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Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

I get asked a lot of questions as a food blogger. Some are about food. Some are about blogging. Some are more personal. But one of the most common questions I get asked is, "How do you stay so skinny when you cook so much food?!"

First, it’s hard. Really.

Work, being a mom, a wife, a blogger. AND trying to stay in shape is a lot of work.

A lot.

Here are some of the rules that I use to a balance food blog and skinny jeans:

1. I don’t eat fast food. It is a really rare occasion when I do, and never, ever, ever for dinner. More of a road trip occasion, or an I’m running late so I’m going to grab the one sandwich under 400 calories at Quiznos occasion. And no chips, and an unsweetened iced tea.

2. I always eat breakfast. Once in a while I have fatty things, like that french toast I still can’t stop thinking about. But 5 out of 7 days, its 2 slices of reduced calorie whole wheat toast (or whole wheat english muffin) with 1/2 tbs peanut butter each. For breakfast, you want the trifecta: low cal, high protein, good carbs.

3. I read ALL the labels of everything I put in my mouth. And just assume that you will have more than the serving size. For instance: most cereal puts a "serving size" of 3/4 a cup. Really? That’s less than my cup of coffee. You will probably have more like 2 cups. So that cereal that you think is only 175 calories. It’s probably more like 430. Thats like eating a burger. But at least the burger is worth it. Bottom line, if you are counting calories, measuring your food is a BIG part of that.

4. Snack well. I like to get the most food possible for the least amount of calories. It’s like a game. But I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, and even when I did, those 100 calorie packs aren’t really a calorie bargin. I want 2, and if I’m going to eat 200 calories, I’d rather have a snickers. This is one of my go to snacks: 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced, drizzled with lemon juice, sprinkled with salt and chili powder. It’s like 15 calories. I also do that to radish slices.  Crispy and salty. Like chips, but good for you.

5. Know your weaknesses. I know I like to cook big breakfast on the weekend, and eat more for dinner when I get to cook for other people. So on the weekdays, I eat a low dairy, high plant, low fat diet. Such as: Salads with low-cal dressing (or just balsamic vinegar) or even my favorite salsa instead of dressing, non-dairy soups, roasted veggies with skinless chicken.

6. Know your calories. I have the Lose It app on my phone (it’s free) and I try to stay under 1,600 calories a day during the week. Give up calories where you can, but don’t feel like you have "earned" an extra slice of pie. That just ruins all the work you did. The truth is, unless you are an Olympic swimmer who burns 14,000 calories a day, you will never reach your goal weight with exercise alone. Never. You have to get your eating in check. Can you indulge? Sure, once in a while, but make sure you make up for it but eating lots of plants. Don’t starve yourself, it makes your body store everything as fat. So you are hungry and still gaining. That sucks. Think of calories like you think of money. You only have so many (probably around 1,700 a day if you’re a girl) to spend before you go "into debt" (meaning: gain weight). Is that mediocre lunch really worth half of your calorie budget? Do you like that White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks 600X more than a regular cup of coffee? Because that’s how many more calories are in it (a venti White Chocolate Mocha, with whip has 620 calories, a plain cup of coffee has about 5 calories). Spend where it counts, cut when it doesn’t.

7. Find the WHY. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology. Did you know that? It’s true. The mental part is hard. Probably harder than being hungry, is being unmotivated. Write a list of WHY you want to stay (or get) in shape and post it everywhere, and keep updating it. And talk yourself down when you do want to grab for that bad stuff. Oh, and don’t keep in the house, it just makes it that much more difficult for yourself.

(pretty much my WHY for everything good in my life)

8. Replacement behaviors. This is an important part of therapizing yourself. Find your bad habits and replace them with good ones.  For me: 3pm candy jar. My coworkers all have them, and I do as well. Instead of wandering around chatting with the intention of snacking, I walked my office building for 15 minutes, stairs and all. Now, my candy jar is filled with candy I don’t like and I’m not even tempted to eat, just for those people who come to visit with the intention of snacking.

