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Margherita Pizza

Tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella! Is there a better culinary combination in all the world? I think not. These three classic ingredients are the foundation of the authentic Neapolitan margherita pizza. While I can’t certify that the crust is truly Italian, it is made with whole wheat and bursting with garlic and herb flavours. Then comes the sauce which is a determining factor in the quality of any pizza. I’ve always used store-bought sauces until I tried this recipe. It is absolutely phenomenal and really easy. I don’t think I’ll ever buy sauce again. Finally the toppings. When it comes to cheese, only fresh mozzarella will do–not the block of mozzarella next to the American singles at the grocery store, but truly fresh cheese. All that’s left is some fresh basil and oregano. I used to add other toppings like olives, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, and onions too. Don’t get me wrong–those are great. However, I’ve found that less is more because too many toppings take away from the scrumptious crust, tangy sauce, and fresh cheese.

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Start by making the sauce. While it is simmering, go ahead and make the crust. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a small bowl, whisk 3/4 cup lukewarm water, yeast, and two teaspoons of sugar. Set aside for about 10 minutes to allow the yeast to proof. It should be getting bubbly when it’s ready. In another small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed. This will make an “egg”.

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In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic powder, pizza seasoning, and dried basil. Then add the yeast mixture, flax seed mixture, and olive oil. Stir until well combined.

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Take half of the dough and place it on a well floured surface. It will still be pretty sticky, so knead in more flour until in becomes a firm dough ball that you can work with.

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Then roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 inch in thickness and place on a pizza stone. Repeat with the remaining dough. If the oven is still preheating, set the crusts on the stove top to warm up. They won’t rise significantly, but it will help a little bit. When the oven is ready, bake for 10-12 minutes.

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While the crusts are in the oven the sauce should be finishing up. This is also a good time to slice the mozzarella, basil, and oregano.

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When the pizza crusts are slightly golden brown on the bottom, pull them out and top with sauce, cheese, and herbs.

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Put the pizzas back in the oven for about 12 more minutes or until the crusts are golden and the cheese is melted. Makes two 12-inch pizzas. Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

3/4 cup lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (not instant)

2 tsp. sugar

1/4 cup lukewarm water

2 Tbs. ground flax seed

2 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (plus some extra for kneading)

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. Penzey’s Roasted Garlic

1 tsp. Penzey’s Frozen Pizza Seasoning

1 tsp. Penzey’s California Sweet Basil

1/4 cup garlic infused olive oil

1 batch homemade pizza sauce

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil

Fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Prepare the sauce and while it is simmering, start the crust.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk 3/4 cup lukewarm water, yeast, and two teaspoons of sugar. Set aside for about 10 minutes to allow the yeast to proof. It should be getting bubbly when it’s ready.
  4. In another small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed. This will make an “egg”.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic powder, pizza seasoning, and dried basil.
  6. Add the yeast mixture, flax seed mixture, and olive oil. Stir until well combined.
  7. Take half of the dough and place it on a well floured surface. It will still be pretty sticky, so knead in more flour until in becomes a firm dough ball that you can work with.
  8. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 inch in thickness and place on a pizza stone. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  9. If the oven is still preheating, set the crusts on the stove top to warm up. They won’t rise significantly, but it will help a little bit. When the oven is ready, bake for 10-12 minutes.
  10. While the crusts are in the oven the sauce should be finishing up. This is also a good time to slice the mozzarella, basil, and oregano.
  11. When the pizza crusts are slightly golden brown on the bottom, pull them out and top with sauce, cheese, and herbs.
  12. Put the pizzas back in the oven for about 12 more minutes or until the crusts are golden and the cheese is melted. Makes two 12-inch pizzas. Enjoy!

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Lemon Dill Salmon

Lately, salmon has been extremely popular and often seen on lists of “super foods”. Salmon is packed with protein and healthy fats, so it’s sure to keep you satisfied. Not only is is really healthy, but it’s also mouthwatering–especially when prepared with lemon and dill and served with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli! I know this recipe may seem a little vague to anyone who likes to follow recipes exactly as written. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little though–I find that to be half the joy of culinary arts! When it comes to baking, precision is more important, but for cooking, feel free to make it your own.:)

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Start by washing approximately four cups of fresh broccoli. Cut or break it into bite sized florets and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

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Once the broccoli is ready to be steamed, wash and slice about 10-15 small red potatoes. Put the pieces in a bowl and toss with your favorite olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. (I used Tuscan Herb infused olive oil from The Olive Sprig.)

