Vegetarian Kibbeh

Kibbeh is a Middle Eastern type of meatloaf. It is usually made of bulgur, minced onions and minced red meat, but this version calls soy meat (meatless beef, from Trader Joe’s) instead of the red meat. Besides being exotic and delicious, it is also a nutritious dish, since it is made with bulgur (instead of bread crumbs).

Bulgur is a whole grain derived of cracked wheat commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It has high content of fiber which contributes to satiety and may help weight-loss. In addition, bulgur wheat is rich in manganese and is also a decent source of iron and magnesium. As most whole grains, bulgur is low in calories and very low in fat and cholesterol.

In a bowl, mix ½ cup of bulgur wheat (dried), 2 tablespoons of dried herbs (cilantro, parsley and mint), 1 teaspoon of Garam masala[1], and salt to taste. Add enough boiling water to cover the grains and set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté ¼ cup of diced onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the cooked onions, 1 package of meatless beef and 1 egg to the grains, mixing everything well (I use my hands for that). Place the mixture in an oiled baking pan, spreading it evenly. Bake it for 30 minutes or until the top is golden-brown. Let it cool off for 10 minutes before cutting. Yield four servings.

[1] Garam masala is a mix of several spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, cumin seeds, cloves, and cardamom, typically used in Indian dishes.

Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

What’s in Season: Sweet Potatoes

Eating local produce that is in season is not only good for the environment; it is also good for you. By choosing to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season you get fresh produce that is at its peak and have a better taste. In addition, products in season are usually cheaper. October brings us apples, cranberries, grapes, pumpkins, winter squashes, and sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes are a great alternative to regular potatoes. They are rich in vitamins A and C, manganese, and phytochemicals. They are also a good source of fiber and potassium. Despite their sweet taste, sweet potatoes are low in calories. Plus, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, meaning that they won’t cause a spike in blood sugar.

Furthermore, sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile. When baked, fried, sautéed, or pureed they make great side dishes. Or you can add them to soups, cake batters, even smoothies. All you need is creativity. A quick way to enjoy this delicious veggie is to wrap it in plastic film and microwave it in high for 5 minutes. Scoop it out of the skin and mash it with the juice of one orange and a dash of cinnamon.

Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Barley and Veggies Stir-Fry

In a large pan, put a splash of oil and a tablespoon of grated ginger. Cook it until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Then, add 1 cup of shredded vegetables (I use broccoli stalks, carrots and purple cabbage), 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (low-sodium is better), 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of honey. Cook the veggies for a couple of minutes, stirring from time to time. Finally, add 1 cup of cooked barley, mixing well. Sprinkle a handful of crushed cashew nuts and serve with a protein source of your choice. I like it with sautéed fish and fresh oranges, but it also goes well with shrimp, chicken breast and pork tenderloin. Yield two servings.

Meal Replacement Options

It is fact that to achieve weight-loss, one must make dietary changes. The options are vast when it comes to diet, but the real important factor is to consume less calories than you burn. In order to reduce caloric intake, many people reach for meal replacement options available at grocery/health food stores. But are they effective? According to a recent study[1], even one portion-controlled meal replacement per day reduces daily caloric intake significantly and may lead to weight-loss in the long run.  

Before you go crazy on the diet shake aisle, you need some guidelines. A meal replacement product is a food or beverage that is used to substitute a higher-calorie meal. Even though the concept may seem simple, it is important to understand that it must offer the nutrients your body needs to function well. This means that sugary cereal bars are hardly your best option, since they won’t make you satisfied long enough and you end up attacking the fridge before your next meal.

  • Choose products that provide from 200 to 300 calories per serving (more than that and you are better off having a real meal).
  • Compare food labels and go for the ones with less sugar and fat content.
  • Keep in mind that fiber is a great asset. Choose products with higher fiber content.
  • Products with more protein tend to make you feel satisfied for a longer period of time.
  • Look for items that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.

If you’d like to try a homemade recipe…

Blend together 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, ½ cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt, ½ cup of pumpkin pure, 1 tablespoon of honey, and a dash of cinnamon.  This shake has only 200 calories and provides around 15 grams of protein, plus lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Yummy!


Kulovitz, M. Kravitz L. “Do Meal Replacements Deliver Results?” IDEA Fitness Journal. October 2012.

[1] Levitsky, D. A. et al. 2011. Losing weight without dieting. Use of commercial foods as meals replacements for lunch produces an extended energy deficit. Appetite, 57(2), 311-17.

Barley “Rice”

With the current news about inorganic arsenic found in rice and rice products, many of you may be looking for healthy alternatives that combine nutrition and flavor. If so, I’d suggest you try barley. Barley is a grain that has a nutty flavor similar to brown rice. It is a great source of fiber and protein, low in fat and cholesterol free. It also provides many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. In addition, barley has a low Glycemic Index (GI), which means that it is digested slowly, thus not causing a spike in blood sugar levels. But beware! Barley contains gluten, so if you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you should discuss it with your health care provider before introducing it into your diet. For a whole grain alternative to brown rice, look for minimally processed varieties such as hulled or hulless barley. Pearl barley undergoes more processing, so it loses some of its nutritional content and is not considered to be a whole grain.

The good news is that it is as versatile as rice. You can use barley in soups, stir fries, salads, or pilafs. Following is a simple recipe to get you started.

In a pressure cooker, put 2 cups of barley and enough water or chicken broth (for more flavor) to cover the grains. Close the pan and cook it for 20 minutes (start counting only after it starts making noise). After 20 minutes, turn off the heat, but don’t open the pan. Wait until the pressure goes off on its own. This way the grains will soak up the remaining water. Add extra virgin olive oil and chopped parsley and then serve.

