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This delicious, holiday breakfast cake is full of fiber, protein and pumpkiny goodness that won’t spike your blood sugar or cause you to gain weight. (We’ll leave that job to Grandma’s sugar cookies and fudge.) Nicely spiced with cinnamon and vanilla, there’s just enough sweetness (from only 1/2 c. honey!) to compliment the tartness of the cranberries. If you don’t care for fresh (or frozen) cranberries, you can substitute dried cranberries, although they are heavily sweetened with sugar.

Using a half coconut flour, half almond flour blend delivers a wonderful texture and moist crumb that lasts for over a week in the fridge, which makes this a great make-ahead recipe for your gluten free or dieting guests.  (Check with strict Paleo guests to make sure they’re okay with the xanthan gum and baking powder; everything else is Paleo. You can omit these ingredients, but it will affect the texture and rise.) If you’re not a fan of coconut, rest assured that there are so many other flavors going on in this recipe that you’ll get all the health benefits of coconut flour without tasting it!

Although this resembles a muffin more than a cake in terms of sweetness, baking it like a cake in a 9″x13″ pan makes the equivalent of 2-dozen muffins without all the scooping (and yes, I’m just that lazy). This is one of my daily breakfast choices that helps me maintain my weight loss, but if you’re looking for a holiday treat to please your sweet tooth, check out my gluten free caramel sticky buns and bacon-wrapped smokies. However, with the guilt-free breakfast below, you can have your (breakfast) cake and eat it too!

Pumpkin Cranberry Cake

Grain-Free Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cake

1 very ripe medium banana
½ c. pumpkin puree
6 eggs
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. xanthan gum, slightly rounded
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ c. almond flour (fine flour, not coarse almond meal)
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ c. fresh or frozen cranberries

Break banana into chunks and place in a large mixer bowl. (The riper the better; just cut out any black parts.) Mash using the paddle attachment until the banana is pureed and smooth. Mix in pumpkin puree. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well on medium speed after each addition. Add salt.

Pour the coconut flour into the mixer through a sifter or sieve to separate the coconut flour clumps. (You may have to press some remaining coconut flour balls through the wires.) Add the baking powder and xanthan gum, then mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides, until the batter is smooth.

Melt butter in a glass liquid measuring cup. Add honey until you have 1 c. total liquid; stir a little to soften honey. Add to the mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Add almond flour, cinnamon and baking soda to mixer and mix until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in cranberries.

Spread mixture into a greased, 9”x13” baking pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (if using a glass pan – less for a dark, nonstick pan, and possibly longer in a disposable foil pan) or until the top springs back when pressed in the center of the cake. This will get pretty dark because of the pumpkin and almond flour, so don’t worry if it looks overdone!

Serve warm. Store cooled cake tightly covered in the fridge for up to 10 days. Serves 12.

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This easy-to-assemble, deliciously creamy cheesecake is a gluten free version of a recipe I found for the Cheesecake Factory pumpkin cheesecake.  I reduced the recipe to fit an 8″ round disposable aluminum pan (see note), which eliminates the need for a springform pan since you can bend the edge of the pan down to easily release a slice. (It also eliminates the need to wash your pan!) This recipe makes 8 large slices (pictured below) or 10 smaller slices. If you want to double the recipe for more guests, I’d recommend using 2 pans rather than a 10″ springform pan because long, skinny cheesecake slices are impossible to cut and serve neatly.

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Crust Substitutions
Because I like a hint of pecans with pumpkin desserts, I substituted pecans ground in a food processor for some of the graham cracker crumbs in the original recipe. (Be careful to grind them just until they resemble crumbs; if you grind too long you’ll end up with nut butter!) I used the gluten free Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs, but you could make the crumbs by crushing or processing in a food processor whole S’morables. (While putting in links just now, I discovered that Pamela’s also makes gluten free graham crackers.) If you need a nut-free dessert, simply substitute additional graham cracker crumbs. Or, if you can’t find gluten free graham crackers in your area, try using gluten free ginger snap crumbs and omit the sugar. Pamela’s, Mi-Del’s, and Trader Joe’s gluten free ginger snaps are all good.

This cheesecake tastes better and better each day, so it’s the perfect dessert to make a day or two before Thanksgiving. I haven’t tried freezing it, but most cheesecakes freeze well. If you freeze it, be sure to cover it with a layer of plastic wrap and foil, then thaw it in the fridge at least 24 hrs. before serving.

