Summer Picnic Essentials

Summer Picnic Essentials

Since this past weekend was Memorial Day, that means the summer barbeques and picnics have officially begun!  Praise the Lord our 3 months of warm weather is FINALLY here!!

Summer is my favorite time of the year for many reasons, but one of the things I most look forward to is parties with friends at the beach.  While this is super fun and an awesome time, it can be a little taxing on some of us with our health goals. Having pasta salad and hot dogs is great in May and then mid- July comes and you’ve already eaten 10 hot dogs over the recommended ‘1 hot dog a year’ limit, and it feels that if you just look at another pasta salad your shorts may bust open.  Or at least this is how I feel…

 

To keep myself on track with my healthy lifestyle during the summer party sessions, I make sure I always come prepared.  I come with healthy food options. I offer to bring foods and side dishes to share so that I know that I will always have healthy choices.  

 

Making these dishes delicious is a must so that you don’t feel deprived and everyone loves it and wants you to bring your “dish” to every summer party. Win/win. 😉

 

I am going to share with you my Summer Picnic Essentials, four things that are perfect for picnics, dishes that everyone loves and will be begging you to bring again and again.

 

A Salad the people can’t refuse.  

mediterranean-chickpea-salad-fb-ig-1.jpgI really appreciate a good salad.  Mostly because salads could really suck if you don’t put love and care into it.   My best friend Rachel and My Auntie Carol make the BEST salads, and if they make it, everyone’s eating it, even the guys.  They were my inspiration for this picnic essential because I have watched as people swarm around the salads that they bring to parties.  These are always healthy and delicious leaving you completely satisfied.

This weekend, for example, My Aunt Carol made a salad that we were all raving about.  It was a chopped salad with romaine lettuce, raw zucchini, blueberries, sliced radishes for a crunch, edamame and a poppyseed dressing… It was unbelievable.  We ate it on Saturday and couldn’t stop talking about it until, well, today. I am still talking about it and decided to base a blog around it.  It was that good.  Never underestimate the power of a good salad.

Some killer Kabobs

barbecue-barbeque-blur-604660I have always loved kabobs with chicken or shrimp.  Partially because it’s a fun thing to say, the pronunciation of ka-BOBs automatically puts a smile on my face, but it’s also fun and easy to eat.  When prepping for picnics I try to think about what would be the easiest dish to bring. A dish that’s either totally prepared or would be easy to cook once I get there with the least amount of prep and clean up needed.  Kabobs are a great option. All you have to do is defrost the shrimp, and cut up the chicken. Throw it in a bag of olive oil and an Italian seasonings packet or a teriyaki sauce, and mix it all up so it’s entirely covered and coated in the sauce.  Stick the shrimp or chicken on the skewer then pack it all up.  Grill it once you get there. Easy peasy, and a great way to get the protein in.

 

 

Guac and Veggies

guacamole-foto-heroe-1024x723-500x500Guacamole and cut up veggies is the best appetizer to have at any party all year long, but especially during the summer.  For starter’s, almost everyone I know loves guacamole. At any party, once the guacamole comes out people swarm around it, and you better run over too or it’ll be gone before you get there.  It’s a serious concern at every party we have.

You can serve it with tortilla chips or veggies.  Nothing really beats a tortilla with guac on it, but a cut up carrot or celery stick is still pretty freaking great and a healthier option.  Even if you bring both cut up veggies and chips, just decide to eat mostly the veggies with a just couple of chips. #balance. It’s all about balance and making small healthier choices.  

 

Cut up watermelon

blur-close-up-delicious-1070858.jpgNothing screams summer more than biting into a juicy ripe watermelon and having the sweet red goodness streaming down the sides of your mouth.  Having watermelon at a picnic is the ultimate summer essential. It’s the perfect dessert that leaves you hydrated, full and satisfied. I prefer to have watermelon up cut into chunks, but some prefer the quarter moon cuts.  Whatever tickles your fancy, or is easier for you, people will love it either way. It’s the great healthy dessert option for you to have over the plethora of sugar-filled store-bought baked goods that everyone else will be bringing.