Chicken and Beans Salad

This is high-protein salad (from beans, chicken, and pine nuts), yet a light and fresh dish that can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner. It is also rich in fiber and antioxidants, while low in fat. This recipe yields a reasonable portion that will make you feel satisfied for hours. In addition, it is quick and easy to prepare.



For the chicken – You’ll need around three ounces of breast meat without the skin (about the size of your palm). I like to rub the chicken in salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried rosemary, but feel free to use whatever spice you enjoy. Heat a sauce pan with a little olive oil[1]. Wait until the pan is hot (but not smoking) to put the chicken in order to get a nice sear.  Cook on both sides and reserve.

For the filling – In the same pan you used for the chicken (you want to get all the flavor from the pan), put ¼ cup of cannellini beans (rinsed), ½ cup of cherry tomatoes (quartered), 4 or 5 artichoke hearts (quartered), and 6 to 8 kalamata olives (pitted and halved). Drizzle a little bit of water and balsamic vinegar (to deglaze the pan), add a pinch of oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook it for one or two minutes. Let it cool down for five minutes.

Assembling the salad – Toss 2 cups of romaine lettuce in a bowl with a little extra-virgin olive oil and, then, add the beans mixture. Plate it and top it off with the sliced chicken breast, 1 tablespoon of pine nuts, and a handful of whole-wheat bread croutons (optional). Enjoy!

[1] Just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Feel free to use cooking spray or to wipe down the pan with a paper towel to remove the excess of oil.

Super Shake

Here is an amazing idea for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. This shake is a complete balanced meal with one serving of fruits, one serving of veggies, healthy fats, and protein. It is a thick and creamy smoothie which can satisfy your cravings for something sweet while filling you up.

In a blender, start with four cubes of ice (add more if you prefer a thicker smoothie) and 1 cup of almond milk (feel free to use soy or coconut milk, if you’d like). Add ½ cup of frozen spinach, 1 banana (or 1 cup of berries), 1 tablespoon of all natural peanut butter (you can also use any other nut butter), and 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder. Blend it well and enjoy.

Choose a protein powder with at least 25 grams of protein per serving, but watch for the amount of calories per serving too. You don’t want a product full of sugar and additives, so compare brands to find the one that offers more protein with fewer calories.

Gluten-free Pancakes

This recipe yields light fluffy pancakes with a nice crispy crust. For the batter, mix 1 cup of brown rice flour, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, and a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, combine 2 eggs with 1 cup of buttermilk. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, whisking to combine. Makes four five-inch pancakes. For a balanced breakfast, serve it with cottage cheese and fresh fruit, drizzled with a teaspoon of honey.

Brown rice flour has a sweet nutty flavor and is a great substitute for wheat flour in baked goods. It is made from finely grounded whole rice kernels (including the outer layers) which preserves its fiber, vitamins, and minerals content. Rice flour is also naturally gluten-free, being appropriate for people who suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. One serving (¼ cup of the dry flour) has around 110 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein.

Breakfast Parfait

Here is another breakfast option under 300 calories. To keep calories at bay, go light on energy-dense ingredients such as granola and honey. Instead, indulge on bigger portions of fresh fruit, which provides lots of nutrients for just a few calories. Good options are strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, apples, and pears. These fruits have a very low calorie-density and can be consumed in satisfying portions.

In a bowl, whisk ½ cup of fat-free Greek yogurt, a splash of orange juice (about 2 tablespoons, just for flavor), and ½ tablespoon of honey. When everything is well blended, add ¼ cup of granola, and top it off with fresh fruit of your choice.

Even though granola is a healthy food, it is also energy-dense, meaning that a small portion contains a great number of calories. With that in mind, read nutritional labels to compare different brands or make your own homemade granola.

Preheat the oven at 450° F. In a bowl, combine 3 cups of rolled oats, 3 tablespoons of canola oil, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons of ground flax seeds. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake it for around 8 minutes, checking the oven every two minutes to prevent burning it. Let it cool down, and then store it in an air-tight container. It yields 12 servings. The suggested serving size is ¼ cup, which contains 124 calories and 2.9 grams of protein. In addition, the flax seeds and the canola oil provide healthy fats, which are necessary to the maintenance of good health.

Vegetarian Chili

Varying your protein sources is as important as consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Legumes (such as beans and peas) and soy products offer a generous amount of protein for fewer calories. In addition, these foods also contain fiber and phytonutrients which are not found in animal products. Give it a try and go meatless with this vegetarian chili recipe.

Using a large pan, sauté ½ yellow onion (finely chopped) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 1 jalapeño pepper (diced), ½ red bell pepper (diced) and ½ cup of corn[1]. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then add ½ pack of meatless ground beef. Add ½ cup of canned tomatoes[2], 1 can of pinto beans, rinsed (or any other variety of your choice), and 1 cup of water[3]. Cover the pan and let it cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, sprinkle chopped cilantro leaves, red onions and/or black olives. You may also add 1 tablespoon of fat-free sour cream, if you’d like. This recipe yields four cups.

Meatless ground beef is a soy-based product that resembles ground beef in texture and appearance. It comes fully cooked, which reduces the prep time. In addition, this is a versatile product that you can add to just about any recipe such as tacos and meatloaves. I use “Trader Joe’s Beefless Ground Beef,” which provides 10 grams of protein per serving with only 60 calories (a bargain when compared to 90% lean ground beef – 14 grams of protein with 118 calories for the same serving size).

[1] I use frozen corn, but you may use canned, if you’d prefer. However, if you decide to use canned corn, rinse it before adding to the pan in order to remove the salt.

[2] Choose varieties with no salt added.

[3] You may use chicken broth if you’d prefer but choose low sodium varieties.