Everything Else

Thankful for the little things

There is so much going on in the world, and in my little corner of it, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on the all little things I’m thankful for every day. These are the little patches of happiness that bring me unmitigated joy, the seemingly unimportant pieces of my life that put a smile on my face and help me look forward to a morning of errand running, a quiet evening at home, or even a day at work. Before I list the things, though, I want to say thank you for YOU, for reading this, for following along, for commenting when you feel led to. I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your support through this journey. I am grateful for all of it, truly.

My thankful list:

1. Red cups at Starbucks

2. Feet under the Christmas treefeet

3. Love between brothers

4. A caring touch from my husband

5. A compelling audiobook on my commute to work

6. A surprise package from a good friend

7. Finishing ALL my Christmas shopping early this year

8. The extra quilt on our bed

9. New recipes that turn out right the first time

10. Holiday traditions that our whole family looks forward to

When I notice these things, I pause and take them in. I try to enjoy the moment, to embellish it into my brain, so I can come back to it again and again. There are days when I worry too much about our budget and paying back my school loans and I think to myself, “We have so little.” But the reality is, we have so much.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

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Eating

Weight Watchers-friendly Weekly Menu Plan

Recently one of my sweet friends asked me to put together a week of quick, healthy meals for her family that she could make in “less than 10 minutes” and that her three-year-old would eat. She said she could put aside Sunday afternoon for meal prep, but probably no more time than that. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, so I thought I would tweak her request a little and make sure the meals I chose were SmartPoints-friendly.

Menu
Here’s menu plan. I feel like there are so many places I could go with this, but for this plan, I chose chicken as the main protein. I also thought I would model this plan after my week, with leftovers on Thursday, a frozen meal on Friday, and dinner out or leftovers again on Saturday. For lunch, I usually have Mason jar salads or leftovers. For breakfast, good options would be these baked oatmeal cups or these make-ahead breakfast burritos. A great snack/dessert option would be any of Drizzle’s loaves or sweeter recipes; I’m partial right now to her Peanut Butter Cup Banana Loaf.

Recipes
Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-Up Casserole, Drizzle Me Skinny
Chicken Quesadillas, Pioneer Woman (I leave out the butter and use Ole Wellness Wraps instead of flour tortillas)
Pumpkin Alfredo Tortellini Skillet, Emily Bites
Curried Chicken Salad, Skinnytaste
Italian Chopped House Salad, SkinnyMom modified for Mason jars

Shopping list
Here’s the shopping list, including a section on things you probably already have in your pantry (if you don’t, just add them!). If you’re like me and don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, you can purchase another type of pre-made meal at your local grocery store. These meals are lifesavers for me after a busy week when all I want to do when I get home is lie down. Plus, having something easy, quick, and points-friendly in the freezer helps me avoid the temptation to go out or order in.

Meal prep plan: Sunday afternoon
Here’s the plan for meal prep. A lot of people meal prep on Sundays, and while I don’t do this myself, I see the value in it. After planning out this week I just might have to give it a try!

1. Poach chicken
Use your favorite method for poaching chicken, whether in the crock pot, on the stove, or in an instant pot. I like this recipe, but if you prefer to wing it, I say salt and pepper the chicken thoroughly, lay them in the bottom of the pan, and cover with chicken broth and water. Add a bay leaf for good measure and poach until cooked through, about 160° on a meat thermometer.

2. Cook bacon
My favorite method for cooking bacon is to bake it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. After you’ve got your chicken poaching, preheat the oven. You’ll cook your whole package of center-cut bacon because we need it for two recipes. Lay each strip of bacon on the prepared sheets, then bake at 400° for about 15 minutes until crispy but not burnt. Remove to paper towels and let cool.

3. Cook sausage
Here we’re going to prep the first part of the Tortellini recipe. Chop one small onion and two garlic cloves (or use squeeze garlic). Place your pound of Italian turkey sausage (casings removed) in a large skillet over medium heat and cook for a few minutes, breaking apart with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown. Add the onion and garlic and stir together. Continue to cook while breaking up meat and stirring regularly until sausage is cooked through and onions are soft. Remove to paper towels and let cool. When cool, put the sausage mixture into a container and store in the fridge until Tuesday.

4. Cook ground beef
Drain your sausage skillet and add your pound of lean ground beef. Cook until browned. Remove to paper towels and set aside until later; you’ll use this in tonight’s dinner.

5. Cook pasta
While you’re at the stove, get some water boiling for the Ditalini pasta need for the Mason Jar Italian Chopped Salads. You’ll need about a half-cup dry pasta for three salads. Measure it out and boil in salted water until al dente. Put aside to cool; you’ll be assembling the salads later today. (Sometimes I make a little extra pasta and save it for my kids to eat on days they’re less than excited about my dinner choice.)

