Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

I love fall!  I love the cooler weather, the warmer clothes, and the fall foods.  I don’t love how tight my pants feel when I eat the traditional fall foods, though, so I’m always on the lookout for healthier fall treats.  These pumpkin muffins are perfect for this–they fit into my food plan so there is no need to feel guilty, they don’t make my pants tighter, and they taste awesome!  Win win!

I’ve been making these muffins for the past couple of years, and they really are awesome any time of year since you can get pumpkin year round (in my area anyway), but there is nothing like making pumpkin treats when the weather cools down and the leaves start changing color.  The recipe calls to top each muffin with pumpkin seeds, which is delicious, but when I don’t have pumpkin seeds I use the same amount of chopped walnuts.  Either way is great!

For those on the same Fix eating plan, each muffin is 1 purple and 1 blue container.  That’s right, these don’t even count as a carb!!!  #winning

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (from the Fixate cookbook)

2 oz cream cheese

1 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1.5 cups almond flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 dash sea salt or Himalayan salt

2 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds OR chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Prepare nine muffins cups by lining a muffin tin with paper liners and coating with spray.  Set aside.

Combine cream cheese and maple syrup in a small bowl; mix well and set aside.

Combine egg and pumpkin in a medium bowl; mix well and set aside.

Combine almond flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Mix well.

Add almond meal mixture to egg mixture and mix until just blended.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup a little less than 1/2 full.

Spoon 1 heaping tsp of cream cheese mixture into the center of each muffin.  Fill muffin cups evenly, about 3/4 full, with remaining batter.

Sprinkle muffins evenly with pumpkin seeds/walnuts.

Bake 16 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer muffins to a rack and cool.

Enjoy!

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Making Breakfast Simple + Healthy

Am I the only one who struggles with breakfast?  It’s either too complicated, not tasty, not healthy, or not filling, right?  It’s taken me a long time to find a breakfast routine that works for me longer than 1 week and doesn’t feel too monotonous.  I still love having my Shakeology in the morning, but doing longer and tougher workouts means that I’m a little hungrier in the mornings than normal, and I need some more protein in my life.

For the past several weeks I’ve been rotating between two different breakfasts, and it has been working SO well for me!  Even though it’s the same two meals, they are recipes that you can easily swap out ingredients to make it taste completely different for some more variety.  Plus, both recipes allow for some really nutrient-dense foods to help me start my day off with good nutrition, which sets me up for success for the rest of the day.

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Try these in different variations–switch out the fruits and veggies to find what you like the best!  Comment with your favorite recipe

Veggies and Scrambled Eggs

2 eggs, scrambled

2 green containers veggies–spinach, chopped onion, chopped red pepper, mushrooms, etc

**I like to sautee the chopped veggies first, then cook the eggs, and serve the cooked eggs/veggies on fresh baby spinach.  It’s so easy!

 

Greek Yogurt Breakfast Parfait

1 red container 2% plain Greek yogurt

1 purple container fresh fruit–strawberries, blueberries, peaches, etc.

2 tbsp sliced almonds

Layer ingredients in a bowl–yogurt first, then the fruit, and then the almonds.  Mix if desired and eat cold.

My Go-To *Healthy* Sweet Snack

I have been obsessed with this recipe since my friend Laci brought these treats with us on our trip to New Orleans this summer–chocolate, peanut butter, and coconut are three of my favorite treat ingredients, so a treat that fits my meal plan, packs some awesome nutrition, and has very few ingredients?  #winning

This recipe comes from the great Danielle Natoni who I had the pleasure of meeting during our New Orleans trip–she is amazing!  So thank you, Danielle, for this awesome recipe.  This has quickly become a staple for me to help me with my sweet cravings, and is so easy to throw in my bag and carry around with me if I find myself hungry and no healthy options to turn to.

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You can use any flavor Shakeology with this recipe, but I highly recommend chocolate because, well, chocolate.  And peanut butter.  Go big or go home, right?  These are so easy to make and they keep really well in the fridge.  Good luck not eating all of them at once, because I could literally do that.


