you did. Now just use them in your cooking where the recipes call for dried herbs and you won’t believe how much more flavor you will get from these herbs.

Oregano is one of my favorite dried herbs, it's so flavorful!

Oregano is one of my favorite dried herbs, it’s so flavorful!

Each plant yielded about 2 cups of dried herbs which has been more than enough for my fall, winter and spring cooking. Since this was my first time doing this and I didn’t realize how much each plant produced, next year I’ll definitely have enough to share so if you want some, let me know! But really, if you grow your own herbs, you should try drying the plants in the fall, it’s just so easy and the taste is far superior to anything you can buy. In addition, because I grew and dried them myself I know there are no pesticides or herbicides used on my herbs ever, which helps promote the health and welfare of my family. Try it and let me know how you do! Or as I said in the title of this post, dry them, you’ll like them! Drying your own herbs will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

Tasty, terrific turkey day part 1! How to eat healthy on Thanksgiving.

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Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Wow that time is already here, isn’t it? Now I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve had a difficult time sticking to my healthy eating plan on Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to eat a lot and all the wrong things too. It’s like carb fest day! I’ll tell ya what I’m going to do! The goal of this post is to give you my healthy eating tips and recipes so that you can eat and enjoy, but not gain 5 pounds in the process. Stick with me, and I’ll get you through it!

1. Be miserly with the unhealthy stuff- That includes stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroley type dishes, creamy dishes, desserts, etc. Make sure you eat these types of dishes very sparingly, but do have a taste of the ones you like because I don’t believe in deprivation.

2. Eat lots of vegetables- Unless the vegetables are covered in cream, make your plate mostly veggies and you’ll be full and satisfied, because they have lots of fiber. I have a great recipe for Brussels sprouts that even a veggie hater will love. I will include that in part 2 coming later this week.

3. Watch the salt- I’m a big believer in salt so some of you who know me may be shocked to hear me say this, but here’s why. Salt helps to retain water and makes you feel bloated. Some of the dishes you’re eating may already have a lot of salt added, so skip the salt shaker at Thanksgiving and you won’t bloat up that night or the next day.

4. Bring your own dessert- If you’re going somewhere for Thanksgiving bring a fruit based dessert like a cobbler or a crisp because they’re lower calorie than something like pecan pie. I will show you a healthy way to make berry cobbler in part 2 of my post.

5. Take a walk or do something exerting after your meal- Even a ten minute walk will help you work off some of your meal and aid in digesting your food faster. Take your dog with you because dogs tend to get overwhelmed with all the guests, and said guests might have slipped them a bit of turkey too!

Ok, but what if you’re the one hosting the meal? That’s kind of awesome because you can control what you serve and which ingredients you use, thus ensuring you’ll be eating healthy food. I’m going to show you how to make my really easy, delicious and healthy turkey and gravy today. Later in the week I will share my easy, delicious and healthy side dishes and cobbler so you can host the perfect Thanksgiving. And even if you’re not hosting I’ll give you recipes so you can take a healthy dish, thus ensuring you’ll at least eat one healthy thing on the big day!

Love me some turkey!

Love me some turkey!

Easy and Delicious Turkey and Gravy

  • 1 organic, fresh 15 lb turkey (feeds 8-10)
  • 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 onion cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, rosemary and sage chopped (In a pinch you can use dried herbs de Provence)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper each
  • 6 cups organic, low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup gluten free rice flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position the rack to the lowest position in the oven. Rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and place it in the baking pan after removing the giblets from inside the turkey (funny story about that between my sister and I, remind me and I’ll tell you about it later). Take the oranges, lemons and onion and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of the fresh herbs, EVOO, salt and pepper, stir them a bit, and then stuff them into the main turkey cavity. Cover the entire turkey with EVOO, the rest of the fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Cover the turkey breast with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Pour 3 cups of broth into the pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits. Roast the turkey for 40 more minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, remove the foil from the breast, add another cup of broth to the pan,, and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserting in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165-175 degrees, or about 1 1/2 hours longer. Transfer the turkey to a platter, tent with foil and let stand for 30 minutes while making the gravy.

Glorious gravy!

Glorious gravy!

For those of you who’ve read my past blog on roasted chicken, “The Easiest Roasted Chicken, I Promise!”, I shared my gravy recipe and if you haven’t read it, you should! But, I’ll share it again for you now because it’s essentially the same for turkey as it is for chicken. Take the 5 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a large pan, then add the 1/3 cup of gluten free rice flour and stir until combined. the reason I use rice flour is partly because Danielle can’t eat gluten, but what I’ve discovered is that I prefer using it over regular flour because it’s very fine and doesn’t clump up so makes for a nicely textured gravy. And it tastes better too! Stir for another minute to cook the flour.

