Taco Stuffed Squash (or Zucchini) Boats.

Squash boats nestled in salsa, filled with zesty taco meat, and topped with cheese. A new twist on taco night!

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Everyone loves tacos, right? Right. This recipe is a new take on a taco, and a great way to get in a serving of vegetables. Same taco flavor you love and expect, just using a healthier, gluten-free alternative. I used yellow squash because I had a ton, but if you have zucchini feel free to use that instead! My husband doesn’t love yellow squash but he went back for seconds on this dish!

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The meat in the boats is really flavorful due to a low-and-slow simmer in a homemade taco seasoning. Fear not–homemade does not have to equal complicated! It’s made with just cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. There’s no need for a taco seasoning packet filled with all sorts of additives when making your own is this simple! Chances are you already have those spices sitting in your pantry right this very moment.

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To make the squash into “boats”, you have to spoon out the seeds in the middle. You can’t do this easily without cooking the squash first. Lucky for you I tried that method to see if I could skip a step and the answer is clear: NOPE! If you’re using zucchini, you might be able to do this with a melon baller while they’re raw. Regardless, you need to cook the boats before you stuff them because the final bake in the oven is not going to be long enough to cook them start to finish.

So, you have two options:

  1. Boil the squash halves in a pot of water for a few minutes.
  2. Bake the squash cut-side-down on a pan at 400F for about 12-15 minutes.

I prefer the second option for many reasons:

  • It gives me time to cook the meat mixture while they’re baking, so I don’t have to multi-task too much.
  • I actually think it enhances the flavor because you sprinkle them with oil, salt, and pepper before baking.
  • I’m going to preheat the oven to 400F anyway, so that’s not an inconvenience.
  • It reduces the final bake time because they’re more cooked through with this method.
  • And finally, covering the pan with foil = no clean up, while boiling in water = a pot to clean up.

Let’s be honest, that last point was the real reason. : )

But, if you’d rather boil the halves then go for it! Either way, let them cool before you scoop out the seeds in the middle.

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Would you try this? Does your family have a taco night? Let me know in the comment section below. I see a lot of “Taco Tuesday” posts on social media. I love experimenting in the kitchen a liiiiiiittle too much to dedicate an entire meal every week to the same dish, but I can definitely see the appeal!

Taco Stuffed Squash.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 squash or zucchini depending on size (I had a couple tiny ones so I used 6), cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2-3/4 cup mild salsa
  • 1 lb 93% lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, minced
  • 4 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions or cilantro, for topping

1). Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Lightly drizzle squash with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash face down on the pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until fork-tender. Allow them to cool a few minutes until they aren’t too hot to touch, then use a spoon to scoop out the center of each half. Reserve this to add to the meat mixture (optional).

2). While the squash is baking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the meat. Add the onion and bell pepper. When the meat is no longer pink, add the spices, leftover squash, tomato sauce, 1/4 cup salsa and water. Stir, cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

3). Meanwhile, spread about 1/4-1/2 cup salsa in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Arrange the squash boats in the baking dish. Add 1/3 cup of meat to each boat, then sprinkle with about 1 tbsp cheese and some fresh cilantro. Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serving size: 2 halves. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 286 Fat: 12g Carbs: 18g Fiber: 5g Protein: 28g Points+: 7
Recipe adapted from: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/07/taco-stuffed-zucchini-boats.html

 

Skinny Chicken Fajitas

Who says Mexican food has to be unhealthy? If you make your own at home you have complete control over how much salt you use, oil you pour, or spices you add. They key is to forego using the store bought packets of fajita seasoning. You can make your own spice blend easily and it is so much healthier–no MSG or excess sodium. The final product is flavorful while low in fat and high in protein. I was really pleased with the way these came out and you can easily adapt them to suit your taste!

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For lighter fare, I did not serve these with rice and beans, but you certainly could if you want them to follow the typical Mexican restaurant toppings. There was a lot of flavor in the chicken, so a simple topping of salsa and cheese or sour cream was perfect for us! You can also ditch the tortilla all together if you are gluten free!

