Mexican Quinoa

I pretty much love all different types of cuisines, because I pretty much love all food. That being said, if I had to choose just one to consume for the rest of my life, I would most definitely pick Mexican. Living without margaritas, guacamole, refried beans and lots and lots of queso would be a sad life. This dish offers a nice alternative to your typical burritos, tacos and enchiladas and couldn’t be easier. You basically sauté some vegetables, throw all the other ingredients in, simmer it and then gobble it up while wishing you were actually in Mexico on a beach. Perfect.

Quinoa is one of the few grains considered to be a “complete protein”. This means it provides your body with all of the essential amino acids your body needs to survive and function optimally, making it a great plant-based protein source for vegetarians. One-half cup of cooked quinoa gives you 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, making it a nutrition powerhouse in the grains department.

This dish can be made vegetarian or vegan to fit your individual preferences and it is also gluten-free.

Mexican Quinoa
Serves 4-6

1 T olive oil
½ onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 C quinoa, uncooked
14 oz. can reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
15 oz. reduced-sodium black beans
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies (or 1 can diced tomatoes+1 can diced green chilies)
1 small can no salt added corn (or 1 C frozen corn)
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
Ground pepper and salt to taste
Diced avocado and cheese for topping

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 2 minutes. Toss in garlic and red pepper and continue stirring until fragrant. Add quinoa, tomatoes, corn, broth and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer until liquid is almost all the way absorbed. Turn of heat and add black beans. Serve topped with avocado and cheese.

Mexican Quinoa


Healthy Living In College

Ahhh, college. Often referred to as the “best four years of your life” by some. It’s also know for the time when you gain the “freshman 15”. Although there are many factors that can potentially add on the pounds (such as free pizza everywhere, nights out with friends followed by the obligatory trip to McDonalds, and many hours sitting and studying), college does not automatically have to be associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. I managed to participate in all of the classic college festivities while maintaining my weight and having fun. Here are some of my tips for doing so:

Fuel yourself with nourishing meals
If you’re in the dorms, try to choose healthy options most of the time. This means getting back to the basics: make half your plate fruits and/or vegetables (NOT French fries or any other form of fried potato); choose whole grains over white; lean proteins such as grilled chicken, fish, beans, and nuts; and low-fat cheese, yogurt and milk. Make sure to include the occasional treat (my favorite was a small bowl of soft serve with hot fudge) once a day or so to keep you from feeling deprived.
If you’re in an apartment, it’ll take you a little more effort since you’ll need to shop and prepare the food you want to eat. This is where meal prepping can come in handy.
No matter what, plan ahead and think about when and what you will be eating. Don’t skip meals and pack healthy snacks to have on hand when hunger strikes. Doing so will prevent you from coming home starving at the end of the day and eating everything in sight. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it is also not good for your health.

Salmon Salad IMG_0891

Be mindful of fluid calories

Alcohol has calories…a lot. Yeah, I hate this fact too. It can be especially difficult since social life in college often includes adult beverages. Buuuut, I’m going to tell you something you probably won’t believe: drink it if you want (and if your legal, of course). However, I’m not saying you should go buck wild Thursday-Saturday night each week. One or two nights a week is fine, but more than that can have a detrimental effect on your waistline. Go out, and have fun on the weekend, but supplement that with healthy decisions throughout the rest of the week. Also, keep in mind how you feel the day after to keep yourself reined in. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you did end up overdoing it the night before. Starving yourself because you ate or drank too much will only backfire and cause you to overeat later on in the day, reinstating the vicious cycle. Instead, get up, eat a nourishing breakfast, go get your sweat on (even if it’s a slow, sub-par workout, it’ll make you feel a ton better, I promise) and get right back on the healthy train.



Get enough Zzz’s
Something that is unheard of in college: SLEEP! Ok, I get it because I’ve been there (I held two jobs, was the president of my sorority, and was a full-time student remember?) so I’m not going to preach to you that you should get 8 hours every night. Not realistic. However, I think students should prioritize sleep more than they do. I’m someone who physically can’t work off of little sleep every night and I’ve never pulled an all-nighter. I know staying up all night won’t benefit me because after 11pm I check out and can’t retain any information anyways. It’s better to just go to sleep, wake up refreshed and resume studying the next morning when I can actually process the stuff I’m looking at. Many people think they can function off of little sleep, when in reality, their body is crying out for more. Too little sleep can derail your healthy living efforts in a major way. Feeling tired can cause one to skip their scheduled workout, crave and eat less healthy, calorie-dense foods and much more. So remember, sleep doesn’t just affect how tired you feel in the morning, it is a powerful component of your food choices and activity levels.