6. Make guacamole
Contrary to popular belief, guacamole CAN be made ahead of time! Just be sure when you place it into the container you cover the surface completely with plastic wrap and secure the lid tightly. Of course if you prefer, you can make the guac the day of, or do store-bought (SmartPoints are the same). My favorite guacamole recipe is from Minimalist Baker: Mash 2 ripe avocados with 1 Tbsp lime juice, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ¼ tsp sea salt, ½ jalapeño, deseeded and sliced, ¼ cup diced red onion, and ¼ cup diced cilantro. It’s a great basic recipe that you can tweak as you like.

7. Make Curried Chicken Salad
For this, you’ll have to wait until your chicken is done poaching. When it’s done, remove it from the pot to a cutting board and let cool. When cool cut into half-inch cubes or shred (I prefer cubes). For the chicken salad, you’ll need about 2 cups diced cooked chicken. Since we cooked the chicken ahead of time, you don’t have to worry about cooking it through; just make sure when you’re cooking that it’s evenly covered with the curry and onion mixture. This chicken salad is DELICIOUS and even better the next day. When you’ve finished making it, store it in the fridge until Wednesday.

8. Assemble Mason Jar Salads
First, gather your ingredients. You’ll need fat-free Italian dressing, tomatoes, 1 cup of cooked chicken, the Ditalini pasta, six slices of the cooked bacon, chopped; 2 hearts of romaine, chopped; 3 green onions, chopped; and a container of reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles. In each jar, place 3T dressing, 5-8 cherry tomatoes (your preference), 1/3 cup cooked chicken, ⅓ cup Ditalini pasta, 2 slices bacon, ⅓ of the chopped romaine, 1 chopped green onion, and 1T reduced fat blue cheese crumbles. Seal the jars tightly and refrigerate for this week’s lunches.

9. Make Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-up
You’ve come to the end! Congratulations!!! When you’re done with all your cooking, rest a little bit. Maybe even take a nap. Then about an hour before you plan to eat dinner, assemble and bake your Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-Up casserole. We already prepped the beef and bacon, so just follow the recipe. Then while it cooks, you can clean up your mess from earlier today. After you eat, portion the leftovers into containers for the week and poof! You’re done.

Any questions? I’d love to answer them! Just leave them in the comments below.

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Eating

17 Easy swaps to make your diet more Weight Watchers-friendly

My beautiful, sweet, amazing friend just told me she joined Weight Watchers, and I found myself wanting to do everything I could to help her make the most of it. Having to completely overhaul your diet can be so discouraging, especially if you’re someone who thought she already ate pretty well, like I was. So I wanted to pull together this list of foods as a quick reference for anyone who’s trying to improve what they eat.

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1. Instead of cow’s milk, try nut milk.
The disappointing thing for those of us who grew up drinking cow’s milk with every meal is that it’s not the healthiest, nor is it low in Weight Watchers SmartPoints. A cup of 2% milk is 5 SmartPoints, while a cup of cashew milk (my current favorite) is 1 SmartPoint. I use cashew milk in my coffee because I’ve found it to be creamier than almond or coconut milk, and I actually prefer it to cow’s milk now.

egg-whites

2. Instead of eggs, try egg whites.
This is a hard one to swallow, especially in baking, where the egg yolk lends chewiness and fluffiness to cookies and cakes. But, an egg is 2 SmartPoints, and THREE egg whites are 1 SmartPoint (1 or 2 egg whites are 0 SmartPoints). When a recipe calls for two eggs, I usually use one egg and one egg white. For omelets I try to use all egg whites; when I’m making waffles or pancakes, I stick with egg whites. You can buy egg whites only now; they’re in a carton next to the eggs in the Dairy section.

just-mayo

3. Instead of mayonnaise, try light mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise.
My personal favorite mayo substitute is Just Mayo Light. 1 T is 1 SmartPoint versus 1 T of regular mayonnaise for 3 SmartPoints. I don’t use it often, but light mayo a lifesaver in things like summer pasta salads, and it’s great for adding 0 points of flavor to a turkey burger.

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4. Instead of sour cream, try fat free Greek yogurt.
I’ve been doing this for a while as I’ve never liked the idea of sour cream (it says “sour” right there in the name!) and I find fat free Greek yogurt to be a great substitute. I like putting fat free Greek yogurt on my chili, quesadillas, even on fruit crisp. At 3 SmartPoints per cup, it’s a huge savings over regular sour cream, which packs 21 SmartPoints for the same amount.

