Photos Courtesy Devin Alexander
En español | Having maintained a 70-pound weight loss for decades, and having helped others transform their health on NBC's The Biggest Loser, I naturally think of food during this coronavirus pandemic. How are we, a society struggling with obesity, going to survive being stuck in our homes without gaining more weight?
The rush for canned this and frozen-appetizer that, coupled with the total clearing of the supply of white rice and pasta in most grocery stores nationwide, brings much cause for concern. Most canned goods are loaded with sodium, and white rice and pasta add little nutritive value. While you should have these nonperishables on hand (if you're able to have groceries delivered or still shop for them yourself), it's wise to eat as much fresh food as possible, to boost your immune system now and to stay healthy for the long term. If you're able to source a few fresh ingredients, here are simple recipes that my family and I are enjoying these days.
Updated Potato Chip–Crusted Chicken
It's easy to find ourselves wanting to eat for comfort during uncertain times. This chicken dish will satisfy that craving and keep you in fighting shape.
I first ran a version of the recipe in my book The Most Decadent Diet Ever!, and it was a huge hit. I've since updated it. The key parts are making sure you soak the chicken in buttermilk for at least six hours, to allow it to become nice and tender, and not overcooking it. When the chicken is no longer pink inside, it's done; go beyond that and you're just drying it out. Overcooking will also cause the breading to fall off or become soggy.
Please note that it's really easy to crush the potato chips if you put them into a resealable plastic bag and pound them with the ﬂat side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin. They need to be pretty ﬁnely crushed (like coarse breadcrumbs) so that you can coat the chicken breasts completely.
Makes 2 servings
- 2 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, visible fat removed
- 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
- Pinch of garlic powder
- 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) ﬁnely crushed baked potato chips
- Olive oil spray
1. Place the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper on a ﬂat work surface. Using the ﬂat side of a meat mallet, pound them to an even 1/2-inch thickness.
2. Transfer the chicken breasts to a resealable plastic bag that is slightly larger than the breasts. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, seal the bag, and then turn the bag to coat the meat. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight, rotating once or twice if possible. Note: It is important to soak the chicken to make it tender.
3. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a small baking sheet with nonstick foil.
4. Mix the onion powder, paprika, black pepper, salt, cayenne and garlic powder in a small bowl. Add the chips to a medium shallow bowl.
5. Remove one chicken breast from the buttermilk and let any excess drip off. Sprinkle both sides of the breast evenly with half of the seasoning mixture. Then transfer the meat to the bowl of crushed potato chips and cover it on all sides with the topping. Place the coated breast on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining breast and seasoning. Discard any leftover buttermilk. Press any remaining chips onto the tops of the breasts.
6. Lightly mist the top of both pieces with olive oil spray. Bake them for 6 minutes, then carefully ﬂip the breasts with a spatula, making sure not to remove the coating. Lightly mist the tops with spray and bake for 4 to 7 minutes, until the coating is crispy and the chicken is no longer pink inside. Enjoy immediately.
Nutritional information (1 breast serving): 220 calories; 4.5g fat, 1.4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat; 65mg cholesterol; 290mg sodium; 420mg potassium; 18g carbohydrate; 2g fiber; 2g sugar; 26g protein; 245mg phosphorous
German Chocolate Overnight Oats
I love this recipe when things are stressful; it's so easy and can be eaten for breakfast or for dessert. For a quick breakfast, follow the recipe as written below. To make it an indulgent treat, add 1/4 cup of a stevia brown sugar blend (such as Truvia Brown Sugar Blend, or add a few teaspoons of brown sugar to regular stevia). The addition of the brown sugar makes it truly taste like a German-chocolate treat.
Note that including the 1/4 cup of brown sugar blend (1 tablespoon per serving) makes it taste like a yummy dessert but also adds 5 grams of sugar per serving. You can make a few servings with the sugar blend and keep them in the refrigerator for a few days to use when a chocolate craving hits. For breakfast, I'd recommend sticking with a zero-calorie natural sweetener.
Makes 4 (about 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon pecan) servings
- 2 cups old fashioned oats
- 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or other unsweetened vanilla nondairy milk)
- 2 tablespoons zero-calorie natural sweetener (such as stevia or monkfruit)
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup unsweetened, reduced-fat shredded coconut (use any unsweetened coconut if you don't have reduced-fat on hand)
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Combine the oats, milk, sweetener, cocoa powder and coconut in a resealable plastic container. Refrigerate the oatmeal mixture in the covered container or divide it among 4 (8-ounce) mason jars and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (or up to 2 days).
2. Remove the oatmeal from the refrigerator and top with the pecans just before enjoying (divide them evenly among the mason jars if using).
Nutritional information: 280 calories; 12g fat, 2.6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat; 0mg cholesterol; 95mg sodium; 350mg potassium; 37g carbohydrate; 8g fiber; 1g sugar; 9g protein; 285mg phosphorus
Sriracha-Mayo Roasted Turkey Breast
This recipe is a perfect stuck-at-home entrée because you can make it for dinner and then use the leftovers as lean deli meat — with a fraction of the sodium of pretty much any deli meat you'd find in a grocery store.
