Healthy Chicken Avocado Caprese

I came up with this dish by throwing together random ingredients in my kitchen after watching Chopped.

The health benefits in this dish really come from the use of extra virgin olive oil and avocado to provide good fats, and chicken as a lean meat choice for protein. Tomatoes and basil give it that caprese flavor, and provide some rich antioxidants as well.

Using the avocado also means that, unlike a traditional caprese, you can have all of the smoothness and creaminess without adding dairy/cheese.

Easy, Quick and Yummy!

 

Ingredients (for 1 large serving or 2 small servings)

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • About 30 Grape tomatoes
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Organic Brown Mustard
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra Vg. Olive Oil
  • Basil (fresh leaves ok, but I like using the dried flakes)
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 Medium and 1 Large Frying Pan
  • About 10 minutes

Directions

  1. Divide 1 tbsp of olive oil between two pans and spread to coat surfaces
  2. Add about 1tbsp lemon juice, 1 and 1/2 tbsp balsamic to large pan
  3. Sprinkle a generous amount of basil (2 tbsp flakes, or 2 handfuls chopped leaves)
  4. Add grape tomatoes to large pan
  5. Set large pan on Medium-Low temperature to start cooking
  6. Add 1tbsp of the mustard to medium pan and turn on heat to high
  7. Cube, salt and pepper the chicken
  8. Add chicken to medium pan and brown on medium-high heat
  9. Tip: After 1 side browns, flip pieces and reduce heat
  10. While that cooks, add the avocado to the large pan and increase heat to med-high. Stir everything together. If you smell a sharp tinge suddenly, the balsamic is burning. Reduce heat to medium.
  11. Once chicken is cooked, add to the large pan and stir contents together. Let sit for a minute on low heat so the flavors can come together.

 

caprese

 

 

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Calorie Confusion: Either I Can’t Eat Enough, Or I’m Eating More Than I Think

You’ve adopted a monk-like devotion to your diet. You exercise for an hour a day. Every morning, you stand naked on the scale and pray that today will be the day… but the numbers don’t change. One day, it’s decimal points down and you’re dancing on a cloud in your skinny jeans. The next day, it’s decimal points back up and you plummet into a soul-crushing pit of defeat. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??

For the first week of my diet, I lost about 8 pounds – and though that felt awesome, I knew it was mostly water. During the second week, I lost another 4 more. Then in the third, it stopped. Research said try a cheat day to kick your metabolism back into gear, so I went out for a steak on my birthday and lo and behold, the plateau broke – giving me another 2 pounds lost. Then, it sputtered to a halt and died once again.

This time, there was no resurrection. A cheat day did nothing. Changing up my exercise routine did nothing. Even altering the balance of carbs and proteins did nothing. I wasn’t losing weight, and to add injury to insult, I was putting undue stress on my body. For the first time in my life, I developed heart palpitations – a common side effect of physical stress, low calorie or electrolyte imbalances. I ran to the doctor and she told me not to worry. All my numbers looked good, my diet sounded incredible. I wasn’t dying. But I wasn’t losing weight either.

Am I Eating the Right Calories?

I started to really examine whether or not I was doing as good as I thought I was doing with the diet. My initial response to the low-cal stress-mode was to eat more calories. Unfortunately, there’s very few calories in vegetables… so that meant adding back in more starches and fruits.

I was also trying to emulate the Eat Fat Lose Fat/Ketogenic Diet/Paleo methods by banking on my good fats and proteins. I started cooking and eating salmon, despite a life long aversion to fish. I added extra virgin olive oil to everything. I bought iodized salt to support my thyroid and sprinkled it everywhere with wild abandon.

Then one morning, after one of those hellish 0.2 pound re-gains, I sat down with my calorie tracking app and really tried to figure out what was going on. Was I getting enough calories? Too many? The wrong kinds?

Am I Eating Enough Calories?

At first I was frustrated. After entering my planned meals and exercise for the day, I was still 750 calories below my 1200 goal. To compensate, I knocked an avocado off the menu and cancelled a workout class I’d been looking forward to all week. That got me to about 1100 calories, which is less than what they gave people in WW2 prison camps. I stared at the chart, wondering what I could possibly do differently.

