Clean Eating on a Budget

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m ALWAYS on a tight budget. However, despite whatever financial struggle I’ve faced, I’ve still managed to lose and maintain a weight loss of about 70lbs….all while keeping my diet clean. It hasn’t been easy and some months it requires a little extra patience and strategizing…but I’ve been able to do it for less than $20/week (or about $50/month when shopping in bulk). I’ve written about this in a previous blog post but I thought I would shed some more light on this topic..since it’s a very common issue.
Organic vs. Not – Personally, I never jumped on this train. To me, a vegetable is a vegetable. I never understood the purpose behind spending twice as much for something labeled “organic.” This is a personal preference thing – if you really feel strongly for eating this way be my guest, just know that it will ALWAYS cost you more. People have their reasons and beliefs for why they believe this is the way to go but in general I wouldn’t bother. If it’s not a big deal to you, shop the sales like me and you will be able to eat clean while staying on budget.

Frozen Vegetables vs. Fresh – Whenever possible, you should always get the fresh vegetables. However, depending on the season (and the sale) it may not always be possible. I usually stock up on some of my favorite frozen veggies when they are on sale…which usually means each bag will be just $1. That way, if the fresh variety isn’t accessible I still have exactly what I need.

Name Brand vs. Store Brand – I have never been a label whore. Whether it’s clothes, food, shoes…I never care. If it looks good, fits good, or tastes good…to me that’s all that matters. You will notice that 9 times out of 10, the store brand has the same ingredients as the name brand…and is half the price. So why spend extra just for a name? Drop the ego and grab your generic store brands and you will notice a big difference in your wallet.

Meat/Fish – This is the one area that can get tricky. Buying meat or fish will almost always cause your bill to be higher. However, you have to shop smart whenever possible. Head to Costco or any other bulk grocer and get your chicken. The Costco brand usually has about 15 or 16 boneless, skinless breasts (sometimes more) per pack and it will run you less than $20. You can also grab the packs of ground turkey or chicken when they are on sale and keep them on hand in your freezer. Anything from the butcher or fish counters will run more money…so plan accordingly and stock up whenever possible.

Make a list and always check it twice! I can’t tell you how helpful this one is. Keep a running list on the refrigerator and add things as they run out. Right before you go shopping, go back through the cabinets/pantry and fridge/freezer to be sure you didn’t miss anything. You can then skim through the flyers and see which store has most of those items on sale. My favorite store to shop in by far is ShopRite. They always have the lowest prices and biggest variety for what I need. Another favorite is Trader Joe’s. I don’t buy many things there (they tend to be a bit pricey) but you can find some good deals on otherwise expensive ingredients. Plus, they always have bananas for 19 cents – so how can you go wrong?!

When in doubt always shop the sales. You can never go wrong when you do that. Sure, you may not get every item on your list but you will have money leftover to put towards the next shopping trip. Like other things on this weight loss journey it won’t be easy but with a little patience, I promise it IS possible. Take the extra time and you will save a lot of extra money in the long run.

Happy shopping!!

Stay strong & stay in the fight

-Gina

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Healthy Eating On-the-Go

One of the most common questions that I’m asked is about eating on the go. What do you do when home cooked food isn’t an option? Let’s face it – life gets busy and there isn’t always time to meal prep. So, I thought I would shed some light on this topic by offering some of my favorite places to go…as well as some menu suggestions. We will start with lunch, since that tends to be the meal that gives people the most trouble. Let’s get started!

The first thing I want to get out of the way…Fast food can ACTUALLY be healthy. Yes…you read that right. I can’t believe I wrote that myself. The fact is that our budgets do not always allow for $10 salads or fancypants meals…but we still need to eat! Healthy options are available everywhere…you just have to look. With that out of the way, let’s go through some of my favorite places 🙂

Wendy’s – I have always loved their salads. Over the years, I stopped eating them but out of desperation I had one this week…and now I don’t know why I ever stopped. I had the Power Mediterranean and it was packed with protein and tons of healthy eats. Best part? It only cost $7!! That meal kept me full for hours and didn’t break the bank.

