Since I’ve been craving salty snacks, I decided I’d make a salty, meaty protein snack similar to beef jerky. This is whey Vaca Frita came to mind. Vaca Frita, which literally means “Fried Cow”, is one of my favorite cuban dishes. Basically, it’s just shredded flank steak and onion cooked in lime juice and then seared with oil on a griddle until crispy – so it’s not so healthy, but super yummy.
So, I started brainstorming on ways to make a healthier version of this yummy Cuban dish. Since I LOVE grilled chicken (because I love the crispy charred flavor), I decided to make a grilled version of Vaca Frita with chicken. Here was what I cooked up.
Vaca Pollo Ingredients
- 4 Chicken Breasts
- 1/2 onion, finely slivered
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (Optional)
- Freshly ground pepper
Cook 4 chicken breasts (I grilled them on the grill after marinading them in lime juice and olive oil). While cooking the chicken, cut the onion up into really thin slivers and set it aside.
(Note: I didn’t use as much onion as I would like to because I wanted to make it as high-protein as possible while I’m dieting.)
Next, in a mixing bowl, mix lime juice, garlic, salt, pepper and bay leaves (and the optional olive oil, which I didn’t use). Once the chicken has been cooked all the way through (keeping it nice and juicy, but not worrying about it being browned or charred on the grill). Shred the chicken up into small pieces and combine with the onion and lime juice mixture until evenly mixed.
Finally, spread the shredded chicken out evenly on tinfoil. Mist with olive oil and dust with salt. Place it back on the grill (I turned my grill up really hot to quickly brown the chicken without over-drying it), occasionally stirring the chicken so it browns as many pieces as possible. Remove when you feel the chicken is crispy but not dehydrated, and let cool. Serve with wedge of lime.
3 Ways to Enjoy Vaca Pollo
Vaca Pollo Snack:
Let the meat cool. Measure out 2oz portions and put in ziplock bags for an easy-access high-protein snack.
Vaca Pollo Salad:
Top mixed greens with 3 – 4oz shredded chicken, 2 T goat cheese and 1/c cup finely sliced pear and top with a light balsamic vinaigrette.
Vaca Pollo Meal:
Top 1/2 cup jasmine rice with 3 – 4oz shredded chicken and serve with a healthy serving of grilled asparagus.
Steve and I have recently discovered spaghetti squash (yes, I’m a bit behind!). So now we’re on a spaghetti squash kick! Steve can’t get enough of it, and for only 42 calories a cup, you can’t really beat it!
On our weekly “Sunday Food Prep Day” I began to get creative in the kitchen, thinking of ways I could use spaghetti squash. We were going to dinner at my parents house last night so I wanted to bring a new healthy flavorful dish to introduce to the family. I was in the mood for some Italian, so I began brainstorming and concocting, and this is what I came up with.
I was cracking up because no one knew what it was. My sister asked what the “squishy stuff” was, saying it was really good! My aunt also was perplexed, as she was asking who made “this dish” as she points to it. She took a plate home to her son (my cousin) and said he lapped up the plate, and he too wanted to know what the mystery dish was too. So, even though no one could place it, everyone liked it and there wasn’t a drop left of it to take back home with us, so I guess this creation is a keeper! Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: As always, I did not follow a recipe and was just making this up as I went along – which often means, I add a dash more of this, and a pinch more of that. This recipe is what I came up with to the best of my recollection. I hope you can recreate it and enjoy it too!
Tomato Basil Spaghetti Squash Casserole
1 Whole Spaghetti Squash (makes approximately 4 Cups)
1 Bag of Marzano Tomatoes (approximately 20 Cherry tomatoes)
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Sliced Black Olives
1 Tablespoon White Balsamic Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons Basil Paste (or fresh basil leaves)
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Cracked Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Shredded Cheese (optional)
Cut the squash in half and take the seeds out. Place face down in a microwave safe dish and add one cup of water. Cook for approximately 15 minutes in the microwave until soft. Let it cool before handling.
