Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

My favorite breakfast/treat

Fall is almost here but I’m relishing these last days of summer.  This summer, my favorite breakfast/snack/dessert was banana ice cream.  At this point, if you follow any vegan instagram accounts, I’m sure you’ve heard of banana ice cream (also called “nice cream”.)  This delicious frozen treat is made by freezing a few bananas and then blending the frozen ‘nanas with a little liquid (almond milk, coconut water, water, etc.) in a food processor.

I’m obsessed with eating banana ice cream for breakfast and trying different variations.  I love how simple it is to whip up a bowl of nice cream and I love how healthy and filling it is.  The trick is to only use a few bananas (you don’t need to eat 10 bananas at a time contrary to what fad diets might say) and and 3/4-1 cup. of another frozen fruit (if you want more flavor than just banana).  For toppings, I like using a sprinkle of oats or granola, cacao nibs, chocolate chips, or a table spoon of peanut or almond butter.  You can also add protein powder into the food processor if you’re looking for a post-workout meal or snack.

I’m sharing the nice cream creation I made this morning below.  What is your favorite way to eat nice cream?   If you’re looking for some ideas on how to make this deliciously healthy meal, be sure to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for more nice cream recipes and daily food inspiration 🙂

Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream

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Ingredients:

  • 2 frozen peeled bananas (I usually just break the bananas into 2-3 pieces each before freezing)
  • 1/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (100% cocoa powder is usually vegan. I buy this at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain cereal
  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. vegan chocolate chips (I buy these at Trader Joe’s)

Directions:

  • Blend frozen bananas, coconut water, and unsweetened cocoa powder together until creamy (about ~3 minutes).
  • Scoop out nice cream and transfer to a bowl.
  • Top with cereal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips
  • Enjoy and eat up, this can melt fast in warm weather!

-Jess

Peachy Keen Protein Dream Smoothie

If you’ve been following my facebook or instagram pages, you are well aware of my love of smoothies. I love experimenting with flavors and combinations to create healthy and delicious smoothies. I’m a big fan of smoothies because they don’t weigh me down yet they can be very filling. I like eating oatmeal for breakfast, but lately I’ve been craving something a little lighter and a smoothie really does the trick. This smoothie recipe is packed with fiber, antioxidants, and protein. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do 🙂

Peachy Keen Protein Dream SmoothieIMG_8923

  • 1 frozen banana, in chunks
  • 1 cup frozen sliced peaches (or use fresh, just make sure they’re ripe)
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 scoop Garden of Life Raw protein-vanilla (or use your favorite vegan {or not} protein powder)
  • a little water if necessary

Measure ingredients and add to a blender. Blend well until smooth. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, snack, dessert, or anytime.

-Jess

Healthy-ish Oat Pear Pie

Greetings! I haven’t written any recipes in over a month but if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I tend to write less when I’m busy with school. In addition to being a full-time grad student, I also started a new job in september as a nutritionist! All of my work seems to be paying off and it’s a great feeling. I’m a big believer in occasionally celebrating achievements with healthy baked goods. I’m also a big fan of local produce. Combine these two you get my latest recipe: Healthy-ish Oat Pear Pie. I’m calling this recipe “healthy-ish” because pie isn’t the healthiest food in general, but I did make a healthier version of pie by using whole wheat flour and less (vegan) butter than found in some recipes.

Healthy-ish Oat Pear PieIMG_7578

Ingredients

Pie shell:

  • 2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1.5 sticks of  3/4 cup Earth Balance spread (melted)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp. nondairy milk

Filling:

  • 4-5 medium sized, locally grown (if available) bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. agave
  • 1 tbsp. lemon
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Directions

For the pie shell:

  • Measure and mix dry ingredients. Melt the butter and add into the dry ingredients, mix well. Add the nondairy or regular milk along with the cold water into the mixture, slowly. If the mixture becomes too moist, add a little more flour by the tablespoon. Set aside and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. After time has elapsed, spray a round pie pan/tin with nonstick spray. You can either roll out the dough using a rolling pin coated in flour so that the dough can easily be placed and spread into the pie pan OR you can use your hands to transfer the dough to the pan and mush it into the pan so that it is completely covered on all sides (I used the second method). Add any extra dough to the upper sides of the pan to create a thicker crust.

