Recipe: Chicken salad

This classic comfort food is perfect for either a picnic lunch or a quick-but-healthy meal at home. It’s also a great use for leftover chicken.

I use reduced-fat mayonnaise to cut calories and fat content, and add Dijon mustard and lemon juice for a burst of extra flavor. Celery, green onions and almonds add both crunch and fiber.

I may pile a generous portion of the chicken salad onto whole grain bread or a whole grain bun for a delicious sandwich. Or I may enjoy a scoop with salad greens.

Leftovers can be frozen for up to two months or will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days.

This recipe makes four 3/4-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sliced almonds
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Dice or shred the chicken, dice the celery and thinly slice the green onions. Combine, add almonds and stir until well blended.

In a small dish, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and black pepper and stir until well blended before adding to the chicken mixture and blending well.

If you wish, chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 17 g | Fat: 14 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 45 mg | Sodium: 350 mg | Potassium: 230 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 4% | Vitamin C: 6% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 4% 

Recipe: Garbanzo beef

For those seeking ways to cut back on pasta consumption, this recipe offers a variation on the ever-popular beefy mac. Add a green salad for a deliciously filling meal.

I’ve substituted garbanzo beans for the noodles to cut down on processed carbs and add fiber. To increase the vegetable-to-meat proportions, I’ve also doubled the amounts of mushrooms, garbanzos and tomatoes and used an extra-large pepper and onion. 

If you’re looking to cut the amount of red meat in your diet, and the saturated fat and cholesterol that come with it, feel free to use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Or, if you want to go vegan, use your favorite plant-based “beef” crumbles. I’ve used the Boca veggie crumbles and found they work very well.

As usual, I use reduced-sodium versions of products whenever available, and do not add salt to this recipe, but include enough spices that I really don’t miss the salt.

Garbanzo beef freezes well, and so lends itself to batch cooking.

This recipe makes approximately 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, ground turkey or plant-based “beef” crumbles
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 2 10-ounce jars sliced mushrooms
  • 1 28-ounce can reduced-sodium diced tomatoes
  • 2 16-ounce cans reduced-sodium garbanzo beans
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium Worcestershire sauce

Directions

Sauté the onion, green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil until tender and caramelized. Set aside.

Brown the ground beef or turkey and drain excess fat. Or, if using veggie crumbles, brown according to package directions.  

Combine the ground meat/veggie crumbles and spices with the onion, green pepper and mushroom mixture, stirring until well blended.

Add the tomatoes (with their juice) and drained garbanzo beans and simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is gone.

Nutrition information

Made with ground beef

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 260 | Carbohydrates: 10 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 19 g | Saturated Fat: 9 g | Cholesterol: 83 mg | Sodium: 184 mg | Potassium: 284 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 6% 

Made with ground turkey

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 152 | Carbohydrates: 10 g | Protein: 13 g | Fat: 7 g | Saturated Fat: 1.5 g | Cholesterol: 40 mg | Sodium: 175 mg | Potassium: 284 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 1.5% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 4% 

Made with veggie crumbles

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 120 | Carbohydrates: 14 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 2 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 287 mg | Potassium: 355 mg | Fiber: 6 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 7% | Iron: 6% 

Recipe: Lemony dill salmon

I am always, always, always looking for delicious ways to add fish to our diet, and this recipe definitely meets the “yum” test.

Better yet, both salmon and olive oil contain omega-3 fatty acids – the good kind of fat known to lower the risk of heart disease.

Plus, the recipe meets another test – it’s super easy to prepare.

The recipe also lends itself to batch cooking. It can keep in the refrigerator for up to three days and I just pop the leftovers in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon filets
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Instructions

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, dill weed and garlic until well-blended.

Dip salmon filets in the mixture to coat thoroughly and place in a 9 X 9-inch baking dish.

Pour the remaining mixture over the top of the filets.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily, basting filets with the liquid once or twice while baking.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 4-ounce filet | Calories: 300 | Carbohydrates: 0 g | Protein: 20 g | Fat: 27 g | Saturated Fat: 5 g | Cholesterol: 55 mg | Sodium: 60 mg | Potassium: 360 mg | Fiber: 0 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 6% | Calcium: 0% | Iron: 1%

Recipe: Kale salad with walnuts and cranberries

Who says salads have to be boring? This one is as chock full of deliciousness as it is full of nutrients. 

The kale is rich in Vitamin C, while the cranberries add fiber and the walnuts and blue cheese crumbles contribute protein. As with all my recipes, I use products and ingredients that reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat content.

