Italian Chicken Sandwich

In the days after big cooking holidays, you might feel like you never want to step foot in your kitchen again—or at least not until Thanksgiving. But for some reason, your kids and spouse still need to be fed, so try out this easy Italian chicken slow cooker recipe for a week’s worth of sandwiches.

Italian Chicken Sandwich
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Ingredients
  1. Tomato mixture
  2. • grape tomatoes, sliced
  3. • garlic, minced
  4. • balsamic vinegar, to taste
  5. • salt, pepper & oregano, to taste
  6. • olive oil
  7. Italian chicken
  8. • 4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (frozen or fresh)
  9. • 1 packet Italian dressing
  10. • 1 jar pepperoncini, juice and all
  11. Sandwich
  12. • whole wheat buns
  13. • Dijon mustard
  14. • mozzarella slices
  15. • Italian chicken
  16. • tomato mixture
Instructions
  1. Tomato mixture instructions: Heat olive oil in a skillet and add garlic.
  2. Once the garlic is sizzling, add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper.
  3. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until tomatoes are mushy.
  4. Italian chicken instructions: Line slow cooker with liner, and then spray the liner with cooking spray.
  5. Put frozen or thawed chicken breasts, Italian dressing and the jar of pepperoncini (juice and all) into the slow cooker.
  6. Note: If your family doesn’t do spice, leave the pepperoncini whole and remove after the chicken is done cooking.
  7. Cook on low approximately six hours.
  8. After the chicken is done cooking, use two forks to shred it in the slow cooker. Take the pepperoncini out.
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Hormones: How to Restore Balance in your Life

Hormones have profound effects on the body. They help regulate metabolism and appetite, steer our energy levels, make fertility possible, manage body temperature and control the body’s ability to lose weight or even gain muscle.

Effects of hormone imbalance on the body

When someone is experiencing hormonal imbalances, it can feel as if the world is crashing down on you. Many people go through unintentional weight gain despite following a healthy diet. Others feel sluggish all day and still have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. These symptoms, among many others, can wreak havoc on emotions and temperament. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices but can also occur naturally with age, including when women reach menopause.

As women age, production of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, declines. It may seem like you have absolutely no control over this, but there are ways to continue to keep these levels balanced, even though overall hormone production is lower.

Bring balance back to hormones through healthy eating 

Eating healthfully is important throughout a person’s life, and it’s no different for women going through menopause. Many women experience weight gain—especially around the belly—mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. They are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

You don’t have to be a slave to your changing hormones. Try to bring them back into balance with these dietary tweaks.

What to eat more of: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage (Try to have at least one serving of these hormone-balancing veggies every day.)
  • Dietary fiber: oats, berries, avocados, beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, pears, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, squash (Dietary fiber helps with liver clearance of estrogen.)
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs, all nuts and seeds including chia seeds and flaxseed, grass-fed beef, salmon, quinoa

Also increase sleep and exercise. Both help reduce stress. Weight training can also have further benefits on improving metabolism.

What to eat less of:

  • Processed foods: boxed meals, pre-packaged shelf-stable or frozen entrees, frozen pizza, premade breads and bread products, pre-packaged meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs, artificial sweeteners, fake cheese, excessive condiment use, Pop-Tarts®, snack mixes such as pretzels, crackers, chips
  • Added sugars: cereals, packaged sweets like Twinkies and Cinna-Buns, regular and some Greek yogurt varieties, sweetened milks, soda, juice, sweetened tea, granola bars
  • Drive-thru meals: Processed meats, refined grains and fried menu items can cause inflammation in the gut. They also are poor nutrient sources of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Alcohol: One alcoholic beverage is processed as 29 grams of sugar or one serving of M&Ms.
  • Caffeine: For some, caffeine can be a source of inflammation.
  • Foods associated with inflammation such as gluten and lactose. Foods made from or using ingredients with wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. Milk and ice cream are two high-lactose containing dairy products.

Remember, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet all at once. But by increasing the good and decreasing the bad, even slowly, you can bring balance to your hormones and improve your quality of life.

 

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

Last Black Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought an Instant Pot®. Yes, I had to find out for myself what the craze was all about, so I actually bought in. And Instant Pot® is a programmable pressure cooker that is supposed to speed up cooking considerably. This week, I want to share what I’ve done with my Instant Pot® and how I’ve made it work for my family.