They also have other salads available, which do not contain as much protein but are equally good options.

Chick-Fil-A – I love me some Chick-Fil-A. Their meat is pure chicken and is always cooked fresh. I will be honest here and say that every time I go, I tend get the same meal – 8 piece chicken nuggets (not the grilled kind) with waffle fries and a sweet tea.

I know…not exactly a dieter’s delight. However, I don’t eat it often so I allow myself the treat when I do go. If this is what is convenient to you and you go more often, opt instead for one of their salads or grilled chicken options…and avoid the shakes & sweet tea altogether.

Moe’s/Chipotle/Salsa Fresca – This is by far one of the best options. The only rule – get a bowl…not burrito. Tell them to only put half the portion of rice (brown, if possible). Load up on veggies and meat. Stay away from the sour cream, add only a sprinkle of cheese and you are golden.

You can also get a salad and load it up with meat & veggies, which is equally good.

Boston Market – Another amazing option. Get the 1/4 white meal and add veggies as one of (or both) of your sides.

You can have any potatoes…just skip the gravy…and the cornbread. They put it on my plate above even though I refused it. However I didn’t eat it. I’ve had good cornbread…this isn’t it for me. However, if it is for you, then by all means enjoy it…just skip the potatoes.

Deli/Subway – When going to Subway you can get a 6-inch sub, have them scoop the middle of the bread out and get anything your heart desires. They don’t put a lot of meat or cheese anyway so anything you get will be ok. Delis can be a little more tricky. I would opt for a salad or a wrap with grilled chicken or sliced turkey. Watch your dressing and condiment selections but otherwise it should be good to go.

Diner – Diners are great for the simple fact they have HUGE menus. There are so many options to choose from and so many variations you can make.

Some suggestions: chicken souvaki (sauce on the side and NO fries), salads with grilled chicken (dressing on the side), or a turkey burger without a bun or fries. The list goes on and on. Another idea is to get breakfast for any meal. You can get an egg whites any way you like. The only thing you have to watch is your sides with this, since they definitely do not cook the eggs in a healthy way…meaning they load the griddle up with butter. Be cautious and use your judgment.

Chinese Takeout – Asian food can be really healthy if you do it the smart way. It may not look as appealing but it does taste good. Order your food steamed with brown rice (ie: chicken and string beans or broccoli) and get the sauce of your choice on the side. You will notice that if you spoon the sauce onto the food, you are using A  LOT less and therefore consuming at least half of the usual calories. Another good option – sushi. You have to watch the kind you get…and I would ask for brown rice instead of white, if possible…but it is definitely one of the better options on the menu.

Muscle Maker Grill – I LOVE THIS PLACE! There isn’t anything on the menu that I would advise against.

This place is designed for healthy eating and while it may not be budget friendly, is definitely worth the extra cash. If it’s local to you, definitely give it a shot!

I hope this helps just a little bit! When all else fails, find a salad or grilled chicken option wherever you are. You can never go wrong when choosing either of those. Just watch for your sides and condiments/dressing and you will be just fine!

For questions on this or any of my personal training/nutritional counseling specials, email me at TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

Until next week, stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

 

 

Snack Smart

With January being the start of so many diets and fitness journeys, I thought it best to touch on a topic close to my heart – SNACKING 😍

I am a total sugar addict and definitely LOVE my snacks. However, I’ve learned how to enjoy my favorites…without destroying all of my hard work. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t allow myself sweets from time to time. However, I practice moderation. After a lifetime of yo-yo diets and other struggles, I have learned the hard way that deprivation is a recipe for failure. While I love sour candy more than anything…it’s not healthy and too much of it will negate all of my hard work in the gym. So, I have found alternatives that are easy on the waistline and satisfy my cravings. Here’s a list of some of my favorite salty & sweet healthy snacks:

  • Monkey Salad – I discovered this masterpiece while on the Whole30 diet last year. Its’s a mixture of coconut chips, cashews, and half of a banana. It’s the perfect mix of salty & sweet.
  • Frozen blueberries with Crystal Light lemonade – I found this gem on Instagram a while back and it’s
    changed my life. The original recipe calls for grapes but I tried it with blueberries and it most definitely takes care of my sour candy cravings 🙂
  • Frozen grapes – if you have a craving for something icy and sweet, this will definitely help you out. I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve never been disappointed.
  • Hummus – this is a go-to snack for me. I usually get some baby carrots or some no- salt pretzels and dip away! My favorite pre-packaged flavor is roasted red pepper however I also make my own (which is not flavored) and I love it just as much. Be sure to portion this out or else you will be consuming a crazy amount of fat and calories.
  • Apples – these tend to be high in sugar content and carbs but they are better than eating candy. I slice the apple and either sprinkle cinnamon or dip the slices in peanut butter. If I’m craving something sour, I grab a granny smith and chomp away!
  • Kale chips – these are perfect for a salty craving and they work great as a side dish or snack. Easy to make and super delicious.

Check out this amazing chart, which provides some other solutions to keeping your cravings satisfied…the healthy way. You can also find tons of healthy snacks and tips on their site.

imageI can go on forever about the various snacks that I enjoy but at the end of the day it’s important to just eat smart. Track your macros, watch what you eat, and you will be able allow yourself a treat from time to time. Don’t be afraid to eat or to snack – food is fuel! Your body needs that fuel to run properly…and let’s face it, sometimes we need a snack to keep us sane 😎

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

Gina
TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

Gather ‘Round the Dinner Table

Dinner just may be my favorite meal of the day. There’s so many options and so many different foods to enjoy. Being on the #Whole30 diet hasn’t changed that. In fact, I’m learning to appreciate the beauty in all of the colorful foods that are compliant on this diet 🙂

I try to make enough at dinner to yield me leftovers at lunch. If that isn’t possible, I usually make my lunch while I’m making dinner to save time. Since grains are not allowed and I’ve been eating sweet potatoes earlier in the day, dinner always consists of a protein and vegetables. A lot of vegetables. I have also been on a balsamic kick since starting this diet. I had no idea that you could use it to make SO many things taste amazing!

As with my breakfast plan, these recipes all serve one but I am more than willing to assist you in making these recipes work for you and your family.

Tilapia Bruschetta
1-4 oz. Tilapia filet
1/2 can of diced tomatoes
Italian seasoning
Black pepper
Paprika
Pinch of salt
Crushed red pepper flakes
Garlic powder
Parsley

  • Begin by drizzling olive oil in a small pan; heat on medium-high
  • Season tilapia with pinch of salt, black pepper (to taste), a drizzle of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of paprika for color.
  • Place in pan.
  • Cook for 5 minutes then flip for another 5.
  • While that cooks, grab a small pot. Place diced tomatoes, pinch of salt, red pepper flakes (to taste), and Italian seasoning in pot and place over medium heat.
  • Remove fish from pan and top with sauce. Serve alongside your favorite veggies and enjoy 🙂
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Tilapia Over Italian Stirfry

*I make this all the time. When I’m not doing the #Whole30 I place fish over brown rice and serve with asparagus.*

Balsamic Glazed Chicken Cutlets
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1- pound (or a package) of chicken cutlets (or a 4 oz. chicken breast)
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
Italian seasoning
Pinch of salt

  • Begin by drizzling olive oil into a grill pan and placing on medium-high heat.
  • Season chicken with salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.
  • Place chicken into pan and season the other side.
  • Cook for about 5-7 minutes (for the cutlets; about 10-15 if it’s a whole breast) and flip. Cook through.
  • Once chicken is just about done, add balsamic vinegar. Flip chicken to completely coat. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Remove from pan and serve over salad or alongside your favorite veggies!