 

Coming off a four day weekend, with three beach days filled with friends and family, partying and picnicking, I would definitely say that these are the four summer picnic essentials that will help you to continue choosing healthy options and staying on track with your healthy lifestyle.

 

I hope you enjoy and this helps you make healthy choices all summer long, but more than that, I hope you enjoy every minute of this summer time season.  It only comes once a year, so get outside, feel that glorious vitamin D seeping into your skin, play, laugh and let the good times roll.

 

Happy Summertime. =]

 

 

My Top 10 Trader Joe’s Treasures

My Top 10 Trader Joe’s Treasures

If you follow me on social media, you would know that Trader Joe’s is totally my jam.  For those of you who are not familiar, Trader Joe’s is a neighborhood grocery store. That’s where I do all of my grocery shopping every week and I freaking love it. I am lucky enough to have one in two of the neighboring towns and I take FULL advantage of it.

 

It’s my favorite place ever because it’s so fun inside, they always have tons of beautiful flowers, your typical grocery store staples, AND “fun” food.  Fun food is something I totally made up, but it will make sense soon.

 

My definition of fun food is healthy food that has a fun twist!  For example chips, queso, pizza, and candy are all junk food.  They are fun to eat but they are junk and do nothing for us. Trader Joe’s has created different “fun” food that is similar to junk food except that it is actually good for you and you don’t have to feel bad after you eat it!

 

I am always on the hunt for the next fun food that I will find at Trader Joe’s, there is ALWAYS something new.  It makes shopping there even more enjoyable because it’s like you are on a treasure hunt every time you’re there, trying to find your next piece of gold.  

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The best part is that the fun food they have is not only good for you, it actually tastes good too.  In life, I am generally always on the hunt for the “fun” food and am more than often disappointed. The “fun” food I find typically tastes terrible or they put a million bad ingredients and chemicals into it making it not even worth trying.  For the most part, that doesn’t happen at Trader Joe’s. The food there is fun and different tastes great and is good for you.

 

Today I wanted to share with you my Top 10 Trader Joe Treasures.  These are ten of the gems that I have found during my shopping escapades at Traders that I truly can’t get enough of and I need the whole world to know my love for them!!

 

So here they are…

 

1.Red Lentil Pasta  

  • Before I found this pasta, I pretty much swore off pasta at that point in my life.  It’s red-lentils-pasta.jpgsad and my Italian grandma is probably rolling in her grave right now, but it’s true.  I try to eat very little to no gluten products, and normal pasta and even wheat pasta just didn’t give me the return I wanted after eating it.  Yes, I am thinking of the ROI I get from what I eat, I take my health very seriously. So when I found this pasta and saw that its only ingredients were red lentils and water, I had tears of joy in my eyes which was immediately followed by a happy dance in the middle of the aisle. Because….. PASTA!!!! I COULD EAT IT AGAIN and NOT feel guilty!!! Best.Find.Ever.
  • I now buy 1 or 2 bags every single week. #sickomode

 

  1. Cauliflower Pizza Crust
  • This find was another game changer for me.  Pizza was another food that I just didn’t eat anymore.  I love pizza with my whole heart and soul, but I don’t love how it makes me feel after.  I have tried gluten free crust but very few places make a cauliflower-pizza.jpggood one, so I just didn’t eat it.  Or I should say I drastically cut down how often and how much I ate it. I can still remember the day I found their Cauliflower pizza crust.  I read the ingredients and it wasn’t perfect but still pretty freaking good.  Then, I looked around me to see who was looking, like a total sketchy criminal, and then I quickly put three crusts into my carriage and then abruptly walked away.  I truly felt like I was stealing because I couldn’t believe that it existed and I couldn’t get my hands on enough of them.
  • This is now a weekly purchase, and what my sister and I base our Friday nights around. Pizza Friday is back.