For more holiday recipes, type “Thanksgiving” or “Holiday” in the search bar on my blog. And while you’re at it, check out my yummy GF pumpkin pancake or grain free pumpkin cranberry muffin recipes to use up your leftover pumpkin. Happy holidays!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust:
1 c. GF graham cracker crumbs (see crust notes above)
1/3 c. ground pecans
1 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, melted

Filling:
2 pkgs. cream cheese, softened
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
2 eggs
¾ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ea. allspice, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients for crust in a disposable, 8” round foil pan.  (Note: I bought the kind that comes with a paper/foil lid at the dollar store, and while it says 9″ pan on the label, the bottom of the pan measures 8 inches.) Stir in melted better and toss with a fork until combined. Press into bottom and partway up sides of pan. Bake 5 minutes, then set aside until ready to fill.

Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in mixer. Mix on medium-low until lumps disappear. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into crust and smooth the top.

Place crust in a 9”x13” pan filled with 1 in. water. Bake 55-65 minutes until just set and the top appears dull. (If it’s cracked it’s overdone.)  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack (out of water bath) for 10 min. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to release the edges, then continue to let cool until room temperature. Cover carefully and refrigerate overnight. (You don’t want any plastic wrap to touch the top of the cheesecake, but you also don’t want it to taste like the leftover pizza in your fridge.)

Serve with whipped cream and additional pecans or caramel sauce or crushed ginger snaps – or all of it!

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After a lovely summer of letting my children forage for their breakfast most days, I decided to celebrate our first cool, fall day with some I-can’t-believe-these-are-gluten-free ooey, gooey, caramel sticky buns. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but as those are tricky to make gluten free and require a lot of work, these little bites of heaven satisfy their desire for sweet rolls and my desire to not curse while baking.

Now if you are a more recent follower of my blog, you’ve probably come to expect low sugar, grain free or otherwise healthy recipes from me. This recipe is…um…not those things. But sometimes you need a recipe that will knock the socks off of a gluten-free skeptic, and so I feel obligated to share with you the mouth-watering result of my combining and tweaking the Namaste biscuit and Pillsbury Caramel Sticky Bun recipes. Happy fall baking (or whatever excuse you need to make these)!

Sticky Buns

Biscuit Ingredients:
2/3 c. milk + 2 tsp. white vinegar (to make buttermilk)
1 egg
1/2 c. very cold butter
2 c. Namaste Flour Blend (or other GF flour blend + 1 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt (I just eyeballed a scant tsp.)
1/8 tsp. baking soda (omit if using other milk besides buttermilk)

Biscuit Coating:
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. butter, melted

Caramel Topping:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla (vanilla flavoring, not vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pop the 1/2 c. butter for the biscuits in the freezer to get it nice and cold. Put the 3 T. butter for the biscuit coating in a microwave safe bowl and set aside. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the biscuit coating in another bowl and set aside.

In a 1 c. liquid measuring cup, combine 2/3 c. milk with 2 tsp. white vinegar and stir to make buttermilk. (Using buttermilk really does make a difference in the texture of the biscuits, but if you need to use a dairy free milk, skip this step and omit the vinegar and baking soda.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine the flour (plus xanthan gum if using a GF blend that does not contain any xanthan or guar gum), sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda (only if using buttermilk, which is needed to activate the soda). Take the butter out of the freezer and chop it into 8 slices, cutting each of those into quarters until it’s all in little cubes.

Toss half of the cubes in the flour mixture with the fork to coat. (This makes it easier to cut in butter without it all sticking together.) Using a pastry blender or two knives, start cutting in the butter. Add the remaining cubes and coat with flour, then cut in the butter until it is all in pea-sized or smaller crumbles. (And when you’re all done, recall that you have a food processor in the garage that is meant to make short work of projects such as this, then kick yourself for not remembering sooner.)

Place the 1/4 c. butter for the caramel topping in an ungreased, deep 8″x8″ pan and pop it in the oven to melt while you form the biscuits. (You really do need a pan with deep sides because the caramel will bubble up, and I can tell you from personal experience what a travesty it is to have the precious, yummy caramel bubble over onto the oven liner, making the whole house smell like burnt sugar for days. Heed this warning, gentle reader, lest ye suffer likewise.)

