Let’s Talk About Progress

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The most important thing about a Health & Fitness Journey is right there in the name. Key word: journey. May I present a montage of ~inspirational~ quotes to spare you a lengthy, wordy explanation of what you already know I want to write. Drum roll please…

That’s right! This whole fit-life thing – despite being as cliche as crying over spilled unsweetened almond milk 😉 – is totally about the journey. All that good (and sometimes not-so-good or scary) stuff between setting a goal and checking it off? That’s where we challenge ourselves, where we meet determination, where we adapt and achieve. It’s where we witness the power of progress and the beauty of becoming.

At this mile-marker of my personal fitness journey, I’m all about maintaining and sustaining. For me, that means making choices that promote a happy, healthy, balanced lifestyle. But what happens when the TIU Bikini Series is over, and you find yourself so far from your starting point with your future in front of you like an open road disappearing into a inspirational-quote emblazoned horizon? (See above 😉 ) When you’re in it for the long haul, acknowledging achievements is key for keeping mental game and physical gains strong. Check out my three favorite ways to measure progress. Spoiler alert: not one involves a scale.

  1. Pose for the Pic. First things first, in the spirit of a health & fitness journey, let’s abandon the terms “before” and “after” and call it all progress. Grab ya white wall, grab ya Calvins, and smile, girl. Pictures help make clear all the progress our minds may dismiss when we look in the mirror each day. Place ’em side-by-side and you have an entirely new perspective on your progress – physically and mentally. I challenge you to look beyond the developing abs and take note of the expression on your face, your posture, and your post-HIIT glow 🙂 Remember, you were always beautiful, but now your workin’ on being faster, stronger, and healthier.
  2. Focus on the Fit. When it comes to clothing, I encourage you to forget the number printed on the label and instead hone in on how pieces feel on your body. Maybe a stubborn button latches up with ease. Maybe your fave jeans are hugging your curves like never before – haaaay booty gains! Whatever it may be, wear what feels good, sister! Confidence is your very best accessory.
  3. Respect the Reps. Close your eyes and picture yourself crushing 15 reps of that exercise. You know the one, the one you dread seeing listed in the Daily Moves. For me, it’s plyo-lunges and lateral tricep extensions. I mean really, who the hell invented plyo-lunges?!  The thing is, with consistent effort, one day your body will accomplish what it couldn’t two weeks, two months, two years ago. You’ll go for another 15 plyo-lunges. You’ll pick up a 10lb dumbbell for that lateral tricep extension. And that, fitties, deserves a big-ass gold star of progress.

Above all, remember that your progress, and your journey, is entirely unique to you. Let go of comparisons and keep doin’ your thang – happy looks good on you, girl 🙂 I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite quote that has resonated so deeply with me as I navigate this happy, healthy, fit lifestyle. Read it n’ repeat it:
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The Art of The Cart

It’s no secret that I love planning my weekly meals (shout out to those Overlapping Ingredients one more time, y’all). In fact, I love it so much, that somewhere along my fitness journey, Friday night bar hopping was replaced by Friday night aisle hopping at my beloved Trader Joe’s. (A tip for all my Trader Joe’s shoppers from a gal who lives directly above the busiest location in America: hit the store Friday after 7 pm or 8 am on the dot Saturday morning and thank me later for bountiful shelves and low lines.)

But let’s keep it real, despite any number of hours spent and lists made, life will barge in on even the most flawless of plans – a meeting will run late, your sweet potato fries will char, you won’t be in the mood for that M5.  Your only defense? Be prepared with the fully stocked kitchen trifecta: cart, pantry, and freezer. Today, we’re talking The Art of The Cart.

The perfect cart is a beautiful balance of familiar foundation ingredients and the excitement of the latest seasonal produce (hello, butternut squash!). Whether built into my planned recipes or the ever important “weekend refrigerator buffer”, these are the staple items I can’t go week-to-week without:

  • 1 carton Almond Milk (unsweetened, original flavor) – The milk of all trades. Think smoothies, baking recipes, emergency mug cake, and Sunday morning Cheerios 😉
  • 1 carton Liquid Egg Whites (or 1 carton eggs) – Egg white muffins are almost always on my weekly menu. Egg whites are also a must for on-the-fly baking recipes and quick scrambles on busy weekends.
  • 2 8oz containers Greek Yogurt – #TIUapproved Craving Compromise? Yes, please! Schedule a healthy sweet treat and stay on track.
  • 1 bunch Bananas – Didn’t buy enough bars for this week’s M4? Eat alone or pair with nut butter for a super easy and satisfying snack. Also, you guessed it, fab for baking.
  • 2 16 oz packages Leafy Greens – From superfood-status meal additions or as the base of an “everything but the kitchen sink” salad, kale and spinach always have a place in my cart.
  • 1 package Heirloom Tomatoes – My fave “dinner is taking too long” munchie 😉 You gotta give yourself one!