This recipe makes a 1½-cup serving or two ¾-cup servings. Use the smaller serving as a side dish or the larger serving as a light lunch by itself.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped baby kale
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sugar dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat blue cheese dressing
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles (optional)

Directions

Remove large stems from the kale, rinse thoroughly and chop into bite-size pieces.

Add walnuts, cranberries and dressing to the kale in a medium-size mixing bowl, and toss until everything is thoroughly covered with the dressing.

Pour into a salad bowl (for the main dish) or divide evenly into two smaller bowls (for the side dish) and sprinkle with the blue cheese crumbles.

Nutrition information

Serving size: ¾ cup | Calories: 112 | Carbohydrates: 13 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 1.5 g | Cholesterol: 6 mg | Sodium: 160 mg | Potassium: 205 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 5.5 g | Vitamin A: 65% | Vitamin C: 65% | Calcium: 10% | Iron: 3% 

Serving size: 1½ cups | Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 26 g | Protein: 10 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated Fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 12 mg | Sodium: 320 mg | Potassium: 410 mg | Fiber: 8 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 130% | Vitamin C: 130% | Calcium: 20% | Iron: 6% 

Recipe: Hoppin’ John

For several years now, Pete and I have enjoyed a New Year’s Day tradition of inviting friends to our house for hoppin’ john, greens and cornbread.

Hoppin’ john is a traditional southern dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, and is said to bring good luck if eaten on New Year’s Day. My husband, who grew up in East Tennessee, brought the recipe with him when he moved to Illinois. 

As usual, I’ve modified the recipe somewhat to meet my dietary restrictions. For my version of hoppin’ john, I use brown rice – the frozen kind for convenience. I’ve actually come to prefer brown rice for its nutty texture. Plus, it has more healthy fiber than the more heavily processed white rice. I cook the bacon separately and drain off the grease before adding it to the recipe, which allows me to add some delicious bacon flavor without so much saturated fat, and I sauté the onion and pepper separately in olive oil. I use Tony Chachere’s no-salt seasoning blend in place of salt. Low sodium chicken broth adds flavor.

We serve the dish with greens and cornbread, which are said to further ensure prosperity for the coming year. For the cornbread, I use Martha White self-rising buttermilk corn meal mix, and follow the recipe on the back of the package. This brand of corn meal mix does NOT have added sugar, which not only makes it better for my diabetic diet, but also more authentically southern.

Most years, our friends bring their own favorite dishes, along with their musical instruments, making for a great potluck feast and jam session. What better way to start the New Year off right?

Unfortunately, this year we’ll be celebrating with just the two of us because of the pandemic. But our friends will be with us in spirit, and the leftover hoppin’ john freezes very well.

This recipe makes about eight one-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen whole grain brown rice
  • 1 12-ounce package frozen black-eyed peas
  • 3 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tony Cachere’s no-salt seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Combine black-eyed peas and chicken broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Thaw the brown rice in the refrigerator overnight, or heat in the microwave oven following package directions.

Cook the bacon on a plate lined and covered with paper towels in the microwave oven for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp, and crumble the bacon.

Sauté the onion and pepper in olive oil until tender and caramelized, and sprinkle in the no-salt seasoning, red pepper and black pepper.

Combine rice, black-eyed peas (with broth), bacon and sautéed vegetables. Add one cup water and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour into baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in 425-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Stir again and serve hot.

Nutritional Information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 38 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 3 mg | Sodium: 125 mg | Potassium: 305 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 20% | Calcium: 1.5% | Iron: 6% 

Recipe: Fruktsoppa

Fruktsoppa, a fruit soup using dried fruit, is a traditional dessert in Sweden and Norway. 

When I was growing up, this dish was a staple at extended-family gatherings during the holidays. But fruktsoppa is so tasty, why reserve it only for Christmas? 

The soup may be served as a side dish at breakfast or as a dessert at other meals. What a delicious way to help meet our goal of 3-5 servings of fruits or vegetables per day!

The original recipe calls for added sugar, but I totally leave it out. Because the fruit itself is naturally sweet enough, who needs the added carbs and calories?

The soup can be frozen up to three months, which makes it great for batch cooking.

This recipe makes approximately 10 half-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup dried prunes
  • 2 apples, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 6 cups water

Directions

Soak apricots in the water for at least a half hour. 

Add the apple slices, cinnamon sticks, tapioca and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add prunes and currants and continue to simmer until all fruit is tender.

Serve hot or cold, depending on your preference.

Nutrition information

Calories: 115 | Carbohydrates: 30 g | Protein: 1 g | Fat: .3 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 7 mg | Potassium: 383 mg | Fiber: 3.5 g | Sugar: 22 g | Vitamin A: 12% | Vitamin C: 4% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 4%

Recipe: Lasagna

I just l-o-v-e lasagna, but most traditional recipes include ingredients that make it a carb and fat-laden calorie bomb.

