February 28, 2009

My Love for Weight Watchers

Let me just say, I adore Weight Watchers. I've been doing the program on and off since I was a senior in high school.

I remember at the time, the mothers of three who were looking to loose baby weight, or others who had packed on 50 pounds over the course of 20 years of marriage, were looking at me - a teenage girl weighing in at a whopping 134 - like I had no business being there. I had become increasingly self conscious of the few pounds I had gained since my junior year of high school though, and in typical over-dramatic, high-school-girl fashion, I had begged my mom to let me join a silly "quick fix" fad diet program to help shed the pounds. My mom said "enough" and insisted that if I really wanted to lose weight, I was going to do it the right way by learning how to monitor calories with real food, rather than following a ridiculous plan that in no way would help prepare me for eating right in the real world.

I joined Weight Watchers, and went to my meetings each week (probably still in my cheerleading uniform no less) and ended up losing about 7 pounds if I recall. I've gone back on the program informally several times ever since, skipping the meetings and weekly fees, but still using the same points calculator and food guide booklet that I got about 7 years ago.

By now, I'm freakishly good at estimating how many points are in something just by glancing at the nutrition facts, and still use my calculator to get familiar with how much the things I like to eat can be factored into my day-to-day calorie intake.

I would say my weight has fluctuated within 10-15 pounds ever since my senior year of high school (eeek, college...), but I'm now back to my slimmer weight and I think I'm finally getting the hang of how to follow the basics of Weight Watchers and incorporate enough of the things I love to do and cook to keep me staying with it.

This blog is a tribute to helping others stay encouraged, and sharing the recipes I find that have helped me.

Healthy Baking From a Box

I wanted to share a brand of muffin mix that I find particularly tasty, in case some of you are not feeling up for all the fuss of homemade.

For many dieters, Krusteaz brand of fat-free muffin mixes is no secret. I personally enjoy the cranberry orange muffin mix, but the blueberry are good too! And when all you have to do is add some water to the mix, stir, and pour into a pan - you could not find an easier way to bake.

This makes 11 muffins, which is kind of random, but I would go ahead and skip filling the last cup in the pan, since these guys are pretty small as is.

As small as they are though, each one is only 2 weight watchers points! For breakfast, I usually toast two in a toaster oven, and put a little bit of low calorie butter spray on them to add that salty butter taste that is so delicious on a warm muffin. They're surprisingly satisfying!

(Don't you know some guy is finding this post and is totally grossed out at the idea of fat-free muffins and low calorie butter spray, but I promise I've seen two marines eat these muffins - they're not too shabby!)

Image from the Krusteaz.com...

February 26, 2009

Seriously Healthy Banana Muffins

To my ladies at work: I apologize, I intended to bring in a loaf of this bread for everyone to enjoy at the office. But, I just liked it too much, and decided to pretty much keep it all for myself!

I had been craving pumpkin bread on a whim before Christmas and true to form, wanted to find a way to squeeze as many calories out of a recipe as possible. I started out by googling a low-fat version just to see what tricks they had for making the bread healthier. After remembering some good tricks like substituting applesauce for oil, and after some experimenting with sugar/splenda blends and light butter, I ended up with my own little recipe which turned out divine. So this time when I wanted to make some banana bread to take advantage of some ripe bananas I had, I decided to do the same - making these same tweaks to this recipe I found on RecipeZaar.

So enjoy this version below based on some of my suggestions and the great ideas I found in the comments to the recipe on Recipe Zaar. Also, this supposedly makes two loaves, but they were awfully skimpy when I did it, so I think I would take the advice found in the comments to make muffins instead (plus this makes it easier to control portions!)

  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blend of regular sugar and splenda, equal parts.
  • 2 tablespoons light butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Some things to keep in mind...
  • Make it healthier by making substitues for the flour... some people substitute half a cup of wheat flour, or half a cup of oats, or both - oats would be good in the muffin version!
  • Not every "light butter" is the same... Land O Lakes light butter is 1/3 of the fat and calories of regular - and I can never taste a difference! I picked up a package of another brand of "light" butter that was only half the fat - Land O Lakes definitely won that contest!
  • Always add salt... I was surprised when this recipe didn't call for salt at first, so I made sure to add about 1/4 of a teaspoon. salt really brings out the flavors in food, sweet or savory.
  • This recipe is very sweet... Some of the comments mentioned cutting down the sugar blend to about 3/4 of a cup. This makes a lot of sense especially if you're using sweetened applesauce for the butter substitute. (I personally bought sweetened because I knew if I had to buy a whole jar, I would want to eat sweetened applesauce as a snack.) Not to mention that ripened bananas are deliciously sweet on their own!
There's really nothing stopping you from just dumping all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing it all together, and then pouring it in the greased pans to bake, but I really think following these directions will make the end product just a little better. So here you go:
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Cream sugar with butter (this helps to get all the butter blended smoothly!)
  3. Add egg, and beat lightly to get the mixture to fluff up a little.
  4. Add the 4 bananas, already smashed up in a separate bowl (a pastry fork works really well for mashing and mixing the bananas if you don't feel like busting out the mixer)
  5. Add the vanilla, and applesauce.
  6. Then add all the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.
  7. Pour mixture into pan sprayed with cooking spray so they don't stick! (Either 2 loaf pans, or a 12-cup muffin pan)
  8. Bake for around 50 minutes, probably less for muffins, but keep an eye on them either way. You'll be able to tell it's all ready when the color is good and golden brown, or when a knife comes out clean from the center.
  9. Remove muffins or loaves from pans to cool on a rack.
Because this has artificial sweetener in it, I can just tell you that it taste's so much better - like many things you bake - once it's cooled for a bit, so if you can resist, wait to taste for about 10-15 minutes!