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When the oven is ready, put in the potatoes. They will take about 30 minutes to roast. You’ll know they’re done when they start to get a little golden brown around the edges and are tender when poked with fork…or a good old taste test will do the trick.

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Before touching the raw fish, I like to prep the lemon. Start by grating the peel of a small lemon. 1/2 teaspoon of zest is a good guideline, but it doesn’t have to be exact.

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After you acquire the zest, set it aside and juice the rest of the lemon. You may only need 1/2 of the lemon depending on its size, but to give you an idea, you’ll need a few tablespoons to drizzle on the fish.

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Now that the lemon is taken care of, the potatoes are in the oven, and the broccoli is prepped, take four salmon fillets and place them skin down in a separate baking dish.

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Evenly disperse the lemon zest between the four fillets and drizzle each with lemon juice. Then give each fillet a generous sprinkling of dill weed and a touch of kosher salt and black pepper. Place the salmon in the oven beside the potatoes. The salmon should be ready after roughly 15 minutes and/or until it becomes opaque.

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While everything is in the oven, go ahead and steam the broccoli. Add one inch of water and a steamer basket to a saucepan. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli, turn the heat down to medium, and cover the pan. Steam until tender.

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Arrange a salmon fillet on a plate with some broccoli and potatoes. Add some butter to the broccoli and potatoes if desired or squeeze some lemon juice on the salmon. Enjoy!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups broccoli

10-15 small red potatoes

1-2 Tbs. olive oil

4 salmon fillets

Zest and juice of one small lemon

Penzey’s Dill Weed

Kosher salt

Ground black pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Wash about 4 cups of fresh broccoli. Cut or break it into bite sized pieces and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Once the broccoli is ready to be steamed, wash and slice 10-15 small red potatoes. Put the pieces in a bowl and toss with your favorite olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. (I used Tuscan Herb infused olive oil from The Olive Sprig.)
  3. When the oven is ready, put in the potatoes. They will take about 30 minutes to roast. You’ll know they’re done when they start to get a little golden brown around the edges and are tender when poked with fork.
  4. Before touching the raw fish, prep the lemon. Start by grating the peel. 1/2 teaspoon of zest is a good guideline.
  5. Set the zest aside and juice the rest of the lemon. You may only need 1/2 of the lemon depending on its size, but to give you an idea, you’ll need a few tablespoons to drizzle on the fish.
  6. Take four salmon fillets and place them skin down in a separate baking dish.
  7. Evenly disperse the lemon zest between the four fillets and drizzle each with lemon juice. Then give each fillet a generous sprinkling of dill weed and a touch of kosher salt and black pepper.
  8.   Place the salmon in the oven next to the potatoes. They will take approximately 15 minutes to bake. When they are done, they will be opaque.
  9. While everything is in the oven, steam the broccoli. Add one inch of water and a steamer basket to a saucepan. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli, turn the heat down to medium, and cover the pan. Steam until tender.
  10. When everything is done, arrange a salmon fillet on a plate with some broccoli and potatoes. Add some butter to the broccoli and potatoes if desired or squeeze some lemon juice on the salmon. Enjoy!

Quesadilla with Fajita Veggies

Southwestern style food is one of my favorites–especially since there are rarely eggs, nuts, or seafood involved. Quesadillas make for a quick and easy clean meal that’s great if you’re on the go.  The spicy seasonings gives the dish some pizzazz while cilantro offers a fresh flavor. If you’re looking for a super simple, gluten-free, vegetarian, Southwestern entrée, this should hit the spot!

Servings: 2

Ingredients:

2 Trader Joe’s corn tortillas

1/4 cup refried beans

1/2 cup shredded colby-jack cheese

1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

4 mini sweet peppers or 1 bell pepper

1 medium yellow onion

1 Tbs. olive oil

Penzeys Fajita Seasoning

Penzeys Ancho Chili Pepper

Penzeys Medium Hot Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

Set the tortillas, side by side and spread half of the refried beans on each tortilla. I prefer using Trader Joe’s corn tortillas because they only have three ingredients. On one of the tortillas, sprinkle the cheese and half of the cilantro. (I prefer to grate my own cheese because shredded cheese often contains added ingredients to inhibit mold and prevent caking.)Then, season to taste with the fajita seasoning, ancho chili pepper, and crushed red pepper. Of theses three spices, the crushed red pepper is the only one with heat–the other two are quite mild. Place the second tortilla bean-side down on the first. Put the quesadilla in a small frying pan and set aside.