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A mix of fresh-picked and packaged, each of these essential ingredients serve multiple functions in my kitchen. Plus, paired with items from my perfectly prepped pantry and always-full freezer (blog coming soon!), they come together to create quick, healthy meals when life doesn’t quite go according to plan.

Recipe: Tangy + Sweet Kale Quinoa Salad

Flash back to LBF (life before fit), a series of sad salad chronicles in which my leafy combo of choice consisted solely of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and diced cucumber. Praise change, people, ’cause these days this girl will put just about anything on top of a bed of kale and quinoa – and it. is. magic.

Fun fact: I’m a real-deal Gemini. So, naturally, my favorite things in life are a little bit of everything, all at once. And food is no exception – crispy and chewy, crunchy and gooey, tangy and sweet. Introducing the Tangy + Sweet Kale Quinoa Salad. A bed of kale and quinoa cradle sweet wintery favorites like blueberries and sweet potato while juicy tangerines tingle your tastebuds. Top it with honey-lemon shrimp for an added tangy + sweet protein punch.

(P.S. I love to experiment in the kitchen, and it seems my favorite measuring tool is a “pinch”. Go with your gut, girl. Start small, you can always add more flavor!)

Tangy + Sweet Kale Quinoa Salad (yields 2-3 servings)

Ingredients

Salad:

  • 3 large bunches Kale – about 5-6 cups chopped (washed, massaged, and chopped)
  • 1 cup Quinoa (cooked and cooled)
  • 1 medium Sweet Potato (chopped and roasted)
    • 1 tsp EVOO
    • pinch of sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Blueberries
  • 1/4 cup Pecans (toasted)
  • 3 Tangerines (peeled and sectioned)

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Honey-Lemon Shrimp:

  • 12 oz cooked shrimp
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • pinch of sea salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

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Directions

Quinoa: Cook up 3/4 cup quinoa (to yield 1 cup cooked) in your favorite way. (Check out this awesome guide to cooking quinoa here!) I love to combine mine in a rice cooker with 1 cup water and 1 cup low sodium Vegetable Broth and let it brew on the “brown rice” setting while I get my chill on.

Sweet Potato: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with non stick cooking spray and set aside. Peel 1 medium sweet potato, slice into rounds (about 1/8″ thick) and quarter rounds into wedges. Place sweet potato wedges in a bowl and toss with 1 tsp EVOO and your favorite seasonings until evenly coated. My go-to is a dash or two of sea salt and cayenne pepper. Spread seasoned sweet potato wedges on baking tray and roast for about 30 minutes, tossing periodically.

Pecans: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet generously with non stick cooking spray. Evenly distribute pecan pieces or halves and toast for 5 minutes. Be careful! Pecans burn easily.

Honey-Lemon Shrimp: Remove any tails or shells from thawed, precooked shrimp. Heat 1 tsp EVOO in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lemon juice and honey, stirring for about 3 minutes until a sauce begins to form. Add cooked shrimp and heat for about 3-4 minutes, tossing ingredients until shrimp is covered in sauce. Pinch in salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Remove from heat to keep from over cooking.

Salad: In a large bowl, combine chopped kale and cooled quinoa, tossing thoroughly. Add toasted pecans, roasted sweet potatoes, whole blueberries, and tangerine slices – give it another good toss! Top individual servings with 4-6 oz Honey-Lemon shrimp, allowing the sauce to act as your dressing.

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Fitlicity Faves: Snack Bars

The health & wellness market is saturated with trendy products and endless opportunities for new! and better! Which, for fit-gals like us, is a combination of totally freakin’ awesome (I mean, they make pasta from chickpeas now?!) and totally confusing (nutrition label say what?!). When I started my fitness journey I hit the shelves runnin’- trying all the things until I figured out (through a lot of research paired with a little bit of trial-and-error) what products were the @perfectfit 😉 for my lifestyle.

