Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Favorite Salad Bowls and Food Travel Bag

One thing that makes healthy eating more pleasurable is the way the meal is plated and served.  Although I am guilty of eating a meal in my car when I have to, I much prefer to sit down to a pretty table (a simple placemat and fresh bunch of flowers) with some care taken in how the food is presented.  My girlfriend, Karen, turned me on to the best salad bowls ever and I'm hooked on them!  They are the Blanc Porcelain Bowls from  Sur La Table and they are so perfect because they are wide (9 inches) and shallow.  You can see all the beautiful components of your dish in this bowl and have lots of room to mix things up. A pasta or noodle dish is also perfect in this bowl, but I think it's too big to use as a cereal bowl. The bowls are expensive ($9.99 each) but so worth it.  You can microwave them and even cook up to 500 degrees in the oven, and of course, they are dishwasher safe.  A set of 4 made a nice "thank you" gift for my trainer after the bikini competition too.  

The other kitchen item I can't live without now is my insulated World Market Jane Lunch Bag.  It's insulated and I use it probably once a day if I have to take a meal with me on the go to eat later.  I can actually fit quite a bit in there- a tupperware meal for me, one for my son, an icepack, and a juice box! There are pockets on the sides that I use to put plastic silverware and napkins.  The bag is $12.99.

What kitchen item can you not live without?  Please share! 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Mustard Lemon Chicken with Thyme

If you've been following along this blog for long, y'all know how much chicken we eat around here. Last week, I shared how we typically grill up a bunch of chicken and then add it to our salads throughout the week.  I'm keeping chicken on my menu, but I wanted to find more interesting ways to prepare it.  I'm sure you know how boring chicken breasts can be if they're not salted, flavored with herbs and spices, or added to a salad with dressing.  Today, I'm sharing a recipe for Mustard Lemon Chicken with Fresh Thyme as a healthy alternative to salting the heck out of your chicken.  I've partnered with Sunkist Lemons on this post and if you want more info about sodium and reduced-sodium recipes, check out their website

I practically cut sodium out of my diet these last few months, and truthfully, I don't miss it.  I do use salt-free seasonings, but here, a little bit of lemon goes a long way toward brightening and adding flavor to this dish.  

And something about using lemons in the summer feels so fresh.  Aren't they pretty?!

This recipe couldn't be simpler.  You just make the mustard-lemon sauce for the chicken, then bake it in the oven.  This recipe would pair well with rice or pasta and fresh veggies. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the chicken breasts onto a baking sheet. Make the sauce below and spoon it on top of the chicken.  Add some cracked pepper on top and a few sprigs of thyme, along with lemon wedges.  Bake the chicken for about 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.  Remove from the oven and let rest about 10 minutes. 

Chicken (boneless, skinless breasts)- 6 
Lemon (2) - zest of 1 lemon and it's juice (1 more for in the baking dish and/or garnish)
Garlic - 4 cloves minced 
Dijon mustard - 2 tablespoons
Olive oil - 2 tablespoons 
Thyme - 1 tablespoon + more for garnish
Parsley - enough for garnish
Fresh cracked pepper - to taste

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Thai Steak Salad with Peanut Sauce

I'm so happy to share a recipe featuring steak!!!  And this is a really good cut of meat, specifically, beef tenderloin.  I haven't had one of those in ages and I didn't want to mess up the cooking, so my husband cooked that part of this Thai Steak Salad for me.  He got it just right too!

Because this meal is a salad, all you have to do is prepare the marinade, and then be patient while the meat marinates at least four hours, or up to overnight.  It's easy to throw the cold salad ingredients together, then I take a short-cut and top the salad with my store-bought peanut dressing!  

(ingredient portions depend on how many people you are feeding and what you like in your salad).

