Category Archives: Cooking

Chicken Salad with Ranch & Bacon – Weight Watchers Style

I was gushing about this salad on Facebook yesterday, because it was so good! I’ve been meaning to try out mason jar salads as a way to have a healthy, veggie-based lunch that can be prepared on the weekend and last throughout the week. I made up two different salad recipes yesterday, and after trying the first one, I am in love.

If you’re not as much of a fan of from-scratch cooking as I am, you could pull this together more quickly by:

  • Purchasing fat-free ranch dressing (must be 1 point per serving)
  • Purchasing bacon crumbles
  • Purchasing pre-cooked chicken breasts

But, in my opinion, it won’t taste as good as this. Especially the dressing. Low-calorie ranch dressing always seems to have a chemically taste to me, and the dressing linked in the recipe below is rich, creamy, and takes about 5 minutes to make.

Before making a whole batch of jarred salads for the week, I cooked up four large chicken breasts on the stovetop and baked some bacon in the oven.

Grilled Chicken Breast

The bacon I used was incredibly fatty (it was from a sow that had to be butchered on our local farm). But, I knew that fat would translate into deliciousness, and a little would go a long way. I only used one piece on my salad, but counted it as 2 PointsPlus to account for the extra fat. If you’re using the regular bacon you buy at the store, you’ll get to put 1.5 pieces on your salad!

Fatty Sow Bacon

I was a little bit afraid that I wouldn’t get any crumbly bacon for the salad, but I cooked it in the oven at 350 for almost 45 minutes to slowly render the fat. The bacon came out perfect for the salad!

Oven Cooked Bacon

Recipe: Chicken, Bacon & Ranch Mason Jar Salad

Chicken Bacon Ranch Mason Jar SaladIngredients (for 1 jar)

  • 2 Tbsp Greek yogurt ranch dressing (recipe)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced cucumber
  • 3 oz cooked chicken breast
  • 1.5 slices crispy bacon, crumbled
  • Lettuce

Instructions

Prepare the ranch dressing and place 2 Tbsp in the bottom of a 1-quart mason jar (1 dressing recipe makes enough for 8 salads). Add cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, ensuring that the veggies cover the salad dressing. Add chicken breast, then top with bacon crumbles. To finish, stuff as much lettuce in the top of the jar as you can.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 6

Most people recommend using a wide mouth jar for this, but regular jars were all I had on hand, and they worked fine. When you’re ready for lunch, shake up the contents of the jar and dump it in a bowl. You’ll probably want to scrape down the sides of jar to get all the bits of bacon and delicious ranch dressing out.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad

Sorry for the blurry picture, but I wanted to show how well-dressed this salad was. It was oozing with ranch goodness, and the yogurt-based recipe added very small amounts of fat and calories. This entire salad was only 6 points, and it was very filling. I’d guess a similar salad at a restaurant would be in the 15-20 point range (and likely would include cheese, which I didn’t think it needed). I made versions of this salad for my husband that included 1.5x the dressing, more chicken, and more bacon.

Back On The Horse

I took an entire week off from running after my half marathon. That wasn’t exactly planned, but I don’t feel bad about doing it. This morning I woke up without an alarm prior to 7:00 a.m., so I made a deal with myself: If I got up and ran, I could have an asparagus omelet (first asparagus of the year!). So, that’s what I did.

Temps were in the high 40’s and set to rise, so I pulled on some capris and my half marathon finisher shirt and was out the door by 7:30 a.m. I didn’t have any expectations for this run, so I set my Nike+ app to only tell me distance (not time or pace). And, for the first time ever on a solo run, I didn’t take headphones. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I just wanted to experience it.

I headed out on one of my 5K routes. It took me a bit to get used to not hearing music. I could actually hear my breathing, and my feet pounding the pavement. Early on, I ran into another runner … and he was the only person I saw my entire run. Was it really that early? I felt great when I hit the one mile mark. I kept waiting for my knees to hurt, but they didn’t. I pressed forward. As I ran, I was thinking about the Ragnar Relay, which I’ll be running in less than three weeks. I also thought about how I want to train for my next half marathon.

As I thought more and more about running, I ran faster. Without having my pace in my ear every half mile, I didn’t have any sense of how fast I was going. I was thinking that it would be nice to PR a 5K this morning, which would mean I need to be going about 14:00 or so. Then, after mile 2, I just kept getting faster. I was thinking about Ragnar, which I long ago had estimated I could run at a 13:00 pace. That would be a stretch for me right now. I decided to push it until I reached mile 3, and then walk the few blocks home (no .11 for me, so no 5K PR).