Introducing Fitlicity Faves, a series where I’ll clue you in on a few of my favorite things – from grab n’ go snacks to booty sculpting moves. (*Disclaimer: I am a fit-girl-in-progress, and admittedly still learning!) 

Let’s start with the grand daddy of them all… the BAR. Quest, Luna, Lara, Macro, Pure, Kind… the list goes on, and on, and on. So, a girl walks into a bar… The punchline? She just consumed too many processed ingredients to pronounce and over half of her sugar intake for the day. *sigh*

After experimenting with quite a few protein and snack bars, I’ve found 3 super-star faves that I am proud to recommend to any fittie. Considering taste, texture, nutritional value, and ingredients, I present to you my most nommed-on bars.

The rating scale explained:

Taste: Does the bar taste like the flavor it’s claiming on the package? Is it balanced or, my protein-pet-peeve, way too coconut-y? Does it have the “OMG this could be a brownie” factor? There’s that sweet tooth again! I often turn to bars when I’m looking for a better alternative to a sweet treat, so you’ll see the chocolate theme running strong here.

Texture: Too hard, too sticky, too light, or just right? My palette craves a little bit of dense and a little bit of fluffy 🙂

Nutritional Value: Protein, sodium, sugar, oh my! When it comes to selecting bars, I’m setting the calories aside, babe. I’m much more concerned with artificial sweeteners, protein bases, and hidden sodium levels.

Ingredients: How long is your list? My personal dietary philosophy gravitates towards minimal, whole, and easy-to-read ingredients.

  1. Square Organics (Square Bar): Okay, Square is totally the new black. These perfectly packaged bars are packed with simple, organic ingredients and boast 10-12 g of plant-based protein per serving – score! But the real stand-out factor, they taste (and feel) like biting into a decadent chocolate coated dessert. I gotta say it again – these really taste like candy bars. My fave flavors are Chocolate Coated Crunch, Chocolate Coated Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Coated Nuts and Chocolate.

    P.S. Square Organics and I are having a love affair 😉 Use the code “tiu_albabe” at check out for 20% off your order! The only thing in it for me is knowing you can enjoy this little morsel of squaradise.

  2. RXBAR: With an average of 12g of egg white protein and minimal ingredients RX Bars put it all on the package – literally, the first thing you see when you pick up the bar is the ingredients. What. A. Dream. There are some “Natural Flavors” in the RXBAR, but nothing a little moderation can’t handle. All the rich, dense taste does pack a rich, dense chew, so be prepared to work those jaw muscles just a lil’ bit 😉 My fave flaves are Blueberry, Chocolate Sea Salt, and Peanut Butter!
  3. LÄRABAR: When it comes to simple ingredients, LÄRABAR takes the cake – or shall I say the gluten-free cookie dough? With the average bar being comprised of just 5 ingredients (yes, really!), LÄRABAR takes out all the guess work of reading nutrition labels. If it’s added protein you’re looking for, you won’t find too much of it under these wrappers, but what you will find are melt-in-your-mouth, sweet ingredients that satisfy hunger without weighing you down. My fave flavors (so far, there are so many to try!) are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, and Blueberry Muffin.

 

Recipe: Very Berry Oat Bars (GF,V)

Confession: I’m a happy, healthy gal with a major sweet tooth. Brownies, cupcakes, and pies – you bake it, I like it. More often than I’d like to admit, former me could be found in the aisles of the corner bodega, picking up a freshly processed pack of TastyKakes. Turns out refined sugar and crazy chemical additives were not benefiting my bod – like, at all.

Since adjusting my eating habits, I’ve found that my cravings can be managed with naturally sweet ingredients that align with my lifestyle (think maple syrup, honey, cacao, fresh fruit and even protein powder). When it comes to experimenting in the kitchen, I opt for gluten free, no-sugar added recipes that fit into one of my favorite molds – muffin or donut, anyone? Check out my blog on Craving Compromises for even more sweet treats 🙂

And so this Very Berry Oat Bar recipe was born. The love child of a few different Pinterest finds, sweet berry-chia jam and a golden oat crust are a mix n’ match made in heaven. Gluten free, vegan, and no-sugar added, these chewy berry bars will have that sweet tooth singing hallelujah!

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Very Berry Oat Bar (yields 10-12 bars)

Ingredients

Berry Chia Jam:

  • 16 oz. frozen berries (I opted for a mixed blend of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries)
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (hello, nutritional powerhouse!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

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Oat Crust:

  • 3 cups GF rolled oats (divided)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

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Directions

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 12 baking dish with aluminum foil and spray generously with your favorite cooking oil. Set aside and prepare jam and crush while oven preheats.