Vegan Chocolate Shakeology Balls (from Danielle Natoni)

1 scoop Vegan Chocolate Shakeology

1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 cup raw, local honey

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until well mixed.  Put in fridge for 5 min before forming into balls.  Roll into balls about the size of the circle your thumb and forefinger make if they are touching.  Keep in a plastic baggie in the fridge for about 1 week.  **This recipe will make about 7 balls, enough for one for each day of the week as a sweet snack.

Can’t-Tell-The-Difference Gluten Free Banana Bread

Summer is coming to a close, fall is speedily approaching, and I am READY.  Cooler temperatures, comfy clothes, and all of my favorite yearly traditions, including some good homemade baked goods.

One of my favorite things to bake in the fall is banana bread.  It’s easy to make, it smells awesome, and it tastes amazing.  I had some very ripe bananas that I needed to use up, but I wanted to find a good gluten free banana bread–I have a lot of all-purpose GF flour and I feel better when I don’t eat wheat, so after about 3 minutes of research, I settled on this recipe.  It’s pretty similar to the recipe I normally use, it didn’t have any weird ingredients, and it includes chocolate chips!

I made this with my 3 year old who really enjoyed pouring and stirring the ingredients together, especially the chocolate chips.  He and I ate some of this almost straight out of the oven and we both loved it!  It tastes the same to me as my regular banana bread, and Little Man seemed to agree.  My husband had some the next morning and loved it, too!  I didn’t tell him it was GF, and he didn’t notice any difference at all.  Since he is notoriously picky, this is a huge win for me!  Since I prefer to eat GF, I’ll be using this recipe as my go-to banana bread!

Full disclosure–I am by no means claiming that this is “healthy” banana bread.  It’s just GF, but it still has sugar and chocolate–please don’t eat this thinking that you can eat the whole loaf with no consequences to your waistline.  You’re totally going to want to eat the whole loaf, by the way.  It’s that good.

Can’t-Tell-The-Difference GF Banana Bread (from Primavera Kitchen)

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 tbsp coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/3 cup all purpose gluten-free flour

1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli Dark)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray a large loaf pan to prevent sticking and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together banana, yogurt, egg, vanilla, oil, and brown sugar until completely blended and smooth.  In a separate medium bowl, mix the baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and flour until completely blended.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until completely incorporated.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the chocolate chips until mixed through.  Put the batter in the greased loaf pan and bake for 50-60 min, until a knife/toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the bread is completely baked through.

Enjoy!

 

Busy Mom Chicken-Stuffed Peppers

I love my Fixate cookbook–I have a handful of recipes from it that I make all the time (Grandma’s Tomato Sauce and the Clean Eating Sloppy Joes are a couple of examples), and now there is a Fixate cooking show on Beachbody On-Demand that I watch every week to get new recipe ideas!  I was watching it last week and got reminded of this stuffed pepper recipe that is so good, but also a little involved and complicated.

On the show, Bobby Calabrese (the chef) mentioned that instead of buying chicken breasts and cutting them up into bite-sized pieces to cook, you could just get ground chicken to save some time and energy.  GENIUS!  I’m not sure I would ever have come up with that on my own, but it’s such a simple tip!

The original recipe calls for quinoa and corn, but I opted to leave those out because 1) I don’t really like corn, 2) I didn’t want that many carbs in this meal, and 3) I was being lazy and didn’t want to add quinoa.  If you love corn and don’t care too much about the extra carbs, feel free to add 1 cup cooked corn and 2 cups cooked quinoa to the filling when you add the black beans.

If you want to make this recipe even easier and quicker, you can skip the whole baking step and slice your peppers into large strips and use them as a chip alternative.  You could also skip the peppers altogether and just eat the filling alone, or in taco shells or with tortilla chips.  Check your grocery for pre-chopped onion and minced garlic in the jar.  That saves a few steps, as well!  Last, instead of chopping the cilantro I usually just tear it by hand as I add it to the dish and that is a lot faster, as well.

Enjoy!