Grilled Eggplant
*this recipe can serve 4…or yields many leftovers!*

1-medium eggplant
Olive oil
Italian seasoning
Black pepper, to taste
Pinch of salt

  • Begin by peeling the eggplant and slicing into 1/4-inch thick slices.
  • Drizzle olive oil into a grill pan and heat on medium.
  • Season eggplant slices with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
  • Place slices in pan, seasoned side down. Season the other side. Cook for approximately 5-7 minutes and flip. Cook through and remove from pan.
  • Continue this until all eggplant slices are cooked.
  • Serve alongside other veggies or as a side dish with chicken. Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash:
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1- medium spaghetti squash
Olive oil
Pinch of salt
Black pepper, to taste

  • Begin by preheating oven to 400 degrees and lining a baking sheet with foil.
  • Slice the squash length-wise; scoop seeds out of middle and discard.
  • drizzle olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place both halves cut side down onto baking sheet and place in oven.
  • Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until fork tender.
  • Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Using a fork, shred the inside of the squash, making “spaghetti”
  • Top with your favorite sauce and enjoy!

Sides:

Brussel Sprouts:
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These have a terrible stigma. I saw a bag of frozen sprouts in Trader Joe’s for only $1 so I took a chance….and it changed my life. They are phenomenal! Here’s how I cook mine:

1/2 bag of frozen sprouts
pinch of salt
black pepper
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
drizzle of olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees; cover baking sheet with foil.
  • Place sprouts on sheet; season with salt and pepper and drizzle the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Toss to coat evenly.
  • Bake sprouts for approximately 20 minutes, or until fork-tender.
  • Remove from tray and serve alongside chicken or other veggies

Kale Chips:
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1/3 bag of kale (I use the one from Trader Joe’s)
Olive oil
Pinch of salt
Black pepper, to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  • Spread kale onto baking sheet. Drzzle with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, or until crispy.
  • Serve as a snack or alongside your favorite protein dish.
    **I tend to use frozen veggies most often but frozen kale WILL NOT work for this. Trust me…its not pretty.**

String Beans: These are an absolute staple for me. Since being on this diet, I’ve eaten them every day for lunch and many times I also eat them for dinner. They are extremely versatile and I prepare them in many different ways. Some examples of this are: balsamic glazed, steamed and seasoned simply, and Italian style (with diced tomatoes). Typically I buy a bag of frozen whole green beans and go from there. They take hardly any time to cook and are delicious!

Italian stir fry: I wrote a blog on this a couple of months ago however it’s worth mentioning. I basically call anything with zucchini and tomatoes my Italian stirfry 🙂 Depending on what I have available, I add things such as peppers, mushrooms, and diced eggplant to that mix. This is a quick and tasty addition to your dinner table.

I hope this has been helpful. I will continue to post new recipes as they come to me. This diet isn’t easy and it may eliminate many of your favorite foods. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate flavor. Spice things up and make them look pretty and you won’t even miss some of that other stuff 🙂

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

My Whole30 Breakfast Plan

Breakfast has been one of the bigger struggles for me. I’m used to having oatmeal or a yogurt everyday…and both of these are no-no’s on the Whole30 diet. I’m also used to having coffee creamer or some flavor in my coffee…which is also not allowed. So I’ve had to adapt. Since beginning this diet, I’ve been eating eggs most days. I’m used to only eating egg whites but I’ve had to incorporate the yolk as well to make it more filling. I also have learned that you must incorporate some sort of meat or vegetable into your breakfast or else you will be starving all day.

The best part about these recipes is that they all take 15 minutes or less to prep and cook. I make all of my food the night before so I can grab it and go to work. They can all be easily microwaved and all taste just as great the next morning. All of the recipes seen here serve one, as I cook for myself. However, I can certainly assist you with expanding whichever recipe to feed more.  Feel free to ask if you have any questions or comments. Bon Appetit 🙂

 

Scrambled Egg with Sweet Potato Hash

1-large egg

1-small sweet potato

Black pepper, to taste

Pinch of salt

  • Begin by grating the sweet potato. Toss shredded potato with black pepper. Take a paper towel and drizzle some olive oil on it; rub oil onto a small pan.
  • Add shredded potato to pan and place on medium heat. Cook for approximately 5 minutes then flip. Continue this until cooked through.
  • Crack the egg in a bowl, add salt and pepper (I also had a pinch of parsley) as well as a drop of water. Poke the yolk and scramble egg with a fork. Set aside.
  • Remove potato from pan and add egg mixture. Let it set for a bit then flip eggs in pan. Cook for a total of 3 minutes. Lay egg over potato and enjoy 🙂

