Halloween Favorites

Meal planning can help keep your week running smoothly, and since it’s Halloween this week, here are some of my favorite recipes that can be made ahead of time and also make great leftovers!


Butternut Squash Soup

I love this soup not only because it is festive, but also because nutritionally-speaking, it incorporates veggies and pairs so nicely with a grilled cheese or quesadilla making it a family-friendly meal- at least in our household.



Beer braised Pot Roast

A family favorite that will last you well even throughout the winter. Made from an eye of round for a heart-healthier classic.



Classic Chili

Nothing fancy here, just a blend of homemade spices with my favorite bean combos! Versatile enough to make vegetarian or vegan if you’d like.



Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tenderloin

Pulled pork doesn’t have to be unhealthy, especially when you use a lean pork tenderloin.



Slow Cooker Steak Fajitas

Any time you’re craving a favorite dish you’d normally order out, try to pick a simple way to incorporate it at home. Slow cooker or one-pan sautes are often on my go-to list.



Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

For those that need other ways to prepare chicken because there are infinite ways to cook chicken.


I hope everyone has a fun, safe, & memorable trick or treating!

Happy Halloween!



Halloween Strategies {Fox 8 segment, recipes, & tips + tricks}

Halloween is next week! Eek!

If you’re planning your menu & plans out this weekend, here’s a recap of my segment with Fox 8 along with the recipes and tips! More tricks & recs are here than on air because there’s only so much you can talk about in 3 minutes =)

Nutritious snack: homemade popcorn

Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add 1-2 tablespoons oil of choice, I used avocado oil since it can take higher heats and can help to prevent burning – speaking from experience here…

Add one popcorn kernel to the heated oil. When it pops, the oil is ready. Add 1/4-1/2 cup kernels {depending on how much oil used above and how much you want to make}. Cover and agitate the skillet while the kernels are heating and popping.

Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice for that fall festive flavor!

  • Crunchy, snack-like option that’s a good fiber source (whole grain)
  • you control the ingredients when making it at home
    • air popped or type & amount of oil used, amount of salt- if any
  • Allergy friendly {gluten free, nut free,…}


Homemade dinner: pot roast

  • Fill up and satisfy with a nutritious dinner (lean protein, fiber + veggie-rich) before heading out
    • Lower saturated fat {better for cardiovascular health} protein- eye of round
    • Veggie loaded – carrots, tomato paste, onions, garlic
    • Salt mindful – you control how much, again if any, is used
  • can be made ahead of time (i.e. Sunday dinner & planned for leftovers for Halloween night)
  • can be done all in the slow cooker if desired
  • pair with stone ground (whole grain) grits
    • add in cauliflower for those with selective taste buds {i.e. picky kids} – same color, yet flavor from grits can mask the veggie flavor
  • family friendly {easy, tastes good, but also good for you} + gluten free
  • can be made vegetarian by replacing the meat with black beans + lentils and using vegetable bases + stocks

Tips + Tricks for Trick or Treats

mix of tricks AND treats {including more-nutritious options to help add variety + options}

  • ** bubbles, stickers, stamps, snap bracelets, glow sticks, yoyos, etc…  {check party-favor sections} **

  • individually wrapped {** are allergy friendly **}
    • **popcorn single serve bags**
    • ** Simply Balanced all fruit ‘snacks’ – twists, bars, bites**
    • bars
      • Rx bar kids + larabars – no added sugars
      • KIND kids- lower sugar – teaspoon =5 grams added sugar
      • Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars – also has brownie version- whole grains

For more tips & tricks, my article this month in Health and Fitness magazine {link included} has some strategies about what to do after Halloween with all the candy.



Happy Trick or Treating!



Pesto Chicken Sausage Saute

I find great value in one-pan dinners that can be made easily and quickly!

If it’s easy, the burden can be taken off of you to feel you are the only one preparing dinner for the family.

If it’s a fast dish, it can fit better into our busy lives!

