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Tomorrow is one of the most festive holidays–Cinco de Mayo!  In this country, we typically celebrate by going out to a Mexican restaurant and eating our favorite dish (and enjoying margaritas!).  This year, try having your Cinco de Mayo celebration at home with some healthy vegetarian options.  One of the things I love about Mexican food is how easy it is to add fresh veggies to many of the recipes and substitute items like beans, rice and mushrooms for meat.  The blend of spices that are traditionally used in Mexican cooking make this cuisine one that’s always flavorful so that you won’t miss the meat.

 

Let’s start with these Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas with Avocado and Pepper Jack.  They make a great appetizer when cut into bite-sized portions or an entrée for kids. I also like that this recipe uses whole wheat tortillas.

spinach mushroom avocado quesadilla
Photo courtesy of Five Heart Home

 

A favorite recipe of mine are these Black Bean Spinach Enchiladas.  Let me begin by saying that my son doesn’t particularly care for spinach and he really likes the spinach in this recipe–a big win!  The other great bonus is the enchilada sauce recipe.  I actually use this version on all my other enchiladas, it’s so good (and easy).  I was surprised at how filling these enchiladas were considering they are vegetarian, but I can only eat one, so be prepared to have some leftovers!

black bean spinach enchiladas
Photo courtesy of The Garden Grazer

 

Visit any Chipotle and you’ll notice that Mexican “bowls” have become very popular.  Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowls are a great idea–packing loads of traditional ingredients like bell pepper, corn, salsa, black beans, green onions and spices into a nutritious spaghetti squash.

spaghetti squash burrito bowl
Photo courtesy of Making Thyme for Health

 

For dessert, skip the high calorie sopapillas or churros and opt for this simple, sweet treat of sliced fruit.  It’s inspired by a popular Mexican street food snack and really easy to prepare.  Slice mango, pineapple, papaya and cantaloupe and place into glasses or bowls.  Next, squeeze a bit of lime juice on the sliced fruit and top with a dusting of chili powder.  The end result is a mix of spicy-sweet flavor.

fruit cups
Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

 

Happy Cinco de Mayo and I’ll return next week with some tips on eating Mediterranean style.

 

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I love appetizers!  In fact, many times I will make appetizers the main meal, especially when dining out.  I also love a casual get-together where instead of a formal dinner party, drinks and fun appetizers are served.  I know some folks tend to shy away from appetizers because some of them are diet disasters–loaded with fat and calories.  However, there are plenty of healthy alternatives available if you do your research.  Plus, some of those naughtier options can be reworked to create a lighter version.

 

These Sweet Potato Avocado Bites are perfect for a party as they are delicious and eye catching.  An extra bonus is they’re 100 percent vegan.  Spices like cumin, smoked paprika and fresh lime juice give these appetizers a great flavor.

sweet potato avocado bites
Photo courtesy of Blissful Basil

 

Tomato Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic Reduction is one of my favorite appetizers and with the summer season approaching, tomatoes will be in their peak season.  This is really such a simple dish to prepare–you just need fresh, large tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and fresh mozzarella cheese.  Another terrific thing is you can assemble this dish ahead of time, refrigerate and then pour the balsamic dressing on it just before serving.

Tomato-Mozzarella-Salad-with-Balsamic-Reduction-6
Photo courtesy of Little Broken

 

Zucchini Pizza Bites are like pizza without the guilt!  Plus, you can easily pop them into your mouth in one bite.  Again, a great appetizer for the summer months as zucchini comes into season (and you’re looking for something to do with all the zucchini your garden is producing).  An extra bonus on this appetizer is that your kids will most likely go for it as well.