Berry Chia Jam:

  1. Combine frozen fruit and maple syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Mix gently with a wooden spoon. Heat until berries begin to release liquid. Bring berry mixture to a boil until berries begin to break down and thicken, about 10 minutes. (If you’re using a mixed blend, break down time will vary depending on berry. Use your wooden spoon to gently assist stubborn blueberries.)
  2. Stir in the chia seeds and vanilla extract and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool until desired consistency is reached. Jam will continue to thicken the longer it sits.

Crust:

  1. Place 1 ½ cups of GF oats in a food processor (or nutribullet, or blender!) and process until reaching a flour consistency. Set aside.
  2. Completely mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract and combine fully.
  3. In a separate bowl combine 1 ½ cups processed oats, 1 ½ cup rolled oats, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Transfer dry mixture into large mixing bowl with mashed banana and mix until a dough is formed.

 

Bars:

  1. Spread 2/3 of the crust mixture onto foil-lined baking dish. Use your fingers to press and shape the dough, forming a tightly packed rectangular base.
  2. Layer the berry chia jam on to the crust, using a spoon to spread evenly. Be sure to leave some room around the edges to prevent jam from burning.
  3. Separate the remaining crust mixture into smaller portions, rolling into balls and flattening with your hands. Place patches of crust mixture on top of the jam until an even top layer is formed. Pinch patches together with fingers for a more seamless crust. Don’t be afraid to let that jam peek through!
  4. Bake for 30 minutes until crust turns golden brown.
  5. Allow to cool completely before transferring to cutting board and dividing evenly into bars.

Receipts Rejoice!

True or False: healthy eating is just too expensive. So very, very false, sister!

Repeat after me, every dollar spent on your health is a seriously good investment. However, a lean, clean, and green lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to break the bank at the grocery checkout line each week. Avoid receipt remorse with these 5 money saving tips, and go spend that extra $20 on the drop-in hot yoga you’ve been dying to try 🙂

  1. Make a List (and stick to it). No list? Back away from the Trader Joe’s, girl. Walking into the bright, white light of grocey heaven without a plan means only one thing for your budget: it’s blown. Wander aimlessly from aisle to aisle and your cart will fill with unnecessary items faster than you can say, “quinoa.” Before putting the pen to paper (or the thumbs to the keyboard), read up on my “Week of Eats” blog for the low-down on my favorite cost-effective tip – Overlapping Ingredients – and bring your grocery A-game. (Tip: To compliment Overlapping Ingredients, look for strategic substitutes in your planned recipes. If your ONOs call for dried cranberries and your kale salad calls for raisins, pick one of these sweet ingredient cousins and roll with it!)
  2. Protein + Pantry in Bulk. When shopped wisely (key word: wisely), big-box stores like Costco and BJ’s protect your pretty pennies with wholesale prices. Limit your purchases to items you use regularly, like protein and pantry essentials, to avoid surplus-spending. My favorite big-box finds:
    • Chicken
    • Frozen Seafood – Tilapia, Shrimp, Salmon (Tip: Some of you may be thinking, “Really, Al? Frozen Seafood?” Before you knock it, check your preferred grocer’s seafood counter labels. If you’re looking at fine print that reads: Previously Frozen, you could be paying up to 40% less for the same product a few aisles over.)
    • EVOO
    • Maple Syrup
    • Zero Sodium Spice Blend
  3. Nontraditional Grocers. As a car-less fittie in a big city, thinking outside the health-box is key when it comes to cost savings. In times of ingredient-need, say goodbye to pricey specialty shops and hello to nontraditional grocers! Online grocery services like my personal favorite, Amazon, carry those hard-to-find ingredients without the sky-high markup of boutique providers. My favorite Amazon purchases:
    • Quinoa
    • Pasta Alternatives (like Banza!)
    • Powdered Peanut Butter
    • Protein Bars
  4. Don’t Discriminate. Frozen veggies are veggies, too! I love stocking up on frozen produce like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green beans. Not only are frozen choices just as easy (if not easier!) to prepare, but their long shelf-life maximizes your spending and prevents waste.
  5. C.I.Y. (Chop It Yourself). Do you find yourself tempted by the allure of prepared meals and pre-cut produce? Snap of out of the life-without-cubing-butternut-squash day dream, girl! Before tossing that Quinoa Pilaf (you know the one) in your cart, check the price tag and nutrition label. Chances are, you’re about to pay big time for some wonky ingredients you can’t pronounce. Purchasing individual, whole ingredients will often save you half the price, and over half the sodium levels.