Of course, it has to be tasty as well! And in my belief, we can always make it nutritious- there may need to be some twisting, but it can be done!

This recipe adds in fiber with whole grains (if desired) along with vitamin + mineral-rich veggies, and lower-saturated fat protein from the chicken sausage.

Pesto Chicken Sausage Saute

serves: 4


4 chicken sausages, no nitrates or nitrites added, sliced on a diagonal

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 lemon, juiced

pinch of kosher or sea salt

freshly cracked pepper

1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock

1 cup frozen chopped spinach

1 cup jarred marinated artichokes

2 cups extra veggie of choice

3 tbsp pesto

2 cups cooked whole grain pasta (gluten free brown rice pasta or 100% whole wheat)


In a cast iron skillet heated to medium high heat, add the sliced chicken sausages and warm through until there is nice browning, tossing occasionally to add color on both sides (about 5 minutes total). Set aside.

In the same skillet, add the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Saute to cook the garlic a bit, stirring as needed to prevent it from burning. Add the chicken stock and let it come to a light simmer. Add the veggies (spinach, artichoke + extra veggies). Cover and let the veggie warm and soften (about 10 minutes). Add the pesto and coat the veggies.

Add the chicken sausage and pasta. Toss everything to combine. Serve warm & enjoy!

For the extra veggies, we normally choose to have sugar snap peas and we toss in the whole bag. I went to two different stores and couldn’t not find them this week, so we used what we had on hand – which was leftover roasted brussels sprouts and some broccoli that I prepped as an “extra” veggie for any meal earlier in the week.

If you prefer a vegetable in place of (or in addition to) the pasta, zucchini noodles would make a great option!

Extra protein can be added in to help provide fullness, energy, and satisfaction with the meal. The chicken sausage does contain some sodium, so something like white beans, tofu, skinless chicken would all be good compliments here.

I hope you incorporate this into your recipe box of easy, fast, and tasty family-friendly meals. For the kids, you may have to separate the components out for them. They may not eat every item, and that’s okay. The longterm goal though is for everyone to eat the same meal that is offered- it may be slightly tailored or includes an additional item on their plate their are comfortable with, but we’re not a restaurant making multiple dinners to accommodate everyone individually.




Cajun Turkey Burger

For burger lovers: just one more delicious recipe to add to your collection.


Cajun Turkey Burger

Makes: 6


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 celery stalk, diced

1/2 onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2  lb ground turkey breast

1/4 cup mayo

1/4 cup plain Greek Yogurt

1/4 cup old fashioned oats

couple heavy dashes Worchestershire

couple dashes Tabasco Chipotle hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon blackening seasoning, divided


In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, peppers, and garlic. Saute until soft (about 5 minutes).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the turkey with sauteed veggies. Add the mayo, greek yogurt, oats (blended into a flour or left whole), Worchestershire and hot sauce. Mix well to combine everything.

Preheat the grill or a grill pan.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion each burger in between two pieces of parchment paper to form the burger patty. Set aside and repeat with the remaining meat mixture until 6 patties are formed. Sprinkle each patty on both sides with blackening seasoning.

Cook each patty on the preheat grill and cook on each side for about 5-7 minutes.


Toppings & sides:

I prefer to top my burger with diced or mashed avocado. But a thin slice of cheese may suit others. I also go bunless and serve over a bed of greens. If you prefer some bread, I really like Dave’s Killer Bread – Thin sliced or any brand of 100% whole grain or whole wheat sandwich thins, rounds or flats. Thomas 100% whole wheat English muffins or Nature’s Own 100% whole wheat buns would also be good, wholesome, fiber-rich options.

We often also toss some sliced onions & mushrooms in a touch of oil and grilled them along with the burgers as another topping. And when I say we, I mean my hubby. He’s the grill master.