What’s the best part about an Instant Pot®?

First and foremost, what I absolutely love to make in my Instant Pot® is hard-boiled eggs. You may be asking, aren’t eggs bad for you? Despite their occasional negative portrayal, eggs are a fantastic protein source, as long as you aren’t going overboard with the number you eat.

I typically hard-boil about eight to 12 eggs a week for our family of five. The Instant Pot® makes it super-duper easy to do so. Here are the instructions:

Megan’s Hard-boiled Eggs

  1. Put one cup of water and however many eggs you want into the pot.
  2. Program five minutes of pressure, followed by five minutes natural release, followed by 5 minutes cold water bath.

I don’t shell them right away, but put them in a bowl in the fridge to stay fresher for longer. We shell them as we eat them.  

What else can you use the Instant Pot® for?

I also have made a whole chicken with my Instant Pot®, although this is not something new to me. I usually buy whole chickens when they are on sale and freeze them. Typically, I’ll thaw the chicken and put it in the crockpot with all the seasonings I want—by the evening, we’ve got chicken. I’ll shred the leftover chicken and freeze into patches so we can use it for subsequent meals, such as chicken spaghetti, chicken tacos, white chicken chili and BBQ chicken.

How does the Instant Pot come into play? One time, I forgot to thaw the chicken the night before. I placed the whole frozen chicken in the Instant Pot® with the seasonings and a little water. In no time, the chicken was cooked. This is a definite plus of having the Instant Pot® around.

What are some of the lesser-known features of the Instant Pot®?

My last favorite I’m going to talk about today is burrito bowls. When making this recipe, I use more than just the pressure cook feature. You can make the whole burrito bowl meal in the Instant Pot® and not dirty another dish, thanks to the fabulous sauté feature.

Megan’s Burrito Bowl for the Instant Pot®

  1. Put oil, peppers, onion and garlic into the pot.
  2. Use the saute feature to cook, and then add beans, salsa, chicken, rice and low-sodium chicken stock.
  3. Close the lid and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Quick release and ladle out. Add some fresh cilantro, cheese and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and serve.

This is always a fun, full meal for my family, and it leaves behind great leftovers.

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

There are some great features for the Instant Pot® outside of pressure cooking. It has a learning curve, and it’s a little difficult to use and get used to. Sometimes when recipes say “10 minutes,” it’s actually longer because it takes time for the pressure to build. And, I will be honest, it takes up a lot of space if you don’t have much in your kitchen. All that being said, the Instant Pot® can be right for a lot of people and would be a good addition in your kitchen. Happy Instant Potting!!

Instant Pot image from https://instantpot.com/

 

Drinking for your Health (Spoiler: It’s Water)

Have you made a New Year’s resolution to drink more water? A healthy level of water in your body helps keep your temperature normal, lubricates and cushions your joints, protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues and gets rid of wastes. While most people know that the “recommended” amount of water per day is 8-10 cups, that is actually an arbitrary number not based on any science. As long as you are drinking water when you’re thirsty and with meals, you are drinking a healthy amount of water. However, if you think you’re not getting enough water each day, it’s a good idea to start getting into some healthy water-drinking habits.

While most people know that the “recommended” amount of water per day is 8-10 cups, that is actually an arbitrary number not based on any science.

Here are some tips from the CDC for drinking more water:

  • Carry a water bottle for easy access when you are at work or running errands.
  • Freeze some freezer safe water bottles. Take one with you for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Choose water when eating out.
  • Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water. This can help improve the taste and help you drink more water than you usually do.

If you’re one of those people who has committed to drinking more water this year but maybe doesn’t like the taste, try one of these water infusion recipes in the video below!

 

This New Year, Try a “Non-resolution”

It’s January, so that means maybe you are thinking about a new year with a clean slate. And to help make this clean slate, a New Year’s resolution. Just like I love to celebrate “Christmas in July” (all baking included!), I love to make New Year’s “non-resolutions.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best? Plus, most resolutions don’t have anything to do with you, your willpower (I don’t believe in willpower) or capabilities. Instead, resolutions seem to focus on an unrealistic action, such as “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year.”