FAQ: “How do you stay motivated?”

Motivation. It’s a necessary brick in the foundation of any fitness journey, nestled somewhere between determination and discipline. Without motivation, one of two things is sure to happen: 1. You won’t do it (insert whatever your it may be here: exercise, nutrition, etc.) 2. You’ll do it, but you won’t give it the required dedication.

Motivation comes from within, and the key to finding it every day relies on an honest and loving relationship with oneself. The way I see it, motivation has three stages:

  1. The Catalyst. This is the part where you want it more than anything. It often begins as a means to a solution, a transformation, an “after.” In this stage, you are propelled by the honest reality of your current state of being, and your deep desire to change.
  2. The Results. Something happens when you do it, day after day. Your efforts become results that you can see and feel – you lift a heavier weight, you run an extra mile, you have more energy. With each small change, you imagine the endless possibilities of your potential. Here, you are motivated by the promise of an outcome.
  3. The Lifestyle. You’ve been so fiercely consistent that it is engrained in every fiber of your being. You are motivated by the very idea that it is a part of what makes you, you.

Disclaimer: There is no magic pill – two tablets once daily with water does not apply here. However, these simple practices totally have your back when it comes to maintaining motivation.

  1. Bring Your Goals To Life. Something incredible happens when you get your goals out of your crowded mind and onto a sacred space. Statistics vary, but it is reported that those who translate their goals to a tangible form are 50%-90% more likely to achieve success. A vision board is a tool used to bring clarity and focus to a specific life goal through imagery, quotes, and objects. Grab your magazines and start cutting, girls! Clip images of #fitspo and words that resonate with you – happy, love, strong. Bullet out your goals and check them off. Jot down positive affirmations (and read them). Allow your vision board to be a constant work in progress with room to grow. Fancy yourself more of a digital gal? Use Pinterest to source and save your inspo. (Tip: place your vision board somewhere highly visible and away from clutter. My vision board is next to my bed to reinforce my goals as I start and end each day). FullSizeRender 4.jpg
  2. Get Social. A check-in a day keeps the cheat days away 😉 I highly recommend creating a social media profile solely dedicated to your fitness journey and whole-heartedly believe it was crucial to my own success (shout out #TIUteam!). Committing to one post a day encourages you to make choices that you are proud to share with your new #fitfam. Consider this: would you rather post a pic of your hand hitting snooze or hitting the weights? The latter, baby! Struggling to get out of bed for those early morning workouts? Open up Instagram and get inspired by all the fitties beating you to it. Social platforms are the ultimate accountability partner – they track your progress, provide encouragement, and are full of knowledge and experience.
  3. Define (and continue to redefine) the Motive. Without a clear motive, your mind is much more inclined to convince you that your goals are not in fact priorities, and this could not be farther from the truth. I want you to sit down, with only a writing utensil and a piece of paper, close your eyes and think about why – why you are going to run, lift, sweat, and meal prep. Then, every time you think of giving up (the 5 am alarm, the last rep, the burnt protein pancake), look yourself in the eye, remember your why, and keep going. (Tip: If you don’t know where to start, jot down “Because I love myself” and go from there).

Most importantly, love what you do. Cultivate a positive relationship with your fitness journey, be unapologetically passionate about your lifestyle, and continue to nourish yourself – mind, body, and soul.

Any other questions? Drop  me a line!

Week of Eats

As I settled into this week’s menu planning with meal journal (and pen and white-out –always have white out) in hand, my very own Meal Prep tips were fresh at my fingertips. I promise, blogosphere, I practice what I write. Focusing on The Big Picture and my most favorite cost-saving tip, Overlapping Ingredients, I put together a stellar meal lineup that I can’t wait to dig my fork into.

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If you’re staring at your empty meal journal wondering where in the world to begin, I’ve got your back… and your belly 😉

I typically start with one meal, a meal that encompasses all the vibes I’m feelin’ for the week ahead, and build out my menu from there. (Tip: Keep it manageable by planning 2-3 options per meal and alternating throughout the week for a menu that boasts nutritional variety and totally satisfies the palate.) This week, with a comfort-food-beckoning cold front sweeping in, that recipe was Tone It Up‘s “Fall in Love” Kale Salad from the #TIU31 challenge. The rich, fall-inspired ingredients called my name like a warm, cozy melody as frost crept up around my window panes.