For sides, if you choose bread for your burger, you might double up on non-starchy veggies (like my roasted brussel sprouts pictured). But if you skip the bread like I often do, then some baked sweet potato would be a nutrient-rich yet traditional side option but it’s not a much. Having a double portion of veggies rather than a serving of starch or carb is completely optional. You’ll get the nutrients, energy, and satisfaction you need and want from the protein, fiber, and plant-based fat from avocado.



Berry Chia Yogurt Pancakes

I made these for my family while we were home over the 4th of July and they were a hit! I’ve already been requested to make them for our upcoming beach trip! Needless to say, they are worthy of repeat!

Nutritious and delicious pancakes- that’s right, you can eat pancakes and feel good about them!


Berry Chia Yogurt Pancakes

Makes about 15 pancakes



2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour)

1/4 cup chia seeds

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (such as Fage 2%)

2  cups milk of choice (such as Fairlife or an unsweetened vanilla nut milk)

2 eggs

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce with cherries or mixed berries

2 lemons, zested & juiced

2 tablespoons Madhava Agave 5

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt). In a large mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients (yogurt through vanilla). Combine the dry & wet ingredients and let sit for about 5-10 minutes.

Preheat a flat-iron skillet or non-stick pan to medium heat. Spray with non-stick spray or rub on some good ol’ butter (I’m diggin’ Land O’ Lakes Butter with olive oil and sea salt right now).

Using 1/4 cup measure, portion out some of the batter onto the warmed skillet. Flip over when the under side starts to brown (you’ll know as the edges start will to form and plump up and there will be bubbles popping up on the top side, indicating the bottom is toasted and the batter is becoming warmed through). Cook on the second side until it is browned as well, about 2 minutes.

Repeat the spraying/butter coating step as needed while continuing to cook each pancake until the batter is gone.

For a syrup, I combine a splash of water in a glass jar with a healthy dollop of an all fruit preserve or jam such as Polaner, Smucker’s Simply Fruit, or St. Dalfour. I splash in some Madhava Agave 5 – my liquid sweetener of choice that doubles as the syrup here. Warm it for about 30 seconds, stir, and drizzle over your cakes!




Oatmeal, Pumpkin + Apple Baby Teething Biscuits

Savannah’s teeth came through on the earlier end of the range expected for babies.

That left mama looking for some relief for her. It was also about the time she was first being introduced to any solid food which she didn’t seem to interested in at the time.

We had plenty of teethers and fortunately she didn’t mind that, but her discomfort got to a whole new level as well as her food disinterest.

that’s where these teething biscuits came in. They were a homemade way for me to solve two issues at once. I looked at store-brought brands but I wasn’t satisfied that they were nothing but white carbs and I knew I could make my own version with whole grains and utilize the iron-fortified cereal that I knew her pediatrician wanted her to have daily.

Whether your for baby-led weaning or feeding or spoon feeding- that’s a topic for another time. But these homemade teething biscuits are easy + wholesome. This recipe basically involves a grain of some sort, a pureed fruit, and a couple spoons of oil to bind it together. The younger the baby and the less amounts of foods they’ve been exposed to can simplify the ingredients. The older the baby, the more foods you can add and that’ll mean more flavor variety for your little one!


Oatmeal, Pumpkin + Apple Teething Biscuits

yield: 50 small cookies or teething biscuits


2 cups iron fortified whole grain oatmeal cereal

1 cup whole rolled oats

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 tablespoons avocado oil


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with non-stick spray (otherwise the bottom will start burn if you skip this step thinking you already have non-stick pans- speaking from experience here.)

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Mix well until everything is well incorporated and the mixture begins to form a ball of “dough.”  If the mixture is too wet, you can add more oats or baby cereal.

On a baby cereal or oat flour-ed surface, dump out the dough ball. Gently press the mixture into a flat circle and continue to roll out with a rolling pin until about 1/4 to 1/2 in thick (thick about the width of the biscuit you are trying to accomplish).

With a small cookie cutter (being careful selecting one that one produce sharp edges that could cut baby’s gums), stamp out the dough. And place each biscuit onto prepared baking sheet.