 

  1.   Almond Cheese
  • I can’t talk about pasta and pizza without cheese.  Over the past two years, I have come to the sad, sad realization that I can’t eat cheese or really any dairy products. almond cheese Two years ago I like suddenly realized I had as much acene as a high schooler and wanted to clear up my face for my wedding.  My sister read an article about the correlation between dairy and breakouts, so I tried to cut it out to see if it would help and it did, drastically.  Since then I really haven’t eaten much dairy, which is the most depressing thing ever, especially when making pizza. I have tried vegan cheeses and other weird stuff I have found and it tasted like garbage.  Then, I found the almond cheese and felt like my prayers were answered! Now I must preface that’s still not normal cheese, it doesn’t get gooey and oily deliciousness but it does melt, taste goods and is perfect for pizza.
  • This is also a weekly purchase for me.

 

  1. Cauliflower Gnocchi
  • This was another fun find because it’s also in the pasta group and gnocchi was another delicious pasta that I wasn’t eating.  I was super skeptical when I first cauliflowe gnocchifound this one because I just didn’t understand how they could make gnocchi out of cauliflower, granted there is flour in this find, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around it so I totally thought it would taste terrible.  I bought it regardless but held off trying it. When I finally did I was kicking myself for waiting so long. It tastes GREAT! You just need to make sure that you follow the instructions on how to cook the gnocchi because you saute it frozen which is much different than normal gnocchi. Besides that, it tastes amazing with sauteed onions and mushrooms.
  • This one is perfect for a dinner date night at home. =] I always have a bag in my freezer but save it for special occasions.

 

  1. Eggplant Garlic Dip and Red Pepper Dips
  • Growing up, Happy Hours on Friday’s were a religious ritual.  My aunts and my mom would sit at the counter talk about the week while eating appetizer/picky pepper dipfoods and drinking wine. It’s my most favorite memory growing up.  Because of that tradition, anytime I see friends we ALWAYS do some kind of happy hour spread. Sometimes it’s a pathetic attempt, and other times we get fancy. Trader Joe’s Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip is perfect for both types of Happy Hour!  To start it is FREAKING DELICIOUS and you can eat it with crackers and cheese or, cut up bell peppers or cucumbers to dip into it. One time I even put it on a sandwich as like a condiment spread, and my goodness that was delicious.
  • I don’t buy this every week, but I almost always buy it if I am going to or hosting a happy hour.

 

  1. Almond Jalapeno Lime Dip/Spread
  • Since we are on the topic of dips and spreads I can’t NOT talk about my most recent find that I can’t get enough of… THE Almond Lime Jalapeno dip.  As I mentioned, I almond dipam always on the lookout for fun foods at Traders and was near the hummus section hoping that I would find some kind of non-hummus hummus dip.  I knew there were edamame dips and other bean dips in the world so I wanted to see if they had anything similar there. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for but I was NOT disappointed.  This dip is like the combination of hummus flavored jalapeno dip with the consistency of the alloete brand cheese. I can’t get enough of it right now. I haven’t played around with the different ways to eat it yet, but for now, I am FULLY satisfied just eating it on a cracker.  I have done that every day since I have bought it.
  • This will be a staple in my home.

 

  1. Date Bites
  • I am a total sucker for Lara Bars and dried fruit.  These date bites are like mini Lara date and nut bitesbars. They are individually wrapped in little small squares and are a perfect snack before a workout class or if you need a little something to hold you over until your next meal.   I used to make these protein ball things that I would eat before a workout, but when I found these they were essentially the same thing and lasted longer and I’ve been completely addicted since! They come in three different flavors and I have tried and like them all. My favorite is the citrus flavored one.
  • This is a staple that is ALWAYS in my home, that I eat before every morning workout class.

 

  1. Oat Bran Vegan Blueberry Muffins
  • Now I am not much of a baked good person.  I pretty much never ever buy them but that’s mostly because I love them so much I won’t be able to stop myself from oat-bran-muffins.jpgeating all of it.  Growing up my mom would always buy my dad muffins from Stop n Shop as a Saturday morning treat. She would always buy bran muffins because that was his favorite and because they were always around we also ended up loving bran muffins.  So one day when I was on my treasure hunt in Trader Joes I found these Vegan Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins. My first thought was, “no way these actually taste good, that would be too good to be true”.  I bought them anyway because I had friends staying over that night and my GOODNESS they were amazing.  These muffins are nice and dense and have the perfect berry ratio.
  • This would not be an every week purchase for me, but definitely, a once in a while treat.