I love, love, LOVED being on campus because I had the ability to walk everywhere. Even on the days I didn’t have a “formal workout”, I still got a lot of steps in just by walking to and from classes and back to my apartment. Besides walking my butt off, I took advantage of my university’s recreation center . They had tons of cardio and weight equipment, group exercise classes, basketball courts, etc. so there was something for everyone.
In addition, I kept a pair of dumbbells (one light and one heavy set) at my apartment as well as a yoga mat so I could workout from home when I didn’t want to make the trek across campus to the gym. I own a couple of workout DVD’s and tried YouTube workouts on occasion too. Fitness Blender has a wide variety of awesome workouts you can do from the comfort of your own living room with little to no equipment. In addition, as a hard-core power yoga lover, I took advantage of the free yoga podcasts on iTunes at least once or twice a week since I didn’t have the ability, time or money to join a yoga studio. My favorites were (and still are) “Power Yoga with Dave Farmer”, “Lean Power Yoga” and “Power Yoga with Nikki Wong”.
The main point I’m trying to convey, is move anyway you can and choose something you enjoy doing. Even if that means taking a walk during the break between classes instead of sitting down in the union to Facebook creep. Every little bit really does count!

IMG_0931 IMG_0932

Don’t Stress
Remember, no one is perfect and as a college student, you have more important things to worry about than being healthy ALL THE TIME. Also remember, that you only live once and that college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (hopefully…) so have fun and enjoy it. Go out with friends, eat drunk food, have lazy movie marathon days, and don’t worry about it or beat yourself up about it. Just wake up the next day and get right back on track!


Balsamic Vinaigrette

When people are on a diet or want to choose the healthiest option they often say, “I’m being good, I’m just ordering a salad”. However, salads overdressed with creamy or sugary dressings, excessive amounts of cheese, croutons, and large portions of meat do not actually qualify as “healthy”.

For instance, the Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad at Applebee’s contains 1,390 calories, 98 grams of fat and 42 grams of sugar. That is over half of the average person’s daily calorie needs and a full day’s worth of fat and added sugar.

Now, don’t feel discouraged, salads can be a very healthy option, and they do provide a variety of nutrients and fiber. The key is to be a salad sleuth. The #1 thing to look out for is the salad dressing you use. Both the amount and the type.

Lightly drizzle your salads with your dressing of choice, instead of dumping a large portion on. Even if you choose a higher calorie dressing like Ranch, using a smaller amount of dressing ensures that you won’t break your calorie bank. Plus, when you add other fun toppings like a sprinkle of cheese, dried or fresh fruits, nuts or avocado, you don’t need a ton of dressing for flavor.

A bit of fat is good to have in dressings because it helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from all those vegetables. Oil-based vinaigrettes are made from heart-healthy oils, compared to creamy dressings such as Caesar and blue cheese, often containing high-calorie mayonnaise.

One way to avoid the funky, unnatural ingredients of store-bought salad dressings is to make your own. My favorite is this simple balsamic vinaigrette. It is quick to prepare and can be kept in the fridge for about two weeks. It is slightly sweet thanks to the touch of agave or honey and goes well with savory or sweet salads.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
¼ C olive oil
¼ C balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. agave nectar or honey
2 tsp. Dijion mustard

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir vigorously until incorporated. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. When ready to use, you may need to microwave the dressing for a couple of seconds (5-7 seconds) to reincorporate the ingredients since there are no emulsifiers in it like there is in store-bought dressings.


Cooking for One

There are times in life when we are inevitably by ourselves, be it by choice or circumstances. Whether you are single and living alone or work opposite hours of your partner, preparing a wholesome and delicious meal for one can be quite the challenge. Motivation to cook an elaborate meal for just one person can be daunting and may not seem worth the effort.