9. Just have one. If you really want to try a new recipe for cupcakes, pie, cookies, thats OK. Try and plan to make them when you can give the rest away. For me, most of the fun of cooking is having a recipe in my head and trying to figure out how to make it work in the kitchen. But most of my food, the sugary, high fat stuff, is given away. Take it to the office, or to a friends house, or let your husband take it to his office. Find a charity, like a women’s shelter, that might want it. Or throw it out. It sucks to waste food, but is it really doing any good taunting you from the fridge? Or, you can make a half or a quarter of the original recipe using an online site like Half Recipe.

10. Move a lot. Even though exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as we would like, it’s still important to move. For me, it’s spin class. Because it’s the most amount of calories I can burn in the least amount of time. If I really push myself, do everything that spin guy is yelling at me to do, I can burn nearly 700 calories in an hour. Thats a lot. Do that 3 times a week and thats 30 lbs a year. Find something that you will actually do, and do it. A lot. Spoil yourself with dance class, then treat yourself to shrimp cocktail (fairly low cal treat).

11. Water is essential. Get a water bottle and carry it around like a security blanket. First, it flushes out your body. Second, the human thirst reflex is so weak, it is often mistaken for hunger. Drink a lot of water and you will eat less and glow more.

Now onto the recipe. This makes 2 large entree sized portions, at about 330 calories each, or 4 side salad portions at about 165. If you want a little more, you can add 3oz grilled skinless chicken.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

1 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 cup cooked quinoa

1 tsp fresh sage, minced

1 1/2 cups fresh kale, chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1 large roasted red bell pepper, chopped

2 tbs shallots, minced

2 tbs balsamic vinegar

2 tsp raw honey (sub agave for vegan)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Boil the sweet potatoes in a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water until fork tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon, allow to drain. I did a guest post of Eating Rules about the proper way to cook quinoa, if you are interested.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, sweet potatoes, sage, kale, cranberries, and red pepper. In a small bowl, add the shallots, balsamic, honey, salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Drizzle over the quinoa salad, tossing to coat.

Legal Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionsinst. The ideas presented here are just what works for me.

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Julia November 30, 2011 um 2:09 pm

Love it!!!! VERY similar to the way I eat, VERY!!!!! Except today. I probably ate 1700 calories of pita chips alone… Oy vey. People ask me all the time how I stay skinny too, hence the name of my blog, haha. But it’s basically through the same ways you mentioned, and I exercise, DAILY! Which allows me to occasionally splurge and eat AN ENTIRE COSTCO SIZE BAG of pita chips. No seriously, OY VEY!! I might explode. And your little Claire, she’s DARLING!!!


Jackie November 30, 2011 um 2:12 pm

Haha! We all have those days 🙂 Which is why I am no allowed to keep Jalapeno Kettle Chips in my house. I could eat an entire bag in about 3 minutes, yikes! Great…now I want some…


Katie November 30, 2011 um 3:06 pm

Those are all fantastic tips! I have the Lose It app on my phone too, I love it.


Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. November 30, 2011 um 6:26 pm

First of all, I love this salad! I’m a big fan of quinoa! And I also really enjoyed reading all of your tips. It is often hard to balance food blogging with staying on track. Especially with baking. Like right now, I just made cookies. Ugh. I didn’t know you had a master’s in psych! What area do you work in? I have my master’s as well and am working on my Ph.D. now (in Developmental).


Jackie December 1, 2011 um 6:04 pm

You are?! Wow, not sure if I’ll ever go that Ph.D. route. Mine is in Applied Community Psych, which most people know better as Community Program Development. Basically, it’s how to make community based programs that actually work.


Lindsey@Lindselicious November 30, 2011 um 9:07 pm

I love this post! So much good info and its so nice to know everyone struggles and has to do stuff like that to look and feel great while food blogging. Definately bookmarking this to read again.