Beef tenderloin or flank steak- 1 pound 
Romaine lettuce
Red onion
Cashews (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)
Basil and/or cilantro (optional)
*Bangkok Padang Peanut Sauce (or other peanut sauce) 


Juice of 1 lime
Low sodium soy sauce- 3 tablespoons
Canola oil- 3 tablespoons
Brown sugar- 2 tablespoons
Minced garlic- 1 tablespoon
Red curry paste- 1 teaspoon

To make the marinate, combine the above ingredients into a large plastic ziploc bag. 

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and add to the bag with the marinade.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.  I did 4 hours and it was great. 

To cook the steak, spray a grill pan with cooking spray and heat pan to medium-high heat.  Cook for about five minutes per side until medium rare, or longer for more doneness.  Let rest until room temperature and then slice thinly. 

Assemble the salads by adding the romaine, cabbage, onion, avocado, and mango.  You can also add fresh herbs and cashes if desired.  

I love this peanut sauce, but it's a little spicy, so I pour it into a bowl and thin it with a bit of water and add lime juice to it.  It you like some kick, it's great on it's own.  

This salad is so good!  Especially when you mix everything up and all the flavors meld together.  

I'm sure this will be in our dinner rotation again in the near future! 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Healthy Meal Prep

It goes without saying that if you want to get in shape, you have to eat healthy.  But, it's hard when there's so much going on in our lives and we feel like we don't have the TIME to prepare healthy meals.  For me, I eat five meals a day about 3 hours apart.  I have gotten used to eating the same thing twice a day (usually a grilled chicken salad).  I enjoy my salad, so it's no big deal.  And thank the Lord, my husband eats the same way, so I don't have to prepare another meal for him.  But, that's the caveat with this healthy meal prep, it's the same food twice a day, and lack of variety is fatal for some people.  With our family's busy schedule and needing to have so many meals to eat each day, it's just simpler for me to eat the same thing over and over.  No thinking about it, just prep once, then grab and go.  

My meal prep is incredibly easy.  Eating this way takes way less time than preparing several different meals for lunch or dinner.  All you really need to do is buy a big package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and grill them at once on the grill.  My husband and I both eat about two chicken breasts a day, so he will cook 12-16 at a time, and I have found they are good refrigerated for four days, sometimes five.  The photo below is my meal prep that I took to my bikini competition because that's all I ate for two days but you could use these for lunch or dinner once or twice a day, along with your other meals.  

The twelve meals above were made from the few ingredients below.


On the grill (we use a gas grill, but you can use a grill pan on the stove), turn the fire to medium to medium high heat.  For my "contest" chicken, no oil was used, just a sprinkle of Tony Chachere's Salt-Free seasoning.  Now that the contest prep is over, he puts a little olive oil on the chicken to keep it from sticking to the grill and to keep the chicken moist.

Cook the chicken for about 10-15 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chicken.  When it's done, remove from the heat and cover with foil.  Let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes.

Each meal gets five ounces of chicken.  I can pretty much eyeball how much 5 ounces is now, but otherwise, I have found this scale very beneficial.  I used it everyday while on bikini prep and sometimes still do. 

For the carbs, I usually eat potatoes, but you can substitute rice or quinoa.  Sweet potatoes are great too.  I was only eating 4 ounces of carbs for this prep, so I used small, red potatoes.  


After washing the potatoes (I used 12), I towel-dried them, poked them a couple times with a knife, then microwaved them all at once for 10 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.  They shrink when cooked, so they only averaged 3.5 ounces.  Now, I'd eat about 6 ounces, so two of these small guys.  What I really like to do (when I'm home) is chop them up after they are cooked and toast them up on the stove on a medium-high heat (just spray the pan with cooking spray). 

I use my Gladware that I found at the grocery store and then begin assembling. 

A big handful of romaine lettuce, a few tomatoes or a cup of frozen green beans . . . 

then the potatoes and chicken.

I eat the salad meals cold (and add dressing now), and microwave the meals with green beans for about 1 minute or so.  You have to be careful not to reheat chicken too much or it will get dried out. 