When I made this recipe with the 2 Tbsp of butter, and full 1.5 cup of flour and 1 cup splenda / sugar blend, the whole batch had 30 weight watchers points - making 1/5 of each loaf about 3 points. I'm going to experiment soon with the muffins, using less butter and substituting 1/2 cup of oats for 1/2 cup of the flour - which I think can make these bad boys about 2 points per muffin!

February 22, 2009

Black Bean and Feta Salad

This recipe was a pleasant surprise on the inside of the lid to my reduced fat ATHENOS Feta crumbles. I'm always looking for a little snack that's high in fiber, low in fat, but is actually TASTY (I am so not a raw carrot stick kind of girl... I gotta have some FLAVA!)

So here is what he recipe calls for:

  • 1 can (15 oz.) Black beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1.5 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups cooked rice
  • 1 pkg. (3.5 oz.) crumbled reduced fat feta (I guess you HAVE to use ATHENOS to pay homage to where the recipe came from?)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup italian dressing
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley.

Here are a few of my tweaks:

  • I used brown rice: it's healthier, and I preferred the light brown color since the feta is already white. Silly I know but I like color in my food. Also - make sure to get minute rice. Just takes too dang long with regular rice....
  • Reduced fat feta is key here - really saves on the calories and fat.
  • I skipped the celery because I didn't have it on hand, and I hate buying a huge bundle unless I know I'll use it all. Definitely include it though to make it even more healthy and filling if you feel like buying!
  • Use fat-free Italian dressing. Let's be honest, with all the other flavors already here you won't notice the taste difference, and it's about 1/3 or the fat.
  • (I actually didn't have Italian on hand so I skipped it too!) I thought it was good with just a little bit of garlic powder, white wine vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil to give it a little bit more kick. Looking back the Italian dressing would probably be the best though, so go ahead and buy a bottle if you don't have it on hand and keep it around for a low-fat marinade for chicken.
  • I also skipped the cilanto or parsley. Just didn't feel like adding it to the grocery list, and let's face it, the name of this blog is not "Fancie Foodie" and that's why. So there. My ignorant palette cannot taste the difference...
Mix it all together and refrigerate and you're done! Makes 5 servings, roughly 3/4 of a cup of the mix each. With fat-free Italian dressing, I would estimate this to be about 4 Weight Watchers points per serving, and around 200 calories. ( See below if you want to see how I calculated it!)

Weight Watchers Conversion -
Generally speakigng there are about 50 calories per WW point, although the program is much more complex, taking grams of fat and dietary fiber into consideration when making the real calculation.
  • 2 Tbsp. of fat free dressing is 1 pt, so at 8 Tbsp.'s worth of dressing (1/2 a cup) that's 4 points' worth of dressing in the whole batch.
  • 1 cup of brown rice is 4 points, so with 1.5 cups in the whole recipe, that's 6 points' coming from the rice.
  • I calculated 3.5 points coming from the 15 oz. can of black beans.
  • And with each serving of reduced fat feta being 2 pts. according to the nutrition facts, and roughly 3 servings in each package, I calculated another 6 points coming from the cheese.
  • The rest of the ingredients are 0 points! (tomatoes, celery, green onions and parsley/cilantro)
At roughly 20 points in the whole batch, 5 servings would total up at about 4 points each! Not bad for a filling snack that gives you some protein and veggies all at the same time.

Let me know if anyone has better ideas for a different variation - Enjoy!

February 18, 2009

Finally biting the bullet....

.....and starting this foodie blog.

Let's make one thing clear: I'm not half the cook, or true "foodie" that so many of the people online are that I admire and read everyday. The thing is, I love to cook. And I get so excited when I find a recipe that inspires my chef wannabe side, but is also sensible enough that it will help me stay on track.

I constantly tell my mom, friends at work, sister, boyfriend - anyone I can find - about the recipes I'm trying: what I loved, what wasn't so great, and what I think could be tweaked to make it "lighter." So it's about time that I just started putting this down in a blog.

It's going to take a while for me to get this up and runnign the way I like but I can't wait to get started!