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5. Instead of ice cream, try Halo Top.
HaloTop is kind of an anomaly to me. I have nothing in my formerly full-fat life to compare it to. It’s icier than regular ice cream, but if you let it sit out for a few minutes (or microwave it, like I do), the consistency improves. The flavors are a little sharper, like the Vanilla, which was a little too sweet for me, or the Chocolate, which somehow tasted powdery. I love the Mint Chocolate Chip and Birthday Cake, though. And at 2 SmartPoints for half a cup, you can’t beat it. Most of my favorite regular ice cream flavors are 8-10 SmartPoints per half cup, and if you’re doing Weight Watchers don’t even LOOK at one of those cute little containers of Häagen-Dazs—more SmartPoints than you would believe!

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6. Instead of a Starbucks Frappuccino, try a coffee protein shake.
I shared my copycat Frappuccino protein shake recipe a while back, and while I’ve been heavily into the peanut butter protein shakes these days, that one will always be a favorite. It measures up at 4 SmartPoints, while a Grande Mocha Frappuccino with 2% milk is 21 SmartPoints. Try my protein shake, or better yet, try making your own!

7. Instead of Bisquick, try Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes Flapjack and Waffle mix.
I use ⅓ cup of Kodiak Cakes mix for my morning waffle, which costs me 3 SmartPoints. I top the waffle with enough fat free Cool Whip and mini chocolate chips that I don’t really care how good it tastes, so while I’d prefer to be making my traditional Bisquick recipe (5 SmartPoints per ⅓ cup), this one is fine. Plus, the protein in the waffle keeps me full until lunch, something Bisquick never did.

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8. Instead of sugar, try honey, maple syrup, agave, ripe bananas, sucanat, or stevia.
There are so many good sugar substitutes, and so many bloggers who are using them to make incredible recipes. Check out any recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and you’ll see what I mean. Sally’s Baking Addiction also has this AMAZING recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins that uses only bananas and agave for sweetness. They taste exactly like chocolate cake. I know, I know, I’ve said it before. But please go make these—SO YUM.

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9. Instead of flour tortillas, try an Ole Wellness Wrap.
I love a good quesadilla, and while I’ve definitely gotten away from frying mine in butter, I still want a wrap that tastes good. The Ole Wellness Wrap doesn’t have the same fluffiness as a flour tortilla, but it’s close, and at only 1 SmartPoint per wrap (versus 4 SmartPoints for a medium flour tortilla), you can afford to eat more than one!

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10. Instead of regular pasta, try whole wheat.
This may seem like a big jump for some of you, but once the pasta’s cooked and sauced, it’s hard to tell the difference between whole wheat and regular. Both clock in at about the same amount of points (5 SmartPoints for 2 oz uncooked whole wheat penne vs. 6 SmartPoints for 2 oz uncooked regular penne), but whole grains are healthier for you and take more time to digest, which means you’ll stay fuller longer. Seriously, this is an easy switch and as a grownup, you should have already been doing this anyway.

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11. Instead of white rice, try brown.
Same idea as above; the less processed the food, the better it is for you. 1 cup of medium-grain brown rice is 6 SmartPoints, while 1 cup of medium-grain white rice is 7 SmartPoints. Again, the difference is negligible, so why not choose brown rice?

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12. Instead of Butternut bread, try Sara Lee 45-calories & Delightful.
The switch here was life-changing for me. I love wheat bread, but Butternut’s Honey Wheat is 2 SmartPoints per slice, while a slice of Sara Lee 45-calories & Delightful Honey Whole Wheat is only 1 SmartPoint. This may not seem like much, but saving two points makes a HUGE difference when you’re making a sandwich and want to add many other delicious things besides bread, like meat, cheese and mayonnaise. After I discovered Sara Lee Delightful, I could finally relate to Oprah and eat bread every day without feeling guilty.

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13. Instead of chips, try popcorn.
Chris and I used to share a bowl of Chex mix every night on the couch after the kids went to bed. After that we’d have ice cream, or maybe some wine. While I love Chex mix and pretty much all kinds of chips, I knew I couldn’t keep up the habit on Weight Watchers. A cup of original Chex Mix is 8 SmartPoints, while a cup of light butter flavored popcorn is 1 SmartPoint. I realized that all I really wanted when I was eating Chex Mix was crunch and salt. Popcorn satisfies my cravings just as well, and for a lot fewer points!