The foods that compromised my meals were all extremely low cal. Salmon fillet. A can of spinach. A generous handful of turkey. A pile of bell peppers. All hovering around 100 calories each. I could eat those foods all day and it wouldn’t make a difference. The only way to get calories in was to eat carbs or more fats. But how??

Google landed me in a forum on calorie sources from fat, where posters mentioned avocados and almonds (of course)… but also olive oil. A lightbulb turned on. Oh crap, I hadn’t been counting in the olive oil I use in cooking. I wonder how many calories it has?

Apparently, a lot!

In fact, 1 tablespoon would give me 120 cals and 14g of fat – and I was probably using 2 if not more a day to cook my eggs, chicken and salmon. Here I was thinking it was just a condiment!

Am I Actually Counting All My Calories?

After adding olive oil into my daily food diary, I was surprised to find that now I was 300 calories over my goal! I considered adding back in the exercise, but I’d also read that sometimes, too much exercise can lead to inflammation and high cortisol levels. Catch 22 once more! So I started trying to see where else I could knock off calories.

I tend to snack on almonds throughout the day as my go-to buddy for curbing hunger pangs or boosting energy. For this menu, I’d packed a couple handfuls of almonds to take with me to a late-night rehearsal. This, surprisingly was the highest calorie meal of my day, clocking in at 273.

The calorie counter said 15 was about 100 calories – which seemed a lot more reasonable for a snack. So I poured the almonds back out of the baggie and counted out exactly 15. I was shocked. Fifteen almonds pales in comparison to what I thought fifteen almonds was.

almonds
What 15 almonds looks like… or 100 cal worth.

That means I’d probably been eating 300 calories of them by the handful every day. Of course, on days when I need a boost before a work out, that might be a good thing. Snacking on them at a 9pm music rehearsal? Not so much.

Hidden Calories and Diet Creep

I’ve read about diet creep – this idea that eventually you start to eat slightly more or worse as you continue your diet, even as you imagine you’re still on track. There’s also the notion of hidden calories – commonly found when people misuse toppings or additives, drink alcohol or sports drinks, or binge out on ‘healthy snacks’ made with whole grains or starchy vegetables. I wasn’t eating any of those, but I was still getting my counts wrong – and didn’t even realize it.

The solution was not to banish these foods from my diet, but to measure them for their true worth. Only then could I see the accurate picture: although I eating healthy, there was just the right amount of unhealthy to keep my body doing what it does best – maintaining its weight. If I wanted to lose weight, I’d have to go even further – and since I was already eating so low cal and working out, I’d have to go after the most elusive of my calories in order to find a deficit.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.38.08 AM
The final menu…

 

 

 

Workout Slump Solutions

Click here to read the original question: “Dear Laur, Help! I’m in a workout slump!”

Dear Meg,

With the amount of money I’ve spent on unused gym memberships, I could probably solve our national debt crisis. So believe me, I understand the ins and outs of the workout slump. Fortunately, that also means I’ve spent a LOT of time getting around the slump – and so I’ve got some ideas that might help you too.

First off – yes, hitting the gym after work is not as fun as the fitness elite make it sound. No, it’s not really a “great way to relieve stress after a busy day.” Really, it’s just a barrier between me and the demand-free nirvana of just being “done.” A really great way to relieve stress after a busy day is sitting on the couch not moving a muscle until Netflix asks me if I’m still watching.

The way I solved this was by getting the bulk of my workouts in over my lunch break, but this is not feasible for most people – especially if you don’t work near a gym, can’t eat at your desk, and have to look somewhat presentable and not smell bad for the rest of the day.

When I do try to fit my fitness in after work, it’s usually through a more routine activity – in my case, dance. I have a 90 minute tap/jazz/ballet class on Monday night and a two hour tap/jazz class on Thursday night. Working towards getting better at our routines is a goal that keeps me motivated. Plus, I look forward to seeing the girls each week. It’s like book club, but a lot sweatier. Having a smaller tight-knit group helps you avoid the meh feeling of just being an anonymous body in a gym crowd, where no one would really miss you if you weren’t there.

So in your case, rather than bouncing from gym to gym through Class Pass, you might want to find one place to call home. More importantly, you might want to make that place on the way home, so you don’t end up wasting time in transit. You’ll be home sooner, which means more time to unwind from the day.