Busy Mom’s Chicken-Stuffed Peppers (adapted from Fixate)–serves 4

4 bell peppers (any color), cut in half and seeds/ribs removed

2 tsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb ground chicken (can up this to 2 lbs to bulk up the filling if you prefer)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp cumin

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp paprika

Salt, to taste (at least 1/4 tsp)

1 cup tomato sauce (I used plain canned tomato sauce, no salt or sugar added)

5 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tbsp lime juice

Optional: 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

Optional: Hot sauce, to taste, for serving

Preheat oven to 375F. Place peppers skin side down on a baking dish (spray with cooking spray).  Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add onion and cook for 5-8 minutes, until soft and translucent, stirring frequently.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add ground chicken, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked all the way through and no longer pink.

Add tomato sauce, black beans, cilantro, and lime juice and reduce heat to medium low.  Stir together until all ingredients are fully mixed and heated through.  Remove from heat and turn heat off.

Scoop a heaping 1/2 cup of filling into each pepper half.  Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes, until peppers are soft.  If desired, top each pepper with cheese and bake for 3-5 more minutes uncovered until cheese is melted.

Let cool about 5 minutes before serving. Top with hot sauce if desired.  Each serving is 2 pepper halves!

 

Healthy in Every Way–My Journey Through Depression and Anxiety

I have major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. (I tried to think of a nice introduction to transition into this declaration, but I couldn’t think of how to get there so I decided to just go for it.)  I’ve been fairly open about my struggle with depression on this blog before, and this past year has been a pretty dark place for me.  I’ve been pretty quiet about what’s been going on with me lately, but I want to share more about this aspect of my life because I’ve been realize just how much my mental health is connected to my physical health.  

 

I’ve struggled with depression for several years, but this past year has been the hardest yet.  The transition from working mom to stay-at-home mom is never an easy one, my husband has a new position in his work with some new responsibilities, and there have been lots of other transitions in other areas of my life, too.  I think that for a long time it was really easy for me to blame teaching for my depression, but once I left and the depression stayed, I was forced to really examine what was going on.

 

So, for the first time in my entire life, I started going to a therapist and taking an antidepressant.  This was honestly a really hard decision for me to make because even though I’ve recommended therapy to a lot of people close to me, I was embarrassed to admit that I needed that kind of help.  I’ve always had some kind of twisted pride in the fact that I was “managing” my depression without the help of therapy or medicine.  But honestly, I wasn’t managing anything.  I was barely holding on by a thread and constantly felt like everything was falling apart.  Every single part of my day was a struggle, from waking up to getting out of bed to taking care of my child.  I was miserable, so my pride in taking care of myself was pretty misguided.

 

Before I started therapy and learning different ways of coping with my depression and anxiety, I had pretty much one coping mechanism–food.  I’ve always known that I was an emotional eater, but I didn’t quite realize how deep my relationship with food really went.  I started to figure it out after I read “Made to Crave” and did Whole30, but once I finished Whole30 I basically fell into a giant pile of sugar.  I had certainly learned better food habits, but I hadn’t worked on the deeper issue: I was using food as a coping mechanism instead of actually dealing with my depression and anxiety.

 

As a result from this emotional eating+not working on my mental health combination, I gained some weight and started to feel bad about myself.  I lost energy, I lost motivation, I lost confidence.  I was embarrassed that I was losing control of my health–again–and I felt like a total failure.  Of course, that just made my depression even worse.  And then I continued to eat poorly to cope with all the negative feelings…which made me feel worse.  See the cycle there?  It took me months to figure out that connection.  Actually, it took me months to figure out that I was deeply depressed.  It was a rough year.

 

But, that is in my rearview mirror.  Once I figured out what was really happening, decided to get to a professional, and became open to medicine, things started to change.  Now, I have a mindfulness routine to start out my days.  I’m focused on my personal development to help keep my mindset positive.  I’m focused on being consistent with my fitness because a good workout does WONDERS for my depression and anxiety.  I’m learning different ways to cope with my issues instead of running to the drive thru for a sweet tea and cookie every day.  (True story).