Crack the egg into the buttermilk and mix well with a fork. Stir this into the flour mixture with the fork until just combined. Place a little extra flour in a measuring cup to dip your fingers in to keep the biscuit dough from sticking to them. With floured fingers, pull off  2-3 T.-sized chunks of dough and roll into a ball, then gently flatten into a smallish biscuit on a piece of waxed paper. (The size/number is up to you; the smaller the biscuit, the more surface area is covered with sugar and the more servings you have. I ended up with 15.) Continue until all the dough is rolled into biscuits, occasionally checking on the butter in the oven to see if it’s melted.

Remove pan with melted butter from the oven (before it browns). Stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until you have a buttery caramel, occasionally swatting away fingers of children who wish to sample the caramel.

Melt butter for biscuit coating in the microwave, about 30 seconds. Dip biscuits into the butter, then coat in the sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside AGES ago. (We’re almost there!!) Place biscuits on top of the caramel mixture in the pan, overlapping as necessary to make them all fit.

Bake 20-25 minutes until golden and biscuits are no longer doughy in the center. Let cool for 2 minutes (while you pour a cup of coffee or heat some sausage to serve with these in an effort to avert a sugar-coma).

Place an upside-down pretty serving plate on top of the pan (so your family will recognize that this is a special occasion and acknowledge your efforts accordingly) and, using oven mitts – duh – carefully invert the pan onto the serving plate. Spoon any remaining caramel from the pan onto the rolls (or save it for yourself as a reward for later if your family fails to give you the proper praise). Serve immediately.

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After a year of tweaking my Paleo pancake recipe, I finally found the secret to delicious, grain-free, refined sugar-free pancakes that don’t turn into scrambled pancake – *#$*@%* – on my griddle. (There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for the treachery of banana/egg/coconut flour pancakes that stick to the griddle in a gloppy mess.) “So Brenda, what did you learn from your year of trial and error?” asked no one. Well, I’m going to tell you in great detail anyway, because it has been a loooooong process of discovery that must be documented.

Moist and Pliable…
The secret to pliable, easy to flip pancakes was right there in my gluten-free baking supplies: xanthan gum, which replaces the gluten in GF baking and keeps breads from being crumbly. To the Paleo purists it is off limits, but to those of us who prefer to eat our pancakes with a fork and not a spoon, xanthan gum is our friend (and is a totally benign ingredient, so I’m okay with it).

It also helps greatly if you cook grain-free pancakes in a generous amount of bacon grease or coconut oil. I usually start with the grease left on the griddle after cooking some bacon – oh yeah – and add coconut oil as needed to keep it greased. The other key ingredient is almond milk (unsweetened for a totally refined sugar-free pancake, or original if that’s what you have on hand), which helps to smooth out the batter and make it less eggy.

While making gluten free pancakes from scratch with grains for my family, I discovered that “regular” pancakes use both baking soda and baking powder. The baking soda makes them brown nicely, while the baking powder adds extra leavening. While most Paleo recipes shun baking powder – it contains cornstarch! gasp! – I find that adding it really makes a difference in making grain-free pancakes less dense and heavy. It also helps to lighten them up if you beat the eggs well in the mixer while making your batter.

Yet Healthy and Filling
I’ve made pancakes with just coconut flour, but I prefer to combine it with almond flour for better texture and less coconutty flavor. Coconut flour is full of fiber and good-for-you stuff, but almond flour is high in protein and lower in carbs, so the two combined provide a filling breakfast that will keep you energized until lunch (and keep cravings for carbs/sweets at bay, which is why this breakfast is a key component of my weight loss success).  You can make these with melted coconut oil instead of butter for a totally dairy-free option, but I prefer the taste/texture of pancakes made with melted butter (probably because the coconut oil starts to harden in the batter).

Full of Flavor with No Refined Sugar
I eat these tasty pancakes with a hint of sweetness every day, and add variety by topping them with whatever berries are in season (sometimes with a little canned whipped cream for a decadent treat). However, there’s so much flavor from the pure maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and bananas that I usually just spread a little butter on them and that’s it.

