Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

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You know what I love? Cookies. You know what I love even more? Delicious cookies that are healthy too, like these yummy banana chocolate chip cookies. They only have 6 ingredients: bananas, oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Yep, that’s right – no flour, butter, or sugar. I suppose one could argue that chocolate chips aren’t really healthy, but we don’t know any of those people, right?

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are super easy to make too; just throw all of the ingredients into one bowl, mix it up, and bake for 15 minutes. If you’re wondering, yes, they do taste like bananas. I’m not a huge fan of bananas myself, but I really like these cookies. They remind me of chocolate chip banana bread. My oldest daughter doesn’t like bananas very much either, but even she devoured these cookies (I may have neglected to tell her that bananas were one of the main ingredients).

The sugar in the bananas make the cookies plenty sweet, so no need to worry about that. In fact, I would recommend that you use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips in this recipe; the bitterness will complement the sweet cookies nicely. As you can see from my photo, I didn’t skimp on the chocolate chips. You can probably reduce the chocolate chips to 1/2 cup, if you want a less chocolately cookie.

I used ripe, but not overripe bananas (yellow, not brown). For those with peanut allergies, you can either omit the peanut butter, or substitute a different nut/seed butter. If you do omit the peanut butter, increase the amount of salt a bit.

2 bananas, mashed
1 cup uncooked oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat, or parchment paper.

Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl, and stir well to combine. If you used large bananas, you may need to add a bit more oats. The mixture should be sticky and wet, but not runny.

Plop rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet. (Note: I experimented with flattening a few of my “plops” before baking, but the taste and texture was the same.) Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown on the bottom. Let cool a few minutes and enjoy!

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Maple Coconut Quinoa Granola

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This maple coconut quinoa (yes, I said quinoa) granola is so good! The maple and coconut flavors pair really well together and the quinoa adds a great crunch.

I created this recipe out of desperation. I’ve had tummy trouble for as long as I can remember, so I’ve recently started the low FODMAP diet to see if I can pinpoint the cause. You can read more about the low FODMAP diet here if you’re interested, but in a nutshell, I have to eliminate a number of “problem” foods for several weeks and then slowly add them back to determine which foods are triggering my symptoms. That means some of my favorite foods are now off-limits (cereal with milk, apples with peanut butter, avocados, bread, ice cream (gasp!), etc).

Desperate to find a low FODMAP snack that I could enjoy (gluten-free, dairy-free, etc), I came up with this recipe, and boy am I glad that I did! I would eat this over wheat cereal any day. Even my kids and husband loved it.

Maple Coconut Quinoa Granola

My favorite way to eat this granola is sprinkled over yogurt (lactose-free for me) with some frozen raspberries. Yum!

Maple Coconut Quinoa Granola with Yogurt

Keep in mind that raisins, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are considered low FODMAP as long as they are kept in small quantities (2 tablespoons or less), so keep your portions small if you are following a low FODMAP diet.

I also recommend soaking the nuts and seeds prior to making this recipe, especially if you have trouble digesting them. The soaking/drying process will take about 24 hours, so be sure to start the day before you want to make the granola. Or you can skip the soaking process if you’re short on time.

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup pre-soaked nut/seed mix (instructions below)
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer and rinse well under cold water to remove the bitter coating. Add the rinsed quinoa, nuts/seeds, oats, shredded coconut, and salt to a large bowl and stir to combine. (Note: if you are using pre-soaked nuts/seeds (instructions below) they will be lightly salted, so you may want to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe.) Pour in the melted coconut oil and maple syrup and mix together until evenly coated.

Spread the granola out on a large cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring a few times during baking. Remove from the oven and stir in the golden raisins, then let cool for at least 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container on the counter.