Next, strain the pan drippings through a sieve to get rid of the chunks and pour it into a large measuring cup or something with a spout so the drippings won’t spill all over your stove. Add 1/3 of the drippings, stir, stir, stir until combined, and continue until all the pan drippings have been incorporated into the gravy. If you run out of pan drippings and the gravy still has a thick consistency you can add chicken broth, if it’s not thick enough, add more flour but don’t add it straight into the gravy or it will clump. In that case, combine 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/4 cup chicken broth in a lidded Tupperware container, shake the heck out of it until combined, then add it to the gravy. Finish the gravy with a little salt and pepper to taste, and continue to let it cook on the stove until thickened and bubbly. Pour it into a gravy boat and it’s good to go!

In my next post I will share my favorite side dishes and my go to dessert. I hope you enjoy my turkey and gravy if you try it, and let me know if you do! Let me know if you have any healthy go-to Thanksgiving dishes. A healthy Thanksgiving will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Orange; Better Sources of C!

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A Vitamin C cornucopia of colors and flavors here!

A Vitamin C cornucopia of colors and flavors here!

I have to say that I love Vitamin C, it makes me think about tropical climates, sunshine, vibrant colors and happiness! It also makes me think about oranges, as it does for most people I would imagine. Many people think oranges are the best way to get vitamin C, and they do have 69.7 mg for a medium sized orange, but did you know there are other far better ways to get vitamin C naturally? You didn’t know that? Well, I’m going to tell you about it today!

Vitamin C is such an important nutrient for us in many ways. Not only does it shorten the duration of colds/flu, but it also helps repair/regenerate tissues, aids in the absorption of iron, helps delay or prevent cataracts, supports healthy immune function, protects against heart disease, prevents scurvy, protects against a variety of cancers by fighting free radicals, and helps neutralize the effects of nitrites (preservatives found in some packaged foods that can contribute to certain kinds of cancers). That’s quite an impressive list!

So how much do we need and how do we get it? According to the National Institutes of Health, men need 90 mg per day, and women need 75 mg per day, however if you’re a smoker you need even more Vitamin C (250 mg!) because smoking disrupts the absorption of it by the body. Toddlers 1-3 years old need 15 mg per day,  children 4-8 years old need 25 mg, children 9-13 need 45 mg, male teens 14-18 need 75 mg, and females of that age need 65 mg. However, if you have a cold you will need much more to help fight the virus, 250 mg per day.

Now, you can take a supplement and I’ve referred to supplemental sources of Vitamin C in my previous post “Healing Cold Remedies”, but I always prefer to get my vitamins in food if possible. Know though, that if you have a cold/flu or are healing from an injury you probably will need to supplement your diet with other sources to get as much as you need to help your body heal. However, if you’re a healthy, happy human like I am right now, you can get your C naturally. And the great thing about Vitamin C is that there’s no such thing as getting too much C because our bodies will release it into our urine when we’ve had enough. So consume your C, guilt free! With that in mind, here’s a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most Vitamin C, so you can get the biggest bang for your nutritional buck.

The King (or Queen) of Vitamin C!

The King (or Queen) of Vitamin C!

1. Red Bell Peppers– They have the most Vitamin C with 190 mg per cup. They’re also a great source of Vitamin A which is good for your eyes. Add them to salads, dip them, add them to stir fries, soups, omelets, and crock pot meals. They are one of my favorite vegetables because I like their bright and mild flavor, and as such they’re extremely versatile.

The Prince, or Princess, of Vitamin C!

The Prince, or Princess, of Vitamin C!

2. Kiwi2 Kiwi fruit give you 137.2 mg of Vitamin C. They’re also a great source of potassium and copper too. I love to slice them into a fruit salad, or just grab a spoon and scoop them into my mouth. They’re so refreshing!

I heart broccoli!

I heart broccoli!

3. Broccoli- Broccoli has 132 mg per cup, it is also full of fiber, which is why they’re called colon’s broomsticks! At just 30 calories per serving you can’t beat this nutritional powerhouse. They’re also one of those superfoods thought to help prevent cancer. I love to add a bit of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven on broil for 10 minutes. But watch them, or they could burn! Lots of yum!

