Do you have anything that you just dread so much it builds up in your head to feel like you’re about to face the worst kind of torture? For me it’s going to the doctor. I’ve had a couple of experiences in the last few years that left me traumatized and ever since then fear of going for a checkup has me on edge for weeks. Plus I have terrible health anxiety and always assume I’m gonna learn the worst. But the doctor will only refill your meds for so long before they realize you should’ve had a visit with them months ago. So, last week, it was finally my time to suck it up and say what’s up, Doc.
Adding to the pressure was the fact that I was seeing a new doctor in a new practice, because…American insurance. But of course, for all my anxiety and worry, it actually went very well. She was very friendly and very thorough. The entire time I was waiting for her to bring up my weight and talk down to me like I probably live off fast food everyday. But instead at the end she said “by the way I noticed from your old records that you’re about 35 pounds down, that’s awesome keep up the good work!” That moment meant a lot to me, because even though I still have so much more to go, she noticed the effort so far. I’m going to keep her, and maybe not even be scared of seeing her again in a few months.
I would never claim anxiety is a blessing, but there is one really great thing about dreading a medical checkup. I’m so scared of getting bad news, or even judgmental remarks, that I’m on my best nutritional behavior leading up to the visit. It’s kind of like when you just coast along all semester and then when it’s time for the final exam you stay up all night cramming. That usually worked well for me, though. It’s not a great health lifestyle, but I like the extra boost of motivation from time to time, anyway.
My best behavior nutritionally is pretty simple. Lots of vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat, with some cheese or full fat dairy and fresh fruit here and there. Limited carbs. No sugar, no starch. Whole or homemade foods.
In terms of macronutrients, my goal is to keep carbs between 10-15%, fat between 60-70%, and protein over 20%. Generally I’m right around 15-63-22. Tracking these is crucial for me because my instinct is always too many carbs and too little protein. I use Cronometer because that’s what my dietician-friend told me to do. (She also set those macros.)
Since I had a doctor’s appointment coming up, which meant new weight recorded, new blood panel data, and with this new doctor, I really wanted to have my body in the best shape I could manage. So that meant no leniency on the “best behavior” nutrition. In my life, lots of vegetables with healthy fat and protein means lots of salads.
I actually love salads. Out of everything I make I think I might be best at salads. I’m more of an ideas person than a skills person and salads often don’t take too much skill or effort, but can seem elaborate because they are colorful and have multiple parts. I really, really love colorful food. Too much beige on a plate makes me sad (unless it’s cookies.)
This Italian Power Bowl has become one of my favorite things to make. It’s incredibly healthy: only 8 net carbs, multiple protein sources, and healthy, plant-based fats. It’s also pretty easy. It has a lot of components so the hardest thing is the timing. But it’s a collection of simple ingredients that you can easily tackle one at a time if you don’t like to multitask, without doing much damage to the final product.
Parts of the bowl:
- Greens – I prefer an arugula & spinach mix for this but I’ve used spring mix and it’s still great. You’ll toss them in olive oil and lemon juice.
- Chia Seeds – I put chia on almost everything…
- Asparagus – lightly roasted
- Shaved Brussels sprouts – pan fried in butter
- Tomatoes – cherry, Roma, whatever you have
- Avocado – almost every meal I eat has avocado and this is no exception.
- Toasted pine nuts
- Mozzarella balls/pearls – found in the grocery’s fancy cheese section
- Herbed Chicken – chicken sautéed with herbs & spices
- Pesto! – A liberal dollop of a nice, olive oil based pesto (not vegetable/sunflower) is what really takes this bowl from boring dinner salad with chicken to “I feel like I could open my own cafe tomorrow.”
Like I said, timing is important because otherwise you’ll be wishing you had 7 hands or it will take a long time. Here’s how I run it:
Start by toasting your pine nuts in the oven for 8 minutes. I don’t bother to pre-heat. I set the oven at 400ºF (for the asparagus later) and by the time it’s preheated the pine nuts are done.
While that’s happening, set up your greens. I use 2 ounces, which is a pretty hearty amount, enough to½ll a large dinner bowl. Top the greens with a squeeze of lemon (just a ¼ of a lemon is enough) and 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper if you want. Then toss the greens. Sprinkle a teaspoon of chia seeds over them.
When you’re arranging the bowl, work clockwise adding each ingredient in its own spot around the edge of the bowl.
Now you can get the cold items ready. You can use whatever tomatoes you want. I like cherry or campari. If you’re using cherry, just cut them in half, or if you choose something bigger then chop them. Put them in your bowl at 12 o’clock. Now you can pull out your mozzarella pearls and set them up next to the tomatoes. Don’t forget to take your pine nuts out of the oven!
Next we prep the cooked stuff. Cut some asparagus so you have just the spearhead tops. Place on a baking sheet, spritz with olive oil (or toss in ½ tsp if you don’t have a spritzer), and add a dash of salt and pepper. I use about 8 pieces per salad.
For the chicken, trim one boneless, skinless breast per bowl. I like to have about 4 ounces once cooked. For every piece of chicken you’re cooking, mix ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder, ⅛ teaspoon salt, a few twists of black pepper (I’d do five) and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. (Note: If you don’t have Italian pre-mixed you can use ¼ each basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.) If you’re in the mood for spice, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes. Add ¾ teaspoon of your spice mix to the chicken (just the side facing up).