For the filling:

  • Peel, core, and cut the pears. Pears should be cut into small pieces, but not diced. Place the pears in a large bowl, and add the maple syrup, honey, sugar, lemon juice, and stir in the cornstarch so that it dissolves into the liquid. Mix well. Add the cinnamon and mix. Transfer the filling into the pie crust that lines the pie pan.

For the topping:

  • Sprinkle oats and brown sugar on top of the filling.

Preheat the oven at 375°F. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the edges of the crust are browned and a knife can be inserted cleanly into the center of the crust. Remove from the oven after baking and allow to cool before cutting. Serve with ice cream, soy ice cream, sorbet, or hot cider. As always, enjoy!

-Jess

A Berry Good Smoothie

The spring semester has come to a close! (yay). I’ve completed another year as a nutrition student, and now I have just another year until I’m done with my master’s. One thing that got me through finals was having quick meals packed with nutrition. A favorite meal during finals (and whenever, really) is the following smoothie recipe. It’s packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and it’s delicious!

A Berry Good Smoothie

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  • 6 oz. blueberry or vanilla coconut milk yogurt (I use so delicious brand). You can also use almond milk yogurt or any other kind of dairy-free yogurt that pleases your tastebuds
  • 1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1 scoop vegan (or not) protein. (I use Garden of Life Plant Protein in smooth vanilla flavor)
  • 1/2 cup soymilk (or nondairy milk) + 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend on high until uniform in texture and appearance. Pour into a large cup and enjoy! This makes a large portion, so feel free to share with a friend or divide into two and enjoy half of it for a snack later.

-Jess

How To Get Your Fruit Fix On

Summer is almost here (well, it’s almost a month away so that counts, right?) and summer is peak fruit season. Consuming at least two or more servings of fruit a day provides you with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a healthy source of carbohydrates, but many people are so used to eating cereal or eggs for breakfast, and having cake or cookies for dessert, when fruit would be a healthier option.

Depending on where you live, different types and varieties of fruit may be in season during the summer, however, in most supermarkets and health food stores you can find fruit staples like oranges, bananas, apples, pears, and typically berries like strawberries and blueberries. If you’re lucky, you might also find mangos, papayas, and kiwis. During the summer months in the northeast, plums, peaches, and nectarines are all in season along with several different varieties of melons.

When thinking about ways to eat fruit, think out of the box! Fruit can be puréed and used in place of oil or eggs in muffin batter, juiced or blended into a smoothie, or added to accent a savory dish! Here are some other ways to enjoy fruit while getting a variety of vitamins and other nutrients.

 

Deconstructed Fruit Salads

Arrange fruit (and nuts, for a source of protein and healthy fats) on a plate and have a feast for your mouth and eyes. Children may especially be fond of these dishes due to the shapes and colors. For a fun activity, ask kids to describe the flavor and texture of each different type of fruit.

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Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

 

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

 

Smoothies & Juices

For smoothies, use a banana, soy yogurt, or low-fat yogurt, along with any other fruit you enjoy to create a quick yet filling breakfast or snack!

For juices, sneak in some veggies, like carrots or beets, in with your fruit for an extra-nutritious beverage!


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Add to Savory Dishes

Try adding apples, citrus fruits, or mangoes to rice dishes, salads, or meals involving beans. I’ve found that fruit goes well with asian-inspired meals, especially with teriyaki sauce.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

 

Get creative with fruit and always try new foods, new dishes, and experiment in the kitchen! If you enjoyed the pictures in this post, feel free to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for even more creative visuals of healthy food and recipes!