Chop the onion and peppers and set aside. In a medium frying pan, add the olive oil and place over low-medium heat. After allowing the olive oil to warm up slightly, add the onions. Once the onions are beginning to look slightly translucent, add the peppers and remaining cilantro. Season to taste with the fajita seasoning, ancho chili pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir periodically.

On another burner, place the quesadilla on low-medium heat.  When the cheese begins to melt, flip it over and continue cooking for another few minutes. When the tortilla is slightly golden brown and crispy, turn off the burner. The veggies will be done when the onions are translucent and the peppers are no longer crispy.

Tip: Try adding grilled chicken, taco meat, or black olives for some extra pizzazz!

Enjoy with your favorite salsa and garnish with cilantro. Serves two.

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Nut-Free Granola Bars

Recently, I was given a granola bar recipe and asked how one could make it healthier. I decided to take on the challenge and give the recipe a try by making a few substitutions. The result was a scrumptious pan of soft granola bars with less sugar, cholesterol, and fat than the original.

Ingredients:

In a large bowl, mix the oats

3 tbs hot water

1 tbs flax

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup wheat germ

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup applesauce

2 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup dried fruit, nuts, seeds, or chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13 pan.
  2. Heat 3 Tbs. of water in a teapot on the stove.
  3. Whisk 1 Tbs. of ground flax seed with the water and set it off to the side. This will act as an egg to hold the bars together.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, and salt. If you don’t have wheat germ, flax seed or more flour can act as a substitute.
  5. Add the applesauce and vanilla to the “egg”.
  6. Mix the wet and dry ingredients and fold in the dried fruit.
  7. When everything is well combined, put the mixture in the pan and pat it down by hand.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The edges should be turning golden brown.
  9. Allow the bars to cool for a few minutes, but cut them while they are still warm.

 

 

 

Food Allergies: A Blessing in Disguise

Having food allergies has been so crucial to the success of my clean eating. I know it sounds crazy! How could food allergies ever be a good thing? I used to wonder the same thing, but over the years it has become clearer as to how they are sort of a blessing in disguise. Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to outgrow these allergies anytime now. That being said, I’m not at all resentful that I have this severe condition.

The number one benefit to having allergies my whole life is how reading labels is second nature. I was honestly shocked when I found out that a lot of people don’t do this. What sparked clean eating in me was that I was reading ingredients and realized that I didn’t know what most of the ingredients were and the lists were miles long. If label reading wasn’t in my nature, clean eating probably never would have crossed my mind.

Going off of that, another benefit is that I grew up avoiding a lot of junk. Egg and tree nut allergies basically eliminates all bakeries. When I was younger, it was brutal seeing all those yummy pastries I couldn’t eat, but now I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing! People will sympathize and say how bad they feel when I can’t eat this, that, and the other thing, but I genuinely don’t care. What actually bothers me is people doing this–not actually “missing out”.

Okay, so allergies aren’t all bad, but how on Earth does one go about managing such a life threatening condition? Even with some benefits, allergies are dangerous and are not to be taken lightly. Again, the answer comes down to reading those labels. If something doesn’t have a label, it needs to be avoided at all costs! Even if someone says, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t have [insert allergen here] in it!” it is not safe! What non-allergic people often fail to understand is cross contamination and how dangerous is actually is.

In future posts, I’ll delve a little deeper into each of these topics, but I first wanted to give a little overview on my background with food allergies. These days everything is so confusing with both allergies and sensitivities on the rise and lack of understanding from the non-allergic population is both irritating and life threatening. My hope is to clear up any confusion and raise awareness for those who aren’t familiar with allergies while giving some insight on what it is like to live with food allergies and tips on managing them for those who are.

 

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Shopping: The Roots of Clean Eating

Throughout my clean eating journey, I’ve found that the roots lie in grocery shopping. If you shop unclean, you’ll eat unclean. Likewise, if you buy healthy food, that’s what you’ll eat. It sounds simple, but it can still be difficult at times. As a result, I’ve compiled a few savvy shopping tips to help keep you on track.

1. Where to shop

There are three main categories of places to get food. The first and best option is your very own backyard–if you have a garden that is. If at all possible, producing your own food is a cheap, fun way to get local, organic food.

If a garden isn’t a plausible option, farmer’s markets are just as great. Although they can be a little pricey at times, they support local agriculture and fresh, organic food is at your fingertips. If you happen to be near Madison Wisconsin, the Dane County Farmer’s Market is amazing! Tons of local farmers come and line the Capitol Square with fresh, healthy food–much of it being organic.

