Month: November 2017

20 Best Healthy Aldi Finds (With SmartPoints & Calories)

I absolutely LOVE grocery shopping, which I know makes me pretty weird by some standards. That aside, Aldi is one of the grocery stores I’ve only recently discovered, and I’ve been going about once a month to stock up since the prices are so much less, though it’s a bit far from me to be my go-to grocery store. I put together a list of my top 20 healthy Aldi finds and have included SmartPoints and calories per serving below so you can look out for these items next time you go if you’re interested. Please let me know what other healthy items you’ve found at Aldi that I’ve left off this list in the comments. Enjoy!

SimplyNature Peanut Butter Powder with Cocoa (1 SP | 40 cals)
SimplyNature Green Pea Crisps (3 SP | 120 cals)
Earth Grown Veggie Burger (3 SP | 90 cals)
Friendly Farms Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (1 SP | 30 cals)
Fit&Active Shredded Cheese in Mozz (2 SP | 70 cals) Cheddar (3 SP | 90 cals) or Four Cheese Mexican Blend (3 SP | 90 cals)
Fit&Active Turkey Bacon (1 SP | 25 cals)
Fit&Active Fresh Ground Turkey (3 SP | 160 cals)
Fit&Active Fresh Ground Turkey (3 SP | 160 cals)
SimplyNature Free Range Chicken Broth (0 SPs | 5 cals)
SimplyNature Unsweetened Apple Sauce (0 SPs | 50 cals)
Little Salad Bar Layered Dip (2 SPs | 30 cals)
Never Any! Spinach & Feta Chicken Sausage (4 SP | 140 cals)
Never Any! Uncured Black Forest Ham (1 SP | 60 cals)
Appleton Farms Breakfast Ham Slices (1 SP | 60 cals)
Fit&Active Flatbread Multi-Grain with Flax (2 SP | 100 cals)
L’Oven Fresh Sandwich Skinnys (3 SP | 100 cals)
Rice Cakes in Lightly Salted (1 SP | 40 cals) or Caramel Corn (2 SP | 50 cals)
Milleville Rice Squares (3 SP | 100 cals)
Northern Catch Wild Alaska Pink Salmon (2 SP | 90 cals)
Souther Grove Pistachios (4 SP | 120 cals)

A Tropical Thanksgiving: Antigua 2017 Recap

2017 was the first Thanksgiving of my life where I didn’t eat turkey for dinner, and I have to say, it was probably my best one yet. My dad’s 70th birthday was in August, and for this monumental birthday, he wanted to have the whole family together on vacation over Thanksgiving. We originally rented a villa in Anguilla (hey, that rhymes!), but had to shift gears after the hurricanes wrecked havoc on the Caribbean, and somehow Antigua made it through unscathed.

There were 12 of us total – my folks, me and John, both my sisters, their husbands, and their four (total) kids. If I’m being honest, I was a liiiiiiiittle nervous about having the entire family under one roof for a whole week for the first time in… years. We’re all pretty intense and 12 people, including 4 kids between 2 and 10, is a lot, but everyone got along really well and it was one of the best vacations I’ve been on!

To start, the villa we stayed at, Perfect Sunshine, was absolutely breathtaking. Here’s the view from the back porch, looking out over our private (!) infinity pool and the resort itself.

And this is was view from the back balcony every.single.night.

Another reason I loved this trip so much was that John and I went snorkeling every day while we were there, and saw some pretty cool stuff!

The island itself has 365 (!) beaches, and we made the rounds visiting quite a few during our stay.

One of the other really fun things we did was take a sunset cruise, which was actually my and my sisters’ gift to my parents, and we spent about 4 hours cruising around on a private catamaran.

And then when the sun started to set it was hard not to be mesmerized by the view.

The one downside, and I’m not even sure I’d call it that, was that food was REALLY expensive in Antigua. We cooked breakfast at the villa each morning (and by “we”, I mean my sister Wendy) and for the most part ate one meal out per day and cooked the other at home. We had some great meals out, including lunch at the Beach Bum Bar & Grill (times two).

Lunch at Papa’s By the Sea (side note: it’s REALLY hard to take a selfie and get 12 people in the photo. This was my best try…)

And probably my favorite meal of the trip – a whole red snapper grilled with garlic butter, plus fries, veggies and salad on the side from OJ’s Bar & Restaurant.

