Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

My mom has the most beautiful garden. Her and my stepdad have taken care of their garden for many years now and I always look forward to when the butternut squash is ready. This is unfortunately the last year I’ll be getting her batch of squash since they’re moving so I gladly took the 8 big pieces she gave me. Butternut squash mac and cheese has been on my radar for awhile now, so when my husband was gone for the night I decided to make it for me and the boys.

I start by peeling and dicing the squash into small cubes. Layering them on a sheet pan with a little oil and salt for about 40 minutes in the oven is a great way to roast them. I try to flip them around about halfway through so they’ll cook evenly. While the squash roasted I sautéed some sweet onions in butter and let them cook on low to get some flavor.

I’ve been eyeing this banza pasta for awhile now on the inter-webs so when I went to Whole Foods I was sure to snag it up. It’s made from chickpeas, has 25g protein per serving with 13g fiber. Can’t beat that. And it really tastes like regular pasta!

Look at the creaminess of that squash mixture!! I do admit, the sauce to pasta ratio was a little heavy on the squash. For me it was fine because I love squash, but some may like it with a little less. After the squash was roasted I let it cool for a few minutes. Into my ninja blender I put the sautéed onions, milk, pasta broth, and squash to blend. I added the mixed cheese after it was all blended so it would melt into the mixture. Feel free to add more cheese than I put to get more cheesy and less squashy.

The kids ate it!! Which I of course was thrilled with. I was really not sure if they would approve of this dish or not but was pleasantly surprised. Travis liked mixing his with peas and I had mine with a big salad. It was good as leftovers the next day with some chicken sausage added to it. Give it a try for a new baked mac and cheese recipe!

   

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut squash (2-3 cups diced)
  • 1 box bans pasta
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup broth from pasta water
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Peel and dice butternut squash into small cubes. Bake on baking sheet for 40 minutes or until pierced with fork easily.
  3. Cook pasta according to package and reserve 1/4-1/2 cup water.
  4. Sautee onions and garlic in melted butter for 15 minutes. Be sure to move onions around to not burn them.
  5. After squash is cooked, take 2-3 cups of diced squash and put into blender. Add onion mixture, broth, milk and combine. Add more broth is mixture is too thick.
  6. Mix in cheese to squash mixture until melted.
  7. Combine sauce over pasta and enjoy.
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Peanut Butter Granola Bites

I love making peanut butter bites in any flavor. I usually keep it simple for the kids, though I did want to try pumpkin with these. Because it is fall time in New England and #basicbitch. Maybe next time. These are great snacks filled with healthy fats to keep us all satisfied during the afternoon slump. Even just having one left me satisfied without feeling stuffed.

I’ve never put granola in my bites before but love the extra crunch they added! I will definitely be doing more of this in the future. You can really use any granola for these bites. I recently got Trader Joe’s new peanut butter protein granola and it definitely has a lot of crunch to them. The hemp seeds are super nutritious being rich in omega 3, omega 6, protein, vitamin e and many minerals. Besides putting them in these bites I also sprinkle them on yogurt, smoothies and oatmeal.

I don’t typically put all the ingredients in a blender but I decided to try it with these. I loved the texture I got from them by doing so. They were perfectly thick without being too sticky. I could barely keep my little Evan away from them!

Peanut Butter Granola Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granola
  • 1 tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1 tbsp cocoa nibs (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp almond milk

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients in blender. Scrape sides as needed to mix well.
  2. Form into balls with hands.
  3. Store in refrigerator.
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1 Pan Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

My inspiration for this simple ground turkey recipe came after seeing Jessie James Decker post about cooking it for her family. I love watching celebrity moms cook for their families. Just shows some realness to them. She didn’t have a recipe and said she used a bunch of seasonings with her dish. I kept mine simple to 1-appeal to my family and 2-not mess it up. I think I did pretty good.

Normally my husband doesn’t like sweet potatoes, so I’m left catering to him by making white potatoes with the meal as well. I’ve been known to do this for shepherds pie. This time it wasn’t happening. And guess what? HE LIKED IT! This is a big victory for us in the Simpson house since the kids and I like sweet potatoes. Honestly, what’s not to like about them?