Nut/Seed Soaking Instructions:

  1. Fill a large bowl with warm water and mix in a tablespoon of salt.
  2. Add raw sunflower seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, chopped walnuts and chopped almonds to the bowl (or your favorite nuts and seeds).
  3. Soak nuts in the salt water overnight for 10 – 12 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 125 degrees.
  5. Drain the nuts and spread onto a large baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 hours (this will dry out the nuts and prevent them from getting moldy).
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Spinach Chips

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I’m a spinach lover and I always have a big bag of baby spinach in my fridge. I put spinach on sandwiches, salads, omelets, smoothies – pretty much anything that I think can use a bit of green. Still, I often have a hard time getting through the bag before the spinach leaves start to get slimy.

I stumbled onto this recipe the other day and had an “aha” moment. Spinach chips – of course! The perfect way to use up my extra spinach! Spinach chips are similar to kale chips, but with a much lighter texture. My kids loved them too, so this recipe gets a gold star in my book.

Ready to go into the oven:
Spinach Chips

Ready to eat:
Spinach Chips (cooked)

2 big handfuls of pre-washed baby spinach
Olive oil (use a Misto Olive Oil Sprayer, if you have one)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. (Note: this step is important; otherwise the spinach will stick to the baking sheet.)

Lightly spray the parchment paper with olive oil using an olive oil sprayer (or put a bit of olive oil on a paper towel and wipe it onto the parchment paper).

Spread the baby spinach evenly between the two baking sheets, making sure to keep the spinach in a single layer. Lightly spray the spinach with a bit more olive oil (alternatively, you can toss the spinach and olive oil together in a bowl, but be sure not to use too much oil).

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the spinach and bake for 12 minutes (you can cook both baking sheets at the same time). After 12 minutes, turn the oven off and keep the spinach in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the spinach cool for a few minutes before digging in. Enjoy!

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Roasted Chickpeas

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Hello everyone, I’m back! My work contract is over, and I’m super-excited to get back to blogging now that I have some more time on my hands. Yay!

Have you tried roasted chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans) yet? If not, I’m so delighted to share this recipe with you. I’m a firm believer that roasting makes everything taste better, and chickpeas are no exception. Roasting turns bland-and-boring chickpeas into little balls of goodness that are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Roasted Chickpeas

The best thing about these roasted chickpeas is that they are healthy and my kids love them too. In fact, this is one of their favorite after-school snacks (and mine too). Chickpeas are a great source of protein and fiber, as well as several vitamins and minerals such as Folate, vitamin B6, and Manganese.

I started making this recipe with just one can of garbanzo beans, but I found that wasn’t enough for three hungry gals, so I make this with two cans now. Sadly for my husband, there still doesn’t seem to be any left when he gets home from work.

The basic recipe just calls for salt and pepper, but you can get as adventurous as you like by adding your favorite spices, like paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, or even cinnamon and brown sugar for a “dessert” chickpea.

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil (approx.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels (or a clean dish towel).

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and then put them on the towel-lined baking sheet to dry. If you have time, you can leave them on the baking sheet and let them air-dry, or you can place another towel on top of the chickpeas and roll them around a bit to dry them off.

Once dry, add the chickpeas to a large bowl and combine with the olive oil. You want enough oil to coat every chickpea. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir gently.

First, remove the towels from the baking sheet and then pour the chickpeas onto the baking sheet. Be sure to spread them out in a single layer.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are golden-brown. Shake the baking sheet every 10-15 minutes to keep them from sticking.

Let cool and add more salt and pepper, if desired.

Enjoy and happy snacking!

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Crispy Baked Chicken Strips

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I’m not much for kid food, but I love a good chicken strip (or chicken tender, chicken finger, etc). Something about the tender chicken surrounded by crunchy breading make them irresistible to me – and my kids.

This is my new favorite chicken strip recipe! Panko bread crumbs make them extra crispy, and they are baked, not fried, so they are healthy too – bonus! 

I served these with super-delish sweet potato fries and some dipping sauce.

Next time I make these, I’m going to double the recipe and freeze the extra chicken strips (after they’re cooked). You can reheat them in the toaster-oven (or regular oven) to maintain their crispiness. Try the chicken strips sliced over a green salad or pasta, or maybe a chicken parmesan sandwich (hmm, I’m going to work on that recipe).