-Jess

 

My Favorite “Energy” Bars

Several varieties of Larabars

Several varieties of Larabars

In a few posts back, I wrote about how I don’t like to depend on pre-packaged foods and how the best diet is one that is based on fresh produce. I’m a big fan of eating whole foods, and I’ve found that I feel better when I don’t eat food that has processed forms of protein (whey protein, soy protein isolate, etc.) especially when it comes to energy bars. Energy bars, or any kind of packaged “bar”-type foods have become increasingly popular in the last decade or so, with good reason. Many of us are so busy that these packaged bars provide a quick solution to hunger. I used to be a huge fan of Luna Bars, but I realized they were so sweet that I was tempted to eat many of them in a sitting (which I often did!). That was a red flag to me, along with the fact that a lot of the ingredients don’t agree with my stomach (more than one Luna Bar in a sitting results in stomach pains for me) and are highly processed.

For the past few years, my go-to “energy” bars have been Larabars. I love these little rectangles of goodness because the ingredients are so simple and healthy. Each bar contains dates, and usually nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, etc. Some of the varieties also contain additional dried fruit, like dried blueberries, dried apples, dried cherries, etc. and spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. A few of the flavors also contain chocolate chips (the ones Larabar uses appear to be vegan). What I love about these bars are that not only are they really simple and healthy, they’re much more satisfying than a processed food bar. The fat content is higher in Larabars (compared to other bars) due to the nuts, which makes it a little more filling and satisfying than a lower-fat bar. These bars are also gluten-free, which makes them appropriate for anyone with Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance.

Because they are so easy to make, if you wish to make your own version of Larabars, simply use a food processor to blend together dates (pits removed), nuts, and any other dried fruit of your liking. I haven’t yet created my own fruit and nut bar, so if you try this on your own, you might have to experiment with the ratio of fruits:nuts. If you haven’t tried Larabars, they’re available in most health food stores. I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or Fairway (a northeast supermarket chain) and you can also order them online. Feel free to share your favorite flavor Larabar by leaving a reply.

 

Note- This post, and any other post based on a particular product, is not a paid endorsement. I truly love Larabars and bought all of the above varieties for $1.49 each.

 

-Jess

A Simple Way of Eating

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

Lately I’ve been cooking and creating so many new dishes and even though I’m having a ton of fun in the kitchen, my stomach is starting to complain (I tend to use a lot of spices while cooking and I eat a lot of difficult-to-digest beans and grains). I also find that trying to constantly come up with new meals can take a toll, especially when my main focus should be on school (I’m currently pursuing two degrees, both in nutrition!). So, I’ve decided to simplify my diet and eat pretty basic, nutrient-packed meals for the time being. Besides my stomach pains and limited time and energy due to my classes, another reason why I’ve decided to get back to basics when it comes to eating is an inner feeling that my body just craves real simple food right now, instead of the complicated yet tasty meals I’ve been making. As I’ve mentioned many times throughout my blog, I’m a big fan of (trying) to listen to one’s body. Not only am I an advocate of intuitive eating, I’m also on my own journey to eat more intuitively and be less dependent on external factors (like counting calories and eating at certain pre-determined times during the day).

A blood orange up close and personal!

Luckily, the food stores I shop at have a great variety of fresh produce. Here’s a blood orange, up-close and personal.

I don’t really have a plan of what I’m going to eat, because that would be counter-productive to the goals of intuitive eating. However, I know that for the past few weeks I’ve been eating a ton of oatmeal (see my previous post—all those photos are from my own breakfasts!), tofu, wraps and sandwiches with spicy hummus galore, and a lot of other bean and veggie dishes. Obviously, I eat quite healthy, but my stomachaches indicate I should switch up my diet. I keep craving really simple meals (like fruit, salads, soup, nuts) so I’ve purposely stocked my pantry and fridge with the above. I also had a wild thought of trying to wean myself off of coffee (I’m heavily dependent on the magical bean elixir) but I will get back to you on that in the A.M. hours! (Update: Still drinking coffee, and even wrote a new blog post on coffee!)

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish figs. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish apricots. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

How do you know when it’s time to make a change in your diet? Is your weight the first thing you check, or are you more aware of your energy levels, digestion, and overall wellbeing? Feel free to share your input!

-Jess

Oat-rageous Oatmeal Ideas

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Have you grown tired of eating your oatmeal with brown sugar? Well, prepare to be amazed with some delicious oatmeal ideas.