For this version, I’ve cut a substantial portion of the fat content by using 90-percent lean ground beef, fat-free cottage cheese and low-fat part-skim mozzarella cheese. I’ve also reduced the salt content by using low-sodium marinara sauce, added fiber by using whole-grain noodles and even sneaked in veggies by adding spinach.

The result? While still not calorie-free (shucks!), the healthier ingredients improve the nutritional quality of this comfort-food favorite without sacrificing flavor.

Lasagna also freezes well, which makes it great for batch-cooking.

This recipe makes approximately six servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 brown rice or whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound ground beef, crumbled
  • 9-ounce box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
  • 25-ounce jar reduced-sodium marinara sauce
  • 8-ounce package reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Boil the noodles until al dente.

For the filling, brown the ground beef and drain thoroughly. Thaw the spinach in the microwave oven and add to the ground beef. Add cottage cheese and marinara sauce to ground beef/spinach mixture and stir to thoroughly combine ingredients.

Spoon 1/3 of the lasagna filling into a 9 X 9-inch pan, and top with a layer of noodles. Repeat, then top with the remainder of the filling.

Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top.

Bake in 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Nutrition information

Calories: 390 | Carbohydrates: 24 g | Protein: 34 g | Fat: 17 g | Saturated Fat: 6 g | Cholesterol: 65 mg | Sodium: 590 mg | Potassium: 425 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 43% | Vitamin C: 20% | Calcium: 30% | Iron: 30%

Recipe: Peanut butter cup pie

One of my absolute favorite comfort foods is peanut butter. So, a real treat for me was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup pie at Baker’s Square Restaurant and Bakery, a local Midwestern chain restaurant known for its amazing pies. (Alas, the restaurant has sadly closed.)

The dessert, of course, was meant to resemble an actual Reese’s peanut butter cup (my all-time favorite candy), with its chocolate graham cracker crust, peanut butter cheesecake filling and chocolate ganache topping liberally sprinkled with chopped peanut butter cups. Ah-h-h-h!

The bad news: Each slice contained a whopping 830 calories. Even more scary was the delectable dessert’s heavy fat and sugar content – 56 grams of fat and 63 grams of sugar. The online recipes that came closest to duplicating the restaurant version – with their heavy cream and astronomical sugar content – flunked the nutritional test nearly as badly.

The good news: With just a few ingredient tweaks, I’ve been able to improve the dessert’s nutritional content considerably. So, I get to have my pie and eat it too, so to speak. Better yet, this no-bake recipe is fairly simple to make. The pie also freezes well for up to three months, so it can be enjoyed a slice at a time over a period of several weeks.

Replacing regular cream cheese with the fat-free variety cuts nearly 12 grams of fat and 140 calories from each serving. I further reduce the calories, fat and sugar content by using sugar-free Cool Whip, sugar-free vanilla pudding made with fat-free milk, sugar-free chocolate frosting and even sugar-free peanut butter cups.

Bottom line: Sorry, this still is not a totally low-calorie treat – but I’ve managed to cut out about half the calories, half the fat and nearly all of the sugar. And I swear there is NO sacrifice in taste. Plus, this version actually has some nutritional value – about the same protein content as a 3-ounce hamburger patty, in fact.

Of course, one way to further cut the calorie content as well as fat and sugar consumption is to control portion size. Cutting the pie into 12 servings rather than the standard 8 still allows for a somewhat generous slice (in fact, a slightly bigger slice than I got when splitting the restaurant dessert with a friend, which I sometimes did). Below, I’ve provided nutrition information for a smaller slice (12 servings per pie) and a larger slice (8 servings per pie).

Note: I’ve included brand names for some of the ingredients I use because of the marked differences in taste and quality between the various fat-free and sugar-free products. These are the brands that have worked best for me in terms of flavor, and which don’t just replace fat content by increasing sugar content. I always have to watch for this when using reduced-fat products.

Ingredients

  • 8-inch pre-made Oreo pie crust
  • 8-ounce package fat-free Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 8-ounce package fat-free Philadelphia cream cheese
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • Small (1 ounce) package Jell-o brand sugar-free vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup fat-free (skim) milk
  • 1 cup sugar-free Cool Whip whipped topping
  • ½ of 15-ounce container Pillsbury sugar-free chocolate fudge frosting
  • 8.8-ounce bag Reese’s sugar-free miniature peanut butter cups

Directions

Prepare pudding according to package instructions but using only one cup of milk. Add whipped topping and stir until blended. 