Sriracha has become super trendy in recent years. You may see it here and assume that this dish will be too spicy for you. But just give this one a try. There are only 2 teaspoons of sriracha on a 2-pound turkey breast, and it's mixed with mayo. I promise that this turkey has just a hint of a kick. The mayo helps keep the breast nice and tender, and the sriracha provides a mild and delicious flavor.
Makes 6 (about 4-ounce) servings
- Olive oil spray
- 1 (2 1/4-pound) bone-in turkey breast half
- 2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mist a 9-by-9-inch casserole or baking dish with oilve oil spray.
2. Place the turkey breast on a cutting board and remove all of the skin and any visible fat. Using a fork, poke the meat 25 times evenly over each side as deeply as the tines of the fork.
3. In a small bowl, stir the mayonnaise and sriracha until well combined. Place the breast, bone side up, on the cutting board and, using a pastry brush (or your fingers if you don't have one), rub about 1/3 of the mayonnaise mixture evenly over the meat (don't rub it over the bone).
4. Flip the breast over and place it in the prepared baking dish. Brush the remaining mayonnaise mixture evenly over the top and sides. Without touching the turkey, carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the pan (this will help keep it moist).
5. Cook the meat until a thermometer inserted into it reads 175°F and it is no longer pink inside, about 35 to 50 minutes.
6. Remove the turkey from the oven and loosely tent it with foil for about 10 minutes, to allow the juices to redistribute (the breast will continue cooking to reach 180°F while standing). Transfer it to a cutting board.
7. Slice the turkey into thin slices, cutting on a diagonal and against the grain (if you plan on using leftovers as deli meat, slice only the portion you are about to eat, then refrigerate the remainder and slice it as thinly as possible before eating).
Nutritional information: 170 calories; 3.5g fat, 0.8g saturated fat, 0g trans fat; 90mg cholesterol; 180mg sodium; 270mg potassium; 1g carbohydrate; 0g fiber; 1g sugar; 33g protein; 250mg phosphorous
Mediterranean Hot-and-Cold Brown Rice Salad
This recipe is perfect for times when you don't want to run to the grocery store frequently. To create a super satisfying dish, cook a pot of brown rice, add whatever leftover lean protein and fresh veggies you have, and then pick an ethnic style. In this case, I combined hot brown rice with leftover lean grilled chicken, kale, red bell peppers and onions, then enhanced it with common ingredients you'd find in a Greek dish. If you don't have those on hand, swap in the Mexican equivalent (such as black olives for the kalamatas, part-skim queso fresco for the feta, cilantro for the basil). Voilà! You have a lean, delicious dinner the whole family will enjoy.
- 3/4 cup cooked short-grain brown rice (reheated if necessary)
- 4 ounces lean grilled chicken, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (can be hot or leftover)
- 1 cup slivered kale leaves
- 1/3 cup (1-inch matchsticks) red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped whole green onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped kalamata olives
- 1 tablespoon reduced-fat feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons light balsamic vinaigrette
- 3 large basil leaves, slivered
Add the rice, hot or cold chicken, kale, bell pepper, onion, olives, half the feta and the basil to a small mixing bowl. Drizzle the dressing over top and toss the salad. Mound the mixture in a rimmed salad bowl. Top it with the remaining feta. Enjoy immediately.
Nutritional information: 468 calories; 20g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat; 53mg cholesterol; 568mg sodium; 48g carbohydrate; 6g fiber; 7g sugar; 30g protein
Happy-Tummy Greens Juice
We've heard it over and over again: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And, yes, to keep your immunity strong, it's important to consume the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables. Yet such a small percentage of we Americans actually do so. I love this green juice because it's refreshing and gives you real veggies and fruit. Plus, ginger is known to both reduce inflammation and support cardiovascular health.
Makes 1 (about 12-ounce) serving
- 1 medium (about 5 to 6 ounce) Granny Smith apple, cored and seeded
- 1/3 medium cucumber (about 3 ounces), ends trimmed
- 3/4-inch cube (about 1/3 ounce) fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 cups packed fresh spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves (OK to leave on some stems)
- 6 ice cubes
1. Cut the apple, cucumber and ginger into quarters. Add them to the jar or pitcher of a high-powered blender, along with the spinach, parsley and ice cubes. Blend on high for a few seconds until the ingredients start to combine.
2. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the blender and continue to blend until the mixture is completely smooth.
3. Transfer the juice to a 14- or 16-ounce glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice, if desired. Enjoy immediately.
Nutritional information: 110 calories; 1g fat, 0.2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat; 0mg cholesterol; 80mg sodium; 870mg potassium; 25g carbohydrate; 6g fiber; 14g sugar; 4g protein; 90mg phosphorus