I had a stroke of culinary genius last weekend during Sunday meal prep. It involved cheese, chicken, quinoa, broccoli, and the trusty ol’ slow cooker.
Last Saturday evening, we went to a little dinner spot on 6th Street called Parkside for our weekly treat meal. They had Gruyere mac and cheese listed as a side item. Sounded drool-worthy. I haven’t had mac and cheese in ages, so we ordered it with our meals along with some Brussels (of course). Ryan loved it. Me — not so much. I was disappointingly unimpressed. After a couple of bites (which totally didn’t satisfy my cheese craving), I gave up and pushed it to the corner of my plate. The flavor just wasn’t worth it, so I moved on to engulf my roasted chicken. Talk about a depressing treat meal.
I decided to turn my disappointment into kitchen inspiration and set out on a mission to come up with a slow cooker “mac and cheese” recipe that was healthy and filling enough to eat throughout the week for lunch. SO HAPPY WITH THIS FINAL PRODUCT, GUYS. SERIOUSLY. It might not look appetizing, but it’s all about the flavor with slow cooker dishes, anyhow. The ingredients here might sound a little odd, but just try it during your meal prep this weekend.
I loved it. Ryan loves it. It made a huge batch of food (8 servings) and we still have leftovers to last through the weekend. Plus, if you use a slow cooker liner, YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO CLEAN ANYTHING. God bless slow cooker liners.
This is kind of a cross between broccoli cheese soup and chicken mac and cheese. It’s not soupy, and it’s a little less cheesy, but it’s delicious. Plus, it’s simple, and you’ll probably be impressed by the nutritional breakdown.
Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
Nutritional Overview (per 1 cup serving)
Cook time: 3 hours 5 minutes (5min active, 3hrs in slow cooker)
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 3 cups frozen broccoli
- 24oz. fully cooked sliced seasoned chicken fajita strips
- 1 cup fat free cottage cheese
- 1 cup 2% Kraft Natural Shredded Cheddar Cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 2 tbsp stone ground mustard
- 1 tbsp paprika
- Salt and pepper, to taste (I probably used 1/2-2/3 tbsp each)
- 1/2 tbsp oregano
- Line your slow cooker with a liner. Or, skip this step if you’re crazy and REALLY enjoy scrubbing out your slow cooker. Up to you.
- Throw all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. No need to thaw the broccoli or chicken — just toss everything in.
- Cover and cook on low/medium for about 3 hours. I stirred mine halfway through just to make sure nothing was going to burn and/or explode.
I portioned this out into lunches for Ryan and myself on Sunday, and they were still delicious yesterday. This one is a true winner. :o) Sunday meal prep last week took about an hour of hands-on action, which is a record for me since I always prep for both Ryan and myself. This dish, Sriracha Ranch burgers, roasted veggies, and all of our usual snacks made Sunday a BREEZE. I’ll definitely be making this again!
Let’s Get Personal. REALLY Personal.
My first draft of this post covered how to pick a protein powder and a few personal recommendations based on what I use. I tend to get that question on (almost) a daily basis, so I’ll definitely do a post on it in the near(ish) future. But, after a relatively sleepless night, my gut spoke up at around 4:30am and told me to write about something a little bit deeper than protein powder. So, I scrapped everything and started fresh this morning. If I’ve learned anything in the last 6 months, it’s to always go with my gut. As cliche as it may sound, my gut is what told me to start a blog. It’s what told me to look into getting my nutrition specialist credentials. It’s where I get my inspiration for what I create in the kitchen. So, I listen to it. And it’s usually right.
Time to talk about self-acceptance. If you don’t want to hear a very personal rant, feel free to stop reading because shit’s about to get pretty real. (You guys know I’m honest with my writing, but I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this raw. So, here we go.)
Growing up is kind of a funny thing. Everyone says that college is where you’re supposed to “find yourself” and figure out who you’re “meant to be.” That’s not exactly how my story went. I spent roughly 60% of of college getting wasted at frat parties or bar-hopping, 20% in class, 10% sleeping off hangovers, and 10% eating at Kerbey Lane or Taco Cabana. I took pride in being able to shotgun a beer faster than any frat boy, being able to take more shots than anyone at the bar, and waking up the next morning with little to no recollection of the night before. You can’t really “find yourself” when you’re obliterated for most of your waking hours.