 

9.Chocolate Coconut Almonds

  • I couldn’t write this blog without slipping in at least ONE chocolate treat. =]  If you chocolate coconut almondshave been to Trader Joe’s you will know that they have an incredibly tempting sweet’s and treats section.  I have also purchased a number of those “just to try” and then accidentally ate the whole thing in a weekend, so I try to steer clear.  But when I do splurge, I get the Chocolate Coconut covered almonds. They taste like a mini Girl Scout Samoa Cookie, and they are completely addicting.
  • As long as you like coconut you absolutely need to try these the next time you go.

 

  1. Everything but the Bagel Seasoning
  • This isn’t necessarily a food, but I promise you this seasoning makes everything IMG_7302taste better.  I have friends that actually have this in their purse at all times, just in case there is an opportunity to use it, and I totally get it!  It literally makes anything you eat taste like an Everything Bagel, and I don’t know anyone who DOESN’T love an everything bagel. Throw it on roasted veggies, chicken or steak, avocado toast, eggs, the options are endless.  
  • When it comes to cooking healthy, half the battle is trying to make regular bland vegetables taste delicious.  This seasoning is a solution to that. Because of that, I have this seasoning with me at all times, one in my house and one at my desk at work.

 

Bonus Buy: The Flowers

  • Walking into Trader Joe’s you are always immediately greeted by their beautiful display of flowers.  There is no better welcome. Trader always has flower arrangements and different flowers for each season.  Some you can even mix and match to get Pinterest worthy bouquets.flowers.jpg 
  • I always buy flowers because they make me really really happy.  To me, they are like a ray of sunshine in my home.
  • Besides the fact that I just love them, one of the main reasons I love buying flowers from Trader Joe’s specifically is because they are so affordable, have a great selection and once they can no longer sell them, they donate them locally to different hospitals and senior centers.  
    • One of the workers at Trader’s told me that they always donate everything that they can’t sell while most grocery stores just throw them out.  If that doesn’t melt your heart and make you believe that Trader Joe’s is the best place around, I don’t know what will.

 

So there you have it!  My Top 10 Trader Joe’s Treasures and my Bonus Buy.  Next time you go to Trader Joe’s try to have a little fun with it.  Take your time and look around to see what treasures you can find. 😉

Until next time, happy treasure hunting!
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P.s. Keep your eyes out for some fun recipes I have made from these fun foods!

My Top 3 Healthy Work Habits

My Top 3 Healthy Work Habits

Health and Wellness is extremely important to me. It has been and always will be a top priority for me in my life.

At home I have (almost) perfected my healthy habits and created a healthy environment to live in. I clean my house weekly, workout daily, have a Britta pitcher always filled with water, buy lots of fruits and vegetables, keep my pre-packaged food to a minimum and do not buy things I don’t want myself to eat, not even for a “treat”.

Your environment and habits play a huge part in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Believe it or not, it’s easy to make those changes at home. The question here today is how do we keep that up at work?  The place that many of us spend more time than our actual homes. A place that you don’t own or have total control over.

When I first started working, I was at an accounting firm and people bought lunch often. There were candy bowls everywhere for a midday “pick-me-up” and everyone worked long hours.

I am sure to many of you this sounds very familiar.

At first I thought nothing of it and fell right in line, following the habits and ways of others. I bought lunch at least once a week, would go for random sugary coffee breaks, took an M&M break every day at 3 pm, and sat on my a** all damn day.

I was still following my home life healthy habits of waking up at 5 am every morning to make sure I got my workout in before lunch and was eating (mostly) healthy foods. And yet, after a couple months on the job I started to notice that I was actually gaining weight, was always tired, and couldn’t keep a clear mind all day. At first I thought this is just what working in the real world felt like, but after reading different articles about health and habits I realized I was wrong.

