Take Your Oatmeal to Go on Busy Mornings

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cups

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so they say. Although evidence is conflicting (as it is in proving pretty much anything), most research shows that eating a healthy breakfast helps you maintain an ideal weight, gives you energy even if you’re not a morning person, and even helps you think better (source).  Additionally, without breakfast you’re less likely to be able to consume the required amounts of key nutrients for your day.

For athletes, breakfast is crucial. Obviously, it provides you with the energy to complete your training for the day, but it also supports your body tissues. After fasting all night while you’re sleeping, your body needs protein (and carbs to help absorb it) to stop the catabolic breakdown of muscle and stimulate protein synthesis.

Okay, hopefully I’ve convinced you to eat breakfast if you don’t already. But I realize we lead busy lives, and sometimes it’s hard to find enough time in the morning for a square meal. My solution has been to bake up a batch of oatmeal muffins for the week that I can grab and go as I need to.

Now, these aren’t ordinary muffins. If you’re looking for a light, fluffy snack muffin, look elsewhere. This is basically a portablebowl of oatmeal: dense and filling enough that when paired with some fruit, should be able to keep you going until your morning snack. Plus, not only do they provide you with carbs from the oats, but I’ve sneaked in a portion of veggies (you’ll never know!) and some protein for even more satiety. Everything you need in one portable package!

Although I’m using pumpkin because of the season, I’ve also had success with using an equal amount of grated or pureed zucchini, or if all else fails, you could use applesauce or bananas (but note that the fruit purees will make these much sweeter). The added liquid sweetener is optional and I don’t use it myself, because I find that the dried fruit makes this sweet enough for me.

Finally, note that there is no fat in this recipe. When I tried adding melted coconut oil, the muffins were too crumbly. I may have been able to solve this problem by using eggs as a binder, but I wanted to keep these vegan. So my solution, which I encourage you to do too because fat is also an important element of a healthy breakfast, is to cut the muffins in half and spread a good amount of coconut oil on each half before eating. If you eat dairy, you could also use butter instead.

Pumpkin Breakfast Muffins (Gluten Free, Portable!)

Makes 6 muffins

2 cups rolled oats (use gluten free if needed)
3 scoops protein powder (I use unflavored, unsweetened rice protein)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons ground flaxseed or 3 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 – 1/3 cup dried fruit (I’ve used raisins, cranberries, and diced dates, apricots, and prunes)
1 can pureed pumpkin
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey (optional, and definitely omit if your protein powder is sweetened)
1/3 – 1/2 cup milk (almond, cashew, soy, dairy, etc.), plus more if needed
Coconut oil or butter for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare 6 muffin cups. Either grease a muffin tin, line it with paper cups, or use silicone baking cups.

Mix together the oats, protein, spices, flaxseed or chia, and dried fruit. Add the pumpkin, sweetener if using, and 1/3 cup of milk; mix well. If mix seems really dry, add more milk bit by bit until you achieve a dough-like consistency. It should definitely be more dough-like than batter-like.

Scoop dough into the prepared muffin cups. Really pack the dough in; these don’t rise at all so whatever shape they go into the oven is how they will come out. I shape a nice, round muffin top (lol) with my hands for each one.

Bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned on top. If you press down on a muffin, it should feel nice and solid. If it’s squishy, bake another 5 or so minutes or until solid. Like I’ve said, these are dense, so they do require a longer baking time.

Cool and transfer to an airtight container; these store well in the refrigerator for about a week for me. Serve by cutting in half and spreading with coconut oil or butter.

Don’t Like Zucchini? You Don’t Need to With This Sneaky Black Forest Smoothie

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie With Zucchini

Smoothies are ubiquitous these days. Really, everyone’s drinking them (yup, including me). I can see why; as long as you make them right, they’re a great way to get a double dose of fruits and veggies for breakfast or a snack. Of course, when you look at the ingredient list of some smoothie recipes, they’re more like dessert: loaded with fruit and then even more sweeteners. Really, you should not need to add honey, no matter how healthy you think honey is, to your smoothie if you have at least some fruit in it.

I have my go-to green smoothie recipe, which I’ll share one of these days, but recently I’ve been experimenting with other fruits, veggies, and flavors. Inspired by a sale on cherries and some leftover zucchini just about to go bad, today I thought a sneaky black forest smoothie might hit the spot. And sure enough it did. Continue reading

It’s Easier Than You Think to Make Homemade Natural Peanut Butter

Homemade Peanut Butter

The first Whole Foods came to the Pittsburgh market in 2002, a few years after I moved to the area, so I remember the locals’ reaction. It was the first store of its kind in Pittsburgh, and it was quite the attraction for some time. And the one thing everyone marveled over was the nut butter grinder. “You can make your own ‘homemade’ peanut butter!” Amazing.

As a runner and plant-based eater, nuts are on my daily menu. They’re a great source of healthy fats and a good source of protein, and they’re calorie dense to replenish what I burn through exercise. Plus I use them as a stand-in for cheese atop salads and pastas, since they lend a similar richness (and saltiness, if you use salted varieties). Nut butters are also a delicious—never mind easy—dip for veggies like raw carrots and celery, which helps me fit even more vegetables into my day. Continue reading

Beet-Berry Smoothies Are a Sneaky Way to Add Vegetables to Your Breakfast

Beet-Berry Smoothie

After years of resistance, I’ve finally jumped on board the smoothie trend. In my ongoing attempt to eat healthier, I’ve found that smoothies are a sneaky way to have vegetables for breakfast and love them. Skeptical? So was I, but when you blend them with fruit or other flavorings, you really can barely taste the vegetables. (Notice I said “barely.” If you don’t want to taste them at all, you’re going to have to use added sweeteners, which I’m not down with, so “barely” is a good enough compromise for me.)

This beet-berry smoothie is an absolutely gorgeous color, thanks to the anthocyanins that lend both hue and health (preventing inflammation, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes). Beets also contain nitrate, which not only helps with heart disease but has been found to improve running performance. Veggies that make me a faster runner? Yes, please! Continue reading

Nutella and Bananas Marry Again, This Time in a Healthy Granola

Banana Nutella Granola

Like a beacon of light in a foggy night, World Nutella Day offers hope in the middle of a cold, gray winter.

(Can you tell I’ve had it up to here with snow and subfreezing temperatures?)

World Nutella DaySeriously, though, aside from the obvious tie-in with Valentine’s Day just over a week later, early February is the perfect time of year to celebrate all things chocolate and hazelnut. It’s far enough away from both New Year’s resolutions and summer bathing suit season that you can allow for a little indulgence. So grab a spoon and dig in, or make one of the many decadent recipes that Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso (the holiday’s sponsors) have compiled for the occasion. Continue reading