When I was sautéing the sweet potatoes and onion together I added a few splashes of chicken broth to help the pan stay moist and cook the potatoes. Not necessary but I think it helped cook them. Putting everything together in one pan makes everything SO much easier. Literally everything is mixed together (sorry to the picky kids out there: see below) which helps the flavors blend together. Using a lean ground turkey means you don’t have to worry about draining the fat.

Although I tried sneaking some spinach in because you really can’t taste it when it’s sautéed in a dish like this, my son was not being fooled. He of course picked out every shriveled up piece of “green stuff” and wouldn’t dare put in his mouth. He said his favorite colors were brown and orange today so, it is what it is.

1 Pan Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup part skim mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. Dice sweet potatoes into small cubes. You can leave skin on or peel it off. Sauté onions, oil and garlic over medium low heat. Add chicken broth as needed to keep potatoes from sticking. Cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes start to soften with fork
  2. Add ground turkey to pan and cook until brown.
  3. Add mozzarella cheese and blend until melted.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
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Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin season is upon us! I’m creating a healthier version of pumpkin muffins that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating. I don’t follow a gluten free diet but like to experiment with different flours from time to time. I went with almond flour since I haven’t used it in quite awhile. Almond flour is lower in carbs and higher in fat than most flours and gives a moist texture to muffins. Which is exactly why I wanted to use it in my pumpkin muffins.

My mom makes the best pumpkin bread, but she admittedly uses a stick of butter and lots of sugar. What makes her bread so good is how moist the bread is. Seriously makes a big difference. So in trying to recreate her bread (but healthier) I made sure to have a good amount of pumpkin puree, natural sweeteners (honey, coconut sugar & applesauce) and the savory almond flour.

Recently I picked up some gluten free flour to experiment with by enjoy life. I’ve been adding it to my homemade pancakes and really enjoy it. This is a nice option to have if you’re looking for a gluten free flour. 

If you have pumpkin spice on hand then feel free to use that in place of the spices I listed. I haven’t had a chance to pick some up yet and have been looking forward to making these pumpkin muffins. These aren’t overly sweet and could be amazing with some cream cheese frosting or simply with your morning coffee. Enjoy!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup gluten free all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tblsp honey
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together in big bowl.
  2. Beat eggs in smaller bowl. Add pumpkin, vanilla, honey, applesauce and coconut sugar. Mix until blended.
  3. Combine wet ingredients into dry and slowly blend. Be careful not to over-work the mixture.
  4. Bake at 350 for 16 minutes or until toothpick inserted is clean.
  5. Makes 12 muffins.
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Zucchini & Carrot Meatballs

This summer was so full of adventure and relaxing time with my boys before the beginning of kindergarten for my oldest son, Travis. We enjoyed our summer guilt free with busy days which meant little time to blog. My hope is to bring more inspiration into the fall and holidays sprinkled in with a little realness of motherhood.

Zucchini and sun dried tomatoes are the star of this meatball show. Zucchini is a late summer veggie bloomer so I was happy to use them in these meatballs. You’ll see that I love using veggies in my meatballs to add some extra vitamins for my boys. I like finely shredded zucchini because it’s less noticeable than something like chopped spinach.

I grate the zucchini over a paper towel to make it easier to squeeze out the liquid. Chopped carrots in my blender make it easy to add those to my meatballs as well. Sometimes my kids can be picky so I like adding hidden vegetables to meals when I can.

The sun dried tomatoes have been making their appearance in my meals lately and I have to say I’m digging it. I wish I had more than 1/4 cup to add to this recipe but next time I would add closer to 1/2 for the flavor.

I said we were adding some realness to motherhood here and surprise surprise my kids didn’t gobble these meatballs up like I thought they would. Usually they love meatballs no matter what I put in them but not tonight. My hubby and I approved whole heartedly on these balls so I’m convinced the boys were having an off night. I really don’t let it bother me that much if they don’t like my dinners because I still encourage (make) them to eat 3-5 bites so they try it and get a healthy meal. I let them know they don’t have to love everything I make but they do need to eat it to stay healthy. What ways have you taught your kids about eating healthy? Let me know some tips!