Jackie December 1, 2011 um 6:04 pm

And people who tell you they don’t struggle with it are just dirty liars! It’s just part of life 🙂


chinmayie @ love food eat December 1, 2011 um 6:01 am

Great Post Jackie! I think it’s very important for food bloggers to talk more about nutrition and health and balanced diet. Most of the time people assume that we eat a lot because we cook a lot! (it’s true sometime though) lol…
I totally agree with you. I am not much of a calorie counter myself but my motto is very simple, stay away from sugar, oil and other fats as much as possible. Eat fruits, veggies (helps that I am a vegetarian)and lots of whole grains. Indulge VERY occasionally to keep your soul happy 😉


Jackie December 1, 2011 um 6:05 pm

Those are great rules. I would be much better off if I stayed away from sugar a little bit more!


Joanne December 1, 2011 um 9:17 am

I LOVE these tips! I live by a lot of them but one thing I always struggle with is nighttime snacking. definite weakness. For me it’s all about stopping myself before I start…I can never just have one!

Also, I try to eat super healthy during the week so that if I have a piece of cake on the weekend, it’s not a big deal.

LOVE the salad! Totally wish I was eating it for lunch!


Stephanie December 1, 2011 um 12:12 pm

I struggle with this myself. I made a post ( back in May about my struggle with this. It is hard to do so much cooking and experimenting. If I only had a house full of teenaged boys, my problems would be solved – LOL! I love the post.


Jackie December 1, 2011 um 6:06 pm

I know! Such a strange problem to have in this world, too MUCH food. Everyone should be so lucky 🙂


Betsy December 2, 2011 um 8:03 am

Love this! We are literally on the exact same page. I get asked all the time how I stay so skinny, and the answer is everything you wrote above. Chips are my weakness and I NEVER buy them. If they’re in my house, they’re definitely going to go into my mouth, so I just keep them away. I also try to take advantage of burning any extra calories possible during the day. Walk to the mailbox 4 blocks over instead of the one on the corner, always take the stairs, etc. Something is ALWAYS better than nothing!


carly {carlyklock} December 2, 2011 um 2:31 pm

bake ’em and take ’em!

that’s my mantra. thanks for sharing your tips.


VickeyD December 8, 2011 um 12:30 pm

Found out the other day that the body uses more calories to eat a stick of celery than the celery contains – Hence negative calories!. . Just wondering (because I’m mighty bored right now) if there are any more foods with this odd feature?.


Sarah December 8, 2011 um 4:32 pm

This is such a brilliant post – I love your healthy and balanced attitude towards food and exercise! I’m new to your blog and I can tell I’m going to love it already! That salad looks divine, as well. Also your daughter is the cutest!


Edgardo Nikas December 14, 2011 um 6:58 pm

I’m still learning from you, but I’m improving myself. I definitely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your website.Keep the information coming. I liked it


instrukcja ppoż January 3, 2012 um 9:13 pm

It’s very good post.


Julia October 8, 2012 um 4:51 pm

Hi Jackie,

Just made a version of this as a side dish for dinner with my parents tonight. It was delicious. Also, I used your instructions to cook the quinoa and it made a HUGE difference. You could really taste each individual grain. Thanks for the recipe idea and the GREAT quinoa cooking technique.



Jackie October 8, 2012 um 7:22 pm

Oh good! I agree, making quinoa the RIGHT way turns it into a completely different food. I didn’t get why people liked it until I started making it that way and now I eat it all the time, nearly 5 times a week.


Melissa November 24, 2012 um 1:37 pm

How many servings does this make?


Jackie November 24, 2012 um 1:44 pm

about two large entree sized and 4 small side dish size


Amy October 24, 2014 um 9:14 am

I know this is an older post, but I just found it today while looking for ideas on how to spruce up a very similar recipe I tried last night that I felt needed something extra. Everything in this post could have come out of my mouth. It’s exactly what I do and what I suggest to others trying to get into shape. I use a different app on my phone, but I make it a point to log everything I eat. I recently started a food blog and since then have become more aware of other food blogs and have noticed that many of the bloggers (in their pics at least) seem to be in shape. I would think it would be the other way around! Thanks for sharing!


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