Another consideration is the kind of fitness activity you do. Variety is important, but if motivation is your issue, consistency is key. I like to feel like I’m working towards something specific, rather than just passing the time or getting through my daily gym duty. When I’m at dance, the goal is obvious. So for the rest of the week, I keep dance in mind. Cardio is going to improve my stamina so I can keep my energy up through the whole routine. Strengthening is going to give me more sculpted lines and postures, higher grand battements, deeper plies. I have no delusions of joining the Royal Ballet, but it still feels really good to see myself making progress as I do the same activity over time.

 

You’re an athlete. You know the feeling. Think of how crowded your life was back in college, with a full day of classes and then another several hours of practice. Back then you got through it because you weren’t just running in circles (unless track was your thing). You were trying to impress a coach, land a better position, become a better athlete. All you have to do now is tap back into your competitive edge and find an activity that allows you to challenge your inner beast. Even if there’s no team to join, use your imagination if you have to. The most important thing is that you feel empowered rather than enslaved by your workout.

Now – I will say that despite your best efforts, there will be days when your gym commitment is underwhelming or nonexistent. I have those days too. They are often the fallout of work and life colliding like an interminable jackhammer. On those days, once dinner is done, the dishes are put away, the counter is clean and the cat has been fed, I allow my guilt to push me towards one last day-ending strive for body justice. The at-home workout.

I used to do the workout DVDs… you know, Billy Blanks, P90x. That was only when I was on the ground floor apartment. Doing jumping jacks and burpees are bad enough without thinking about how your downstairs neighbors are hearing every elephantine footfall.

Now, I seek the privacy of my stairwell. I put on my Pandora “Dance 2016” Station (club music… gotta love it) and then get in about 20 minutes of jogging up and down the stairs. In between sets, I have a little fun on the landings by crunking and twerking and nae nae’ing and just generally making a fool of myself. (I just pray my building doesn’t have cameras in the stairwell.) The workout isn’t long enough to get me too revved up before bed, nor too intense that I end up losing the dinner I just consumed. However, it’s enough to feel that sweat-soaked sense of accomplishment that keeps me on the bandwagon. If you’re really lucky, you might get your bf to join you. Challenge him to races, or make up some wild routines.

Stairs not your thing? Pick up some cheap boxing gloves and challenge your bf to a sparring match in the living room. You can work out any interpersonal tension and challenge your stamina by keeping the motion going – bobbing, weaving, dodging and throwing blows.

Bf not home (or nonexistent, as in my case)? Well, I’ll have you know, sometimes I chase my cat around the apartment. You’d be surprised how much of a workout you can get in trying to corner and catch a cat that thinks you’re trying to give it a bath.

I’ll also keep a set of weights under my couch to use when I’m watching TV. I can run through some reps of bicep and tricep curls, shoulder lifts and chest presses without even taking my eyes off of the screen. Sometimes I’ll balance the weight on my toes and do leg or knee lifts to target my quads. During commercials, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll haul myself off of the couch do some planks, pushups or squats. I know this hardly counts as a workout, but it does help to keep your mentality in training mode. Plus, science would tell you that getting more small bursts of activity throughout the day is healthier than one stressful burst of activity for an isolated interval.

I hope some of these ideas help you get the motivation back to get over your slump! Just remember, the hardest part of your workout is over once you actually set foot in the gym. If you can get that far, you’re unstoppable.

Yours Truly,

Laurie

Dear Laur: Help, I’m in a Workout Slump!

Dear Laur,

It’s that time of year, when the workout resolutions I set in January are starting to feel pretty unattainable. Work has been busier than ever and I’ve been travelling a lot. I barely have time to see my boyfriend, and we live together! How am I supposed to find time to squeeze in a workout?

And even if I do have the time, I’ve gotten into the habit of cancelling classes simply because I’m exhausted. The weather certainly doesn’t help. After a long day at work, who feels like heading out into the dark, cold night to workout?

And the worst part is, the more I don’t go, the less motivated I feel. I’m ashamed to show my face in some of my favorite classes for fear that the instructors will ask what good reason I had for falling off the face of the earth for the past two months. I’m worried that if I take a challenging class, I will embarrass myself. Even when I do manage to drag myself to a class, I station myself in the back corner and feel like I’m just going through the motions and watching the clock for the hour to end.

I know these are all just excuses, and I also know that everyone goes through these slumps at some point or another. But what can I do to get myself to feel motivated again and get my butt back to the gym? Help!

xx Meg