The only other thing that was less than ideal were the roads in Antigua. I’ve traveled in the Caribbean quite a bit and there’s usually potholes and narrow roads, but Antigua took it to a whole different level. The roads were so narrow it didn’t feel like two cars could get through side by side, and cars were randomly parked on the side of the narrow streets all over the place. Our villa was a bit isolated so we had to drive about 45 minutes to get to the other side of the island, and it was really intense each time. We ended up on a few dirt roads that were mostly just potholes on top of each other and I definitely considered getting out of the car and walking a time or two.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend solid quality time with my family, which is much rarer than I’d like it to be these days. I remember when I first got out of college and went home for the holidays and was shocked that I only got one day for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It felt like it was time to head back to DC/get into work mode before I’d even realized the holiday was upon us, and that’s continued to be one of the things I struggle the most with in terms of adulting.

The upside to that is it makes times like these that much more precious.

Who knew I was such a sap!?

10 Healthy & Easy Recipe Ideas Using Canned Black Beans

Canned black beans are one of my favorite pantry ingredients because they’re delicious, healthy, and versatile. Since I’m always experimenting with them, I thought I’d put together a list of quick, healthy, and easy recipe ideas to keep from get bored with this pantry staple. You’ll see that a lot of these call on the same flavor combinations, which is the way I like to approach cooking — by learning key flavors that work together and then using them in different combinations to keep it interesting. Let’s dive right in – my 10 favorite ways to use black beans. Enjoy!

1.) Sweet Potato Black Bean Burger – Veggie burgers are one of my favorites, and while I still like to buy the frozen kind, making them at home is super simple too. One of my favorites involves just 3 ingredients – cooked sweet potato, black beans, and bread crumbs. You can experiment with the ratios here but I like to do 1/4 cup black beans, 1/4 cup sweet potato, and 1 tbsp bread crumbs per patty, which works out to be 4 SmartPoints. These also freeze really well!

2.) Roasted Black Beans – By now, everyone has heard of roasted chickpeas, right? Did you know you can do the same thing with a can of black beans? Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, drain, rinse, and dry off the beans, then drizzle some olive oil and spices over them and bake for 20 minutes until they start to pop, stirring half way through. My favorite spice combo with these is chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.

3.) Black Bean Soup – This is a super quick and easy weeknight meal, or great for lunches during the week. I’ll use 2 cans of black beans (not drained), 1 cup of veggie stock, and 1 can of diced tomatoes with chiles (Rotel). Combine everything in a pot and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 10 minutes. Once finished cooking, use an immersion blender or a regular blender until desired consistency.

4.) Black Bean Dip – I’ve been using this Weight Watchers recipe for years, and it’s super simple with just canned black beans, salsa, yogurt, cilantro, cumin & salt. The hardest part of this recipe is a tie between opening the can of beans and then cleaning whatever you use to combine the ingredients. This is great with veggies and/or tortilla chips, and if you have any leftover, you can use it in place of mayo/mustard on a sandwich and it adds great flavor!

5.) Black Beans & Rice – A lot of times I’ll cook rice according to package directions, and then stir a can of rinsed and dried black beans directly into it. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll also stir sauteed onion, cilantro, and lime juice into the mix (plus salt and pepper, always!). This is great on it’s own, or over salad, or topped with a fried egg, salsa, and/or chopped avocado.

6.) Chilled Black Bean Salad – Combine rinsed and drained black beans with chopped veggies of choice – my favs are tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, corn and cilantro (which is an herb not a veggie but hey) – plus a squeeze of fresh lime and salt. You can also add in olive oil if you like, or any cooked grain (like rice, couscous or quinoa) to round it out.

7.) Black Bean Pizza – For a quick lunch or dinner, I’ll mash up black beans with salt and lime and use it in place of sauce on a homemade pizza. I’ll usually do it on a tortilla or an english muffin, but you can use regular pizza crust too. Then I’ll add diced tomatoes, corn, red onion, and chicken, before sprinkling shredded cheese (cheddar or mozz for me!) over the top and baking or toasting.

8.) Black Beans over Sweet Potato – This is one of my favorite combinations and something so easy to throw together, especially if you have leftover sweet potatoes. If not, you can poke a few holes in the sweet potato with a fork and microwave on high for 10ish minutes until it’s cooked through. You can use the black beans as is out of the can, or you can mix them with tomatoes, cumin and salt. Garnish with sour cream and/or cilantro if you want to take it up a notch!