1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil or cooking spray.

Add the flour to a shallow dish, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add the eggs to a second shallow dish, and beat lightly with a fork. Set aside.

Add the panko bread crumbs, Italian bread crumbs, and parmesan cheese to a third shallow dish, and stir to combine. Set aside.

Cut the chicken breasts into strips, about 1 ½ inches wide, and 5 inches long. Season with salt and pepper.

Now, create your assembly line. Start with the chicken, then the flour, egg, bread crumbs, and lastly the prepared baking sheet.

Next you’ll bread the chicken, using the “wet-hand/dry-hand” technique (this will keep your hands goop-free and make the coating process faster). Drop a chicken strip into the flour with your left hand (wet-hand), and then use your right hand (dry-hand) to coat the chicken with flour. Shake off the excess flour and then drop the chicken into the eggs (don’t touch the eggs with your right hand). Use your left hand (wet) to coat the chicken with egg, and then drop the chicken into the bread crumbs. Use your right hand (dry) to coat the chicken with bread crumbs, and then place the chicken onto the baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining chicken strips.

Make sure that the chicken isn’t crowded on the baking sheet; otherwise the chicken won’t get crispy. You may need to use more than one baking sheet, and cook one baking sheet at a time.

Bake the chicken for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the chicken is cooked through and the breading is golden brown.

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How to Eat a Pomegranate

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It’s pomegranate season and now is the time to get your pomegranate fix! These wonderful fruits contain antioxidants, potassium and fiber, so they are healthy as well as delicious. Pomegranates can be tricky to eat, so I’m going to share my method for harvesting all of those tiny seeds (a.k.a. arils). This process will take about 5 minutes – well worth the 15 minutes of complete silence that I get from my children while they enjoy the fruits of my labor!  

Choosing a Pomegranate:
Select a pomegranate that has a bright and shiny red exterior, with no cuts, bruises, or brown spots. Brown spots are usually an indication of rotten seeds on the inside, so select your pomegranate carefully. A ripe pomegranate will also feel heavy in your hand.

Removing the Pomegranate Seeds:
Slice off the stem-end (not the crown-end) of the pomegranate, just enough so that you see a few of the pomegranate seeds (about ¼ inch into the pomegranate). Use your knife to score the skin into wedges all the way around the pomegranate. Don’t cut too deep – just enough to go through the skin. 

Put a medium bowl in the sink and fill it with water. Pomegranate juice can stain, so I use a bowl of water to contain the inevitable spray of pomegranate juice while I’m prying out the seeds. Submerge the pomegranate in the water and use your hands to break the pomegranate apart into wedges. Remove all but one of the wedges from the bowl.  

While holding the pomegranate wedges under water, use your thumbs to gently pry out the pomegranate seeds, letting them fall into the bowl. Continue for the remaining pomegranate wedges. (Note: Ripe pomegranate seeds will be plump, shiny, and bright red. Discard any seeds that look cloudy or soft.) 

Drain the water and enjoy!

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Coconut Macaroons

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I’m a sucker for those big, beautiful, perfectly mounded coconut macaroons that you find in fancy bakeries (extra points if they’re dipped in chocolate!). I’ve tried making coconut macaroons before, but I ended up with flat, sticky things that tasted pretty good, but did not live up to my vision of a perfect macaroon.

I think I discovered the secret: ditch the sweetened condensed milk. This recipe, from Baker’s, uses egg whites instead and it produces macaroons that are similar to those bakery beauties that I covet. Click here to see the original recipe.

Like most things, coconut becomes glorious when it’s toasted, so I pop the macaroons under the broiler for a few minutes after they are finished baking, to give them a tasty, toasted exterior.

1 14-ounce package flaked coconut
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites (unbeaten)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper (or you can grease and flour them instead).

Combine the coconut, sugar, flour and salt in large bowl. Stir in egg whites, vanilla extract and almond extract until well blended.