Many chicken fajita recipes call for the chicken to marinade overnight. I love that this recipe does not require that extra step of planning ahead and still yields fabulous results. To be honest, I almost don’t consider this a recipe…I eyeballed the spices knowing I would want more of the spices that add flavor (cumin, chili powder, paprika) and less of the spice that adds heat (cayenne pepper). So, the measurements are not exact, and they don’t need to be. Change them to fit your family’s preferences!

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If you have a large family or want to have enough for several leftovers, scale up and use 2 lbs of chicken and as many peppers as you’d like.

Skinny Chicken Fajitas

  • 1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips (I used tenderloins because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1-2 small yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, sliced
  • sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • dash of cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder
  • about 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you want more heat!)

1). Pour 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a grill pan over medium heat. Slice the onions and bell peppers and add them to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft and caramelized and peppers are tender. You can add a few tablespoons of water if they start looking like they might burn. Remove from pan and set aside.

2). Add remaining tbsp olive oil to pan, over medium heat, and arrange as many chicken strips as possible. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. Depending on how much chicken you use, you might have to do these in batches.

3). Add the peppers and onions back to the pan with the chicken. Now add the spices (as little or as much as you want of each). Toss them together to ensure every bite has equal seasoning.

Servings for 2 lbs of chicken: at least 8. Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 138 Carbs: 2g Fat: 3g Protein: 26g Sugar: 1g Fiber: 1g

WW PointsPlus: 3 Old points: 3

Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

 

Kale and Ground Beef/Turkey Taco Filling

This recipe is an amazing way to sneak in a lot of kale without having picky eaters complain! I was so pleasantly surprised at how the kale blended away among the spices and was not even noticeable. Kale is so good for you and I am always interested in new ways to incorporate it in a meal. In this case, it gets completely lost in all the other flavors of the dish. I love that the spice blend in this recipe is incredibly simple, yet it tastes even better than the (not-so-healthy) packets of taco seasoning from the store. Overall, it is not very spicy but it does have a little kick. If you want more spice, increase the amount of cayenne pepper to taste.

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I served this kale, beef, and bean mixture on a bed of crisp greens for me and in small tortillas for my husband. I was curious to see how he would react to the kale being cooked into the mixture, but he did not even mention it and told me the dish was awesome! Win!

Did I mention this easily came together in well under 30 minutes? It is a great choice for a homemade meal on a busy weeknight. I have a feeling we will be enjoying this dish again soon!

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I used lean, organic ground beef in this recipe, but I actually originally intended to use ground turkey. After reading this report (and several others) regarding the disgusting addition found in over 90% of ground turkey in the U.S., I am so hesitant to buy ground turkey now. Does this news enrage anyone else, or is it just me? I hate not knowing what goes into the food we put into our bodies. Anyway, perhaps organic, local, grass-fed beef is the way to go…at least for now.

You MUST try this recipe and let me know what you think. I have a feeling your whole family will enjoy it!!

Healthy Kale Taco Filling

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lb lean ground beef (or turkey)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cups of chopped kale
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I only used 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

1). Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ground beef. Stir until cooked through. Add the diced red pepper.

2). Add the kale and mix together well until wilted. Add the spices and the black beans. Stir occasionally until heated through.

3). Remove from heat and serve in tortillas or on a bed of salad. Enjoy!

