A healthy dinner of Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Whether you need something for to take the edge off a cold spell, or are looking for a quick, easy, healthy dinner, this soup will do the trick! You might be surprised at how healthy and delicious this is, given the simple ingredient list and easy instructions (they might look long but they’re straightforward). And don’t forget to check out the recipe notes at the end of the page – you’ll find some helpful tips for turning this into a five-star dinner that will quickly slide into your standard list of healthy meals.

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken
Adapted from Donna Hay’s 10 Minute Meals

For the soup:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • Zest of one lemon (see note)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked through (see note)
  • 4 cups/1 litre chicken stock
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach (see note)
  • Juice of one lemon (approximately 2 tablespoons), or to taste

For the chicken:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Small pinch of chili powder
  • 1 tsp olive oil or coconut oil (see note)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

Prepare the chicken: Turn the breast on it’s side and cut down the length to get 2-3 pieces of about equal thickness. Combine lemon zest (half of a lemon), smoked paprika, chili powder, oil, and stock in a medium bowl and mix well. Add chicken pieces and coat thoroughly. Set aside.

Start the soup: Spray a medium pot with oil and add the onion, garlic, lemon zest (whole lemon), and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer 10-12 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Cook the chicken: While soup is simmering, spray a non-stick pan with oil and put on high heat. After 15-20 seconds, place the chicken strips into the pan, leaving a little space between each, and turn down heat to medium. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Remove from heat and let rest while you finish the soup.

Finish it off: When lentils are soft, stir through spinach, allowing it to wilt and mix through evenly. Stir through lemon juice. Slice the chicken into strips. Ladle soup into bowls, top with chicken, and enjoy!

 

Recipe notes:

  • Lemon zest is a great way to add flavor without additional calories. The easiest way to zest a lemon is with a microplane, but you can also use the smallest setting on a box grater.
  • Dry lentils, beans, and other pulses can sometimes hide small rocks that stems from the processing. This is normal, but you still want to pour everything onto a plate and check it over to make sure you’re only eating what you want to.
  • If you don’t have fresh packed spinach on hand, try whole leaf frozen spinach.
  • Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, which means that over anything but high heat, the oil can break down and lose it’s health benefits. Coconut oil has a much higher smoke point, has positive health benefits, and won’t impart a coconut flavor to your food.

 

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One skillet zucchini and mushroom omelette for a fast healthy breakfast

Veggie and Cheddar Open Omelet

I love a recipe that works for any meal, and this omelet does just that – and it’s everything else I look for in a meal as well…

Easy? Check.
Quick? Check.
Delicious? Check.
Healthy? Check!

Many people stay away from traditional folded omelets because flipping them can be a delicate operation at best, and a total disaster at worst. To take the “pain” out of this pain-in-the-butt, this recipe gives you an open-style omelet that requires no flipping at all! Once done, all you have to do is slide it onto your plate and enjoy!

Veggie and Cheddar Open Omelet

1/2 C mushroom slices
1/2 C zucchini slices
1 clove or 1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 eggs
1/4 C loosely packed grated cheddar
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley – optional

Spray small non-stick pan with spray oil and heat over medium heat. Cook mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic, stirring frequently, until soft. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a small bowl, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Re-spray pan and veggies with oil, give a quick stir, and pour in eggs. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the eggs. Turn heat down to medium-low or low, and put the lid of a large pot over the pan (see note). Let cook for 5-7 minutes or until eggs are set. Use a spatula to lift and slide omelet out of the pan and onto plate. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if using, and an extra crack of black pepper.

NOTE: Using a pot lid or something similar to cover the pan helps the eggs cook evenly as they will be heated from the top and the bottom. The lid to a large stock pan will work well for this, or if unavailable, a cookie sheet also works in a pinch.


Greek beef salad with tzatziki dressing for a healthy lunch or dinner

Greek Beef Salad

An easy, satisfying salad that’s packed with flavor and won’t leave you feeling hungry again in an hour, this salad is a great opportunity to maximize your veggie intake. It’s equally good as a one-off dinner or lunch, or you can prep a big batch and assemble when you need a quick meal. Best of all, this is easy to individualize – if you don’t like something, leave it out!