While the squash is cooking, you can slice the Marzano tomatoes and measure the black olives, combining them in one container for holding. In a separate small bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, basil, cracked pepper and salt. Add a small portion (maybe a teaspoon), along with the vinegar, to the tomatoes and black olives in a small container.
Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the squash out in spaghetti strands into your mixing dish. Mix in the olive oil mixture until the squash is fully covered. Add vegetables and parmesan cheese until mixed evenly.
Measure cup by cup to (for tracking calories) into a baking dish. My ingredients added up to 5 cups, making 10 1/2 cup servings. Sprinkle a very light layer of cheese (I used a little regular cheddar with some shredded parmesan cheese) on top and back on 350 for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
Serving Size: 1/2 Cup
51 Calories (not including the cheese on top)
Only 6.4 Carbs
For YEARS I poured balsamic vinegar on my salads having NO CLUE they had so many calories in them. I thought, like apple cidar vinegar, they were ZERO calories so I thought I could pour on as much as I wanted. Well, imagine my surprise when I looked at the back of my vinegar and saw that 1 tablespoon had 20 calories in it! I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I use TONS of the stuff – and at LEAST four times that much for a salad. Yes, 80 calories in what I thought was calorie-free bliss – PLUS I added olive oil too! Cha Ching (that’s me racking up the calories!)
The good news is, this isn’t the case for all balsamic vinegars. Balsamic vinegar just has more sugar in it than white vinegars. I bet you are thinking “Oooooh! THAT’s why I like it so much better”. Yep, that’s probably right!
Last night I was checking out labels of some of the salad dressings I had in they fridge, and low and behold, this yummy poppy seed dressing had HALF the calories of plain balsamic vinegar!! See! You NEVER know unless you take the time to study labels.
VINEGAR: The Search for Calories
I did a little homework on various vinegar for you. Here’s what I found.
Calories for 2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar:
Balsamic Vinegar, Of Modena: 0 Cal
Balsamic Vinegar, Roland: 20 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Of Madena, Monari Federzoni: 20 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Pompeian: 10 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Bertolli: 30 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Alessi: 20 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, White, Alessi: 20 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Ages, Colavita: 10 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Regina: 40 Cal/2 T
Balsamic Vinegar, Holland House: 30 Cal/2 T
Average Calories Per Tablespoon (for all types of vinegar)
Cidar Vinegar: 3 Cal/1 T
Red Wine Vinegar: 3 Cal/ 1 T
White Wine Vinegar: 0 Cal/ 1 T
Balsamic Vinegar: 14 Cal/ 1 T
Distilled Vinegar: 3 Cal/ 1 T
Rice Vinegar: 1 Cal/ 1 T
Malt Vinegar: 0 Cal/ 1 T
Sherry Vinegar: 0 Cal/ 1 T
Champagne Vinegar: 3 Cal/ 1 T
If you want to eat healthy, and store less fat, start eating more low-glycemic foods. Foods that have a higher glycemic index (like potatoes, rice and corn) increase your blood sugar, and are higher in calories too. High-glycemic foods don’t tend to last as long in our system, therefore have a chance of being stored as fat quicker. A lower-glycemic food will stay in your system longer so you have more chance of burning it up, and using it for energy. Low-glycemic foods will also help you keep your blood sugar more stable, which means a nice steady flow of lasting energy. All in all, low-glycemic foods have a lot of perks – especially for weight loss!
(Read this article to learn more about the Glycemic Index by the Mayo Clinic.)
Tip: Choose lower-glycemic foods for snacks and dinner (since you want to keep calories low for snacks and you don’t need a lot of calories (energy) to sleep). Eat high-glycemic carbs during the morning or middle of the day (so you have a chance to use that blood sugar for working, working out and staying active).
Low-Calorie Low-Glycemic Greens
Try adding these greens to your grocery list and daily menu.
- Arugula (salad greens)
- Bean sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Chicory (salad greens)
- Endive (salad greens)
- Escarole (salad greens)
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
- Greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip)
- Iceberg lettuce
- Pea pods
- Peppers (green)
- Sugar snap peas
- Swiss chard
- Watercress (salad greens)
High Glycemic Index Vegetables (over 60) LIMIT THESE
- dried beans
- lima beans
- oyster plant
- sweet potato
It’s Dinner Time!