Gather the remnants and form into another ball. Repeat the flattening, rolling, and stamping process until most all of the dough is utilized (another 3-4 times) adding more “flour” to the surface (and your hands) as needed.

Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown.

Store in an airtight container.

If you have any questions how to adapt this recipe to fit your little one’s preferences, age, and abilities please feel free to send me a message or comment on this post! While this is my own recipe that I’m happy for you to use, you may need to twist it fit the needs of your baby + family!

These teething biscuits are semi-soft for young nibblers, but always supervise your child while eating to assist with prompting to chew, take small bites, and prevent choking.




Almond Butter + Oat Pops


These aren’t your local bakery cake pops.

But they are delicious in their own right. Made with fiber-rich oats and heart healthy fats from almond butter as the main ingredients, these little bites are so satisfying!

They’re also an easy way to involve your kids in making some snacks and even breakfast options for themselves with back to school right around the corner.

In a medium bowl you’ll simply combine old fashioned oats, chia + flax seeds, some protein powder (if you’d like), almond butter, a bit of liquid sweetener and some mini chocolate chips.  Toss well to combine and portion into golf-ball size bites. Dip ’em into or drizzle with some melted dark chocolate and you’ll have a tasty snack or even breakfast on the go that can be made ahead of time for a quick, family-friendly weekend activity.



Almond Butter + Oat Pops

Makes: 3 dozen (may make closer to 4 dozen depending on their size)


2 cups old fashioned oats

1/4 cup flaxseeds

1/4 cup chia seeds

2 scoops vanilla low sugar protein powder (if desired)

pinch of kosher or sea salt

1 cup almond butter 

1/2 cup Madhava Agave Five 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1 teaspoon avocado oil

rainbow sprinkles for garnish


In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flax + chia seeds, protein powder, and salt.  Mix together with a fork. Add the almond butter, Agave 5 sweetener, and vanilla extract. Mix well to combine everything evenly together.

With wet hands, use a mini ice cream scoop to spoon the mixture into your hands. Form into small gold-ball sized bites and place on a large cookie sheet. {Note: you may need to add some water to the mixture depending on how well everything is coming together when forming the bites. If the mixture is crumbly and not staying together well, add 1/4 – 1/2 cup water.}

Place the entire cookie sheet in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a glass measuring bowl, melt the dark chocolate and avocado oil for 30 second increments, stirring in between each session until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Remove the cookie sheet. Insert 1/2 of paper straw into the bottom of each pop. Lightly drizzle or spoon the melted chocolate onto the top of each almond butter oat ball. Sprinkle with sprinkles if desired.

Place the cake pops in a small mouth container (I found mason jars to work well, but use whatever you can at home) and place in the freezer again for another 10 minutes until the chocolate hardens.

Store in the fridge or freezer in a tightly sealed ziplock bag.


For other variations try these yogurt dipped ones instead of the chocolate. Simply combine plain greek yogurt with good quality vanilla extract and a bit more of that Madhava Agave 5 syrup and coat the oat + nut butter bites.


For those of us wanting to save a step or two, skip the “pop” and make them into bites.


Or better yet, bars!


And if you want to skip the coating (chocolate or yogurt) altogether, you can do that too!

Completely customizable based on your needs + preferences! Enjoy!









Strawberry Surprise Summer Pops

If you don’t like surprises, then don’t worry this is a good surprise!

These strawberry pops are a refreshing & nourishing summer treat that can double as part of a meal or snack because they are that good for you! Made with nothing but fruits and veggies and only sweetened with a plant-based sweetener if you desire! The recipe is super easy, all can be done in a blender and frozen for a few hours.


Strawberry Surprise Summer Pops


2 pints strawberries

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 beet (cooked+ peeled)

1/2 cup carrot juice

2 teaspoons balsalmic vinegar

1/2 cup Madhava Agave 5 (optional)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Strain before pouring into popsicle molds, ice cube trays, or silicone muffin cups. Freeze until solid (depending on size of molds, freezing time needed + recipe yield will vary).