 

Servings: 6. Nutritional Information per 1/6 serving: Calories: 247 Fat: 8g Carbs: 17g Protein: 25g Fiber: 6g Sugar: 2g

WW+: 6 Old points: 5

Recipe adapted from http://greenlitebites.com/2012/10/11/kale-turkey-black-bean-taco-filling/ 

 

 

Spicy Blackened Tilapia Rice Bowls

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Cinco de Mayo is coming up this week and this dish is a little more unique (and healthy!) than your average Mexican taco or quesadilla: blackened tilapia on a bed of brown rice, then topped with a mixture of corn, beans, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro, and a squirt of fresh lime juice! The result of the combination of all those ingredients was amazing flavor in every bite! There is quite a bit of heat from the seasoning on the fish, so if you prefer less spicy food, use less seasoning on the tilapia. This meal is very filling and low in fat, as long as you don’t go overboard on the toppings. You can substitute quinoa for the brown rice and use frozen or fresh fish, depending on what you have available. From start to finish you can certainly have this rice bowl ready and on the table in 30 minutes. The rice/quinoa will take the longest, so be sure to cook your grain first. The tilapia will cook in a matter of minutes, and it should not take long to chop up fresh cilantro and assemble the bowls. This is sure to be a family favorite–my husband does not typically like tilapia very much and loved this spicy version!

Spicy Tilapia Rice Bowls

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 tilapia filets (or other fish filet of your choice)
  • 1/2 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup fresh sweet corn kernels (sliced off the cob is the best)
  • 1 red onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 red pepper, diced (I omitted)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • cooked brown rice (I used about 2 cups)
  • fresh cilantro, avocado/guacamole, shredded cheese, light sour cream, pico de gallo/salsa, or lime for topping
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Mix the spices together in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over both sides of the fish filets. (I like to season my fish a LOT, but just sprinkle on however much looks good to you.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat, heat a drizzle of olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the fish filets to the pan. Grill the fish on each side for 3-4 minutes, checking the middle for doneness (fish should be completely white and flake apart easily). Remove fish filets and set aside.
  3. Add corn, red peppers if using, and onions to the pan with no additional oil. Heat over high heat for several minutes WITHOUT stirring to get a brown/black roasted look on the outside. Repeat for several minutes (stir, wait, stir, wait) until everything is tender-crisp. Add the black beans and heat through.
  4. Layer rice, corn/bean mixture, and fish in a bowl – or mix everything together in the skillet. Top with any of the toppings listed above!

Serves: 6. Nutritional Information per Serving (without toppings): Calories: 329. Fat: 6g Carbs: 40g Protein: 31g Sugar: 4g Fiber: 8g

WW Points +: 8 Old points: 6

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Recipe adapted from pinchofyum.com

Crock Pot Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Soup

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This soup is easy to make, very filling, and SPICY! You can easily tone down the heat by using only half the amount of diced green chiles. The original recipe called for a whole 4 oz can, but I can only handle half!

The weather is starting to warm up but it’s still chilly enough to have soup at night. This soup is sure to warm you up and keep you satisfied for a long time!

If you have a large/hungry family, you should try this Latin-inspired soup. It makes a LOT! Look how full my crock pot was:

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Crock Pot Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 (15 oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (10 oz) cans Rotel tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1/2 of a 4 oz can diced green chiles
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 16 oz (2) skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 2 medium scallions, diced
  • cut limes, for serving
  • 1 medium haas avocado, sliced
  • light sour cream, for serving (optional)

Instructions:
1) Take one can of beans and place in the blender (I used a food processor) along with 2 cups of the chicken broth; puree then add to your slow cooker. Add the remainder of the beans and chicken broth into the slow cooker along with tomatoes, diced green chiles, cumin, chile powder, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, chicken breast, and 1/4 cup of the cilantro. Set slow cooker to HIGH 4 hours or LOW 6 to 8 hours.

2) After it’s done, remove chicken and shred with 2 forks. Place back into the slow cooker and add fresh scallions, remainder cilantro and adjust salt and cumin, to taste.

3) Serve hot with avocado and light sour cream.

Makes: 10 1/2 cups. Serving size: 1 1/2 cups. Calories: 306 Fat: 6g Carbs: 37.5g Fiber: 13.5 Sugar: 3g Sodium: 698.4mg without salt

Recipe adapted from: skinnytaste.com

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Enjoy!