9.) Mexican Egg MuffinsFull recipe here, but these are delicious egg muffins filled with with black beans, pepper and onions, salsa and cheese. Made with the exact quanities in the posted recipe, this works out to 2 SmartPoints per egg muffin, which is a steal with how much flavor these have.

10.) Black Bean Tacos – I use 1 can of black beans, red onion, cilantro, cumin, and salt and mash it together with a fork or spoon for the taco filling. I’ll heat corn tortillas in a pan and add the black bean filling, and then top it with shredded cheese, tomatoes, salsa, and/or sour cream. So good and easy. This is great to bring as a vegetarian option alongside ground beef or turkey on a DIY taco spread.

Two Weeks on SmartPoints: Takeaways & A Gain

I may have been stretching the truth when I said I was just looking to maintain this week after having such a big loss my first week following Weight Watchers’ SmartPoints. Truth be told, I was obviously hoping to lose again, so when I went in yesterday to step on the scale, I was pretty disappointed to see that I’d gained .8 pounds. I started to pout, but forced myself to stop when I looked down and saw that I’ve still lost 6 pounds total from the start, which averages to 3 pounds a week, aka more than I should get used to losing. And, before stepping on the scale, I’d walked in feeling pretty good about the week. So, rather than mope, I thought I’d share some takeaways from my first two weeks back on SmartPoints.

  1. Losing weight is hard! Even though I’m more familiar with this concept than I’d like to be, switching back into weight loss mode these past few weeks has reminded me just how hard it is. Every single day I’ve found myself having to make unexpected food-related decisions, like whether to take the free sample of fried chicken at the food truck (I did, and it was delicious for 1 SP which maybe should have been 2) or a treat from the tray that was passed around at a work meeting (I didn’t, and kept picturing everyone’s dirty hands all over them any time I considered going back on that). It’s just in your face all the time, and makes it much harder to stick with your plan than if there weren’t temptations at every turn.
  2. It really is a good idea to look up the SmartPoints value before I eat something, just so I know. Especially as I’m adjusting to the new system, seeing the high SP value of certain foods (ahem, anything with sugar) really makes me consider if it’s worth it when I do it on the front end.
  3. If I know I’m going to have something pretty point-y (see #2), adding it to the day before so it comes out of my weeklies instead of out of my dailies helps me stay on track. There’s something disheartening about seeing your daily SmartPoints dwindle, especially if you have a treat earlier in the day. I’ve found that even though it doesn’t make a difference except in my head, I’m able to stay on track after the “treat” better when it hasn’t blown my whole day of SmartPoints.
  4. Social gatherings and weekends are still my biggest challenges. I am really good and on track during the week, but having less structure on the weekends and alcohol during social gatherings, definitely makes it harder for me to stay on track. One thing I used to do that I’ve considered reintroducing, is dedicating my weeklies to the weekend in chunks. So, since I get 42 weeklies, I’d give myself 20 extra for Friday night (or Thursday night, or whichever other night I had something coming up) and 20 extra for Saturday, which made it feel like I still had some flexibility to indulge but gave me a good framework to limit myself. Again, just a mind trick, but whatever works, right?
  5. I don’t mind having the same few things for breakfast every day. I’ve found myself having the same two things for breakfast almost every day — either eggs or oatmeal — and I don’t get tired of it. I usually have hard boiled or fried eggs with veggies and toast, or steel cut oatmeal with cottage cheese and fruit, or with spinach, cheese, and egg for something savory. I look forward to those same things each morning and don’t mind having the same exact variation day after day.
  6. I do mind when it comes to lunch (and dinner). I’ve gone two days in a row having leftovers for lunch and can barely make it through the second day (third serving). I’m trying to overcome this without having to go crazy cooking by rotating what I’m having for lunch so I don’t have the same leftovers more than two days in a row. It seems to be working!
  7. “Free” fruits and veggies definitely makes me eat more of them than I would otherwise. Shifting into the SmartPoints budget mindset makes fruits and veggies being 0 SPs that much more appealing. I’ve found myself eating 2-3 servings of fruit and 4-6 servings of veggies most days, which is much more than I’d been having pre-recommitting to WW. I’ve been eating lots of frozen berries and bananas from the grocery store, plus honeycrisp apples, baby spinach, onions, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli from the farmer’s market.
  8. There’s something refreshing about seeing my renewed daily SmartPoints budget at the top of the WW app each morning. You always hear “everyday is a new day!” but those refreshed dailies really drive home that point, especially if I’ve gone a little overboard the day before.
  9. Even just weeks committed to a new regimen can make a big difference in how you feel. I’m sure there’s a bunch of factors contributing to this (see you Saturday, Antigua!), but I definitely feel GOOD and like I’ve had extra pep in my step these last couple weeks.