When we are in “diet mode”, salads are our first pick for supper. Since we try to minimize carbs, and predominately eat protein, greens and fats at night, salads make a perfect filling (and delicious) dinner. However, you can only eat a traditional Chef salad so much, so I’m always making new creations to entertain our taste buds. This is when I open the fridge up, see what I have and start brainstorming on what I can create based on what ingredients I have on hand.
My Salad Formula
After I see what I have to work with, I first choose my “style”. Then I pick my greens. To help me manage calories, I normally choose one sweet item (like Craisins, apple, pear, mandarin oranges, etc) and one fat (like goat cheese, avocado, nuts or olive oil). Then I add in “freebies”, the extras that don’t have a lot of calories like tomato, onions, cucumbers, seasonings, etc. Lastly, I top it with protein and choose a light dressing to toss everything in.
Last night, I was in the mood for Oriental! So here’s what I whipped together for Steve and I! I have to admit, I couldn’t get enough and was super sad when it was all gone! 🙂
2 Cups Shredded Cabbage
2 Cups Finely Chopped Kale
1 Can Low Sugar Mandarin Oranges (chopped up slightly)
1/2 Chopped Sweet Onion
2 Small Grilled Chicken Chopped (I smoked chicken rubbed in Curry & Seasonings)
1/3 Cup Cooked Quinoa
Kraft Asian Toasted Sesame Lite Dressing
1 Teaspoon Sesame Seeds
Almond Accents Sliced Almonds
In a small bowl, combine the cucumber, vinegar and about 1 teaspoon of splenda. Let the cucumber marinade while you mix the salad together. In one large bowl, toss together all the salad ingredients accept for the chicken and almonds. Divide the salad into 2 servings and top with chicken and the cucumber topping, sprinkling the almond accents on top for a nice added low-calorie crunch.
Is Your Salad Making You Fat?
I had some extra tuna in the pantry so I decided to make a cold tuna salad to make easy go-to snacks. As you probably know, it’s hard to eat on the go. You don’t always have a microwave handy, so it’s great to have a cold meal that’s travels easily. While protein bars are always nice to have on hand, sometimes you just want to eat real food. This is a great solution for dieters on the go.
Low-Fat Tuna Pasta Salad
3 5oz Cans of Tuna (I used 3 3oz cans & a 4.5 packet of lemon pepper tuna)
1 Box of Ronzoni Garden Delight Trio Pasta
2 Full Cups of Baby Spinach
1 Chopped Green Pepper
1 Chopped Small Sweet Red Onion
1/2 Box of Frozen Peas
2 Stalks of Celery
1/2 Cup Hellman’s Low Fat Mayo
1 TBS Lemon Juice
1 TBS White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Stevia
1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
Freshly Ground Pepper
Cook the pasta for 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and run cold water over the pasta in the strainer. Throw the pasta in the bowl, add all the ingredients* and chill for serving.
* NOTE: You can leave out the spinach and mix it together when serving or eating, to keep it super fresh if you plan on eating it as left overs.
Makes 8 1-Cup Servings for meals or 16 1/2 Cup Servings for snacks. Serve over a bed of greens with balsamic vinegar to turn this into a wonderful salad and to make it even more filling. If you are watching calories, divide the salad into the desired serving sizes to help you manage calories easily.
Meal Size – Serving Size: 1 Cup
Snack Size – Serving Size: 1/2 Cup
DIET TIP: I hope seeing the nutritional value makes you realize how a tuna salad, which we could easily think is a “high-protein” meal, is not really that high in protein. This is a great snack or meal, but it’s more of a balanced meal – but it’s not truly a high protein meal. If you want to make this salad even lower in calories and higher in protein, use less pasta and more spinach and tuna. 🙂
If you can’t shop right, you can’t eat right. Dieting and eating clean (low-fat, high protein, whole foods) starts at the grocery store.
Below is a shopping list categorized by what you can eat, and how much you can eat. You see, not all high-calorie foods are bad. High calorie foods are necessary, but you just have to limit them.