This Kale Salad (consult the TIU Nutrition Plan for full recipe) gets its flavor from speciality ingredients like dried cranberries and toasted pecans, that, while über tasty, come with a high(er) price tag. Determined to stick to my $50/week grocery budget this month, I set out on a mission to incorporate these ingredients into other meals as much as possible.

Enter Overlapping Ingredients – I admittedly geek-out #fitgirl style over the challenge of reinventing ingredients in different meals (and totally slayed this week if I do say so myself). From M1-M5, each of my meals feature at least one overlap, depicted in the chart below, and my receipt came to $47.62!!! A major win thanks to serious strategy and my main man, Trader Joe.

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Eating is most definitely one of my top 3 favorite activities (it’s up there with lifting booty and napping), and I have developed quite the enthusiasm for constructing new and exciting menus to fuel my healthy lifestyle. Meal prep is a hobby, right?!

True Life: I love Meal Prep & Chill

Allow me to introduce you to my two best friends: Meal Prep and her cousin, Chill. Every Sunday, Meal Prep and Chill and I get together for a few hours. We groove to Selena Gomez, and wash, chop, bake, and bag until my Monday-Saturday meals are housed in their respective containers.

That’s about 30 meals. Also known as 30 opportunities to eat lean, clean and green. 30 ways to save cash on an overpriced salad. 30 excuses to pass on office brownies. 30 reasons to not order Chinese takeout. The list goes on.

Since beginning my fitness journey 8 months ago, I’ve spent approximately 128 hours meal prepping, and today I’m sharing what I’ve learned in the kitchen. But first, let’s cover the basics.

What is meal prep? Meal prep, short for meal preparation, is the practice of cooking meals (or preparing portions of meals) in advance. Meal prep aims to save time and money, and makes sticking to a healthy eating plan a breeze.

What is chill? Chill is a messy bun, a Say Yes to the Dress marathon, your favorite Spotify playlist, and some serious quality time with the couch. Chill promotes sanity, reflection, and intention.

Together, they mesh like PB + banana 😉 Got it? Good! Let’s get to slicin’ and dicin’.

  • Have the Right Supplies. In order for meal prep to serve its main function of saving time and stress, the proper tools are of paramount importance.
  1. Meal Journal. Keep a journal that allows you to pre-plan your meals, workouts and water intake. Purchase one or design your own! (Tip: be honest with yourself. If you opt for a different meal choice than what you’ve planned, add in some extra munchies, or skip a meal – make note.)
  2. Storage Solutions. After your protein is cooked and your veggies are chopped, they need a place to live. Think freezer-safe and BPA free plastic Tupperware, glass containers, and plastic baggies. Stock up on a variety of sizes to manage portions (Tip: check out your favorite off-price retailer like Home Goods for major cost savings). I have a personal love affair with glass containers. They clean easily, don’t absorb color or smell, and they photograph beautifully 😉
  3. Food Scale. There’s an unwritten rule that goes something like this: if you eye-ball a serving of Banza pasta, you will cook about three servings worth. Forget guessing and the confusion of conversions – a food scale will provide the most accurate measurement for solid-food serving sizes listed in ounces like grains and protein.
  4. Measuring Cups/Spoons. As with a food scale, measuring cups and spoons are tools that guarantee portion size. Measuring cups/spoons are especially important when it comes to baking any delicious gluten free treats. Trust me, actually measuring baking soda according to the recipe will make all the difference in your banana bread muffins.
  5. Kitchen Essentials & Extras. My most-used essentials include baking trays, sauce pans, and muffin tins. When it comes to extras, I recommend a Nutribullet (for blending batters, dressings, and smoothies), donut tin, silicon muffin molds, and mason jars.