 

Egg in Avocado

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1-egg

½ avocado

Black pepper, to taste

Pinch of salt

Lemon or lime juice (to drizzle over avocado)

  • Begin by preheating an oven to 400 degrees.
  • Slice a medium avocado in half. Using the half without the pit, drizzle lemon or lime juice on top. This will help prevent browning. If using a large egg, scoop a little extra avocado out of the center.
  • Place avocado in a baking dish, such as a ramekin. Crack egg into avocado hole. Add salt and pepper.
  • Bake for approximately 20 minutes (I don’t like runny eggs so I cook until the yolk is firm, however you can cook for less time if you like it that way).
  • Remove from oven. Serve alongside fruit or sweet potatoes and enjoy 🙂

 

Scrambled eggs with leftover turkey “chili”
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2-eggs (one whole + one egg white)

approximately 1 cup of leftover turkey chili (no sauce)

black pepper, to taste

pinch of salt

pinch of parsley

  • Begin by cracking an egg into a bowl. Take the second egg and separate the white from the yolk; add the whites to the egg in the bowl. Add a drop of water, salt, pepper, and parsley to the bowl; scramble together.
  • Take a paper towel, add a little olive oil and rub onto a small pan. Heat pan on medium and add egg mixture. Cook for a total of approximately 3 minutes, stirring around throughout to cook evenly. Set eggs aside to cool.
  • *When I made turkey chili, I made sure to take about half of the meat and peppers out of the pot before making the sauce for it. I then portioned that half out and used it for two days worth of breakfast.
  • Take your leftover “chili” out of the fridge. Once eggs are completely cool, add to “chili” and place back in fridge for your morning breakfast.
  • **If you are making this to eat right away, reheat meat prior to cooking eggs. Set aside, cook eggs, and pour eggs over the meat.

 

Strawberry Smoothie

*This shouldn’t happen everyday but once in a while it’s a nice addition to break up all of the savory foods.*

approx. 1-cup of frozen strawberries

1/3 cup of light coconut milk

1 tbsp flax seeds.

  • Place all ingredients in a blender. Add water if needed. Blend and enjoy along side a banana.

 

Coffee
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This is where I thought I would struggle most. I love my coffee creamer and sweet flavors from Dunkin and Starbucks. However, I found that canned coconut milk is creamier and slightly sweeter than what I was used to. I add about 1/3 cup of light coconut milk, which is the serving size…and while it sounds like a lot, trust me you will need it! I also add a pinch of cinnamon. Somehow that’s a fake-out to making your mouth think you’re having something sweet. Anyway, this has actually been working really well for me and I don’t really miss the extra sweetness in my cup of Joe. I even found you can alter your favorite Starbucks drink with it! I got a Grande Americano, black then I went home added the coconut milk and blended with some ice. Topped that with the pinch of cinnamon and boom—Coconut Blendicano 🙂

Water: I’m making a point to add this. I have a bad habit of forgetting to drink during the day. I don’t really know why or how it happens but I do. I’ve found that the more water I drink early in the day, the less hungry I am as the day goes on. I didn’t invent that theory but I figured out how true it was when I was starving during the first few days of this diet. So, it may not be the most exciting beverage and you may already know to do this…but be sure to get at least your 8 glasses in while doing this diet.

 

This diet, like everything else on this journey, is extremely hard. Remain focus and remember why you started. It may not get easier but you will feel so much stronger for doing it. After all, nothing worth having comes easy.

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

TheFight2Befit@gmail.com

Whole30 – Week One Recap

As of today, week one of this Whole30 experiment is officially in the books! I’m not going to lie…this diet is much harder than I thought it would be.