I drank when I found out my parents were getting a divorce. I drank when I found out I had gotten a real job before graduation. No matter the situation — whether it was flat-out awful or a cause for celebration — I turned to alcohol. I lived to party. Mine and my best friend’s names are literally engraved in gold plaques on the bar at the place where we spent the majority of our time. I was a hot mess, and any of you who hung out with me from 2008-2012 can attest to that. At times, I wonder how I made it out of college alive with a functional liver.
When I went out (which was every Thursday-Saturday night at a bare minimum), I was on a mission to get blackout drunk. Why? Because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. When I drank, I drank to be less self-conscious and more open. I didn’t accept myself sober, and I felt that I needed alcohol to be approachable or feel at ease in a social situation. I didn’t love who I was as a person without it. I relied on drinking because I didn’t accept myself in my sober state. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I never realized this until I moved away from that lifestyle, but I was on a pretty scary path up until last year.
I’m not saying I regret any of the decisions I made in college or how things panned out overall — I met a ton of great people who are still close friends, met Ryan while stumbling around 6th, and it was a lot of fun. I’m also not saying that booze is the root of all evil — I still have wine with dinner on occasion, and I still go out for drinks with my friends on some weekends. Alcohol wasn’t the source of my problems. The way that I constantly turned to it as a source of comfort was the big issue.
When I started focusing more on my health, I stopped drinking as much. When I stopped drinking as much, my mind became more clear. When my mental clarity increased, I realized what I’d been doing to myself for the last few years and what my actions said about what was going on in my brain. The fact that I didn’t love myself led me to seek comfort in binge drinking.
A HUGE lesson that I’ve learned in the last year is that you have to accept yourself for who you are in your current state if you want to be happy. I drank because I didn’t accept myself, and in a similar vein, I used to work out because I hated various parts of my body — my love handles, my big thighs, my jiggly arms. I HATED them. I’d look at myself in the mirror and critique every single part of my body, wishing I had those supermodel arms or that athlete’s legs. I picked myself apart and put myself down on a daily basis because I was only focusing on what I saw as the negative parts of me that needed to be “fixed.” (PS: this type of negative self-talk is NOT restricted to females. Men do it, too. NONE OF US SHOULD. PERIOD.) Clearly, that wasn’t good motivation to keep going. It was the exact opposite, so I quit every attempt that I’d ever made at getting in shape.
Once I started accepting my WHOLE self and began focusing on the positives, I started putting in more effort at the gym and was able to commit to improving my health because I’d finally decided that I was worth it. I stopped trying to improve my physical appearance because I wanted to look as good as somebody else, and I started striving to be the best version of ME. Sure, you can (and should) have goals around self-improvement, but if you base them on wanting what someone else has that you lack, you won’t be setting yourself up for success. When it comes to getting in shape, the only person you should be worrying about is YOU.
This little gem popped up in my Gmail inbox this morning and got my wheels turning on all of this. Apparently, it was one of the most shared items on Google+ last week. (Thank GOD this beat Bieber’s mugshot.)
I really connected with the first, second, and eighth bullets. Life is short, and we only get one of them (our own) which is defined by the choices that WE make. Appreciate and accept yourself. Make good, healthy decisions based on how you want your future to turn out. Plain and simple. Don’t be jealous of someone’s flat stomach or ripped arms. Envision yourself in your happiest, healthiest state, and strive to become that. Make changes in your daily habits to improve yourself where you want to grow, but don’t base it on wanting what someone else has (AKA jealously).
/rantover. There’s your Friday motivation. :o) Now, go give yourself a big hug.
Keep on track this weekend, and don’t forget to plan/prep your meals before you head to your Super Bowl party on Sunday! You’re making my slow cooker wings, right? I am. Triple-batching it, actually. Wings for everyone.
PS: WEDNESDAY IS THE LAST DAY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GIVEAWAY FOR A FREE MONTH OF BOOT CAMP AT SYNERGY!! Yes, 100% free workouts at ANY location, any time for a full month. Up for grabs. Read this post for more details and SPREAD THE FREAKING WORD. All you current campers, don’t you want to get your best friend/significant other/coworker/family member into class so they can see how hard you work on a regular basis?! Share the giveaway details with them TODAY. I’ll be picking a winner by the end of next week.