Grain Free Pancakes

Grain-free, Refined Sugar-free Pancakes

1 very ripe banana (brown peel)
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
6 eggs
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (for salted butter, cut salt to 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. pure maple syrup (I’ve used honey, but prefer the hint of maple)
2/3 c. coconut flour
1/3 c. almond flour (not almond meal)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 – 3/4 c. almond milk (unsweetened for refined sugar-free pancakes)
Bacon grease and/or coconut oil for cooking

Break the banana into chunks and mash in the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment. (If it’s not overripe, you may want to put your hands over the top of the bowl when you start the mixer, to avoid flying bananas that rain down like manna from heaven on your dog who is constantly underfoot in the kitchen precisely because of moments such as this.) When the banana is a thick puree, add applesauce. Mix in eggs, 2 at a time, beating until foamy after each addition.

Melt butter in a liquid measuring cup, then add maple syrup to the butter. (I just add syrup to the melted butter until it reaches the 1/2 c. mark, and stir it a little to make it easy to pour.) Add butter/syrup mixture to the mixing bowl and mix well.

At this point, I usually start cooking the bacon on the griddle. Mmmm…bacon.

Measure coconut flour and pour through a sifter into the batter. (If you don’t have a sifter, don’t worry, but it does help to incorporate the coconut flour without chunks.) Add remaining ingredients except almond milk and mix well. Slowly mix in almond milk. The batter will be thick.

Preheat griddle to 325 degrees (which is cooler than you’d use for regular pancakes, but because of the high egg content you need to allow more time to cook without over-browning). Spoon about 1/4 c. batter onto well-greased griddle, adding more coconut oil as needed, and gently spread out batter with the back of a spoon. (It will not spread on its own, like regular pancakes, so gently spread it out into a 4″-4.5″ circle.) When the outside edges appear dry, they’re ready to be flipped. They take a little longer to cook on the first side than regular pancakes, but quickly brown on the second side and are ready to be removed.

These stay soft and pliable in the fridge for a week and freeze well.  This recipe makes about 18 pancakes.

Reheating Tip: Since these are delicate on the surface, butter before you reheat them in the microwave to avoid tearing. In the fall, I like to skip the butter and top them with cranberry apple spread from Trader Joe’s, which only has 4 g. sugar per tablespoon. So good!

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These buttery, brownie/chocolate chip blondie hybrid bars are absolutely addictive! Unlike most desserts, these grain-free goodies taste better and better each day after you make them, and will last for 3 weeks in an airtight container – if you can make it that long without gobbling them up.  (Mine last that long because I won’t share them with my kids. I gave them life; they can eat store-bought GF cookies.)

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist, buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist,       buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

Warning: Please consume responsibly. Since these are made with honey instead of sugar, and almond flour instead of high-carb flours, you might be tempted to pretend that these are “healthy.” Feel free to make them a regular part of your Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4  diet in small amounts for dessert – but not dinner.

Grain-Free Nutella Bars

10 T. butter, softened (1 cube + 2 T.)
½ c. Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
½ c. honey
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ¼ c. almond flour (not almond meal)
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, Nutella, and honey until smooth.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add almond flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in a greased 9”x13” pan.  Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until done in the center.  (These will get dark around the edges because of the cocoa, but they’re not overdone.) Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat individual bars for 10-15 seconds before serving.

Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Blondie variation (based on this recipe): Substitute coconut oil for the butter, increase the honey to 2/3 c. and salt to 1 tsp., substitute ½ c. almond butter for the Nutella, and use Ghirardelli or Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are dairy free).

Keepin’ it Real…
While food bloggers tend to only share their success stories, we also have our share of epic fails. My most disgusting food fail – a 10 on the Gagometer scale – was my attempt to make gravy using potato starch instead of cornstarch.  Apparently, potato starch + turkey drippings = snot. My poor husband – who has bodily fluid issues – was traumatized, and at one point shrieked in horror, “It’s a dangler!”  My son, however, was fascinated by the gelatinous goo stretching from his fork to his plate and reveled in it’s grossness, as is befitting a 13-year-old boy.

"Its a dangler!"

“Its a dangler!”

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Turn on the oven, friends, because in 30 minutes you could be devouring delicious, gluten free, garlic and rosemary bread sticks. Substituting almond flour for 2/3 of the flour makes them low(er) carb. Using some potato starch and tapioca starch makes them crusty on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. (Since potato starch and tapioca starch are derived from root vegetables – tapioca comes from the cassava root – it’s technically grain free, if you’re looking for a Paleoish bread that actually tastes like bread.)  Adding Parmesan cheese to the dough makes the flavor amazing!  And did I mention that the smell is so divine that I want to go lick the leftovers so I don’t have to share them with my family? Excuse me…

GF Rosemary Bread Sticks

I’ve also used this recipe to make pizza crust that is crispy on the bottom, yet pliable, so it supports toppings without being floppy or crumbing to pieces. If you value self care, you will choose the optional step of brushing garlic butter on the edges of the crust at the end. My kids have decided that this is now their favorite pizza crust, and it’s probably because of the garlic butter.