This New Year, make a “non-resolution.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best?

Step 1: Come up with the defining word or phrase for your year.

I encourage you to come up with a 2018 goal for yourself—in a word or phrase—and break it into a 12-month SMART goal(s). This word or phrase should be geared to some form of your health and well-being. I find when you focus on one area, other areas seem to fall into line.

What does SMART stand for?

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable 
R = Realistic
T = Time specific

Why break your word or saying into 12 months? Well, it customarily takes 21 days to make a behavior change, so you start small and build on these month-long habit formations. Then your 2018 goal should be much more realistic and achievable.

Step 2: Translate your word or phrase into action.

Based upon your word or phrase, write down as many healthy actions you can think of to help reach this goal. Keep in mind things you can actually DO and not the end results. The SMART acronym can then help you to break these DOs down to make more realistic and achievable outcomes. Don’t be afraid to break your monthly DO into weekly DOs. For example, a goal for the month could be to eat more vegetables. The monthly SMART goal would be to eat a minimum of 30 servings of vegetables. And broken down even more, a week goal could be: “I will eat a non-starchy vegetable every day at dinner.”

Step 3: Evaluate your goal each month.

Once the week or month is over, look back at your goal and see how well it did or did not work. Did you achieve this goal? And since you set a weekly or monthly SMART goal then you can see how well or well not the specific goal worked for you. Here’s the key, if you struggled at achieving or didn’t achieve your first month’s goal, that’s ok. Troubleshoot with it and either work on it again the next month or put off for another month later in the year.

Step 4: Start at a time that’s right for you.

So when should you start? You want to make sure you have a fresh mind and are more rejuvenated than you may be on January 1st. So if you don’t sit down to work on these until the middle of January, so be it. But make sure you have plenty of tools in your toolbox to help you complete this new thought process.

What does a “non-resolution” really look like?

Here’s my personal goal for 2018, along with a few of my monthly SMART goals with the tools I have in my toolbox to accomplish it.

My word for 2018 is PEACE.

It feels like I have had disorder and mayhem in my life for about the last 6 months. I have found this is starting to affect aspects of my health, so I want to focus on trying to be more peaceful this year. This may not be what you expected, but I’m trying to show you how this can be outside-of-the box thinking on becoming healthier.

Some of the areas I am focusing on to have more PEACE are:

  • Meal planning
  • Reducing stress
  • Rest
  • Exercise

I’m kicking the New Year off with my first SMART goal to be about MEAL PLANNING. The first week of January, I will plan three dinners for the days of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the days I work). These, of course, will be planned around the plate method (one starch, one protein, unlimited non-starchy vegetables). The second week goal is to plan four dinners, Monday through Thursday. The third week goal is to plan five dinners, Monday through Friday. Finally, the last week goal is to plan again for 5 weeks. There’s flexibility in this: If I find moving from three to four meals a week is too much, then I’ll go back to the three meals a week and establish this goal. There is flexibility with the goals, but the ultimate achievement is to set specific and realistic parts of your goal.

For February, my SMART goal will be about REST. Believe it or not, I’m setting a bedtime goal. There have been too many nights where I’ve stayed up until midnight or later because I’m doing dishes, doing laundry or cleaning after the kids are bed. So for the month of February, my goal is to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. four nights out of each week. This would allow for a minimum of seven-ish hours of sleep for myself, as my alarm goes off at 6 a.m.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to help you get more focused on the simplicity of achieving a healthier you in 2018. What about you? Share your non-resolutions below—I’d love to hear what your personal word or saying is for 2018!

Apple Cookies

“Christmas” and “cookies” are words that should always be together, right? But sometimes with all the cookies we make and receive around the holidays, we want something a little healthier to offset icing and sprinkles! Try out these apple “cookies” for something nutritiously sweet!

Apple Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 1 apple
  2. 1/4 cup peanut butter
  3. 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  4. 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Using an apple corer, remove the core of the apple.
  2. Slice the apple into thin rings.
  3. Spread peanut butter over one side of the apple slice.
  4. Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips on the peanut butter.
Notes
  1. One apple will make about eight “cookies.”
  2. www.rachelschultz.com
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