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I have been really strict with this and really following all of the rules. I thought coffee would be my biggest hurdle..seeing as I can only put coconut milk in it. However, that hasn’t been an issue. My biggest problem at first was with hunger. I’m used to eating small portions multiple times a day. Well I realized with this diet portion sizes go out the window. I can’t speak for everyone on that…but since I am unable eat some of the bigger, more filling foods I have to bulk things up a bit. I started using MyFitnessPal again to track everything and I was horrified to learn I was hovering around 700 calories…by the day’s end!

Enough was enough so I decided to play around with adding more protein (ground turkey and chicken) to my breakfast and lunch, respectively. I also bulked up my portion sizes and added more fruit. This seems to have really done the trick…however now I’ve caused another issue. My IBS is on fire! My guess is that it’s being caused by my significant increase of fiber. Either way, this experiment won’t work unless I nip that in the bud.

Here’s how my diet looked week one:

Breakfast: egg with avocado (most days, a couple of days were just egg whites), egg with sweet potato hash, strawberry smoothie* and banana, egg white omelette with asparagus and home fries, egg with sweet potato hash and ground turkey. Coffee with coconut milk and pinch of cinnamon.

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Lunch: tuna with avocado, chicken burger with avocado and string beans, string beans and sweet potato, string beans with eggplant, a chicken tender and a small salad, mixed veggies with small salad.

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Dinner: tilapia with veggies, chicken cutlets with warm kale salad, chicken burger with Brussels sprouts and string beans, chicken breast with brussel sprouts and string beans, turkey chili with warm kale salad, chicken with kale chips.

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Snacks: apple with cinnamon, grapes, cantaloupe, banana, almonds, larabar.

Despite severe sugar cravings and IBS flare-ups, I’ve actually managed to lose weight this week. While that wasn’t my goal…its always nice to see!

Week two I will be focusing on curing this IBS mess that I created. I will be limiting my intake of high fiber veggies and to continue these new eating pattern. Hopefully with all of this, I will feel better and have more energy to get back to my workout regimen.

I will be posting some of my recipes later this week. If you are interested in anything you see above or have a request, feel free to let me know 🙂

Until then…stay strong and stay in the fight!

-Gina
TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

A Healthy Alternative to a Dinnertime Classic

Tonight I was in a bit of a food rut. I purposely ran my stock low since I was supposed to begin the Whole 30 Diet this week. However, with an upcoming road trip to Philadelphia I decided to postpone the diet by one week. That, combined with the neverending snow (resulting in my inability to get to my favorite supermarket), has my stockpile running crazy low. I got tired of soup and carb-heavy dishes so I walked up to my local supermarket with a mission to find a protein. Since they are a neighborhood store they tend to be overpriced but I figured at the very least I could always just get a rotisserie chicken and use leftovers for lunch and whatnot. Boy was I surprised at what I found. Turkey cutlets…for a good price! Turkey cutlets are RARELY inexpensive so I tend to not buy them as often as I would like but I definitely lucked out tonight. I got a pack, which was about a pound, for only $2.99! I usually grill my cutlets but tonight I wanted them breaded so I came up with a healthier alternative to a fried classic. Instead of drowning the cutlets in oil, I only drizzled enough to barely coat the pan. I did have to drizzle the pan twice, since the cutlets had to be cooked in batches however, it was still a very small amount and significantly less than what you would normally use for cutlets. I also cut down some calories by only using an egg white rather than the whole egg. The result was a lighter, very tasty dinner. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my latest culinary creation….Enjoy! 🙂

Turkey Cutlets

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  • One pack of turkey cutlets
  • 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg white
  • ground sage
  • black pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • paprika
  • olive oil

-Lightly whisk one egg white in a bowl. On a separate plate, mix together all dry ingredients. Set both aside.

-Drizzle olive oil in a grill pan and set heat to medium high.

-While pan heats, begin dredging the cutlets in egg wash and breadcrumbs. Once coated, place the cutlets in the grill pan. Cook for approximately 5-7 minutes on each side.

Serve alongside your favorite veggies or with a salad. I served mine with a side of roasted sweet potatoes and string beans. Super simple, super fast, and best of all…healthy! Bon Appetit everyone 🙂

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Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com