12/4/09

Baked Vegetarian Casserole

For many people free time is a thing of the past. If only there were 30 hours in the day, we could exercise at any time of the day and sleep wasn't necessary. Especially for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, who try to squeeze in a healthy 6-15 hours of training/exercise per week, meal planning is easier said than done.
I realize that a lot of my recipes on my blog involve a little prep. However, I try to keep my meals easy to prepare and yummy to eat. Because of my grocery budget, it is likely that my ingredient list for my recipes will be small. And, because I am a vegetarian, you will see a lot of the same foods which I often rely on to meet my protein needs.
I am at a point in my life where I have a bit of time to prepare meals. Lucky for me, it is also my passion and hopefully a future career. However, I understand that not everyone has the time to prepare meals every day of the week and one day, I'm sure I will miss days of an extra hour or two to dream up, and prepare, my yummy creations. However, I am sure I will never lose my enjoyment for cooking and will never give up my home-cooked dinner meals every night of the week.
You must understand that when you embark on a lifelong decision to live a healthier life (aka change eating habits and/or become more physically active), it takes slow transitions to find what works for you. Depending on the time of your life, you will likely change your eating routine to complement our lifestyle. Although there may be a few days per month that you just can't find the time to exercise or prepare meals, you will hopefully compensate by staying healthy on all of the other days during the year.
For some people, frozen meals are the only way to eat a "hot" meal. Since I attended the Denver ADA Weight Management Certification Course in Oct. I have changed my opinion about a lot of controversial topics, such as bariatric surgery, prescription weight loss medication, meal replacement bars and physical activity. Each one of those topics could be a separate blog post, but overall, I have become very open minded when it comes to how people eat and take care of themselves.
Think about it. Are you an athlete who struggles with a 10 lb weight loss? Now, think about the person who needs to lose 50 lbs, 100 lbs or even 200 lbs? With your "only" 30 mile bike rides on an easy "training" day and your 2 hour runs on the weekend, it would be wrong to assume that the obese individual, suffering from metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea and many other life-threatening conditions, should just get moving and eat healthier. If it was that easy we would all have a healthy body fat percentage and feel great on the inside and out. Although many athletes strive for a body composition that is unrealistic to maintain, with the hope to likewise improve performance, I think we should all keep an open-mind (or for many, judge a little less) when it comes to methods for weight loss. I have never been one to judge or assume because, in my profession, there is no reason to believe that a person is going to fail because of one or two not-so-good eating habits. Therefore, don't let others, or yourself, bring you down when you have a "bad" eating day. Although there is always tomorrow, there is also an hour from now.
So, maybe you are the person who seeks frozen meals as an alternative to fast food. While companies, such as Amy's Organic, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice provide convenient, portioned controlled meals, there are many frozen meals on the market that are not so friendly to your waist line.
For example:

Stouffer's White Meat Chicken Pot Pie

10 ounces - 1 serving
Calories: 660 calories
Total Fat: 37 grams
Saturated fat: 14 grams
Sodium: 1060mg
Carbs: 62g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 19g


Stouffer's Chicken Lasagna

7.8 ounces per serving - 5 servings
Calories - 400 calories
Fat - 13g fat
Sodium - 740 mg
Carbs - 54g
Protein - 16g

A problem with frozen dinners is that the servings may be deceiving when trying to serve 5 people after the meal is defrosted. On the other hand, because frozen dinners are very low in calories (often 350 calories and below), such as Amy's Brown Rice and Vegetables at 250 calories, you may be likely to overeat later in the evening because you are hungry. Although I do believe that you can feel satisfied with a 350-400 calorie meal (with the right foods) you may feel hungry because of the lack of nutrients in the frozen dinner to provide a substantial filling factor.

For people who want a hot-cooked meal but just don't have the time to chop and prep, how about a baked vegetarian casserole that can be prepared in about 5 minutes and ready in about 20-25 minutes (about the time it would take you to microwave a box of rice)?


Bake Vegetarian Casserole


Veggies - canned, fresh or frozen (if using canned, give a rinse before using)
(I used fresh jalepenos, canned chickpeas, fresh chives, fresh whole mushrooms (sliced), fresh roma tomatoes (sliced), canned black beans, frozen corn and fresh onions.
Veggie burger - my favorite is the Bruschetta Boca burger
1/4 cup cooked rice or pasta (I used long grain rice)
4 egg whites + 1 whole egg
1/8 cup skim milk
1/3 cup vegetarian stock (you could even use 1 can of vegetarian soup with vegetables if you'd like, instead of the vegetarian stock)
1/8 cup stuffing cubes or croutons
Spices - pepper, paprika, no salt garlic and herb (or your favorite no salt seasoning)
2-3 tbsp. shredded cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a non-stick loaf pan, sprayed lightly with non-stick spray, put all the veggies in the pan and mix. Add crumbled veggie burger (cook for about 1 minute in microwave to defrost).
3. Scramble eggs and milk. Add vegetarian stock and spices. Scramble again with fork.
4. Pour liquid mixture over veggies in loaf pan and press down veggies with a spatula.
5. Crush croutons or stuffing cubes either in baggy or between two plates.
6. Sprinkle croutons/stuffing over veggies.
7. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes or until top is golden brown.
8. Turn off oven. Place cheese evenly over crumbs and leave in oven until ready to eat (or until cheese is melted).

Serve with Asparagus:
While casserole is cooking, lightly coat asparagus with 2 tsp olive oil and lemon pepper seasoning. Cook for 5-8 minutes or until asparagus is soft.

*this meal was SO yummy. I can't wait to make a pizza version with marinara sauce on top.