Since I leave for vacation on Saturday, I won’t weigh in again until I’m back from the trip. My plan is to enjoy my vacation and not be obsessive about WW or let it prevent me from enjoying myself, but I do want to try to be mindful about what I’m eating and make an effort to be active. In an ideal world, I’d see a loss on the scale, but I realize it’s pretty ambitious since I’ll be traveling, so I won’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. Onto the next!

A Day of Eats: What 31 SmartPoints Looks Like

I thought it’d be fun to share what 31 SmartPoints (SPs) looks like spread throughout the day, since I’m always curious myself to see how other people eat. After having such a great first week on the program, the only downside is that I went from 32 SPs down to 31. Luckily, 30 SPs is the lowest anyone gets in a day, so I shouldn’t have to cut down too much more from here. Without further ado, here’s my full day of eats!

9AM: 2 scrambled eggs (4 SPs) with cherry tomatoes (0 SPs) from the farmer’s market.

I’ll usually have an english muffin or toast on the side, but yesterday I didn’t so I had a small snack at 11am of 2 mandarins and 10 almonds (2 SPs), plus an apricot LaCroix (my FAVORITE), bringing the day’s total up to 6 SPs.Around 1:30pm I had leftovers for lunch, which was spaghetti squash (0 SPs) with turkey bolognese (4 SPs) and shredded mozzarella (2 SPs), adding up to 12 SPs for the day so far.Around 4pm I had another snack consisting of 1/2 cup of Cheerios (1 SP) and 1/2 cup 2% plain greek yogurt (2 SPs) plus blueberries (0 SPs), bringing the day to 15 SPs.

Dinner was at 7 and started with a cup of Potato Leek Soup (4 SPs)

And rounded out with 4 oz sockeye salmon (2 SPs), roasted broccoli (0 SP), and a medium baked potato (5 SPs) with 2 tablespoons light sour cream (2 SPs), bringing the day to 28  SPs.

I always like to have a little something sweet to end the day, and this week I’ve been slicing and freezing bananas (0 SP), and then drizzling 1 tablespoon of melted semisweet chocolate chips (3 SPs) over it. I like to use the mini semisweet chips if I can find ’em because I get more bang for my buck that way!

And that, my friends, is what 31 SmartPoints looks like!

A Week on SmartPoints: The Good, The Bad & The Weigh-In

Yesterday marked my first full week on the Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale plan, and overall I’m really digging SmartPoints (SP). I’ve written about several of the Weight Watchers plans over the years, including:

But since rumor on the street has it that a new plan will be rolling out in the next few weeks (rumors are discussed here), rather than go into the nitty gritty details, I’ll just share five things that stuck out to me from this first week.

  1. SmartPoints seems more in line with the latest nutritional research, steering us towards foods lower in sugar and higher in protein. It seems like it’s a lot harder to “cheat the system” that it has been on earlier iterations of WW.
  2. I love that there’s a focus… beyond the scale, including thinking about (& writing down!) why you’re trying to lose weight at the beginning and setting non-scale related goals for yourself in addition to weight goals as you go along.
  3. I really miss the Healthy Living Guidelines tracker. I used to love checking off each cup of water and fruit and veggie as I ate it. (Can you tell I’m Type A much??) I’m not sure why they removed this feature, perhaps to simplify the program and not overwhelm those of us who don’t like having to check boxes, but I wish it was an option because I miss it!
  4. I’m a lot less impressed with the format for the Weight Watchers Weekly. It seems like there’s a lot less information and a lot of repetition from week to week. For example, each week uses a full page to talk about reframing your thinking, and the examples they give are just… dumb. This week’s topic was “Use Your Beans” and it did include one recipe, but it seemed like the rest of it was trying to convince me that beans are a good source of protein and alternative to meat… I’m convinced, now give me something useful!
  5. I love that fruits and veggies are still no points, and that they figured out how to tweak the Recipe Builder so that when you create recipes, fruits and veggies aren’t counting against you like they did before.