Of course the most mainstream way to grocery shop is the traditional grocery store. My top recommendation is Trader Joe’s if there’s one in your area. Trader Joe’s is where I find most of my staples such as Greek yogurt, hummus, feta cheese, roasted plantains, dark chocolate, and fresh produce. Not only is there a vast array of clean foods to choose from, but they come at reasonable prices. If Trader Joe’s isn’t an option, don’t worry–clean food can be found at any grocery store!

2. Shop the perimeter

Regardless of where you buy your food, most grocery stores are laid out about the same. On the outside are fresh produce, meat, and dairy while the inside aisles house the sugary cereals, salty snacks, and instant “potatoes”. My recommendation is to stay in the perimeter and only enter the aisles for necessities such as baking supplies, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread etc. By staying on the outside, you’ll be more likely to fill your cart with fruits and veggies, lean meat, and fresh dairy rather than be tempted with junk food.

3. Take a basket

Studies have shown that the bigger the cart, the more one will put in it. If possible, stick with a small cart or even a basket if it’s a short shopping trip. Having less space to put food will help you stick with your list and only buy what you truly need.

4. Don’t shop hungry

I know–it sounds cliche, but regardless, it’s so true! In middle school and high school, I worked at my town’s grocery store for nearly four years. I cannot even tell you the number of times people blamed their $300 order of “food” on being hungry. They all “came in for only a few things” and several hundred dollars later they were at my checkout lane. Moral of the story is to have a quick snack before shopping and follow a list.

5. Read the ingredients

Growing up with food allergies, I’ve always had to read the ingredients on everything I eat. Allergies or not though, it’s a good idea for everyone to be informed about what they eat. Try to stick with foods with no more than 10-15 ingredients if possible–the less the better. Also be wary about ingredients you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce.

Hopefully these five quick tips help you in your clean eating journey. Feel free to comment below with your own suggestions and check back periodically for new ideas. Happy shopping!

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Just because fall is over and I find myself in the midst of another classic Wisconsin winter is no excuse to take a break from my signature Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. Like many of my favorite baked goods, I’ve adapted a recipe from Bunner’s, a fabulous vegan and gluten-free bakery in downtown Toronto. I love their recipes because they are all egg and nut free. However, being that I’m far from vegan and not gluten-free, I’ve taken it upon myself to make some substitutions and personalize the recipe. While it may sound like this recipe is another unclean pastry, it is actually whole wheat, cholesterol free, and essentially fat free (aside from the chocolate).

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Start by preheating the oven to 425°F and line a muffin pan with 10-12 muffin liners, depending on how big you want to make the muffins.

Add the whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Mix until all the ingredients are combined. Feel free to experiment with the amounts of cinnamon and ginger based on your personal preference. If ginger is too strong in general, a good a substitute is Penzey’s Pumpkin Pie Spice.

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In a smaller bowl, add the pumpkin, milk, yogurt, and molasses. Mix until combined. If it’s January and your molasses is too cold to pour (or you just need a substitute), pure maple syrup is a milder, delicious option.

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Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Lightly mix everything, being sure not to over mix! A few clumps of flour here and there is totally fine. Then fold in the chocolate chips.

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Spoon it into the muffin cups. In order to get bigger, puffier muffins, fill the cups to the top. If you prefer smaller muffins and more of them, only fill the tins 2/3 full.

When the oven is preheated, place them in the middle of the top rack. Bake for about six minutes. When you see them rising, decrease the temperature to 400°F and bake for another 8-10 minutes.

If you use silicone muffin liners, you may need to bake them longer. When a toothpick comes out clean (with the exception of chocolate), they are done. Let them cool for about 15 minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack.

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Enjoy with your favourite tea, hot chocolate, or apple cider!

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tbsp. Penzeys Cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground Penzeys Ginger or 1 tbsp. Penzeys Pumpkin Pie Spice

1/4 tsp. Penzeys nutmeg

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup pumpkin purée

1/2 cup skim milk

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tbsp. blackstrap molasses or pure maple syrup

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° and line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix all of the wet ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.
  5. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  6. Evenly distribute the batter between the muffin cups. If you want bigger muffins, distribute the batter between 10 cups rather than 12.
  7. Bake for 6-7 minutes at 425°.
  8. When the muffins start rising, turn the oven down to 400° and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
  9. Test them with a toothpick to see when they are done.
  10. Let them cool for about 15 minutes before placing them on a cooling rack.