 

Greek Beef Salad

Serves two

  • 400g / 1 lb Ground beef
  • 1 Tbs Fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 small zucchini, grated
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups of lettuce (torn) or fresh spinach
  • ½ – 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ½ – 1 cup diced red capsicum or red bell pepper
  • ½ – 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • ¼ – ½ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ – ½ cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • ¼ – ½ crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ – ½ Tzatziki

Tzatziki

  • ½ large cucumber, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, regular or greek style
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs dill or mint – optional

Using a medium to large pan over medium heat, cook the beef, garlic, zucchini, and onion until the meat is browned and the vegetables are soft. Mix in the oregano.

Split the remaining salad ingredients between two bowls, using as much as you like of each one. Health tip: The feta will be the most calorie-dense, and has a big flavor, so start small with it. Both the feta and the olives are high in salt and can be omitted if you are limiting your sodium intake.

Spoon half the beef into each bowl, and top with tzatziki for a healthy salad dressing. Yum!


Beef san choi bao in lettuce wraps for fast easy healthy dinner with lots of vegetables

Very Veggie San Choi Bao

If there’s one thing I love, it’s delicious food. If there’s one things I love even more, it’s delicious food that also happens to be healthy!

San choi bao has long been a family favorite. The traditional recipe is a flavored mince (ground pork) served in lettuce cups, which makes it perfect for low-carb and low-gluten meal plans, or even gluten free (see the recipe tips for how-to).  We’ve upped the ante on this by adding a boatload of veggies, which has two added benefits:

You get more veggies, without having to eat a pile of veggies (not that there’s anything wrong with that either!). This means more fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and a more balanced meal in general.

More veggies, and especially the mushrooms, means you can use less protein and still get the same amazing results. This makes the meal more budget-friendly, and is also more eco-friendly, since meat production has a much higher environmental cost.

This recipe is a beef base, but you can use the traditional pork or chicken if you prefer. And while the ingredient list looks long, it’s somewhat deceptive – this meal comes together quickly and easily, so still works well for a weeknight dinner.

Very Veggie San Choi Bao

500g / 1 lb beef mince or ground beef

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Generous 1/2tsp minced ginger

1.5 cups finely diced mushrooms of any variety

1 small onion, diced

1 small carrot, grated

1 small zucchini, grated

1/2 red capsicum or bell pepper, finely chopped

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup oyster or hoisin sauce

1/2 cup water or beef stock

2 tsp cornstarch mixed with a tablespoon of water

Lettuce leaves, for serving

Optional – red or wombok cabbage leaves, for serving

 

In a large pan, brown the beef with the garlic and ginger. Set aside.

Using the same pan, cook the mushrooms and onion for 3 minutes or until soft, adding a splash of water if they are dry and sticking to the pan. While these are cooking, combine the soy cause, oyster or hoisin sauce, water or stock, and cornstarch mixture in a bowl.

Add remaining vegetables to the pan and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until slightly softened. Return beef to the pan and mix to combine. Add the sauce mixture and stir through, cooking until the sauce has thickened.

Separate lettuce leaves, and cabbage leaves if using. Layer two to three leaves together, and spoon mixture into the center. Cup or wrap, and enjoy!

 

Pro tips:

  • To make this meal gluten free, choose GF soy and hoisin sauces, and use arrowroot or tapioca powder in place of the cornstarch.
  • As you brown the beef, spoon out the liquid and save it to add to your water or beef stock. This improves the flavor and will decrease meal prep time.
  • Cabbage leaves give more heft to the lettuce cups, lending some sturdiness and crunch to the meal.

 

If you’re Brisbane-based and want to try this with beef, Rangeland Quality Meats offers amazing locally raised, free range and grass fed beef at an excellent price. They haven’t sponsored this post – we just love their product! It’s a cut above anything you get at the supermarket (sorry, pun intended!). You can get it via home-delivery, though we always grab ours from the Rocklea Markets on Saturdays.