So, there’s definitely more things I like about SmartPoints than I dislike, and overall my first week went really well! I get 32 SmartPoints per day and 42 per week, and this first week I ate them ALL. I am actually really enjoying tracking again and have gone to town with the scanner at the grocery store. The week itself was pretty low key and easy to be on plan since I was mostly cooking at home, but then I had a bunch of social stuff over the weekend which is always more challenging. But, I tracked everything I ate, tried to make good decisions for the most part, and felt pretty in control.

So, when I went in yesterday for my weigh in, I was feeling pretty confident that I’d lost, but wasn’t sure what to expect numbers wise. I was quite pleased when I stepped up on the scale and was down 6.8 pounds!! I am obviously SUPER happy with this result, but I know most of it is probably water weight, so my goal for next week is to just maintain the loss from this week. Onwards!

One of the things I am excited to dive into this week is Connect on the WW app! For those on WW, any tips or insights on how best to use it?

The Real Reasons Why

For a good part of the last year or so, I’ve been wanting to focus on getting healthier and losing weight, but with so many changes and health issues along the way, I just haven’t made progress in the ways I was hoping to by now. And somehow, it’s already November and 2017 is almost behind us (thank GOD for that though), which is really hard to believe. Since I feel like I’ve stepped out of the fog hanging over the last several months, rather than letting a few more slip away with no progress, this week, I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers. And while I’ve joined a few times over the last couple years here and there, this time it feels different. I think I’m just ready to commit to making my health a priority again, and have the bandwidth to focus on it for the first time in a while.

One of the things I love about the Beyond the Scale Weight Watchers program is the whole “beyond the scale” part. At the beginning when you sign up and weigh in for the first time, they have you to take a few minutes to write why you want to lose weight. The receptionist actually had me write something down right then, which I think is good because it forces you to think about it. They say the more specific and detailed you can be the better because then you can start to visualize it, which can be pretty powerful, especially in moments of weakness.

After leaving the meeting, I’ve been thinking more about all the whys – why do I want to lose weight in general, why Weight Watchers again, why right now – and thought I’d share what I came up with. It’s really easy to list off surface level reasons, so I forced myself to dig a bit deeper with each.

  1. I don’t want to be back to the “before” and I’m terrified that’s the direction I’m heading if I don’t make some changes.
  2. Weight loss is mostly related to what I put into my body, which is something that’s totally within my control. Lately, so many things have felt outside my control, especially related to my back issues, so I’m looking forward to focusing on something where the outcome is completely up to me.
  3. I want to get excited when I see someone has tagged a picture of me on social media, rather than be filled with dread for how bad I might look in the picture.
  4. I’m currently a size 12, which is towards the top end of the range of sizes regular clothing stores carry. I want to be able to shop at regular stores, not have to go to the back of the rack to pick the biggest size they carry, and to feel good when I try on the clothes.
  5. I want to feel proud of my body again. I worked so hard to lose all the weight last time, and I’m ashamed I’ve gained some of it back, especially after undergoing plastic surgery to memorialize my hard work.
  6. I want to wear a bikini with confidence again. I vividly remember the first time I ever wore a bikini in my entire life by myself at a public pool in DC, and how liberating it felt. I truly believe that people should wear whatever they’re comfortable in, and I’m at the point where I don’t feel comfortable bearing my stomach.
  7. I want to be comfortable changing in a locker room or in front of friends again, instead of turning towards a wall and doing it quickly in a panic or going into a private bathroom stall.
  8. My parents have a long list of health issues related to being overweight, and I’m at the age where those things aren’t too far off if I don’t get it under control. My dad had a heart attack at age 40 (!) and both my parents have struggled with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being prediabetic/Type II diabetes. I don’t want the same fate.
  9. Holidays are a really tough time to lose or maintain weight, so rather than let myself spiral out of control these next few months, I want to focus on taking care of myself and get a head start. Time goes by so fast, especially as we get older (it’s science!) so rather than let a few more weeks turn into a few more months, I’m starting now.