For instance, nuts are very healthy, but the calories add up fast so they are in the “Use Sparingly” column. However, you can eat a TON of fish and asparagus so they’re in the “Enjoy Plenty” column.
How do you want to spend your 211 calories?
4oz tilapia AND 11 spears of asparagus AND 1 cup of cauliflower
OR 1/4 cup (which is only 1 1/4 ounce) of almonds
Both of the above options are 211 calories, but with one option you can eat a LOT and the other option you only can eat a LITTLE. When you choose correctly, this is what I call eating smart – and the smarter you eat, the happier you will be, the healthier you will feel, and the faster you will reach your goal!
Dieter’s Shopping List
Click on the list below to open in a new window and enlarge or print. 🙂
NOTE: This doesn’t cover all the foods we eat, but these are just some of the most common foods on our own shopping list to give you some ideas. This list is mainly a list of whole foods and doesn’t include items like milk, vinegar, creamer, etc.
What are some items that are always on YOUR grocery list?
Are You Eating Backwards?
People who struggle with their weight often find their evening meal to be the most challenging. When it comes to dieting, most people don’t have much of a problem watching calories throughout the day. Then they come home and BAM! They eat more calories in one sitting than they did all day long.
One reason this happens is we’ve been conditioned to eat big meals for dinner. Normally that means a meat, a couple of sides, and sometimes bread or dessert – but who said a meal has to be a 7-course meal? It must have been the same person who invented the Pop Tart for breakfast – and they have it all backwards.
Let’s look at food as fuel. Do you need a lot of fuel to power you to sleep? No. Do you need fuel to power you to work? Yes. So why would we have a small breakfast and big dinner? It’s completely opposite from what our body needs.
5 Healthy Food Habits for Weight Loss
1. Eat a 300-400 calorie breakfast with a nice balance of fat, protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates. Stock up on breakfast foods like Egg Beaters, oatmeal, bagel thins, low-carb wraps, grits, Chobani greek yogurt, Designer Whey vanilla protein, peanut butter, granola and fruit. Plan ahead and be creative. Cooking breakfast in advance and utilizing leftovers (like spinach, asparagus and meats) can really help create fast fixings.
2. Splurge for lunch. Instead having your biggest meal at dinner, schedule cheat meals at lunch. At least you will have several hours to burn off what you ate, instead of eating at night and hitting the sack on a full stomach. Even if you are eating healthy, try to save your high-carb meals, like sandwiches, pastas and potatoes, for lunchtime.
3. Simplify dinner. Don’t over-think your evening menu. If you are trying to diet, limit meals to one white meat and one green side. Use a little olive oil or natural fats, like avocado, to help the meal stay with you longer. Green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, spinach, zucchini, collards, cabbage and salad greens are normally lower in calories. Be very sparing with beans, even the green kind. Peas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, navy beans and kidney beans are all higher in carbohydrates and calories. One green bean that’s an exception is the soy bean (edamame). Edamame has a excellent balance of carbs, fats and protein. YUM!
4. Just skip it. Sometimes people eat just because they think they are “supposed to”. Just because it’s meal time, you don’t always have to eat a traditional meal. If you come home late at night, or you really aren’t that hungry, sometimes it’s OK to just make a protein shake and call it a night – especially if you just left the gym. Or maybe you decide to just have a few almonds and a piece of fruit, or some yogurt to curb your appetite. Although you do need to keep a steady small amount of calories coming in to keep your metabolism revved, they don’t have to be anything fancy or complicated.
5. Choose only one 100-200 calorie evening snack. If you are like me, you can snack the entire night away if you let yourself. Instead, choose your snack wisely. Do you crave sweets? Then a sugar-free fudge pop, jello pudding or fruit may be the way to go. Do you crave salty snacks? Then you may prefer 100-calorie popcorn as your go-to snack. Whatever you choose, try to limit your calories to only one 100-200 calories, and only choose one item – that includes drinks. Even if you WANT to snack, you won’t die if you go without snacking – and those little after-dinner calories add up quick so be stingy with them.