Tropical tasting Mango!

Tropical tasting Mango!

4. Mango– Oh I love me some Mango! It has 122.3 mg of Vitamin C per cup, it’s also loaded with Vitamin A, which is great for the eyes. I love mango in a fruit salad or added to a salsa for a fruity twist.

Crunchy cauliflower!

Crunchy cauliflower!

5. Cauliflower- A small head of cauliflower has 127.7 mg of Vitamin C. It also has 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein too. I love it raw or steamed with a little butter, salt and pepper.

Green bell peppers, not as much C as the reds but they still have tons!

Green bell peppers, not as much C as the reds but they still have tons!

6. Green Bell Peppers- They have 120 mg of Vitamin C per cup, which is not as much as their red headed mates but they still have far more than the recommended daily requirement. They also have 200% of the RDA for fiber. I always put them in my chili, soups, stews, omelets, etc.

Chili peppers- Ole!

Chili peppers- Ole!

7. Chili Peppers– bring on the heat! Chili peppers come in next at 107.8 mg of Vitamin C per 1/2 cup. They’re also loaded with capsaicin which helps to relieve joint and muscle pain. I love chilies and I add them to many dishes because I like their heat, not too intense, but super flavorful.

Papaya- it's poppin'!

Papaya- it’s poppin’!

8. Papaya- A cup of papaya has 88.3 mg of Vitamin C. Papaya also has nutrients that brighten skin, strengthen bones, and clear sinuses. Love!

Yummy strawberries!

Yummy strawberries!

9. Strawberries– Love me some strawberries, especially with 84.7 mg Vitamin C per cup! They also have folate which is good for heart health. They’re a natural teeth whitener too. Strawberries are readily available and they’re sweet and delicious. They are my favorite fruit, and I think they are best enjoyed plain. Just clean them and pop them into your mouth. Amazing!

Kale- a superfood!

Kale- a superfood!

10. Kale- One cup of Kale has 80.4 mg of Vitamin C. It also contains twice the RDA for Vitamin A, 7 times the Vitamin K, numerous minerals and fatty acids. It really does it all! I love Kale chips and I also like it in salads and soups.

These are the top 10 fruits and vegetables containing Vitamin C, but remember lots of other ones do too, like Brussels sprouts (74.8 mg per cup), and pineapple (78.9 mg per cup) , they just don’t have as much as the top 10. However, it’s important to eat what you like, in addition to eating what’s good for you, so feel free to eat other fruits and veggies if you don’t like any on the list, because any Vitamin C is better than none. Also, I want to emphasize the need to purchase organic fruits and vegetables to ensure they’re responsibly grown and handled. An important point is that if you’ve taken Acetaminophen, antacids that contain aluminum, aspirin, or Warfarin, there could be adverse effects so keep that in mind. In addition, nicotine products, tetracycline’s, barbiturates, and oral contraceptives may decrease the effects of Vitamin C. Just writing this post makes me want to go eat some fruits and veggies that contain Vitamin C. How about you? Make sure to get your Vitamin C naturally. It will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

 

Sick of Sandwiches? Here’s what to eat for lunch!

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This post is for my sister, Paula, who asked me to give her ideas for healthy lunches. I know what she means. I think lunch is sort of the forgotten meal of the day. Usually there is a lot of emphasis put on breakfast and dinner, but lunch kind of gets lost in the shuffle. That usually results in eating some sort of sandwich for lunch, which isn’t always the healthiest choice. I actually enjoy thinking of yummy and healthy lunch ideas. It pushes my creative boundaries. Especially when I was trying to think of lunches to make for Danielle, who hated her high school cafeteria choices, can’t eat gluten, and doesn’t like to eat the same thing every day! She always challenges me cooking wise! So I came up with a few good lunch ideas that I’d like to share with you today. I hope it inspires Paula and all the rest of you in your lunch choices.

Love my leftovers for lunch!

Love my leftovers for lunch!

1.Utilize your leftovers- Don’t be afraid to repurpose your leftovers for a tasty lunch. In the picture above, I heated up the pork carnitas I had made from the other night, with the quinoa I made a different night, and the guacamole I had made with the carnitas. I sliced some tomatoes and called it lunch! If you work outside the home or are making kids lunches and you don’t have access to a microwave, preheat the quinoa and carnitas, put it in a thermal container and it should still stay warm throughout the morning.

Chicken corn chowder with a bowl of mixed veggies!

Chicken corn chowder with a bowl of mixed veggies!