Low-carb Pizza Crust

The only downside of the pizza crust is that it’s best enjoyed fresh from the oven – which means I just gave you an excuse to eat the whole thing. You’re welcome. When I tried to reheat some leftover pizza that had been refrigerated, the crust had absorbed the sauce and turned soggy. Perhaps leftovers could be frozen and reheated in the oven instead of the microwave for better success. Or you could go with the preferred method of eating the whole thing. Your call.  The bread sticks reheat well on subsequent days. The bottom crust becomes soft instead of crusty, but still tastes awesome – especially when dipped in olive oil.

(Pssst, if you’re interested in a weight loss plan that includes this pizza once a week, check out my “Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4” easy weekly menu plans. Yes, I lost about 20 lbs. while still enjoying pizza!)

Mmmm... low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Mmmm… low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Low Carb, GF Bread Sticks/Pizza Crust

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. almond flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour/starch (they’re the same)
1/4 c. potato starch (NOT potato flour)
2 T. Parmesan cheese (I used the kind from a can)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
(For bread sticks, also add 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. + 1 T. hot water (hot enough to dissolve the honey)
2 T. olive oil + more for topping dough
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 egg

Bread Stick Toppings:
Olive oil
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed between fingers
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese
1 T. melted butter

Pizza Crust Directions:
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your baking stone/pan.  This makes a 13″ – 14″ pizza, so make the circle at least 15″.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  If using a baking stone (recommended), place it in the oven while it preheats. (If you don’t preheat your pan, the crust may not crisp as well.)

Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together.  You should have a wet, sticky dough. Don’t worry if it seems more like batter than dough.

Place dough on the parchment paper and, using a greased spoon or silicone spatula, spread it out using circular motions, greasing the spoon as needed.  (I just spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray when it starts to stick to the dough.) Spread it as thin as you can, with a raised ridge at the edge.  If desired, brush with a little additional olive oil.  (I skipped this step, but plan to do it next time.)

Slide a rimless cookie sheet under the parchment paper to help transfer the crust to the hot baking stone/pan.  Bake 8 minutes, then add toppings.  (I used Prego pizza sauce, Hormel Nitrate-Free Pepperoni, Falls Brand All Natural Hot Italian Sausage, mozzarella, white cheddar, and shredded Parmesan.) Bake 8 minutes more until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

For The Most Awesome Crust EVER: Melt 1 T. butter with a dash or two of garlic powder and brush on the edge of the finished pizza.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks! Sooooooo good.

Bread Stick Recipe:
Follow the above recipe, adding garlic powder to the dry ingredients. After spreading the dough/batter into a 10-in. circle, use a spoon or spatula to press a few indentations into the dough. Drizzle with olive oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Crush rosemary between your fingers and sprinkle over the dough. I used a coarse-grind pepper grinder to lightly top the dough with pepper, then sprinkled a light coating of Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Melt 1 T. butter and drizzle over the top. Use a pizza cutter to cut into strips or wedges and serve immediately. Store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, and serve warm with olive oil for dipping.

Keepin’ It Real…
Not all of my experiments turn out so well.  Here’s my first attempt at making grain free chocolate chip cookies.  The taste is spot on, so I will definitely be trying again, but they’re a bit…thin.

Grain Free Cookie Attempt

Grain free chocolate chip cookie…pieces.

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A year ago, I was struggling with overwhelming cravings for sweets and carbs, bloating every night, and frustration over having gained 20 lbs. (welcome to middle age), among other things. It was a relief to discover that grains – including gluten free grains – and refined sugar were the main culprits behind most of my issues. My digestive distress has actually been a blessing because it motivates me to eat healthy or suffer the consequences. However, for those who don’t have obvious digestive issues, but still want to lose weight and be free of cravings, a substantial diet change can be daunting. (Can I get an “amen” from the gluten-free choir?)