I started cooking for myself almost three years ago when I moved into my first apartment in college. I lived with one other roommate and when we first moved in, we had high hopes of cooking for each other a couple times a week. I would make roasted fish with fresh basil and tomatoes on Monday and she would cook up chicken with roasted garlic broccoli topped with Parmesan cheese for us on Thursdays.

Well, that worked for about a month until the maddening life of college set in. We developed opposite schedules and eating times and often only laid eyes upon each other once each day, to say either “good morning” or “good night”. We slowly began buying, cooking and eating our own meals and our little bistro table lay dormant in our kitchen as we took to eating in our rooms while finishing up assignments (ok, or browsing Facebook…).

It was challenging at first, and yes, it still tests my ingenuity and patience at times, but over the past few years I have become a pro at cooking for one. You don’t need to resort to fast food, take-out, or boxed macaroni and cheese when dining alone. Follow these easy tips and start making yourself healthy, nourishing meals that actually satisfy your body and your cravings.

Freeze your bread

Or tortillas, English muffins, etc. This extends the shelf life and prevents mold from growing before you have a chance to eat all of it. When you’re ready, simply take out the portion you need, wrap it in a paper towel and microwave for 30-45 seconds until thawed. When packing your meal, you can even make your sandwich with the bread in the frozen state and it will keep your sandwich cool and will be thawed by the time your ready to eat.

Halve recipes

I don’t need an entire lasagna or a huge 15 pound roast just for me. Not only is this too much food to eat before it goes bad, but it would also get boring eating it all the time! Instead, I take recipes and cut them in half. Sometimes this requires a little creativity. For instance if a dish calls for 1 whole can of tomatoes and 1 can of tomato sauce, I will buy a can of diced tomatoes and will use half, then will puree the rest to make my own tomato sauce. Doing so reduces food waste, saves money, and prevents meal boredom.

Buy individually wrapped meats and divide ground meat in half

Look for chicken breasts, fish filets, and other meats that are individually wrapped. That way, you can thaw single servings at a time instead of the entire package. After purchasing a pound of ground beef or turkey, immediately cut it in half to make two one-half pound servings. Place each portion in freezer bags. This also helps achieve the previous tip when halving recipes.

I purchased a package of chicken breasts and thighs separated them into smaller portions so I wouldn’t have to thaw and eat them all at the same time.


Be creative with leftovers

Made a large pork loin? Roasted an entire butternut squash? Get creative and make new main dishes out of your old ones! For example, make Cuban sandwiches from your pork loin. Layer the pork with Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard, and spinach and grill until bread is crispy, the cheese is melty and the meat is warm. Puree leftover butternut squash with a touch of cream, fresh sage, salt and pepper to make a sauce for pasta. Use Pinterest or the Internet to search for recipes using the key ingredients you want to use up.

I had a leftover sweet potato that was on it’s last leg, so I pureed it with some milk, blue cheese, salt+pepper to make a pasta sauce.


Freeze leftovers

Your freezer is an asset, use it! A lot of foods can be cooked, frozen and reheated perfectly including pasta dishes, grilled chicken breasts, muffins, soups, sauces and much more. Sometimes it can be beneficial to make the entire recipe and freeze leftovers to have for a quick and easy meal at a later date. Here are some specific methods for freezing different foods:

  • Soups and sauces-Pour into freezer-proof Ziploc bags and lay flat in the freezer. They will freeze like a pancake, saving space.
  • Mixed dishes (pastas, casseroles, etc.)-Make single servings by placing individual portions in freezer-proof bags or freeze multiple servings using aluminum foil pans, sealing tightly with additional aluminum foil on top.
  • Muffins-wrap in aluminum foil and place in freezer bags.
  • Precooked Chicken breasts-wrap in aluminum foil and place in freezer bags.

**Remember, it is important to label your dishes before placing them in the depths of your freezer. This not only helps you remember what is in each container, but it also prevents you from consuming food that is unsafe to eat. Use a sharpie to write the name of the dish and the date it was made.

Left: Leftover cooked dried pinto beans I had in excess from a soup recipe I made. Right: Ripe bananas I couldn’t eat fast enough. Can be used in oatmeal, breads, and smoothies in the future.

Although cooking for one does present unique challenges, it doesn’t have to be hard and is well worth the little bit of extra effort. Making yourself a tasty meal instead of mindlessly eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every evening not only provides your body with the nutrients your body needs, but is also something rewarding to look forward to each night.