At that point I started making small changes like no longer eating the 3 pm candy and no more fun sugary coffee breaks. On top of that, I began researching the topic of healthy habits at work and eventually started implementing what I was learning to my daily work habits.  I found that those changes had a huge impact on my energy levels and my production at work.

 

Today, I have 3 core healthy habits that I always follow to ensure I stay on track with my health goals and increase my productivity and energy levels at work.

 

 

  1. Track your water intake

bottle-drink-glass-113734.jpgThis is so important for many different reasons. For starters, being fully hydrated makes you more awake and alert than coffee actually does. We are all roughly 60% made up of water and we need sufficient water intake to ensure our body performs at its best.  A lack of water leads to fatigue, a foggy mind, and hunger.  Yes, I said hunger. Believe it or not most of the time when we think we are hungry we are actually just thirsty. Drinking enough water will actually make you less hungry and help you realize when your body actually does NEED food. As a test drink a bottle or glass of water and see how hungry you are after.

How to do this?

  • We should be drinking at LEAST half our weight in ounces of water each day.  If you weigh 120 pounds then you should be drinking at least 60 ounces of water.  Make sure you always have a water bottle on you (preferably a reusable one so we can save our planet!) and refill it as many times as needed.

 

  • You can even make a mental note of how much you should be drinking throughout the day.  
    • For example, I always try to drink a full water bottle before I get to work, a full bottle after my coffee is gone, two more full bottles before 5 pm, and then 1 or 2 at night.  Having that mental map of when and how much I should be drinking keeps me on track and helps me get back on track when I am behind. I would be lying to you if I said that I do this perfectly every day because I absolutely do NOT. But, it does put me in a way better place than if I didn’t try at all.

 

  1. Pack and prep ALL of your snacks and meals

When I leave the house for work in the morning I’m typically out the door at 6:30 am and most nights I won’t return until 8 or 9. In that time frame, I eat my breakfast, two lunches, and dinner. I never skip a meal, so when I leave at 6:30 am I have all of my food in tow.

Prepping and packing those meals ahead of time ensures that I am eating healthy foods, that I am eating the correct portion size of foods, and that I don’t snack on anything else in the office.

When you eat out at lunch or grab those little snacks / treats in the break room you can close-up-colors-container-1640767.jpgeasily lose track of how many calories you are actually consuming in a day and are likely eating things your body really doesn’t NEED. Even though we all know we don’t NEED M&M’s, if you are drinking enough water to stay hydrated and have your healthy snacks already packed you are less likely to go for that mid-afternoon treat.

Another thing to consider is that most days we are just sitting at our desks all day long. You really aren’t burning through THAT many calories so you don’t NEED that many calories or snacks to get you through the day. If you have a desk job it’s not like your lifting anything or moving much at all. What your body NEEDS is nutrient dense foods to keep your body and mind moving and grooving all day long without any roadblocks or detours.

The How:

If you need help on how to meal prep or what to meal prep check out my previous blogs “Meal Prepping 101” and “Meal Prepping 102: What’s inside?” for ideas.

 

  1. Move more and take mindful breaks

adult-autumn-casual-663437.jpgI can’t stress the importance of moving more enough.  Think about the daily pattern of a typical 9-5 job. You are sitting on the drive to work, siting once you get to work for 8 hours or so, sit on the drive home, sit for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and sit on the couch at night.  Maybe you have an hour or 30 minutes of movement for some kind of exercise.

Our bodies are designed to move.  And yet, it’s so easy to forget the importance of that. We get lost in our work and caught up in the idea that we “don’t have enough time” to take a break. I am here to tell you that is all simply not true. It will actually do the opposite. Taking a break to move will increase your productivity later. Trust me, give it a shot, you might be surprised.

There are studies that demonstrate the average brain loses concentration in 52 minutes and taking a break increases your productivity by 30%.  Research says that we should take a 1-7 minute break every 25, 52 or 90 minutes.    Yes, it may take a few minutes to pick everything back up, but you will come back recharged and ready, producing better results than you did before.

Now how will you put this into play?

  • What you can do is set an alarm on your phone for an hour and then take a quick break where you are physically moving. It really doesn’t matter where or for how long, just that you are actually doing it.