Why is it that we get motivated to eat healthy, and perhaps even attempt a “Whole 30” diet cleanse in January, but at the end of the month go right back to eating processed foods and all the junk we know we shouldn’t eat? There’s a reason they call processed foods “convenience foods.” If you look at the typical Paleo blog there is just nothing convenient about all the prep necessary to rely on fruits and veggies for your carbohydrates. Those of us juggling the demands of busy schedules and kids need to be able to balance nutrition with time constraints and different eating requirements. (No, my skinny-as-a-rail son does not need a low-carb diet!) However, there is a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off without spending hours (and money) at the gym or making weight loss the only priority in your life.

The “Mostly” Principle
I’ll spare you the details of my personal saga (because you and I both know there will already be many words in this post – if not, welcome to my blog), so to sum up:

  • Over the last 9 months I’ve lost about 20 lbs. and have kept it off, even through the holidays (while still enjoying small amounts of our favorite goodies).
  • I’ve mostly gotten rid of cravings for sweets and carbs (as long as I don’t eat grains or sugar during the day – if I do, it’s Hello Kettle Chips!).
  • I’ve mostly said good-bye to bloating and digestive distress that had become the norm over the past few years (caused by the above foods and legumes, including peanuts).
  • I’ve managed to do this by eating a “mostly Paleo” diet.

Are you catching a theme, here? The “Mostly” principle is what keeps me on track with healthy eating because I strive to eat grain-free, refined sugar-free most of the time. I try to consume mostly whole foods, but I do take advantage of some convenience foods. (Call me lazy, but I’m NOT making my own mayo or ketchup.) I cook from scratch most nights, but give myself the freedom to heat up a frozen GF pizza on nights when I just can’t bear to cook (like every Friday night). I don’t obsess over whether there is a gram of sugar in my salad dressing or turkey bacon, but focus on choosing the most healthy options that fit into my budget (because I live in the real world where organic foods are mostly too expensive). This is why my recipes are tagged as “Paleo-ish,” because I’m not a strict Paleo guru.

The freedom found in the “Mostly” principle is what has made my eating plan realistic for long-term success because the requirement of perfect adherence to a strict diet is often the enemy of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. The meal plan that has evolved is one that is sustainable for life in a busy, gluten free family of four who likes to travel, throw parties, and occasionally eat out.

The Weekly Meal Plan
What makes my eating plan sustainable is the simplification of menu planning by designing a 2-3 week meal rotation that allows me to fix the same food for myself as for my family, with just a minor tweak; I omit the carbohydrate side dish for myself and eat a larger portion of veggies. So simple! If I get bored and want to swap in another diet-friendly recipe, I just find the slot that matches the side dish I’m using and plug it in to that week’s menu. I can’t begin to describe what a huge time-saver this has been! It’s even become the framework for the cooking lessons I’m giving my son this year, since repetition of the same menus will allow him to watch and learn, then assist, then prepare each meal by himself. Score!

When you look at the meals on my menu you’ll probably be a bit surprised that this has been my “diet” because we eat normal, kid-friendly food. Each night has its own theme, and I’ll move the nights around to fit my schedule as needed (like switching a crock pot meal to a busy night). My menu is simplified because I keep any grains separate and low-prep, so my family can help prepare that side dish while I focus my efforts on the vegetable side instead. (Initially, you might want to skip the potatoes for weight loss. Doing so, I lost about a pound per week. Now that I don’t want to lose any more weight, I try to eat a serving of potatoes or yams each day.)

As always, all my menus are gluten free! So even if you’re not looking to lose weight or curb cravings, you can still simplify your menu planning with the easy-to-prepare, “normal people” meals at the end of this post! Since too much dairy can also cause digestive distress, most of my meals are also naturally dairy free, with the exception of a few made with butter or topped with a little Parmesan cheese. However, I use coconut oil or olive oil in most of my baking, unsweetened almond milk when needed, and cheese is usually optional.

Breakfast
Changing the way I eat breakfast has been the key to eliminating cravings. I can occasionally eat pizza or a small amount of grains and refined sugar for dessert in the evening as long as I avoid them for breakfast. The good news is that grain-free muffins taste great (especially the day after they’re made) and fill you up because coconut flour is high in fiber, as well as really good for you (and does not taste like coconut, although it does lend a distinct flavor to baked goods, which is why I blend it with almond flour). Sweetening baked goods with fruit and honey is not only more natural, it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar like refined sugar, so my energy level stays steady throughout the day. Plus, shopping is simplified because you only need 2 flours as opposed to half-a-dozen needed for gluten free baking! 

