January 11, 2013

Apple cranberry chicken

With pregnancy, I've tried to deal with cravings the same way I did when I was actively losing weight: substitution. The good thing is that I mostly crave oranges, which we keep in the house at nearly all times. I also crave cottage cheese, for which there is no good substitute, and I try to only have it once a month or so.

My main substitution for other foods tends to be Lean Cuisine meals. I've heard a million arguments both for and against their place in weight loss, and all I can say is that this is something that worked well for me. At 345 pounds, I had absolutely no idea what a portion size was, and this helped educate me (there was a lot of seriously?! THAT is 300 calories?). It also helped me avoid binges for a very long time - I had pizza every Friday for lunch and lost 150 pounds in a year. The difference was, I ate a Lean Cuisine pizza and not an entire large delivery pizza.

One big argument against these meals is the sodium content. I never really had an issue with that - given a daily sodium goal of 1500-2000 mg, since I had eliminated all restaurant food, a Lean Cuisine for lunch wasn't terrible. And, comparatively, they aren't as bad as folks may think: my favorite meal is chicken in peanut sauce, and it has 550 mg of sodium. That's about the same as six chicken McNuggets (without any sauces or dips), and way more satisfying.

Still, it's something to be mindful of, and so last week I sought to recreate one favorite at home - apple cranberry chicken. It's pieces of chicken breast with apples, cranberries, carrots, green beans, and orzo pasta. I searched online to find a similar sounding recipe, then tweaked it a bit to make it more like the one that came in the box. I think it turned out pretty well:

The recipe, with my changes:

3 carrots
1/4 pound green beans, fresh or frozen
2 medium granny smith apples
1/2 cup cranberries
2 chicken breasts (or 5 small chicken thighs)
1 cup cinnamon applesauce
black pepper, to taste (I did about 2 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut chicken into smaller pieces (the Lean Cuisine does chunks but strips worked just as well) and set aside. Dice apples and set aside. Finely chop green beans and carrots (or, for the carrots, use a vegetable peeler to peel them into strips). Sauté until medium-soft. Stir in black pepper, apple sauce, cranberries, diced apple, chicken, then pour mixture into an oven proof baking dish. Bake for 25- 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

This is one of Matt's favorite Lean Cuisines, and he loved it. The original recipe didn't include green beans, but I added some because the Lean Cuisine does, and extra veggies never hurt; feel free to add more or fewer based on your own preference! However, I left out the orzo pasta that the frozen version uses, just to save calories and avoid unnecessary processed carbs. The recipe also suggested adding balsamic vinegar, so that could give it an interesting twist. It recommended adding salt to taste, which I skipped because lower sodium was the goal. I used chicken thighs instead of breasts because the midwives recommended that and red meat to get more iron - I don't like thighs or most forms of beef, but I've been trying really hard to obey their dietary orders.

What about you? Do you ever try to recreate recipes in order to suit your own dietary needs? Which ones?