Before I get to that, let’s discuss how healthy oats actually are! Oatmeal has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), decrease overall inflammation in the body, decrease blood pressure, and keep you full for a long time. When choosing an oatmeal variety, stick to the old-fashioned kind and not the instant one-minute kind and try to stay away from any with added sugars or fake dried fruit in the ingredients.

Here are some delicious, nutritious oatmeal ideas for your eating pleasure:

  • Cook oatmeal according to the directions on the box. Then chop an apple and add to the bowl. Top with 1-2 tbsp. of peanut butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. You can also slice a banana in addition or in place of an apple.

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

  • Prepare the oats, and blend berries in a blender. Mix the berries in with the oats and not only do you get a huge amount of nutrients in that bowl, you also get a beautifully colored masterpiece. Top with other fruit, such as an orange and coconut flakes for a nice finish. To add some healthy fats, you can also add almond butter or mixed nuts.photo-13
  • Cook oats, and add in canned pumpkin and top with raisins and cinnamon.
  • Use oats in a savory dish by replacing them in any recipe that calls for rice, quinoa, barley, or any other grain. Oats have a mild flavor, and when seasoned correctly can be done right in savory dishes.
  • Add a fiber-full  dry cereal to your oats, if you want some extra fiber!
  • Add oats to your favorite cookie or muffin recipe for some fiber. You may have to increase the amount of oil or liquid ingredients, but unlike flour, oats will not immediately soak up the liquid ingredients so play around with the recipe you’re using.

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

  • Eat oats for dessert! Cook oats, and then add 1 tbsp. of cocoa powder (I like 100% cacao, unsweetened). Add a tbsp. of brown sugar, some cinnamon, almond or peanut butter, and your favorite fruit.photo 5

 

Those are my favorite ways to use oats. What are some of your favorites? Feel free to post a comment if you’d like to share, and don’t forget to visit and like my new Facebook page for Vitamin Valentine for additional daily nutrition, motivation, and health news and updates.

 

-Jess

Tips For Staying Healthy This Cold and Flu Season

As the holidays approach, we’re also entering peak sickness season.  I’ve spoken to several people who have fallen ill due to the flu, stomach viruses, and severe colds. Nutrition plays a big part of whether or not you get sick and the severity of symptoms. A poor diet has an influence on your immune system and if your diet is lacking in several vitamins and minerals, you might be more susceptible to illness.  Here are some ways you can prevent getting sick this winter:

  • Wash your hands, and do it frequently. I know this is a no-brainer, but it is really important for your hands to stay clean especially when illnesses are going around. If soap makes your hands feel dry and irritated, try keeping a small tube of moisturizer with you.  It’s also imperative to keep your hands, cookware, and utensils clean when you’re serving guests to prevent the spread of germs and disease during food preparation.
  • Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are great sources of Vitamin C. Although the research is mixed some studies claim that increased amounts of vitamin C can help prevent colds. Even if the research is lacking, eating more fruits and veggies can’t hurt.
    It's always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don't have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

    It’s always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don’t have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

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    one serving of kiwi and strawberries provides about 100% of the RDA for vitamin C

  • Make sure you’re getting enough zinc, especially if you’re suffering from a cold. Again, the research is not concrete at this point, but some studies show that sufficient zinc amounts can help shorten the duration of a cold. Animal foods (such as oysters and other seafood, lamb, and beef) are typically listed as the best sources of zinc, but if you’re a vegan/vegetarian, you’re in the luck because zinc can also be found in sunflower seeds and legumes. Zinc is often found in homeopathic cold remedies such as “Cold Eeze” and others, but the best way to get your vitamins and minerals is always through a nutritious diet.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. The standard is 8 cups (64 ounces) but water needs depend on your sex and body size. It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you do get sick and have stomach virus symptoms.
  • Rest. Although it might be tempting to go to every holiday party you’re invited to, if you’re sick, the best thing to do is stay home and rest. You’ll feel better quicker and you won’t run the risk of getting others sick.

Stay Well!

-Jess