Grain-free Muffins

I make enough grain-free muffins or pancakes for myself on Monday morning to last for the week, then just reheat them for stress-free mornings. I usually have 2 muffins or pancakes with an egg or piece of nitrate-free turkey bacon (or both) and a small serving of fruit, like an orange wedge or handful of berries. If I’m fixing hashbrowns for my family, I may just have one muffin and a small serving of hashbrowns.

Lunch
The key to eating a satisfying, low-carb lunch is to fill up on veggies and fruit, and make sure you have some sort of fat if consuming a low-fat meat like chicken or turkey (i.e. olive oil, avocados, nuts or cheese, if tolerated). During the winter, I like to make a big pot of hearty soup once a week that’s full of veggies and meat with no grains, corn or beans. If you chose a canned soup, which tends to be mostly broth and not filling, toss in some frozen veggies and leftover meat when you heat it or just round it out with some raw veggies.

Turkey Vegetable Soup

In the summer, I ate lots of salads for lunch with leftover roast chicken, canned salmon, taco meat, etc. Cucumbers add a nice crunch as a substitute for croutons, and you can load up your salad with whatever veggies you like. I quickly grew tired of salads, though, and ended up preferring lettuce-wrapped burgers or leftover meat and veggies. For a quick and easy lunch, I’ll heat up a Jennie-O turkey burger patty with some taco seasoning, then top it with guacamole and chopped tomatoes or salsa.

Bunless Guacamole Burger

We drove across the country on a 2-week trip last spring, and survived on turkey “sandwiches” made with thick slices of oven roasted turkey (from Costco) as the “bread,” filled with guacamole (squeezed out of single-serve packets) and sliced tomatoes, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. These can be made ahead of time for lunch on the go. With a handful of carrots and an apple (plus a bag of chips for my family members), this lunch sustained us for hours of walking around Washington D.C. Another variation is to spread some Dijon mustard on one turkey slice, top it with sliced avocado and tomato, then put another turkey slice on top and wrap the whole thing in a lettuce leaf.

Snacks and Sweets and Feeling Satisfied
The key difference between the way I eat now and the way I used to eat is that I used to eat until I was “full;” now I eat until I’m “satisfied.” When you cut out grains (and initially, starchy veggies like potatoes) you’ll notice that you don’t feel full, in the sense that you’re stuffed and can’t eat another bite. But by filling a third of your plate with veggies, a quarter to third of your plate with meat, and a quarter to third of your plate with fruit, you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll walk away from the meal feeling like you’ve had enough to eat to sustain you for the next 3-5 hours, but you won’t feel uncomfortably full.

Chimichanga Beef, Zucchini and Pineapple

Chimichanga Beef, Sauteed Zucchini and Fresh Pineapple

If you do get hungry between meals, a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit or handful of carrots should get you through to the next meal. Lara bars are great, sugar-free, all-natural bars you can throw in the car for running errands. Now that I’m not trying to lose weight, I also snack on sweet potato/root veggie chips (from Trader Joe’s) because the inherent sweetness naturally limits my portion size. For dessert, I usually enjoy a handful of salted almonds with about a tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips, since a little dark chocolate is good for you! If you crave ice cream, try the Dole frozen chocolate covered banana slices that come in convenient 4-packs. (When I serve the family ice cream, which was my go-to easy dessert for them over the summer, I sometimes pull one of these out for myself – and the kids get jealous!) But as I said, once you’re free from cravings, a little dessert with the family from time to time should be fine.

Dinner
I’ve linked recipes that are already on my blog, and will come back to this post in the future to add in links as I post more recipes. My plan is to post recipes for all the options below. If you don’t like a particular vegetable on my list, substitute one you do like! (Although I’d encourage you to try the roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts before you dismiss them. Roasted veggies are amazing!) If the veggies listed aren’t filling enough at first, add a side salad to your meal and remember to include a serving of fresh fruit. During the winter, pineapples are reasonably priced where we live. A fruit salad made with pineapple, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds will end your meal on a sweet note. Diced pears with fresh blueberries or a mango/kiwi/blueberry combo also make good winter fruit salads.

2-3 Weeks of Meals Designed for Weight Loss for 1 in a GF Family of 4
(Serve with fresh fruit. Serve the carb listed to your family only.)