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 zucchini grated & drained
  • 2 medium carrots shredded
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients in big bowl with hands
  3. Form medium sized balls and put on greased baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until meatballs are golden brown.
  5. Serve over noodles of choice with sauce.
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Protein Mug Cake

I love a good protein mug cake at night once in awhile after I’ve had a tough training day or am looking for a healthy treat. Sometimes you just need a baked good once in awhile, am I right? I’m a sucker for muffins and cakes so I love having this as dessert when I’m trying to keep it healthier. Protein before bed helps continuously fuel my muscles while I’m recovering during sleep. The picture below is what the cake looks like once it comes out of the microwave (super appealing, I know).

If you under cook the cake a little it leaves a gooey center when you break into it. HELLOO it’s amazing. Honestly the taste can take some getting used to (seriously it’s not your moms homemade cake) but it’s a great, healthy substitute. Top it with peanut butter or Halo Top ice cream and now we’re talking. Typically, I will cook it in 30 second intervals. Microwaves can all be different so I’d start on the shorter side. 30 seconds gives me time to check on it and see if it’s started to rise into a cake shape or if it still needs time. Usually 1 minute is enough in my microwave.

You can really use any flavor of protein to make these cakes. At night I usually like a little chocolate so I’d prefer that, but you can use vanilla, cinnamon- the possibilities are really endless. Cinnamon roll, strawberry shortcake, peanut butter cup, cookie dough- YUM! The base recipe would be the same regardless of flavor, which is posted below. I would recommend either a whey, casein or a blend. Whey is a fast digesting protein, casein is slow (meaning it takes longer to digest through your body) and a blend will be in between.

My little guy happened to be wearing his muscle shirt when I was testing the recipe and he had a few bites himself. He enjoyed it with the peanut butter but my 5 year old wasn’t much of a fan. It can have a somewhat “spongy” texture to it, but I find having it with a little peanut butter or Halo Top ice cream really helps. I find that having the right flavored protein powder really helps with this (my favorite is chocolate peanut butter). I feel like I need to repeat myself that THIS IS A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE! 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

Protein Mug Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 serving size protein powder (typically 1-2 scoops)
  • 2 tblsp egg whites
  • 2 tblsp almond milk
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix protein powder and baking powder in bowl.
  2. In separate bowl, mix egg whites, milk and vanilla.
  3. Pour egg mixture into protein powder and mix until combined. Add extra milk if needed to make a sticky, thick dough.
  4. Microwave in 30 second intervals for 1-1:30 minutes.
  5. Top with peanut butter or Halo Top ice cream.
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No Bake Festive Cheesecake Cups

These festive cheesecake cups were so easy and fun to put together (with a little patience and help from my big guy). There’s nothing better than having a pre-portioned, easy-to-eat, no bake, HEALTHY (ish) treat to satisfy your sweet tooth at a summer cookout. I’ve been to parties where the desserts are bountiful and it’s hard to resist them. Instead of pondering over what will be your best option, BRING the best option.

Every fourth of July we go to my dads cape house in Sandwich. It’s beautiful. We can see fireworks lit up all along the shore and sometimes straight across the ocean at P-town. My dad always brings fireworks so we have our own personal show, as well as our neighbors on the beach surrounding us. It’s usually a big party every year. I’m happy my kids are able to experience this event with our family.

Who doesn’t love a festive treat? Fresh blue and red berries with sprinkles are sure to please everyone. Now even though I’m not sponsored by Annie’s bunny grahams (but Heyyyy I’d love to be 🙂 ) I happen to have these treats littered around my pantry thanks to Amazon. You can use any graham crackers or vanilla wafer cookies go great too. The greek cream cheese is a new favorite of mine because it’s made with greek yogurt, so it’s half the fat with more protein versus regular cream cheese and tastes just as good.