2. Soup, soup, and more soup- For a delicious and hearty lunch I love to have a bowl of soup. In the above picture I had an amazing chicken corn chowder from Urban Ladle, which is a small business here in Indy that makes tasty gluten free, all natural soups and salads. I found them at the Fishers Farmers Market this summer and I like that they have samples to try. I tried the chicken corn chowder and knew I had to purchase it. They sell some of their soups frozen and I put it in the freezer. I also purchased their chicken tortilla soup as well. With frozen soups, you just pop them in the microwave to thaw and then either heat in the microwave or on the stove. Easy and delish!

Organic soups you can buy in the grocery store.

Organic soups you can buy in the grocery store

If you don’t have access to a wonderful local soup business, you can purchase great tasting soups from the grocery store. Above are two examples of soups that I enjoy,  Amy’s organic and Pacific. I also eat a lot of lentils and vegetables so these two types of soups fit perfectly within my desired flavor profiles. Use a thermal container if you eat lunch away from home and you’re good to go!

Egg salad- Salad!

Egg salad- Salad

3. Egg salad/chicken salad/tuna salad- Salad- This was one of Danielle’s favorite lunches that I’d pack her when she was in high school. Instead of making egg salad/chicken salad/tuna salad on bread, I’d make it on a salad tossed with a vinaigrette dressing. She LOVED this lunch. I make my own chicken salad with a tablespoon of mayonnaise, teaspoon of Dijon mustard (we like a tang to our chicken salad), 1/4 cup chopped onion, handful of grapes cut in half, 1/2 cup of chopped pecans, and salt and pepper to taste with 2 cups of chopped chicken. I usually make it when I’m making chicken soup because I will have leftover chicken. Or when I get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store I will use the chicken that’s left. I l would send egg salad- Salad during Lent when we don’t eat meat on Fridays because we’re Catholic. To prepare it I boil 6 eggs, peel and chop them, then add a tablespoon of mayo, a teaspoon of yellow mustard, 1/4 cup capers, and salt and pepper to taste. Yummmmm! Danielle doesn’t like tuna salad, but Jacqueline and I LOVE IT! We like to use pink salmon sometimes and white albacore tuna other times. It depends on our moods. I use a tablespoon of mayo, 1/4 cup each of chopped onion, celery and kosher dill pickles, 1 teaspoon of spicy mustard, and salt/pepper to taste. Again, I serve it over a lettuce salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette. My vinaigrette is 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar (but any type of vinegar would work), 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste. I pack it in a round Tupperware container with a lid, throw in a fork and out the door they go!

Quinoa- so versatile and a great lunch ingredient!

Quinoa- so versatile and a great lunch ingredient!

4. Quinoa- It’s one of my favorite things for lunch. And you can do sooo much with it. Whenever I make quinoa for dinner I always make twice as much as I need and use the rest for lunch. I either serve it warm as a side dish, like in the first picture at the top, or I serve it cold as a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and vinaigrette. You can use quinoa as a warm oatmeal type dish with milk, cinnamon, honey, and cooked apples or peaches too. It’s so versatile you can do just about anything you want to it and it would still taste good. It can be easily packed for a lunch on the go by using a thermal container. I just love quinoa!

Love me some hummus!

Love me some hummus!

5. Great sides- Now don’t forget your lunch side dishes! My favorite lunch side dish is hummus with carrots and celery to dip in it. I eat it quite often. I like the Sabra brand hummus with tapenade in it, but hummus is easy to make and more delicious that way. Just take 3 cups canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, and 8 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Put all ingredients into a food processor or blender, and blend on high until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste- yummy!

Salsa rules!

Salsa rules!

Another of my favorite sides is chips and salsa. I use gluten free, non-gmo tortilla chips. My current favorites are beet and corn chips called The Better Chips. They taste SO good, even if you don’t like beets I think you’ll like these. They’re salty and tasty! I eat chips and salsa almost every day. Just remember the chips are carbs so take that into account when you’re eating them. Also, pay attention to serving size, a typical serving size is 12 chips for 140 calories. I usually count out my chips and put the bag away before I start eating so I won’t overindulge. Salty is my thing so I have to do that because I could eat salty snacks ALL DAY without stopping.

Well friends, that’s my list of healthy lunch choices. Since I don’t usually eat breakfast, lunch is my first meal of the day and I like to make it really count. Let me know what you like to eat for lunch. I hope you’ll try some of my lunch choices because they’ll help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!