 

I’m going to be posting a little more about some of the specifics of my routine and different coping strategies, but I set an alarm to get up early so I can have some quiet time to do a 10 minute meditation, read my Bible and have some prayer time, read personal development, write out affirmations, and say some affirmations out loud.  I feel like a total hippie when I’m doing it, but it’s seriously amazing to feel the difference in my mindset every single day.  Those are my new coping mechanisms instead of food, and even though it’s still a struggle and I’m still working on it, I finally feel like I’m out of the pit and I’m able to get back to myself again.

 

So, why am I sharing all of this?  Part of it is to help myself get out of feeling embarrassed that I have struggles.  I deal with depression and anxiety–that’s part of my story and I don’t want to be secretive about it anymore.  It’s not anything to be ashamed of; it’s just part of who I am.  But more importantly, I want YOU to know that you’re not alone.  It has been amazing to me to hear some of my friends and family say “me too!”.  Whether it’s a struggle with depression or anxiety, or going through junk that distracts you from your health, or just dealing with gaining some weight after working so hard to lose it, you are not alone.  And you need to focus on your mental health!  It’s not just about your physical health–you have to take care of your mind and your spirit to be truly healthy.  

 

Since this is now a part of my health journey, it’s going to be a part of the blog more and more.  Stay tuned for more posts about this aspect of my story, and feel free to share any wisdom from your own journey, too!

Gluten-Free Orange Cherry Muffins

One of my FAVORITE things about my online streaming workouts is the Fixate cooking show.  The 21 Day Fix creator Autumn Calabrese and her brother Bobby (who is a chef) share healthy, clean eating recipes that are so good!  I love looking every week at what new recipes they’ve come up with–they are always adventurous and something that I wouldn’t think of on my own, which makes it fun for me.  I’m actually working on a “Fixate Week” where I only eat Fixate recipes because I love it so much!

Last week I tried the Fixate Vegan Orange Cherry Muffins–I had some Cara Cara oranges I needed to use, and my son LOVES cherries, so I thought this would be a perfect experiment!  I ended up adjusting the recipe a little bit because I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, and I didn’t want to buy special ingredients I don’t normally use just to keep the muffins vegan (especially when I don’t really care that much about eating vegan).

Instead of using fresh cherries, I bought dried cherries (which are a little more tart than fresh, so if you go that route you might want to add a little more syrup for more sweetness).  I also swapped the flaxseed for a whole egg because I didn’t have flaxseed on hand and don’t normally use it (flaxseed is used as a binding ingredient to substitute eggs and is a great source of omega-3s).

These were really good! Next time I’ll use 100% orange juice because the fresh juice I had wasn’t quite enough.  I would love to try these with fresh cherries, so I’m keeping an eye out for cherries at my grocery as we get closer to summer!

For my Fix followers, each serving (1 muffin) is 1 yellow, 1/2 purple, 1/2 blue, and 1 1/2 tsp.

Fixate Orange Cherry Muffins (adapted from Fixate on Beachbody On Demand)

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups gluten free all purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp sea salt or Himalayan salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 tbsp all natural creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tbsp orange zest

3/4 cup orange juice

1 egg

1 large banana, thickly cut (about 1 cup of banana)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped cherries (fresh, frozen, or dried)

 

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and spray with baking spray.

Combine flours, baking powder, salt, and walnuts in a large bowl.  Mix well and set aside.

Put oil, peanut butter, maple syrup, orange zest, orange juice, egg, banana, and vanilla in a blender.  Mix for 30 seconds.

Add peanut butter mixture to flour mixture.  Mix just until moistened–do not overmix.

Fold in cherries to batter mixture until just mixed.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, spoon batter into lined muffin tin (1/4 cup for each muffin).

Bake muffins for 18 minutes, until tops are lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean from the center of muffin.

Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes in pan.  Remove muffins from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

These kept well in an airtight container on the counter.  They only lasted a few days before we ate them all, but would probably be fine for about 5-7 days. You could also put baked muffins in the freezer and reheat them in the microwave.

Enjoy!