Since I'm at home most days now, I haven't been assembling my food like this lately.  After the big batch of chicken is cooked, I put it in a large Rubbermaid tupperware container and keep it in the fridge.  We just pull out it as needed.  The variety for me now is just adding more and different things to my salad, like avocado, mango, sundried tomatoes, etc.  I was only eating Romaine lettuce before, but now I find I like a combo of Romaine and arugula.  When you add 5 ounces of chicken to your salad, it's really filling too. 

As long as you have chicken already cooked in the fridge, you're good to go for quick, easy meals, especially salads.  I need to look into other recipes using chicken (adding to pastas or casseroles) next.  

I made a Thai steak salad for dinner on Sunday and it was delicious!  I'll be sharing that recipe next!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

What's Next? The Post Bikini Competition Plan

A surprising thing about post-competition is that I'm not all that anxious to eat all of the food that's been off limits during contest prep.  You'd think I'd want to eat everything in sight, but that hasn't been the case.  In fact, the thought of a big, juicy cheeseburger and fries (something I love to indulge in once in a while before) doesn't really sound good to me right now.  I think it feels so good having worked so hard to get in shape, I don't want to "blow it" by eating bad.  It doesn't feel worth it.  


The night the competition ended, we found a nice steak restaurant that was open and ate a late dinner there.  I had baked brie (a favorite of mine!) with dry toasts, filet minion, twice baked potato and iced-tea.  I only finished half of the steak and potatoes and I really wasn't ready for any alcohol.  The next morning, I indulged in Starbuck's banana bread for breakfast before we got on the road to come home.

After driving nearly four hours home, we stopped at Chipotle for lunch and I always get a bowl with rice, chicken and pico.  Back at home, I got back on my regular (contest prep) meals with the exception of the ice cream I had been craving.  I wanted Gelato (it has less fat) but they were out the kind I like (Sea Salt Caramel), so I got regular Carmel Cone ice cream.  I ate the whole pint.  It was GOOD going down!  

But, of course, my stomach really hurt the next morning.  Thankfully, my abs were still there! :)  Although a cheeseburger doesn't sound good, I could keep eating ice-cream every once in a while (just not a whole pint in one sitting!).

My trainer texted me the next morning telling me I should get back to Phase 1 of my diet.  And it's crazy that I was actually looking forward to it!  I really like my protein pancakes with all-natural fruit spread.  Meal 2 is usually fish, potato, and green beans.  Meal 3 is a grilled chicken salad with fat free dressing.  Meal 4 is chicken, potato or rice, and veggies.  Meal 5 is a cup or so of Muscle Egg.  Sometimes, I'll eat another pancake too in between Meal 4 and 5.  I typically eat at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm.  

On Tuesday night, my girlfriend invited me out for a drink and I went, but ordered tea. Wednesday night, I went to dinner with two friends at a new restaurant and I was excited to have something different.  I ate tuna tartare and a mini steak skewer.  

At the weekend blog conference I went to, I ate as best I could (even brought and drank 3 protein shakes while I was there).  We were fortunate that the conference had a fresh, healthy salad bar selection with fish and chicken.

BUT, I did indulge in THREE small desserts on Saturday (chocolate popsicle, shared milkshake at dinner, and scoop of ice cream at the late-night party).  Back at home on Sunday, I was back to my meals- and ready to be! 

I do want to find new healthy meals that I can feel good about eating that are different from my usual.  It's just nice to have a little variety.  And I'm sure my husband would appreciate it too.  


As for the workouts, my trainer recommended that I do only 30 minutes of cardio and no weights for about a week to give my body a rest and just recoup from the competition.  What's crazy is that just doing 30 minutes of cardio now feels very minimal.  I haven't even bothered to go to the gym for it (it would take longer to drive there and back) opting instead to just run out my door around my neighborhood with my iPod. 