Day 1: Italian

  1. Spaghetti squash with meat sauce (ground turkey or beef in a homemade sauce or one from a jar)
    • Salad
    • Family Side: Brown rice spaghetti noodles (if your family doesn’t like spaghetti squash)
  2. All-natural Italian sausage (like Falls brand Hot Italian) with optional marinara sauce
    • Option 1: Serve meat sauce over thinly-sliced, grilled eggplant, topped with Parmesan cheese
    • Option 2: Serve sausage link with a side of yellow squash sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family Side: Garlic toast (buttered gluten free bread, sprinkled with garlic salt, cooked butter-side-down on a griddle or frying pan)

Day 2: Seafood

  1. Garlic shrimp stir fry
    • Frozen snap pea stir fry blend sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper, and McCormick’s Garlic and Herb Seasoning; add thawed, frozen salad shrimp just before serving 
    • Family Side: Heat-and-serve rice or Seeds of Change Garlic Brown Rice and Quinoa
  2. Salmon burger patty (like Trident salmon burgers from Costco) or baked salmon (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
    • Buttered peas and carrots or snow peas sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family side: Rice or quinoa

 Day 3: Chicken Comfort Food

  1. Homemade or Costco roast chicken
  2. Baked, grilled or sautéed chicken with olive oil & herbs
    • Roasted broccoli or asparagus
    • Family Side (optional for you): Mashed potatoes or yams (mash microwaved yams with butter, unsweetened applesauce, salt and a dash of cinnamon, and top with dried cranberries or chopped pecans)

 Day 4: Mexican 

  1. Taco salad made with leftover roasted chicken and salsa or ground turkey with taco seasoning (and whatever veggies you like)
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips
  2. Beef Chimichanga filling (made with leftover roast from day 7), crock pot pork taco meat, or fajita meat with zucchini, salsa, and guacamole
    • Serve Chimichanga or taco meat with sliced raw zucchini “chips” for scooping up meat
    • Serve fajita meat with zucchini, bell peppers, and onions sauteed in oil with salt and pepper, topped with salsa
    • Family Side: Heat corn tortillas on a griddle with shredded cheese and fill with meat, salsa, and guacamole (optional); for fajitas, fill tortillas with meat, veggies and salsa

Day 5: FREE NIGHT!

  1. Pizza – Seriously, take one day off and eat a REASONABLE portion of whatever you want with a side salad or raw veggies, or keep it low(er) carb with my homemade pizza crust/bread stick recipe that replaces 2/3 of the flour with almond flour.
  2. Visit a buffet restaurant (like Golden Corral or Tucano’s Brazilian Restaurant) and load up on meat, fruit and veggies. If you’re super serious about weight loss, make your soup for the week on this night, and make enough for dinner with leftovers for lunches.

Day 6: Burger Joint Food

  1. Jennie-O turkey burger patty or beef patty with whatever condiments you like, wrapped in lettuce (optional – this is just too messy for me, so I prefer to eat it with a fork)
    • Sweet potato fries and salad or raw veggies
    • Family Side: Bun (we use the heels of our gluten free bread for buns)
  2. Buffalo chicken (cubed chicken breast sauteed in olive oil with Lowry’s seasoned salt, pepper and parsley, served with buffalo ranch dressing)
    • Baked fries or sweet potato fries, salad or raw veggies
  3. Optional Party Food: Buffalo Chicken Dip with celery sticks for dippers (FYI, I now cut back the ranch dressing in the recipe to 1/4 c.)
    • Carrot sticks
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips (for scooping up dip)

 Day 7: Meat and Potatoes

  1. Crock pot roast cooked with onion, celery, garlic clove and carrots (discard celery and garlic)
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Potatoes in the crock pot with homemade gravy
    • Family Side Option 2: GF sub rolls for French Dip with cooking juices
  2. Grilled steak or pork chops with Monterey seasoning
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Baked potatoes

As promised in my Pledge to Blog the Truth, here’s a snapshot of our menu this week. You’ll see that it’s been tweaked (because of ingredients that needed to get used up) and is yet another variation on the menu above. The possibilities are endless! 

This Week's Meal Plan

Remember to check back for detailed recipes to go with my menu plan. In the meantime, just remember the “Mostly” principle and enjoy a happy, healthy new year!

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