After the burgers, hot dogs and pasta salads have been eaten, it’s nice to have something sweet before we relax with the sunset and wait for the fireworks. These festive cheesecake dessert cups are perfect for however you celebrate on the 4th of July. You can bring them already portioned out in cups so all you need is a spoon. My stepmom got me these adorable shot glasses that come with spoons, but if your husband happened to be at a bachelor party recently, you may have some plastic jello shot cups laying around. Those work just as well (and what I’ll be bringing to the beach). You can find them at most party stores (right babe?).

No Bake Cheesecake Cups

Ingredients

  • 2 6oz plain greek yogurt cups
  • 1/2 cup greek cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup crushed bunny grahams
  • sliced strawberries & blueberries

Instructions

  1. Using a mixer, beat cream cheese and greek yogurt until smooth.
  2. Add in vanilla and sugar, mix well.
  3. Put crushed bunny grahams on bottom of cup.
  4. Top with cheesecake filling.
  5. Add berries. Top berries with sprinkles if desired.
  6. Repeat until cup is full.
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Taco Pockets

I love this idea for making taco pockets. Folded up cheesy deliciousness that’s easy for the kids to eat=WIN. Clearly my family and I enjoy taco flavored foods (see here) so I like to try to mix up how we eat it. Hand held grilled pockets sounded great to me! I see more of these variations in the future! 

Us moms (& all wives) put too much pressure on ourselves when it comes to making dinner. Sometimes we’ve had a long day with the kids or at work and the last thing we want to do is come up with a plan for dinner. The husband, the kids, they’re all looking at YOU as the sole source of dinner (seriously what would they do without us?).

The easiest thing for me is to buy a few different meat/protein options that I know an easy recipe for. Like chicken for example. I know I can put it with BBQ sauce and grill it, or boil it and shred it for tacos (shocking I know) or put it on a salad. Ground beef/turkey I make meatballs, meatloaf or simply cooked with tomato sauce. These are my “home base” meals that I know I can turn to when I’m in a pinch and need something quick.

Since my day can get pretty busy on a whim, I do what I can when I can. For this meal, I was able to cook the meat in the afternoon with the spices since it only takes about 20 minutes. Then, when I was ready to make the taco pockets at night, I took the cooked beef out of the refrigerator and started assembling them. Frying them up on the griddle took about 10 minutes and we were ready for dinner. I think these would be great to freeze for a grab and go dinner option as well, though I haven’t tried. I used a jar of salsa instead of tomato sauce (which I usually use) because I had it and wanted to switch it up a bit. Both are great options!

Having some “home base” meals are good to have a few times a week. I like to get adventurous maybe 1-2 times a week depending on what ingredients I have on hand. This meal is not really one of those times, but I’m hoping it can give you inspirations for a new “home base” recipe for your family. I’d love to hear some of yours, let me know!

Taco Pockets

Ingredients

  • 1lb ground beef/turkey
  • 1 cup salsa/tomato sauce 8oz
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 tblsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 6 whole wheat tortilla wraps
  • 1 package mixed mexican cheese

Instructions

  1. Cook ground beef in a skillet over medium high heat in oil.
  2. Drain oil from beef.
  3. Add 1/2 jar of salsa or whole can of tomato sauce to beef.
  4. Add spices and combine.
  5. Add drained black beans and let simmer over low heat.
  6. Fill tortilla wrap with 1/4 cup mixture and 1/8 cup mixed cheese.
  7. Fold tortilla to make it into a pocket and it's the beef is completely enclosed.
  8. Place tortilla pocket fold side down on medium high skillet.
  9. Flip after 3-5 minutes or when pocket is heated thoroughly.
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Healthy Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

The summer is fast approaching and fresh zucchini and blueberry bushes are starting to bloom at the local farms. My garden isn’t really big enough for zucchini so I tend to get them from friends or farm stands. There are so many meals and baked goods to make with zucchini. I love that it’s mild in flavor with low calories and can be used as a substitute for pasta on occasion. Blueberries are another fruit that’s showing up at our farm stands as well and who can’t resist some fresh big blueberries? My little guy calls them “bluebears” and it’s simply adorable.  