I had a great run on my trip out of town too.  I knew I'd want to run at least one day, so I packed running clothes and my iPod.  Right outside our hotel was a beautiful bike trail filled with tall, lush trees.  I even found the cutest Startbuck's ever and popped in after my run for an oatmeal and black iced-tea.  It felt so good to start the day this way.

Before I started training for this contest, if you'd have told me I'd be doing 30-45 minutes of cardio 4-5 times a week in addition to my one hour workout, I'd think you were crazy.  I didn't think I was physically capable of doing that, but my body surprised me.  Yours can too. 

I'm not training with my trainer right now, opting to spend more time with my son and just workout at the gym that's closer to my house.  When my son goes back to school, I'll reconsider.  I got spoiled training with him - not because it's any easier - in fact it's physically harder.  But, he kept me accountable and pushed me to my limit.  I just did what he said.  I didn't have to think about what's next, what exercise to do, what weight to lift, how many reps.  So many times I'd say to him, "I'd never workout this hard on my own." 

I know his routine pretty well now though.  We would do 3 exercises in a row, not too heavy, but a weight I could get 15-20 reps.  One of the exercises might be something without weights, just to keep my heart rate up, like Burpees. We'd do the round 3-4 times, then start again with 3 different exercises.  We did this for one hour, sometimes stopping with 10 minutes to spare so I could finish with abs.

It will be interesting to see if I can keep it up on my own.  I'm going to try! 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

NPC Bikini Competition Recap

After five months of dieting and training (15 of those weeks with my trainer), I finally competed in my first NPC  (National Physique Committee) Bikini Competition.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU for following along on this journey.  Reading your comments helped me feel like I had a lot of friends rooting for me along the way.  On the drive to the contest (4 hours to Dallas), I kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm doing this!" I had dreamed of prepping and competing in a bikini contest in my 20s, and finally accomplished it at age 39, as a wife and mother to a 4 year-old.  Better late than never, right?  Just goes to show that you can transform your body at any stage of life!  In February, I weighed about 112 pounds and I competed at 100 pounds.  I'm 5 feet even. 

I accomplished these changes with diet and consistent, hard! exercise (cardio and weights about 4-5 days a week, a good hour and a half each time).  In addition to my meals, I used BCAA (branched chain amino acids- 3 tablespoons in my water bottle while I worked out) and Glutamine (1 scoop after each weight training session), and multivitamins and fish oil.  No steroids, fat burners, pre-workout drink, etc. You can go to my FITNESS page to see more posts about my meal plan and to see the process along the way. 

Below are some of the unedited stage photos I received from the show photographer. 



The contest was on Saturday, July 5 and we left for Dallas on Friday morning. My trainer didn't change my food that much for the last week of prep.  On Wednesday before the show, I cut out egg whites.  Then, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I was to eat 6 meals instead of my usual 5 and I eliminated my Molly McButter (due to sodium).  I contented to drink water normally, stopping on Friday night at 10pm, and just sipping the next day. 

I stopped at the grocery store on Thursday night to prep my 12 meals for Friday and Saturday.  I will write a separate post on how I do my meal prep.  It's super simple and barely takes any time.  

I packed a cooler with ice and replaced the ice in Dallas to keep everything cold.  I ate all but one of the meals cold (I was able to use the Subway microwave for one of them!).  Also, I didn't finish the meals on Saturday, so a few weren't eaten.

Packing for the trip was pretty easy.  Bikini, heels, jewelry, makeup, hair tools.  But also, I brought a black sheet (to cover the hotel bed) and loose clothes I wasn't afraid to ruin because I knew the spray tan would get everywhere.  It ended up washing out though. 

I also knew I'd be ready for a good long shower after the contest and really want to try to scrub the fake tan off, so I packed my body scrub and loofah gloves.  