Drop coconut mixture into mounds, 2 inches apart, on prepared baking sheets. I like my macaroons big and tall, so before I put them in the oven, I’ll reshape them using my fingers (it helps if you wet your fingers first) to make sure they hold their shape.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottom edges are golden brown. Turn on the broiler and crack open the oven door. Broil for a minute or two, or until the macaroons are light brown on top. Watch carefully because they will burn easily.

Remove from the oven, move to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature up to 1 week.

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Blueberry Banana Coconut Smoothie

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The weather is warming up and it’s finally berry season! I love making healthy smoothies with ripe berries for a refreshing snack or a quick breakfast. I’ve been trying to cut back on sugar, so I don’t usually add any sweetener (the fruit is usually sweet enough). You may want to add a bit of honey if you like your smoothies a bit sweeter. I also add some fresh spinach to all of my smoothies now – you won’t even know it’s there!

1 cup of crushed ice
2/3 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 banana, sliced
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Small handful of baby spinach
1-2 tablespoons milk

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender to blend your smoothie together (I got one for Christmas and it makes my smoothie prep a breeze!).

Pour your smoothie into a tall glass, add a straw and enjoy the refreshing goodness.

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Homemade Microwave Popcorn

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Friday night is movie night at our house and it wouldn’t be movie night without a heaping bowl of popcorn. Ditch the commercial microwave popcorn and make your own instead! It’s cheaper and it tastes better too. All you need is popcorn kernels, a paper lunch bag, and your favorite toppings. This recipe will make enough for 2-4 people.

2/3 cup popcorn kernels (divided)
1 paper lunch bag
Melted butter

Place 1/3 cup of the popcorn kernels into the paper bag (adding too much popcorn will result in unpopped kernels or burnt popcorn – dividing the popcorn into two batches will prevent this).  Fold the top of the bag down two or three times (It’s okay if it doesn’t stay folded) and place the bag upright in the microwave. Microwave for about 2 minutes, or until there is a 2-3 second delay between the kernels popping (the amount of time will depend on your microwave).

Dump the popped popcorn into a large bowl. Inspect the paper bag for holes created during popping. If you don’t see any holes then you can reuse the bag for the next batch, otherwise use a new bag. Repeat the above process for the remaining 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels, but this time only microwave the popcorn for 1 minute and 50 seconds(for some reason the second batch cooks more quickly than the first). Again, be sure to adjust the cooking time for your microwave.

Dump the popcorn into the bowl, drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle with salt (or your favorite popcorn toppings).

Serve with your favorite movie (and invite your family to join you, if you feel like sharing).

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Pita Pizzas

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These little pizzas are a breeze to put together and much healthier than a traditional pizza pie. Since they come in individual sizes, it’s easy to please the entire family, which is often a challenge in my house since my daughter won’t eat pizza with tomato sauce, my husband likes a meaty pizza, and I prefer vegetarian. Have fun experimenting with different sauces and toppings. Below are the recipes for a vegetarian pizza with pesto sauce and a Mexican pizza with salsa sauce.

Vegetarian Pesto Pita Pizza

6 whole wheat pita breads
1 jar of prepared pesto
Shredded cheese
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of spinach, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Black pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pita breads in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake the pitas in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes (this will help keep the “crust” crispy).

Remove the pitas from the oven, and carefully spread the pesto on top of each pita (as much as you like). Top with a small amount of shredded cheese, a few tomatoes, a handful of spinach (really pile it on because it will shrink in the oven), then a bit of feta cheese. If desired, sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese and some black pepper on top.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crunchy and the toppings are heated through. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

Mexican Pita Pizza

Whole wheat pita breads
Jar of your favorite salsa
Shredded cheese
Leftover taco meat, cooked
Tomatoes, chopped
Roasted green chilies, diced
Green onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pita breads in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake the pitas in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes (this will help keep the “crust” crispy).

Remove the pitas from the oven and carefully spread each pita with a spoonful of salsa. Top with a handful of shredded cheese, taco meat, tomatoes, green chilies, and green onions.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crunchy and the cheese is melted. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

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