Add cream cheese and peanut butter. Blend thoroughly in a food processor or blend using a food processor stick. (You may wish to add the cream cheese a small chunk at a time or soften it in the microwave oven about 30 seconds to one minute to make the blending process easier.)

Spoon mixture evenly into pie crust and refrigerate at least four hours until pie filling is firm. Or place in the freezer for about a half hour.

Soften frosting by placing in the microwave oven for up to 30 seconds and then stirring. Spread the frosting evenly over the cheesecake.

Chop the peanut butter cups and sprinkle over the top.

Nutrition information

Servings: 12 | Calories: 335 | Carbohydrates: 44 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 20 g | Saturated fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 4 mg | Sodium: 400 mg | Potassium: 143 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: .5% 

Servings: 8 | Calories: 502 | Carbohydrates: 66 g | Protein: 12 g | Fat: 30 g | Saturated fat: 4 g | Cholesterol: 6 mg | Sodium: 600 mg | Potassium: 215 mg | Fiber: 6 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 2% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 1% 

Recipe: Chicken and vegetable pozole

Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy, meat (usually pork or chicken) and lots of delicious seasonings.

As anyone who regularly follows my blog knows, I’m always looking for ways to sneak more wholesome stuff like vegetables and fiber into my diet while ditching the bad stuff like added salt and sugar.

So I’ve created a variation on this favorite that reduces both calories and carbs, features extra veggies and eliminates added salt without sacrificing a bit of the flavor. It’s also gluten-free (be sure to check the label on the hominy). If you omit the chicken and substitute low-sodium vegetable broth for the chicken broth, it can even be made vegetarian.

This recipe makes about 10-12 cups of soup and is perfect for batch cooking. The soup can be frozen for up to three months.

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • 1 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2½ teaspoons chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 small zucchini or yellow squash, sliced and quartered 
  • 4-5 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 4-5 carrots, sliced
  • Medium green pepper, quartered and sliced
  • Medium onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1 16-ounce can white or golden hominy (pozole)

Directions

Stir together the oregano, cumin, basil and black pepper in a small bowl.

Add the chicken, blended spices, lime juice, bay leaves, garlic and cloves to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer.

While the soup is simmering, chop/slice the squash, celery, carrots, onion and pepper and add to the mixture.

Add 4-5 cups of water, or until the soup is of desired thickness.

Continue to simmer for about a half hour, or until vegetables reach desired softness (slightly al dente) and chicken is completely cooked.

Add the hominy when the vegetables are nearly cooked through.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 75 | Carbohydrates: 8 g | Protein: 9 g | Fat: 1 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 25 mg | Sodium: 130 mg | Potassium: 372 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 3 g | Vitamin A: 85% | Vitamin C: 30% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 3% 

Recipe: Spinach quiche

What a delicious way to sneak an extra veggie serving into our meals and meet our daily 3-5 fruits and vegetables challenge! By using Egg Beaters and fat-free feta cheese, I cut out most of the fat and cholesterol usually found in this kind of recipe. 

I use store-bought pie crusts – much easier! If you’re looking for a healthy alternative or have dietary restrictions, Wholly Wholesome makes whole wheat, as well as gluten-free ready-made crusts (link HERE).

One thing I love about this quiche is its versatility. I may have a slice for breakfast, for lunch or for a light evening meal. Depending on the meal, pair it with either a fresh fruit cup or a salad.

Another thing I like is that this quiche freezes well for up to three months, which means the recipe lends itself to batch cooking.

Ingredients

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach
Dash of black pepper
1/2 cup fat free feta cheese
1½ cups plain Egg Beaters or similar product
9-inch frozen pie crust

Directions

Allow pie crust to thaw for about 20 minutes before adding filling. Using a fork, poke holes evenly throughout the pie crust to prevent bubbling. 

Thaw spinach in microwave for about 5-10 minutes or leave in refrigerator the night before to thaw out. Make sure spinach is thoroughly thawed and drained. It is important to press out all the moisture from the spinach before using.

Sauté the garlic in olive oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the spinach. Lightly sprinkle black pepper over the mixture and continue to sauté until the mixture is heated through.

Remove from heat. Add the eggs and feta cheese, stirring only until blended.

Spoon the spinach mixture evenly into the pie crust.

Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for approximately 75 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

I usually top a slice of the quiche with a dollop of Hollandaise sauce, which I make from a pre-packaged sauce mix. Knorr makes a sauce mix that is very quick and easy. 

If heating up leftover quiche, pop single servings into the microwave for approximately 90 seconds to two minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information

Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 16 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 396 mg | Potassium: 93 mg | Fiber: 1.5 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 20%