When I was younger my nana used to bring us blueberry picking every year. She made sure we got the biggest ones and our buckets were full to the brim. Then we’d go back to her cute house in the woods and eat a big bowl of blueberries, milk and sugar. Yup- it was the best. I thankfully got to bring my youngest son blueberry picking with her one summer. Now that she’s passed away, I still make it a point to bring the kids blueberry picking to remember her as well as show them where their food comes from.

Once the blueberry bushes are ready you can bet we’ll be out there picking and making these muffins again! I usually have all of the ingredients on hand so they’re easy to whip up when we’re needing some comfort foods. Maybe this year I’ll let them have her infamous blueberry, milk and sugar treat.

I made these muffins healthier by using a combination of whole wheat and all purpose flour. It takes some density out of the muffins and still makes them taste like they come from a bakery. I don’t like using white sugar so I use coconut sugar and maple syrup to sweeten them up. The banana and coconut oil is a substitute for oil in traditional muffin recipes. Zucchini adds a bit of vitamins and minerals to sneak in there as well. Next time you go blueberry picking, save some for this recipe!

Healthy Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini (water removed)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil melted
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mix egg, coconut oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla extract in small bowl.
  3. Grate zucchini and squeeze out liquid.
  4. Add mashed banana and zucchini to wet ingredients above.
  5. In separate bowl mix flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Gently fold wet ingredients into dry and mix.
  7. Add in blueberries and combine.
  8. Line muffin tin with liners or spray with coconut oil. Spoon mix into cups and bake for 15 minutes.
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Summer Superfood Salad

Summer is right around the corner and I’ve been craving a fresh salad. I recently put together this salad using ingredients I happened to have in my fridge and pantry. Lately I’ve been buying spinach for my greens so I switched it up and went with kale. I used to just use kale in my smoothies until I learned how to “massage” the kale to have it in a salad. It makes it way easier to chew since it softens it up. What a game changer. So much better!

Why is this a “superfood” salad? Let’s discuss real quick. Kale has tons of vitamins, antioxidants, omega 3’s and actually has more calcium per calorie than dairy foods. It’s easy to add to smoothies as well as salads. Now that I’ve been trying to limit dairy, that gives me more reason to eat the kale.

Quinoa is an excellent form of protein which contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. It also has iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and vitamin E. Quinoa takes less time to cook than rice and has a subtle light flavor.

I consider myself lucky if there are any blueberries left in my fridge for me to eat. My kids looove all kinds of berries so it’s not often that I’m left with any. So when there are some, I like to use them wisely. In this salad is one of those times. Blueberries have plenty of vitamins and minerals and contain antioxidants which are good for fighting disease and supporting the nervous system.

If you’re not eating avocado-why? It’s one of the best healthy fats out there helping support heart health and lower cholesterol. It contains many vitamins, minerals and fiber and helps keep you satiated after a meal. It has a great creaminess to it so I often don’t even use salad dressing when I have avocado. Adding a little sea salt helps bring out the flavor.

Walnuts are rich in folate and contain a good amount of omega 3’s for a healthy fat option. I love the crunch the walnuts give in salads and use them often. Goat cheese is so creamy and goes amazing in not only salads but egg bakes as well. Beets finish off this salad powerhouse with a good source of calcium, magnesium and vitamins C and A.

SO MUCH GOOD STUFF IN THIS SALAD! MAKE IT! The recipe below can be made for 2 people (or just you- I won’t judge. I ate it all myself too). If you’re making it for a crowd simply double the recipe!

Summer Superfood Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups kale (stems removed)
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup cooked beets
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/2 avocado sliced
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  1. Remove kale from stems, wash and chop into bite sized pieces. Add olive oil and massage kale until tender.
  2. Add cooked quinoa, blueberries, beets and combine.
  3. Top with goat cheese, walnuts, avocado and salt. Enjoy!
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