ZucchiniPizzaBites-4
Photo courtesy of The Comfort of Cooking

 

Another terrific vegan option are these Cucumber Avocado Rolls.  The spread is really zesty, made with avocado, garlic, lime juice, basil leaves and salt/pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with a little paprika for extra flavor and color.

cucumber-avocado-rolls-easy-appetizer-e1402664887624
Photo courtesy of It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken

 

Mushrooms are one of the most popular appetizers, but many of the options include high calorie stuffing mixes.  Instead, try this recipe for Garlic Mushroom Kabobs and you’ll keep all the flavor, but lose the calories and fat.  Plus, they are really easy to prepare.  These mushrooms are quickly marinated in a blend of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and herbs and then roasted to bring out their natural flavor.  You can also grill them if you prefer.

garlic mushroom kabobs
Photo courtesy of Damn Delicious

 

Give these appetizers a go for your next party or even as a starter for dinner one night.  I’m sure they’ll be a hit.  Next week I’ll cover some meatless options for a festive Cinco de Mayo.

 

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Now that the weather is getting warmer (finally!), we can start spending more time outdoors.  One way to enjoy all beautiful spring blooms is by spending an afternoon in your local park.  Many of the parks in my area have walking trails, basketball courts and playgrounds so you can really make a day of your visit.  In order to really enjoy yourself, pack a picnic lunch so you won’t go hungry and also won’t be tempted to visit that pesky ice cream trunk that’s always so conveniently parked nearby.  Plus, it’s a great family activity!

 

The key to packing a great picnic lunch is making sure it’s portable and trying to stay away from things that can go bad quickly.  I try to avoid mayo-based salads since, if left out too long, they tend to go bad faster than other foods.  Of course I’m always looking to keep it healthy, while making sure it’s delicious.  I’ve done some research and found fun recipes that are perfect for taking along on a picnic lunch.  Let’s start with these Veggie Bars.  They remind me of a nutritious version of those decadent 7-layer dessert bars, but these are actually good for you.  You start with crescent rolls as the base and bake them.  Blend mayonnaise (I use light) and cream cheese (again, I use reduced fat) with some ranch dressing mix.  Spread on top of the crescent rolls and top with your favorite chopped veggies like red bell pepper, tomato, broccoli flowerets, grated carrot, olives, mushrooms, etc.  Cut these into bite-sized bars and they make awesome appetizers or snacks.  Since this recipe does contain mayonnaise and cream cheese, you’ll want to pack it in a cooler and keep it on ice rather than leave it out.

Veggie Bars
Photo courtesy of Mandy’s Recipe Box

 

A salad is always a great addition to any picnic.  However, you really don’t want to lug along a bowl of salad and then bother with mixing it and dishing it out, do you?  Instead, try assembling the salads ahead of time in plastic cups with lids as shown below.  Select your favorite salad ingredients like healthy greens, tomatoes, celery, mushrooms, onion, radishes, cucumber, bell pepper and add some protein like lean ham or turkey, low-fat cheese or some seeds/nuts.  Just leave a little room at the top and you can bring along the dressing to add right before serving.

cup salad
Photo courtesy of 24-7 Low Carb Diner Blog

 

I like the idea of serving wraps as a sandwich choice because they are easy to handle–they won’t fall apart and are great for transporting.  This Cucumber Ranch Turkey Wrap is a nice change from the usual ham and cheese choice.  Again, because it uses some cream cheese in the recipe, be sure to keep it on ice in your cooler until serving to prevent it from spoiling.

Cucumber ranch turkey wrap
Photo courtesy of Taste and Tell

 

What would a picnic be without something sweet?  Here is a spectacular idea for fresh fruit–cut up some fresh fruit (right now you can find berries are starting to come into season!) and pack them into a airtight container on ice.  Also pack some waffle cones and then when it’s time for dessert, spoon the fresh fruit into the waffle cones.  Sweet, nutritious and a hit all the way around!

fruit in cones
Photo courtesy of FrostMeBlog

 

I hope you try some of these fun ideas on your next picnic or at your next cookout.  I’ll be back next week with a few ideas for guilt-free appetizers.

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