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  • Consider the Big Picture. I’ll admit, planning 5 meals per day across 6 days can seem overwhelming. Take a deep breath, and view the week ahead as a whole to better understand your needs. What do your workouts look like? A heavy lifting sesh or SoulCycle double header might call for some pre-workout carbs or recovery protein. Late night meetings creeping into M5? Add a meal that’s easy to prepare, store, and microwave to the menu. Busy day away from your usual setting? If you’re on the move during M2 or M4, pencil in a protein bar. Grey’s Anatomy mid-season finale? Plan for a craving compromise, you know you’ll want it! Make this practice a habit – it will spare you from scrambling over last minute adjustments and letting meals go to waste.
  • Choose Overlapping Ingredients. When planning meals for the week, find recipes with common ingredients. If you’re craving cucumbers and hummus for M4, spread that hummus on a healthy pita for M3 the next day. After baking your egg white muffins, sauté remaining spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms with quinoa for a delish stir fry base. Top your stuffed peppers with almond cheese and use the leftovers in “cheesy” spinach quinoa bites.
  • Love the Oven. The oven is my favorite low maintenance tool for prepping in bulk. No need to hover over the stove monitoring 4 pans on a fickle cook top. Simply preheat to a universal temp (350-400 is my sweet spot), stack in the pans and trays, and let ‘em bake. Be mindful to adjust suggested cooking times based on your temperature.
  • Use. Rinse. Repeat. Resist the urge to let the sink pile up. While it is impressive that you can in fact use all of your kitchen tools in one prep session, cleaning your supplies as you go will prevent counter chaos and promote a positive relationship with meal prep. Plus, it will make snapping that gorgeous after pic so much easier.
  • The Power of Portion. If you’re anything like me (a combination of guaranteed plate-finisher and certified snacker), clearly defined portions are crucial – especially for those M2s and M4s. For these filler meals, I love to bake up single serving muffins and donuts, or grab a whole piece of fruit. If my meal of choice is packaged with multiple servings, I measure out exactly what I need to prevent celery and two tablespoons of peanut butter becoming a jar of peanut butter with a side of celery. (Tip: muffin tins are perfect for portioning – and not just baked goods! Think egg white frittatas, quinoa bites, and even frozen smoothie packs.)

Most importantly, develop your own relationship with meal prep and be flexible with the process. I promise, that snap of the last Tupperware lid will be so very rewarding!

Healthy Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres

Holiday gatherings ’round these parts mean one thing: potluck parties. The promise of endless dips and chips, spreads and breads, and crunchies and munchies poses a fun challenge for the party goer living lean, clean, and green – whip up a deliciously healthy dish that is sure to please all taste buds in the room.

These healthy holiday hors d’oeuvres have it all: easy to prepare ahead, guilt-free ingredients, and down right tasty.

Mini Pepper Hummus Boats (makes 24)

Ingredients:
12 mini bell peppers
16 oz. of your favorite hummus (I used the Hummus Quartet from Trader Joe’s for flavor variety)

hummus

Directions:
Wash and dry mini bell peppers. Cut in half length wise and carefully deseed. Arrange halved mini bell peppers on your serving tray and spoon hummus into the cavities. Voila! When it comes to the hummus, try making your own and experimenting with flavors or toppings.

Cheesy Spinach Quinoa Bites (makes 12)

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa (dry)
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup water
3 bunches chopped spinach
1 cup shredded almond or vegan cheese
2 egg whites (or 1/2 cup liquid egg whites)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Dash of sea salt
Zero sodium seasoning blend to taste
Cooking spray

quinoa

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook quinoa according to instructions on package, adding a dash of sea salt and your favorite zero sodium seasoning blend to taste. (I love to prepare mine in a rice cooker with 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth and 1 cup water). Allow quinoa to cool. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped spinach in batches until completely wilted down. Combine cooled quinoa and spinach in a large bowl. Add almond (or vegan) cheese, dried oregano, and garlic powder. Fold in egg and egg whites and thoroughly mix ingredients with hands. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Form quinoa mixture into 12 evenly sized balls and place in muffin tin, lightly patting down to fill mold. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from tin. If you make these ahead of time, warm in the oven before serving!

Protein Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Balls (makes 12)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
1 tbsp coconut flour
1/2 cup vanilla Perfect Fit protein (if you are using a whey based protein, start with half the portion and add as needed)
1 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

pb-bites

Directions:
Combine ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with hands. Fold in chocolate chips and form mixture into 12 evenly sized balls. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

*recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

Happy noshing!

fitlicity tip: Eat a satisfying meal prior to parties where food is the star of the show. With a full belly, you’re more likely to make healthy choices. And if you’re anything like me and can’t avoid your best friend’s lip-smackingly-good buffalo chicken dip… don’t! Set yourself a portion limit (for me, it was 3 dunks into the ramekin with wheat crackers) and stick to it.