When I saw my average pace, I was a little disappointed. Only 13:49? I felt like I was going faster than that. Then I checked my splits. My last mile was definitely faster than that. It was 1:28 faster than my first mile.

May 18 Splits

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pace chart that continued to speed up so consistently.

May 18 Pace Chart

There was one other thing that was on my mind during the last two miles of my run—how much my torso itched! Note to self: Don’t wear a race shirt before washing it. I’ve done this before, but that was in the winter when I had another shirt on under it. I was pretty uncomfortable most of this run, and my upper body was completely pink when I took the shirt off.

Today was a good run. I need to jump right back into a regular running schedule (3-4 times per week) between now and the Ragnar Relay, and I need to take advantage of Memorial Day weekend to do some back-to-back and/or two-a-day runs.

May 18 Run Photo

Today was a good day! I was home and showered earlier than I got out of bed on Saturday morning. Then, I made a beef curry, cleaned the kitchen, got some gardening done, and made a delicious dinner. We had garlic sea salt sourdough crostini topped with morels, asparagus, and parmesan cheese, with a side of asparagus freshly harvested from my garden.

Morel & Asparagus CrostiniWeight loss update: I weighed in down .7 pounds on Tuesday. I’m still working on the pound that won’t go away. I was .4 pounds down from that before my run today. But, even if that loss sticks around until Tuesday, I’m still .4 pounds away from my all-time low on April 8. I can’t wait to get over that hump, although I’m not acting like it. I’m consistently going over my points each week, and not tracking everything like I should. Getting back to regular runs throughout the week should help jumpstart my weight loss, I think. That, and getting back to meal planning and tracking.

Weekly Workout & Meal Plan

I’m feeling good about our meal plan for this week. Everything is pretty easy to put together, makes for good leftovers for lunches, and is planned around the fuel I’ll need for my runs.

Breakfasts

Morning glory muffin (subbed out half the flour for whole wheat), light string cheese, mandarin orange

Lunches

Spinach & chickpea stew (leftover from Sunday’s dinner), 1/2 cup quinoa, carrots, black bean hummus. Will sub out for lentil stew later in the week.

Dinners

Monday: Cheesy baked pumpkin pasta, salad with garlic olive oil, milk
Tuesday: Mushroom ravioli (from the farmers market) with olive oil, peas & parmesan cheese, broccoli, milk
Wednesday: Chipotle salmon burgers with sriracha mayo on a light english muffin, roasted potatoes, corn
Thursday: Lentil stew, white rice, milk
Friday: Smoked salmon spaghetti with chili & lemon, broccoli, milk

Workouts

Monday: “Stretch & Strengthen” – I think I’m going to find some type of flexibility-promoting yoga video online and do a Runners World strength workout video I saw advertised in the new issue
Tuesday: Run 3 miles
Wednesday: 2 mile speed workout (4x400s)
Thursday: Run 3 miles; strength (will probably do a core workout & a circuit of a few weight machines at the gym)
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Run 4 miles (I’d really like to do this outside, but it looks like roads will still be snow-covered)
Sunday: 30 minute cross train (I’ll probably go do the bike or elliptical at the gym)

Do you have your week all planned out? What are you eating/doing?

Weekly Menu

Monday is a rest day, so I have no running-related things to report. I do, however, have a weekly meal plan to share with you. I’m still following the Simply Filling plan for Weight Watchers. On this plan, you eat from the power foods list and don’t have to count points, although you have 49 weekly points (+ activity points) to use for items not on that list. I like to use my points on cookies and chocolate 🙂

Breakfast each day will likely be oatmeal (1/2 cup dry old fashioned oats) with a chopped apple and a tablespoon of apple butter. So yummy!

Lunches are leftovers. There’s some wheat berry, beet & feta salad from Friday’s office potluck, and remains from the week’s dinners. I also made some homemade roasted red pepper chickpea dip—it’s kind of like hummus but no olive oil or tahini—to eat with raw carrots. Snack is usually some plain yogurt with fruit or jam.

Dinners are the fun part!
Sunday: Spinach & chickpea stew with brown rice
Monday: Green salad with roasted beets & feta, whole wheat pasta with tomato basil sauce
Tuesday: Taco potatoes! I’m baking potatoes in the slow cooker for the first time. Also: refried beans
Wednesday: KFC crockpot chicken, sautéed mushrooms, roasted butternut squash
Thursday: Freezer burritos (I made these a few months ago) with fiesta rice
Friday: Pasta with chicken and roasted yellow tomato sauce.