 

  • Walks during your lunch breaks is another great opportunity to move your body.
    • This is something I put into practice two years ago and I’ve become totally addicted. Every day at lunch when the weather permits, I will walk for 30 minutes to an hour outside. I’m to the point where I will make sure I get to work earlier and use my time more wisely so I can get this break in.

 

Those breaks do so much for me mentally and physically. It gets my body moving, puts me out in nature, and really forces me to shut off my brain and emotionally detach myself from my work for a minute.

I am the type that can get very emotionally attached to work and am always battling the fear that I am not doing enough. In some ways this can be a very painful trait and a thought process that is hard to get out of.  When I physically remove myself from a situation, taking time away and then coming back, it clears my mind and makes me less emotionally charged so I can look at a situation more objectively. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing a little nature after hours in an office?

It truly is a gift that I give to myself.

 

Which brings us to a perfect place to end this blog.  Taking care of your physical and mental self, inside and outside of work is one of the best a gifts you can give yourself. But, it takes work.

Prepping your meals and snacks takes time. Constantly reminding yourself to drink water throughout the day takes dedication. Allowing yourself to take a break and move your body seems like a lot of extra work, but I promise you it will all pay off.  You will feel better and you will produce better work.

These are all changes that YOU have to DECIDE to do and then COMMIT to doing it. They seem hard at first and you may be wondering how you can actually put these habits into practice. But remember, everything seems hard at first until it’s not.

These habits have increased my productivity, my overall health and my peace of mind in the workplace.   Apply these three healthy habits to your day and I promise you, you won’t be sorry. =]

 

The Marie Kondo Movement – Sparking Joy

The Marie Kondo Movement – Sparking Joy

Good Morning!

I am not sure why, but how fast a picture, video or movement can go viral and spread like wildfire, STILL amazes me.

About two weeks ago my mom started telling me about this cute little woman, Marie Kondo, and her organizing and decluttering lessons.  My mom often gets into these kicks of learning something new and then completely masters it overnight, like she will literally stay up all night doing it… and then talks about it, a lot. I do the exact same thing and typically follow everything she does in life, because she is the actual GOAT.  

Marie Kondo was no different than so many other of my mom’s new obsessions. Since she talked about it so much, I had to do some digging on my own.  Who is this little woman and what is she all about?  Oddly enough I came to find that she is the author of a book that had been on my Audible wish list for over a year, “The Magic Art of Tidying Up”.  She also has a Netflix show featuring different families she has helped with her lifestyle advice and methods. Continue reading “The Marie Kondo Movement – Sparking Joy”

Meal Prep 102: What’s inside

Meal Prep 102: What’s inside

Hey guys! I decided to write this blog per my sister’s request. After reading my last post, she really liked it, but wanted to know more. You see, my sister and I are always swapping recipes and meals to try in the upcoming weeks. My sister and brother are some of the best cooks I have encountered, next to my mom, (even though they don’t realize it). If either of them suggests a recipe, you can bet I’m trying it the next week!

In my last blog, I mentioned that when starting to live a healthier lifestyle, it’s 80% your diet and 20% exercise. I want to state this again here because it’s so important for us all to really wrap our heads around this idea: Continue reading “Meal Prep 102: What’s inside”

Meal Prepping 101

Meal Prepping 101

Meal prepping is hard. Well that’s a lie, it’s not really hard, it’s just time-consuming. VERY time-consuming … Around this time of year a lot of people are putting their New Year’s resolutions to work, starting to eat healthier, and maybe attempting this whole meal prep idea. To those of you who are new to meal prepping: it’s preparing a good chunk of your foods ahead of time so that you have healthy snacks ready to grab and go when you’re on the run. Or if you’re like me, saving yourself from coming in the door at the end of the day, famished, and ready to eat everything in sight. Meal prepping helps me go for the healthy prepared salad or fruit, rather than the chips and salsa. Those small adjustments can make a big impact on your health journey!

Meal prepping helps me a lot, BUT I want to be honest about how I feel about it, because it’s a true LOVE-HATE relationship.    Continue reading “Meal Prepping 101”