Surprise! There’s a few secret ingredients! There’s an extra fruit in here (applesauce) as well as some veggies (beets + carrots) not to mention the key ingredient to make the veggies taste less pronounced (the balsamic vinegar). The vinegar with the strawberries will not be like eating a strawberry balsamic salad, I promise! It really helps to deepen and enrich the strawberry flavor without adding a vinegar flavor.

For babies + tots, I’d recommend keeping these unsweetened, but the adults (the hubster even likes these!) and older kids might like the added sweetness from the Agave 5.

Stay cool (as much as possible) this summer! =)


Chicken Parmesan + Zucchini noodles

Before we met, my husband lived in Italy for almost 2 years while he was in the Navy. Needless to say he has high demands for an Italian dinner and almost refuses to go out to a restaurant.

I am by no means Italian, I’m from Northern Illinois for crying out loud. My version of Italian is the American version of meatballs and spaghetti or ordering pizza.

He’s hard enough to please when it comes to food anyways so when I prepare something he gobbles up even all the leftovers, I surely better share it with y’all!


Lighter Chicken Parmesan

Serves: 4-6


 1 lb chicken breast

2 pinches kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups or so marinara (homemade is best, but a store bought version makes an easy swap)

4 thin slices mozarella cheese or 1/2 cup part skim mozarella

2 tbsp parmesan cheese

zucchini, as needed

pasta, as needed



Trim the chicken of any perimeter fat. Place between a top & bottom layer of plastic wrap and pound out (with a mallet) to an even thickness.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss and evenly coat in the egg wash.

Dip in the bread crumbs on each side. Can use whole wheat bread crumbs for more fiber and nutrient rather than panko.

Heat a large non-stick pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil.

Sear the chicken on one side for about 2-3 minutes. Flip when there is a golden brown color on the breading and cook on the second side for another few minutes.

Pour in the marinara and cover. Let simmer to heat through the sauce and finish cooking the chicken (about 20 minutes). Add the mozzarella cheese, cover again until melted.

Sprinkle with parmesan right before serving. Garnish with parsley if desired and serve with pasta (whole wheat, brown rice, or lentil pasta are nutrient-rich options), salad and/or zucchini noodles.

Note: if you don’t need or want any pasta with it, you can omit the carb. 100% whole wheat, brown rice, or lentil pastas provide more fiber and nutrients than regular enriched white flour pasta. I’ll be the first to tell you though I don’t deprive myself of regular pasta, especially for certain meals. Some nights when the family is eating pasta with the meal, I have a small portion of whatever they are eating. Other nights I omit it and completely swap in spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash. I used a veggie peeler here for the zucchini just for a different shape. Other nights I combine the veggie ‘pasta’ with regular pasta just to help keep everything in balance (my goals, appetite, and cravings!).







Black Bean Salsa


A simple dish that is a great accompaniment to many summer party line ups or a delicious topping to add to your tex mex night!

Black Bean Salsa

2 cans no salt added black beans, drained + rinsed

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 orange bell pepper, diced

1-2 fire roasted tomatoes, diced

1/4 red onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 bunch of cilantro, diced

1-2 limes, juiced

pinch of salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp olive oil


Toss everything together. That’s it!

This can be made ahead of time for a party and it saves for a good 5 days in the fridge to be used throughout the week.


For a touch of fresh, summery-sweetness I’ll also add pineapple or mango chunks and you can really tailor this to fit your taste preferences. if you don’t like tomatoes, just skip them. If you like less bell peppers or only have 2 on hand (or the mini peppers like me that are a staple in my fridge), just use what you have.

I also often omit the olive oil and will use avocado for the creamy, fatty flavor desired and then it becomes more like a guaca-salsa as I called it in my recent instagram post.


Happy summer-ing!