 


seared scallops and boiled eggs on green salad for a healthy fast lunch

Perfect Portions Made Easy

Calorie counting to manage meals and portion sizes? We’ve got a handy trick for you!

Counting calories or points, keeping a food diary, or otherwise painstakingly tracking food intake is a chore, at least for most. While it can certainly be effective in bringing awareness to your portion sizes and meals, the time and effort it takes most people often leads to frustration and loss of motivation. Efforts at healthy eating can quickly be derailed.

Sometimes keeping a precise count of calories, carbs, or fats can be important, as in the case of some health conditions. If this is you, please continue to follow your doctors instructions! If this isn’t you though, and you are trying to track food, calories, carbs, or fats for the sake of general health or weight loss, good news: there’s an easier way to manage your meals.

Your hand is the perfect portion control guide. It’s proportionally sized to your body, stays consistent, and you’ve always got it with you. Estimating portion sizes based on your hand means there are no fiddly measurements to make (you can easily make a visual comparison – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and no math involved in building a healthy plate of food. While this method has been gaining in popularity in recent years, it’s actually been recommended in numerous nutrition textbooks for years as well as being widely recommended by non-profit health and nutrition organizations and government agencies.

Like this infographic? CLICK HERE it to download it with get bonus meal-management tips!


Three Protein-Packed Snacks

Quick and easy, once the prep is done these snacks are pretty much grab-and-go.

Protein is really important.

From helping to maintain muscle mass, to keeping you full and preventing not-so-great food choices, to ensuring your immune system is running on all cylinders, protein is a critical component of your day to day diet. Your body only keeps small stores of proteins circulating for use, and these stores need to be replenished frequently. The best way to do this is to include a variety of protein sources in your day to day diet.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the protein shake. They are definitely useful for quick post-workout refueling, but (usually) they aren’t delicious. Real food is delicious, and has the added benefits of additional fiber, vitamins and minerals, and other factors that can help your body maximize on the nutrients you’re giving it.

Some of my favorite snacks are protein heavy, don’t require super special kitchen skills, and are super satisfying to boot:

Hard-boiled eggs
It took me years to figure out how easy this snack is, but better late than never! These are my favorite protein-packed snack, for ease of preparation and versatility.

For making hard boiled eggs easy: Tip 1: Let the eggs sit in warm water for 10 minutes to bring them up to room temperature. This will help keep the eggs from cracking when you bring them to the boil. Tip 2: Boil them with baking soda: it helps the eggs peel more easily when you’re done. I was never told a specific amount, and I dont ever measure, I just dump a bunch in. For a small saucepan, I probably use 2-3 heaping tablespoons. If you have a batch that doesn’t peel easily, try more baking soda next time.

Once peeled, you can go with classic salt and pepper, but I also love a bit of smoked paprika or some cajun seasoning for a little bit of a kick.

Natural peanut butter on celery sticks
A throwback to my childhood, I still love this snack. The salty, crunchy celery is a nice complement to the protein-packed creamy peanut butter, plus the celery will do great things for your fiber intake. Smear a celery stick with as much peanut butter as desired: I try for a thin spread, since the peanut butter can carry a big calorie load. Want a little sweet on the top? Dot the peanut butter with some raisins or sultanas for a little extra pop. Peanut-allergy? Try with almond butter, or another nut butter of your choice.

Beef Jerky
Not the store-bought stuff! Make-your-own jerky is actually pretty easy, despite being the most-labor intensive on this list. Really, the hardest thing is slicing the meat, and if your butcher will probably do that for you. Alternatively, in the US you can sometimes find beef sliced for carne asada – this is perfect for making jerky. Check out international or hispanic markets for this. Once the meat is cut, marinate it for a few hours, in the over for a few more, and you’re done! There is a great at-home recipe here, complete with great pictures and instructions, but a quick google will give plenty of at-home jerky options.

Am I missing something excellent? I’m always looking for new ideas. Leave me a comment and let me know what I should try!