Are there any particularly tasty, healthy meals on your menu this week?

This Week’s Meal Plan

I know it’s already Wednesday, but I want to write about this week’s meal plan. For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been in the habit of planning a week’s worth of meals every weekend. Many weeks I actually cook most of the meals on Saturday or Sunday so they’re ready to go throughout the week. This practice not only helps with my weight loss, but it helps our budget and we avoid food waste.

I need to come up with a breakfast I can eat in the car or at my desk, a lunch for each day, and meals that will meet my needs and satisfy my husband’s appetite, while providing leftovers for his lunches.

Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Breakfast: Vanilla chia pudding topped with cinnamon and a sliced banana. I made a 5-serving batch on Sunday night.

Snack: .75 oz almonds

Lunch: Confetti bean bowl (I totally just made up that name) – 1/2 cup brown rice,  1/2 cup black beans, 1/2 cup pickled corn relish. I throw all this in a bowl and microwave it for lunch. I also have an apple and a stick of string cheese

Snack: 1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt & 1/2 cup berries

Dinners: Sunday: Beef & wheat berry soup. Monday: Cheeseburger casserole & kale. Tuesday: Beer-soaked beef, whole wheat pasta, sautéed mushrooms. Wednesday: Leftover three-bean chili, mini cornbread muffin Thursday: Pulled pork, mini cornbread muffin, apple & carrot slaw. Friday: Leftovers of some sort.

Next week’s meal planning should be interesting…I’m pretty sure I’m going to try out the Weight Watchers Simply Filling plan.

Weekly Meal Planning

After the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I never got around to planning out our meals for the week. I had lunches planned, but after three days I failed miserably at eating them. I was ravenously hungry, and wanted something more filling than turkey soup. And dinner was a free-for-all (although I stayed within my points, so that’s a small victory).

This week I’m going to try to eat two high protein snacks during the day, and I’ve planned out our dinners like I normally do. I have no problem eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch for the entire week, so those meals will look like this (PP stands for PointsPlus):

Breakfast – 5 PP: Morning glory muffin (made with dehydrated blueberries instead of raisins & half whole wheat flour-lowers PointsPlus to 4), low-fat string cheese, 1 cup grapes

Snack – 3 PP: .75 oz almonds and a banana

Lunch – 7 PP: 1 cup vegetable chili, 1/2 cup brown rice, apple

Snack – 3 PP: 1 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt and 1/2 cup blueberries

The only deviation will be Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with some co-workers. We’re going to a restaurant I’m familiar with, and I already have a healthy choice planned. That leaves me with approximately 11 points for dinner and maybe an evening snack (of course, I have weekly points to use, but I’m trying to save them for a meal out and an evening with friends). Here’s what our dinners will be:

Sunday – 9 PP: Spaghetti squash with meat sauce, garlic cheddar biscuit, one cup skim milk. Aaron loves this and will eat leftovers for lunch throughout the week.

Monday – 10 PP: 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup kale sauteed in 1 tsp olive oil & garlic, 2 soft boiled eggs, one cup skim milk.

Tuesday – 11 PP: Taco salad! Green salad topped with 3 ounces of beef taco meat, 1/4 cup reduced fat shredded mexican cheese, salsa and 2 T guacamole, 1/2 cup fat free refried beans. Aaron will probably have regular tacos, and will eat the leftovers for lunches.

Wednesday – 13PP: Morningstar spicy black bean burgers on toasted english muffins with sriracha & miracle whip, 4 oz roasted potatoes tossed with 1 tsp olive oil, 1/2 cup roasted carrots tossed with 1 tsp olive oil, one cup skim milk.

Thursday – 8PP: 4 oz broiled tilapia with 1 tsp olive oil, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa with rehydrated dried tomatoes, 1/2 cup green beans, one cup skim milk

Friday will be whatever is left over, or perhaps we’ll decide to go out to dinner.

I’m fairly certain I’ll meet my good health guidelines each day, with the exception of the olive oil. While not perfect, I think the menu is pretty good.

Tonight I’m baking a double recipe of morning glory muffins to put in the freezer (they defrost in the microwave in 30 seconds), cooking the rice for my lunches and Monday’s dinner, weighing & bagging the almonds, preparing my yogurt snacks, washing and packaging the grapes, and packing the chili and rice together. This makes it easy to stay on plan every single day. This week each dinner will be made that night, but some weeks I’ve made soups and casseroles on the weekend so every night was just reheat and eat.

How do you plan and prep your meals?