Next the Brussels sprouts. I buy mine pre-shaved, so really there’s not much prep there other than measuring out how much you want. (I get mine at Whole Foods.) If you can’t find them shaved, you can slice them, making sure to save whatever leaves fall off. I use 3 ounces per salad, which ends up being about ¾ cup when cooked. If you want more, by all means go big!
Once everything is prepped, get the chicken started. Heat about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per chicken breast on medium-high heat. (If you are only making one piece use a smaller skillet so the oil doesn’t have too spread too thin.) Add chicken to hot oil with the spiced side facing down and unseasoned side facing up. Add the rest of the spice mix to the bare side (it should be a a heaping ½ inch per side). Let cook one minute then flip. Depending on thickness, it generally takes 15 minutes to cook. Be sure to flip every few minutes to avoid burning or sticking to the pan.
Meanwhile, get your sprouts going. Heat one tablespoon of butter on medium-high in a medium sized skillet. Add the sprouts to the pan, spread over the whole surface so they are laid as flat as possible without overlapping. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let cook without touching for about 3 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. Then toss them, turn heat to high and cook another 2 minutes, which will crisp them up a bit. When they’re done, let them cool for a couple of minutes.
Put the asparagus in the oven and cook for five minutes. While that’s happening, Slice the cooked chicken. I just use a fork and a steak knife and cut it into strips. Simple.
Add all the cooked ingredients, as well as a few slices of avocado, completing the circle around the edge of the bowl. Finally, in the middle add a heaping tablespoon of pesto. I usually put the pesto in the microwave for about 7-10 seconds just so the oil can liquefy and it’s not too cold.
And then you’re done! If you can multitask it takes very little time to prep, and in my opinion it tastes a lot more extravagant than it really is, which is the best quality a meal can have in my opinion!
I love all the different flavors of this bowl, how they are unique but complement each other. Even though it is quite robust it doesn’t taste heavy. The mixture of warm and cold ingredients means it will be great in any season too. I find I feel very satisfied after the Italian Power Bowl, because it is a lot of healthy, nutrient-rich food, without anything that will make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. Eating food that is super clean, super easy, and still super flavorful and delicious makes trying to lose weight a much more pleasant process.
Italian Power Bowl
- This is a BIG salad. I always finish it myself but normal people could probably split it. Especially if it’s lunch or you have something like bread on the side.
- The amounts I included below are suited to my personal taste in order to calculate nutritional data. If you like tomatoes a lot and hate Brussels sprouts, adjust accordingly. Personally, I like a lot of greens.
- Like quantities, the style of ingredients is my personal preference but easily substituted: use spring mix instead of spinach/arugula, cherry tomatoes instead of campari, shredded mozzarella instead of pearls, etc.
- If you don’t have a pre-mixed Italian Seasoning you can use ¼ teaspoon each oregano, basil, rosemary (crushed), thyme, and a dash of parsley.
- 56g (2oz) Spinach/Arugula salad blend
- 1 ½ tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- Wedge of Lemon
- 1 tsp Chia Seeds
- 1-2 Campari Tomatoes
- 45g Mozzarella Pearls
- 14g (½ oz) Pine Nuts
- 8-10 Asparagus Spears, tops only
- 4 slices (1½ – 2oz) Avocado Chicken:
- 1 boneless, skinless Chicken Breast (6oz raw, 4-4.5oz cooked)
- 2 tsp EVOO
- 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
- ⅛ tsp Garlic Powder
- ⅛ tsp Salt
- 5 twists or ⅛ tsp Black Pepper Brussels Sprouts:
- 3oz Shaved Brussels Sprouts
- 1 TBL Butter, separated into halves
- salt to taste
1. Set oven to 400ºF. Spread pine nuts over a baking sheet and toast in oven for 7-8 minutes. (No need to pre-heat.)
2. In a large dinner bowl, toss greens with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle chia seeds on top.
3. Add diced tomatoes and mozzarella pearls to salad, placing each item along the edge of the bowl moving clockwise.
4. Mix spices (italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt & pepper) in small bowl.
5. Add heaping ½ teaspoon of spice mix to uncooked chicken breast.
6. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat.
7. Add chicken, with spice side down. Sprinkle the rest of the spice mix over exposed side of the chicken.
8. After 90 seconds, flip the chicken. Then again another 90 seconds later. Continue to saute chicken, flipping every few minutes, for about 10 more minutes or until finished.
9. Set asparagus on a baking tray. Spritz with olive oil, add salt & pepper to taste. Bake in oven for 5-6 minutes.
10. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a medium saute pan.
11. When butter is hot, add shaved brussels sprouts, distributing over the pan so that they are in one layer, not on top of each other. Cook on medium for 3 minutes then flip.
12. 2 minutes after flipping, add the other ½ tablespoon of butter, sprinkle with salt, and turn the temperature to high. Stir to incorporate butter.
13. After another 2 minutes, (or when butter is fully melted), remove pan from heat.
14. Remove Asparagus if you haven’t already.
15. Slice chicken into strips or chunks.
16. Arrange all ingredients in the bowl, lining everything clockwise around the edge.
17. Heat 2 tablespoons of pesto in the microwave for 10 seconds, then add to salad in the middle of the bowl.