No-Bake Energy Bites

Lately my life has been pretty crazy, so I find myself eating on the go all the time. However, I won’t take my busy lifestyle as an excuse to eat junk. As a result, I’ve altered a no-bake energy bite recipe from another blog to fit my personal taste. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly a culinary expert, as assembling these scrumptious snacks is extremely easy!

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Start by mixing all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl with a spatula or spoon. When everything is well combined, let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to make the assembly easier.

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Once the mixture is chilled, take a small handful and begin shaping it into a ball.(Don’t be afraid to get a little sticky!)

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Keep rolling until the “batter” is gone–there will probably be about 20-25. The bites can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. I prefer having them frozen, but they will be just fine in the fridge if you want them softer.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1 Tbs. chia seeds

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. natural peanut butter

1 1/2 tbsp. raw honey

2 tbsp. pure maple syrup

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips

2 tbsp. raisins or other dried fruit

Steps:

  1. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl.
  2. Let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to make rolling them a little easier.
  3. Once they are chilled, roll them into balls about an inch in diameter.
  4. Store them in the refrigerator or the freezer depending on if you want them soft and chewy or more firm.

 

The Ideal Salad

Is your go-to salad bogged down with thick ranch, fatty bacon bits, and unnaturally orange croutons? Or maybe you’re just tired of the same old boring salad. Whatever your dilemma may be, I have just the solution!

Each salad begins with a base. It could be romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, or a mix of greens. Try to avoid iceberg lettuce when possible though–it has very few nutrients.

The next layer consists of any seasonal veggies you have on hand. Some of my favourites are cherry tomatoes, sweet pepper slices, and cucumber. I use whatever I have in the fridge or the garden, so no salad is exactly the same.

After all the vegetables–or technically fruits– comes protein. Typically, I use tuna and garbanzo beans, but grilled chicken breast is also scrumptious! If you’re not allergic, you could even add some hard boiled egg slices or nuts.

Now it’s time for fruit. Fresh berries are my top choice, but sliced apple or pear works well too. When buying produce, it’s important to go with organic and locally sourced items. However, that can be expensive, especially in the winter months. If organic, local produce isn’t plausible for you, that’s okay–it’s better to have an inorganic apple from 700 miles away than no apple at all.

To top off my salad, I sprinkle some crumbled feta cheese on top. (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Herb is my favourite!) It adds one more boost of protein with a little pizazz. For dressing, I use olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They come in lots of flavours too, so you’ll never run out of healthy options. For instance, olive oil can be infused with garlic, basil, or blood orange and balsamic vinegar comes in maple, tangerine, Neapolitan herb, and cranberry pear.

By using this formula, you can incorporate all the food groups into one delicious, on-the-go meal. These salads not only taste better than what you would find at the average salad bar, but they are packed with fresh nutrients leaving you feeling satisfied all day. If you’re looking for a salad that’s slightly more exotic than the standard green salad, try this sweet potato quinoa salad or this avocado, garbanzo, and feta salad.

 

Clean Eating

Clean eating isn’t just a health kick or a random phase. It’s a lifestyle. It doesn’t happen overnight either. I first started  “clean eating” about a year or two ago. Since I’ve lived with food allergies my entire life, I’ve always had to read labels. It wasn’t until recently though that I realized I had no idea what the majority of the ingredients in my food actually were!

I started out slowly by trying to eliminate high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, palm oil, foods with more than 15 ingredients, and anything deep fried. I did my best, but I made exceptions all the time. Gradually, I started adding more “rules” and got better at following them. I still make exceptions and have off days, but I do the best I can and try to make improvements to my lifestyle each and every day. Below is a list of what I personally deem unclean and clean.

Unclean:

  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Palm oil (environmental reasons)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Fried foods
  • Artificial colours and flavours
  • Preservatives
  • Cellulose
  • Food with more than 10-15 ingredients
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Soda
  • Juice

Clean:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Lean meats
  • Real cheese
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Fish
  • Greek yogurt
  • Low fat/ skim milk
  • Hummus
  • Seeds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Homemade goodies from scratch 🙂

Eggs, tree nuts, and shellfish are also clean and nutritious, but I leave them off my list due to my allergies. I also want to note that these lists are just suggestions of what I try to adhere to. (I certainly don’t do it perfectly.) Hopefully you find these guidelines helpful!

 

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