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14. Instead of your favorite frozen pizza, try DiGiorno Thin & Crispy.
Pizza is soooooo many SmartPoints, and as a result I’ve only had it twice since I’ve been on Weight Watchers. Before you start feeling sorry for me, you’ll be glad to know I recently discovered DiGiorno Thin & Crispy pizzas. Their Tomato Mozzarella with Pesto is only 12 SmartPoints for HALF, which is just about what one slice of a normal pizza would be (oh, how I miss you, Papa John’s!). Plus, it actually tastes good.

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15. Instead of hot dogs, try chicken dogs.
A regular hot dog is 6 SmartPoints which is fine for dinner, but I’ve found they don’t really fill me up and I usually want at least two. Two hot dogs plus buns would cost me over half of my daily SmartPoints budget. So instead I eat Trader Joe’s Uncured Chicken Dogs, which are only 1 SmartPoint each. I’m actually full after eating only one, and my kids love them too.

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16. Instead of regular bacon, try center cut bacon.
I don’t eat bacon often, but when I do, I don’t want it to cost me too much. Center cut bacon is only 1 SmartPoint for TWO slices, compared to regular bacon at 8 SmartPoints for two slices. It definitely makes a difference when we have breakfast for dinner (or heck, bacon at breakfast), and it’s healthier for all of us.

muffins

17. Instead of store-bought cakes/pies/brownies/muffins/donuts, try homemade.
If you follow me on Instagram you know I bake a lot, and that’s because I love me some sweet treats. What I don’t love is how many points they are! My favorite scone at Starbucks is 19 SmartPoints, and I used to eat that for breakfast with a White Chocolate Mocha (23 SmartPoints!!!). So while I haven’t figured out how to bake a lighter scone, I think I’ve mastered muffins and bars. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend these Unbaked Cookie Dough bars, these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Blondies, and these Peanut Butter Banana Muffins.

Anything you would add? Let me know in the comments below!

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Eating

Blueberry Oatmeal Anytime Muffins

Lately I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect blueberry muffins. I found these, and they are AMAZING; if you’re not on Weight Watchers I highly recommend them. If you are on Weight Watchers, they’re 9 SmartPoints each and you’ll definitely want at least two, so probably not the best choice. I looked around some more and found these, but they needed a few updates and a few tweaks to become SmartPoints-friendly. PointsPlus was an awesome program, but it definitely allowed for a few more sweets than SmartPoints does! I combined those two recipes with a few miscellaneous tips from the Interwebs to get this recipe. The ingredients list is long, but most likely you have everything in your pantry already. And you can sub out whatever flours and oils you like, or leave out the flaxseed meal, use real eggs, skim milk, whatever you have on hand. Just adjust the points accordingly.

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Blueberry Oatmeal Anytime Muffins
Yield: 20 muffins, 4 SmartPoints each

1 ½ cup quick oats
1 ⅓ cup white flour (or flour of choice)
2 Tbl flaxseed meal
⅛ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ cup coconut milk (or milk of choice)
¼ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
4 Tbl coconut oil (or oil of choice)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg white
1-2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 400° and generously grease 2 muffin tins.

Place oats in a food processor and pulse until oats resemble coarse meal. Place in a large bowl and add in flour, flaxseed, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Rinse and dry the blueberries. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle 2-4 tablespoons of the dry ingredients mixture over them (alternately you can use additional flour). Toss until blueberries are completely coated. Set aside.

In a third bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and Greek yogurt. Add in the applesauce, oil, vanilla, egg, and egg white. Whisk to combine.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just moist. Fold in blueberry/flour mixture. Portion into 20 muffin cups (a generous ¼ cup each) and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let muffins cool in pans for 5 minutes and then remove. The outside of the muffin should be slightly crunchy, the inside sweet and spicy. Enjoy!

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Shopping

A few of my favorite things: August 2016 Edition

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1. Product: Aveeno Shave Gel
I bought this after reading about it in InStyle’s 2016 Best Beauty Buys, and so far I love it. It has a sweet almond scent, which is my favorite, and it goes on smoothly and leaves my skin soft. Would definitely recommend for all that pesky summer shaving!

2. Resource: Drizzlemeskinny.com
Drizzle eats real food. She eats bread. She eats Philly Cheesesteak. She makes dessert and she doesn’t apologize for it. When I found this site I thought, “Finally! Someone who is on Weight Watchers but understands how to tweak everyday ingredients to make them taste great.” We tried her Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo Bubble Up and the kids asked for seconds. Next up is her Buffalo Chicken & Bacon Bubble Up—I can’t wait.

3. Book: Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
I listened to this book in my car on a recent trip up to Chicago, and I can’t recommend it enough. I also can’t recommend audiobooks enough—if you haven’t listened to one, please give it a try. In the car, on a walk, while you’re cleaning the house, etc. The reader, if she’s a good one, which Brittany Pressley undoubtedly is, has the ability to bring drama to each character and in doing so, enhances the story 100% over me speed-reading through to see what happens next. Audiobooks help you slow down and listen, and the books I’ve listened to this way somehow have stayed with me longer than the ones I’ve only read. Definitely check it out.

