Ixnay on the N a

Holiday Time.
Being around extended family for a longer-than-normal amount of time.
Black Friday.
Excess of food left out at any given moment.
The bad kinds of food left out at any given moment.
Last minute work projects before holiday time.

Any and all of these things can spike up blood pressure. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time…..” -maybe. Sometimes.

Blood pressure is a sensitive subject in my household. My dear hubby of 19 years suffers from high blood pressure. A lot of debate exists when talking about whether genetics play a bigger role or if lifestyle and how you handle stress play a bigger role. Some recent findings say lifestyle plays a bigger role. I wanted to study up and see if there was anything I could do to help lower his blood pressure, but also get our family on a healthier path. Exercise was one area. We started walking 3 times a week together. What we put into our bodies was another.

Enter sodium. Dun-dun-dun-dun….

Americans get 75% of their sodium intake in processed foods. Sodium (when the amount is appropriate) plays a vital role in our health. Improved heart performance, needed for blood regulation, and glucose absorption. It is an important factor in the human diet for the regulation of cellular activity and nervous system function. You probably know what I’m going to say next. That McDonalds fries are some of the best fries on the planet?? You’ve got a gift. Sometimes you do just have to hit the drive through for the fries. Getting a small fry every 2 weeks is a treat. And a necessity. Ok, not a necessity, but there are some things you just have to enjoy.

Well, the other thing I was going to say is that with the good comes the bad. Too much sodium can lead to stomach cancer, hypertension (high blood pressure), and can even lead to coma. So, how much should one take in? All blogs tend to agree that you should take no more than

2,300mg

of sodium a day and even LESS than that if you’re over 50. Think this is a fair amount and you shouldn’t have any troubles? Think again. The table below shows a typical day for anyone – especially a busy, working mom who tends to pick up food on the go.  I have been easily guilty of this. Throw in a few medium cokes, and a grande Starbucks Latte in there…no wonder I gained 20 lbs in 2 years!

Sodium Values

How can you control this?  Will my food still be good? Is there hope!?  YES, YES, and YES
*By eating less processed foods and preparing meals ahead of time – think FRESH
*By not picking up items like frozen cheese pizzas (that have over 800mg of sodium a serving)
*By eating fresh foods like more fruits and veggies
*By purchasing items that say “Reduced Sodium” or “No Sodium”
*By reducing your salt each recipe by 1/4 tsp, or not adding even more salt when you get a meal from a restaurant. Your taste buds will get used to this and your heart will thank you for it!

Not your typical Cabbage Roll

First, you will love Quinoa.  You will.  You will.  I will you to love Quinoa. I think most either haven’t tried it, or they’ve tried it plain.

Second, did you know that 1 cup of ground chicken is just over 300 calories.  JUST over 300 calories, and less than 18g of fat!

I’ve been trying different recipes where I can throw in a little Quinoa to get my family used to it. Quinoa is high in protein, lacks gluten, is a great source of fiber and very easy to digest! It is slowly gaining popularity in the US. It also is supposed to make you fuller-for longer. You can find many different kinds of Quinoa. You can find blends of wild rice, bulgar, and quinoa. You can use that in this recipe, as well! This is the one I chose to use:

Quinoa

One meal I LOVE is cabbage rolls.  If you don’t love cabbage rolls, I’m sure you can find a great substitute for this instead of cabbage leaves. My goal was to make cabbage rolls with ground chicken and quinoa-but still have great flavor that regular beef or pork filled cabbage rolls provide.

Recipe will be below.  First, follow the recipe on how to prepare the Quinoa in a separate, small pan.  You will only need about 1/4-1/2 cup of Quinoa cooked, so 1/2 a cup of Quinoa is plenty. While this is cooking:

Pre-heat oven to 375. I sauteed 1/4 cup onion, 1/4 cup of green or red bell pepper (any color is fine, really), and 3 cloves of chopped garlic with 2 Tbsp of olive oil until almost soft. (about 4 min) I added my ground chicken and spices. Cook until chicken is almost done.

Ground Chicken

Next, I add about 20 leaves of spinach, and the chili pepper paste (provides a tiny bit of sweet but also the HEAT), and 1/4 of chopped tomatoes (I use the Poma brand in a box). Save the rest of the chopped tomatoes to pour on top of the cabbage rolls once you assemble them. You can honestly add anything to this dish that you think you may like. All of the flavors blend nicely.

Chili tomato

Let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes. The flavors will marry and come together nicely! Taste. If you think it’s pretty bland, add more seasoning or pepper.  The Quinoa should be done. Add about 1/4 cup of Quinoa to the mixture. Combine well.

Next, assemble the cabbage rolls.

Cabbage assembly

Roll them up and place them in a casserole dish. Don’t worry about them being perfect leaves. You’ll spoon each leaf bundle out with a big spoon and just dig in with your fork.

Take remaining ground chicken mixture and add 1/4 cup of the chopped tomatoes to the pan. Pour some of the mixture on each roll -but not covering completely. (Pic below) Put a layer of foil on casserole dish and cover tightly. Cook for 25 minutes. Be careful when you remove, as the steam will be quite hot.

Cabbage Final

Recipe:

Not your everyday Cabbage Roll
1 head of cabbage                    1/4 cup of chopped onion
1 lb ground chicken                    3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup of green or red bell pepper                    2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup cooked Quinoa                    1 Tbsp chili pepper paste
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes                    fresh spinach
1 tsp garlic salt                    1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp black pepper

You can put almost any veggie you want, or pine nuts in this dish – experiment!

Enjoy!

McAlister’s Savannah Chopped Salad Remake

One of my absolute FAVORITE salads to get is the Savannah chopped salad from McAlister’s Deli.  Problem with that?  1)  Cost of going more than once a week on a college student budget (more on that part later)  2)  Trying to keep my lady curves lady like and not beast like

I think it cost me $2.75 to make this salad at home.  It costs around $10-$12 when you get the salad and tea….who goes to McAlister’s and doesn’t get the tea?  Are you really my friend if you don’t?  (I think one of the secrets to their tea is they add a pinch of cinnamon or some other spice)  Anyway, I also like to control the amount of dressing and what I use in my dressings.  You can always opt for the from scratch method, but I’m doing everything else – I don’t mind buying the store made dressing if it’s a tasty one.

*Tip – make 2-3 grilled chicken breasts ahead of time so you can chop them up easily during the week, or grab a ziplock bag with 4-6 pieces during a break for some protein!

So this is MY version of the salad

Lettuce (any type your heart desires) then chop the heck away out of it
1/2 of a tomato -minus the slimy insides (chop chop chop)
1/4 cup cucumber (chop chop chop)
2 spoon fulls of gorgonzola cheese crumbles
handful of almonds and cranberries (sold at Target in the salad aisle in a bag, together)
diced grilled chicken
2 tsp any vinaigrette salad dressing closest to shallot, or raspberry you love
if you want to get all fancy on me, finely chop up green onion to top off salad

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