It felt good to shower, but the tan doesn't just scrub off I found.  You have to wait for it to fade from your body- other competitors told me it can take two weeks and that it comes off in patches, so you look all splotchy.  Nice.  Hasn't happened to me yet. Speaking of spray tan . . . 

I got to the hotel just in time for my first spray tan appointment.  What an experience!  First, I opened the door to a small conference room where they were applying the tan and the first thing I saw was a bunch of dark, fit, naked booties.  You strip all your clothes off and step into a small tent where a woman sprays the tan on you with a hand-held sprayer.  Then, you stand around with the other naked women for a good 20 - 30 minutes in front of fans while it dries enough to get dressed.  We had to laugh because there's nothing else you can really do!  And you can't help but check each other out, two of the ladies I tanned with won medals at this event! 

Here's how I looked after one coat of spray tan.  They don't spray your face- only for bodybuilding men I heard.  The tan does accentuate your muscles.  

Below is the next morning, after two coats of spray tan.

Each competitor has to be a member of the NPC and check in at the contest venue the night before the contest.  This is the first time you get to see a bunch of the competitors from every category.  You can easily tell who's competing by who looks orangey/brown from the spray tan! 

They measured me at this check-in at 5 feet 0.  In the morning, we had to go back to get our competitor number.  Lucky #169 here:) 

For this show, I used the hair and makeup artists assigned to the show.  They did an okay job and were super nice and friendly, but next time, I would definitely do my own.  I "redid" my hair and makeup after they were done.  She had my foundation so dark orange, when I finally saw it, I felt like I had aged 10 years.  :(  I hired the makeup artist because I was worried about matching my face to my tan, but I think I could have done okay.  Below is a picture from AFTER I touched up my face.  I know this is picky, but I wish I would've curled and trimmed the fake lashes- I think they are too long at the end (the sides of my face) and in the stage pictures, I feel like my eyes look tired.  I'm pretty good at doing hair/makeup and I could have saved the expense too.  

And then we were off to the pre-judging.  

Pre-judging is where the judges see all the competitors on stage and make their decisions about who wins.  Then, you get a break and come back for the finals at night and the competitors go on stage again and the winners receive their medals.

I competed in BIKINI division, in two categories - NOVICE and MASTERS.  Novice is for women (any age) that haven't placed in the Top 5 of a previous contest.  You can compete in this division if you have never competed before, or if you have competed, but not placed Top 5 in your class.   Then, they divide the Novice Division into Classes depending on height.  I measured 5 foot even and Class A went up to 5'4 I think.  There was also Novice Class B, C, and D.  Masters is for competitors age 35 and older.  

Prejudging started at 9:30 a.m. and we finally finished at 2:30 p.m.  Long morning!

The first category I competed in was Bikini Novice Class A.  Backstage, while we are all lined up (maybe 35-40 of us??) you could feel the nerves and excitement.  I just kept hoping my posing would look decent and fluid.  But, I felt pretty confident- I had been practicing backstage.  I was about the 4th woman in our group to go on.  The posing happens so fast - you only have 10 seconds to hit four poses and then walk to the side of the stage and wait while the rest of the group goes.  I got to see all of the other competitors pose and I knew I could have done better had I practiced my posing more during prep.  

Then the judges "CALL OUT" their Top 5 competitors to come to the front of the stage.  They'll have certain competitors move next to another competitor for comparison.  I wasn't in the first call-outs, but I didn't necessarily expect to be.  Then, the judges call out the next five.  I wasn't in the second call-outs either.  I started to feel bad.  It sucks to be standing there, getting critiqued, feeling like you aren't measuring up, like you are being judged.  And duh, it's a contest- you are literally being judged.  Then, the judges called the next 5.  I wasn't in that group either.  I felt my cheeks getting hot.  It felt like I was standing (on the sidelines) forever.  I was in the 4th call outs and that felt BAD.  That means I finished in the Top 20, not near the top.  I wasn't prepared for how low I would feel not doing well in the judges eyes.  Throughout this competition prep, I've felt so good just knowing that I'm going for it and reaching for a goal.  The actual competing part didn't cross my mind too often and I never focused on winning.  But, once I was standing on that stage, boy did I want to win!  

