Trying to eat healthier and become more active is a constant struggle for many people. I had personally struggled with both of these things for most of my life. About a year ago, I had become increasingly unhappy with how the food I was eating affected me coupled with a lack of energy and motivation to exercise. I had felt this way for several years, but never did anything about it. Finally, these issues became severe enough for me to seek the assistance of a professional, who suggested that I remove gluten and dairy from my diet to help improve my energy and alleviate my digestive problems. She also suggested that I limit the amount of grains I was eating, alcohol and processed food in general.
Although I had done similar diets in the past, I had never stuck with it for more than a month. Despite feeling infinitely better eating this way, I would always go back to my old habits of eating basically whatever I felt like, which could be a salad or might be French fries and ice cream. Hearing a doctor’s opinion helped to change my perspective, and for the first time it clicked for me that this was a lifestyle, that certain foods have a large negative impact on my health and that I could really not go on the way I had been.
I have now been completely gluten and dairy-free for the past 10 months and I have honestly never felt better. I have incorporated grains, like quinoa, brown rice, etc. back into my diet but I do try to limit them. When I share how I eat, people most often say that they couldn’t do it, could not live without cheese or bread. With a little bit of creativity in the kitchen though, I have been able to eat meals that I feel are delicious and give me the energy to do the things I want to do.
Here are two of my favorite gluten and dairy-free recipes. Give them a try and judge for yourself!
Chicken & Zoodles with Avocado Pesto
I love this for a weeknight dinner that I can then bring the leftovers for lunch for the next few days. You will not notice that there is no cheese in the pesto, I promise.
3 medium zucchini, sliced into noodles using a spiralizer (zoodles)
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken (from about 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and thinly sliced
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
1 medium avocado, pitted
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, divided
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Transfer zoodles to a medium bowl and set aside. Toss the chicken and sun-dried tomatoes in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the basil, parsley, avocado, sunflower seeds, garlic, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Process until combined. With the processor running, add just enough water to make a smooth but not runny sauce – no more than a few tablespoons.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the zoodles. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto sauce. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately. This salad can also be enjoyed cold if preferred.
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja
A great choice for the weekend or to serve to a large group. Leftovers can also be frozen and enjoyed later; the Latin American flavors are really delicious here. This dish is also great without the white rice or tortillas if you are trying to eliminate carbs completely. I serve it with a light green salad with homemade champagne vinaigrette dressing for a balanced meal.
Serves 4 to 6
1 2-pound flank steak, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup water
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
½ TSP dried oregano
½ TSP ground cumin
1 bay leaf
½ cup pitted green olives
2 TBSP capers, drained
3 TBSP coarsely chopped cilantro
Steamed white rice or corn warm tortillas (package should be labeled gluten-free), for serving
Season the flank steak with salt and pepper. In a slow cooker, combine the diced tomatoes and their juices with the water, bell peppers, onion, garlic, jalapeño, oregano, cumin and bay leaf. Add the flank steak, cover and cook on high for 5 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Stir the olives, capers and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro into the sauce.
Using 2 forks, shred the meat. Return the meat to the sauce to warm through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Spoon the meat and sauce into bowls, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cilantro and serve with steamed white rice or warm corn tortillas.