4. Recipe: Italian Chopped Salad via SkinnyMom
I made this the other night, and since it made six servings and we only have four people in our family, I packed the last two servings into mason jars for lunches at work. I liked it because it had pasta and blue cheese, two things I can only eat in moderation these days, but two things I really love. I did cheat on the original recipe and used Fat Free Wishbone Italian dressing instead of homemade, but at 4T for 1 SmartPoint, who cares? It was good my way, and I’m sure if you decide to make your own dressing it’ll be even better.

5. Home: My trusty Everest bag
This bag has been with me throughout the summer, and it has not failed me once. It’s big enough to stash a file folder, lunch bag, and all my miscellaneous kid items (still carrying baby wipes—when can I give those up?) without being bulky. I love the canvas fabric for warm weather because it feels more casual than leather, but it looks more put together than a beach tote would. This is my every day, go-to bag, and it’s so cheap, maybe it should be yours too.

6. Miscellaneous: C.O. Bigelow Lemon Cream Body Wash
A friend introduced me to this and it smells AMAZING. It’s the perfect year-round scent, not too fruity, not too flowery, yet super-fresh and invigorating. It’s the kind of thing I want to buy for all my friends—the fragrance has universal appeal and the product absolutely gets my stamp of approval.

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Eating

Protein Powder Recipes

Sometime during my current weight loss/healthy eating journey, I embraced protein powder. I appreciate how full I feel after a protein shake in the morning, and how a shake in the evening has replaced my once-nightly bowl of ice cream. I’ve been working on this post for a while, trying to find the perfect recipe for a copycat Starbucks Frappuccino protein shake. None of the ones I’ve found on Pinterest really tasted good to me, or if they did, they had weird ingredients that I don’t usually keep in the house (cottage cheese) or that would put me over my allotted breakfast points (butterscotch pudding). Below is the recipe I finally settled on, plus a few others that have been in regular rotation.

Shake

Pammie’s Copycat Frappuccino Protein Shake
4 SmartPoints

2 scoops (about 3-4 tbsp) vanilla or chocolate protein powder
½ packet Starbucks Via
½ cup coffee concentrate (I like Chameleon Cold Brew)
½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
½ frozen banana
2-4 tablespoons fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt, to taste
Splash nondairy creamer (such as Trader Joe’s coconut creamer)
4-5 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Makes one 20-oz shake, but if you add more ice you could easily split it in two. If you don’t have vanilla Greek yogurt, plain is fine; if you like it sweeter add a packet of Stevia or a tsp of vanilla extract before blending.

Brownie Batter Protein Shake from DailyBurn.com 
2 SmartPoints

1 frozen banana
¼ cup coffee concentrate
¾ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Splash vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2-3 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Makes one 12-oz shake.

Cake Batter Protein Shake from Skinny Mom
4 SmartPoints per shake

1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup fat-free frozen whipped topping
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons organic agave nectar
4 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
8-10 ice cubes
Rainbow sprinkles, for topping

Combine all ingredients through ice cubes in a blender and blend until smooth. Top with sprinkles. Makes four 5-oz shakes.

Pammie’s Protein Pancake Bites
1 SmartPoint per muffin

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This is another recipe I’ve been working on. I like the idea of just being able to pop these in my mouth on the go, and it’s quicker for me to make 24 muffins and bake once than it is to plop pancakes on the griddle. I added a little yogurt and applesauce for moisture; these are great without it when dipped in syrup or topped with whipped cream, but to truly enjoy them on the run they need not to be dry!

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix
4 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
½ cup plain Greek yogurt, fat free
Scant ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

pancake collage

Preheat oven* to 350°. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin pan generously with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together Bisquick and protein powder. Add almond milk, yogurt, applesauce and egg. Mix until just combined. If you feel the mixture is too doughy, add in additional water, up to two tablespoons. Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into prepared pan, filling muffin cups about three-quarters full. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until set. Yields about 24 mini muffins.

* I use a convection oven, which I highly recommend for baking. If you have one as well, preheat to 325° and watch the muffins closely at the end of their baking time—they may need a little bit longer.

SmartPoints were calculated using the Weight Watchers recipe builder on their site. SmartPoints may vary depending on which protein powder you choose. I wouldn’t recommend the Aloha—I bought it to try because it was on sale—it has wonderfully healthy ingredients but the taste just doesn’t measure up!

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