After my group was called out, we exited the stage while the remainder of the women were called out.  I felt so defeated.  I know it sounds bad, but it's how I honestly felt.  I was having a pity party, feeling like I didn't even want to compete in the next round for Masters.  The Enemy had a field day with my mind for a good bit, "What were you thinking, trying to compete in a bikini contest??"  I felt so foolish and hurt.  My good friend Cassie and her daughter had come to watch pre-judging and I felt embarrassed that they had come out just to see me lose.  I felt like I had let them down.  Of course, Cassie was super encouraging and comforting.  She is also funny like nobody's business, so she got me to crack some smiles.  

There was a bit of down time while the rest of the classes competed before it was time for Masters.  There were only 11 women competing in Masters, which told me that the majority of women competing at this contest were under 35.  I'd guess mid-twenties is the average age.  But, in the Masters category, those women looked fierce!  Each one of them could have won in my opinion.  So, when I made the first call outs in that division, I did feel very happy.

Leaving pre-judging, you don't know what place you won, but I knew I was in the Top 5 for Masters and that felt really good.  But, in reality, it took me some time to "get over" feeling inadequate and foolish during the Novice round.  

My best friend, Karen, drove to support me and got there after pre-judging, but before the night show.  Thank God for her.  I got to have the rest of my pity party in her arms and then I snapped back to reality.  It's just a roller coaster of emotions that I didn't expect.  I confided in Karen and admitted to myself, "I didn't realize winning/placing higher would mean so much to me."  

The Finals started at 6:30pm and I got there about 7:30, with just about 30 minutes until the Masters Women Bikini division.  The contestants and I got back out on stage and then they called out the Top 5, which I was thrilled to be a part of.  They called out 5th place (which I thought would be me, but it wasn't).  I got 4th place.  I was so happy to have that medal!  My husband has been such a great support to me too.  He not only encouraged me to compete, he went on the same diet as me for the last month AND helped prep my meals.  He's a "good egg" as Cassie always says!

Since the contest ended, I've had a little time to reflect on the whole experience, what I've learned about the contest and myself.  It will take longer to truly digest all of the lessons and I'm good with that.  I don't know if I'll compete again.  I definitely want to continue to make changes to my physique.  If I didn't want to get pregnant again soon, I probably would sign up for another show in the near future- keep the momentum going.   I enjoyed having a goal to work toward and it did make me train harder and stick to my diet.  Maybe after Baby #2??  If there's one thing I know now, it's never too late to change your physical fitness!

In January 2014, I was determined that, come July 2014, I would not be in the same place I was in a year ago.  It feels AMAZING to have accomplished that! 

I learned or confirmed during this process that: 
  1. God is always in control.
  2. I'm strong.
  3. I'm capable.
  4. I'm a fighter.
  5. It's okay to be proud of myself.
  6. I can do 45 minutes of cardio and then go on to do a challenging workout immediately after- four to five days a week.  I never thought I could've done that before. 
  7. A million walking lunges will tone up your legs and rear.
  8. As a beginner, having an experienced coach/nutritionist is critical to achieving maximum results quickly.
  9. It takes a long time to change your body, but it can be done.  One day at a time.
  10. I need lots of sleep on competition prep.
  11. My coffee and creamer are extremely important to me.  
  12. I crave Cheerios.  Late at night. 
  13. I hate Burpees. 
  14. It's no fun being judged. Unless you're winning. 
  15. I take criticism hard. 
  16. My self-worth is in who I am and how well I love.
  17. I need help and support.  
  18. Receiving encouragement from other people feels so good.  A kind word from a stranger can make my day. 
  19. I get back what I put out into the world.
  20. I will always continue to work on myself.  On the inside and out.