Amy Culver - The Queen Of Lean

General information:

Breakfast and lunch are usually fairly simple meals.  I think that this is because for most of us we only have to be concerned with feeding ourselves, and we can also usually feel comfortable eating the same thing every day, or most days.  For dinner the expectation is much higher.  Most people get their variety here and we often have to feed other people as well.

Here are some ideas for recipes and meal plans.  Of course, any of these things can be made for lunch or even breakfast as well!!

Staple List:  There are a few things that come into play fairly regularly in my meal plans.  For some of these I buy only specific brands for a particular reason and I give my explanations in these cases.

La Tortilla Factory Wraps:  These are made with extra virgin olive oil.  They come in Rosemary, Tomato Basil, Wheat and White.  All of them are around 100 calories per tortilla and are full of fiber and protein.  Whenever I refer to “wraps” this is the brand that I use.  I buy whatever flavor is available or that I’m in the mood for that week. 

Mission Brand White Corn Tortillas:  I use these for Enchiladas or to make baked tortilla chips.

Minute Brown Rice:  I like to use this because it is easy to measure before cooking.  This way you can plan how much you want to make (based on calories).  In my house there is usually only my husband and myself.  However, if you have a larger family, you may want to buy regular rice and a rice cooker.  Then you can measure your serving post-cooking.

Boxed Mashed Potatoes:   Personally, I like Potato Buds.  I use these for the same reason as the Minute Rice.  Again, if you have a larger family, fresh potatoes might be a better choice.

Fat Free Refried Beans:  I like Rosarita brand the best.  One note of advice: because they are fat free you need to add a little liquid to keep them from scorching, but they do have lots of flavor. 

Jar Tomatoes:  Del Monte makes “canned” tomatoes that are sold in small jars.  Take a look at the label and compare them with other canned tomatoes.  There is quite a difference in the calories.  If you look at the ingredient list, you will see that the difference is that the tomatoes in the can contain high fructose corn syrup, the ones in the jar do not. 

Chicken Breasts:  I buy them on sale and freeze them.  Did you know that you can pop frozen meat in a bag or container with a marinade and let it marinate while it defrosts?  You can and it works just great!  Quarter an onion and add it when you bake the chicken for some extra flavor.

A note about fish:  Okay, I have to admit, I don’t like fish.  I wish I did though and I’m trying really hard to develop a taste for it.  I’ve had some success, but I still only eat it when I’m dining out.  I really don’t feel comfortable cooking it myself.  Given all that, any time you see me using chicken, feel free to substitute fish as a lean protein.

Ground Turkey:  I use Jenny-O EXTRA LEAN ground turkey.  It’s a lot lower in calories than even the lean and it tastes just fine in all the things I use it for.

Mexican Seasoning:  A pre-mix of several spices typically used in Mexican Food.

Seasoning Mix:  I make this myself using one package each of Taco Seasoning, Chili Seasoning and Lipton Onion Soup Mix.  I store it in a Tupperware and keep it on hand.  You will see it used in several of my recipes. 

Penzeys Spices:  A client referred me to this company.  If they have a store near you, definitely go and check it out.  All of their spices are displayed in jars so you can smell them.  If there isn't a store near you, go online and request a catalog - you won't be disappointed. 

Non-Stick Cooking Spray:  My preference is Pam because I personally find it to have the least “taste”.  But any brand you like is fine.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil:  I don’t really care much for the flavor of olive oil, but that’s me.  If you like it, great, if you don’t, you might want to try one of the options that are labeled “light” in flavor.  The taste of these is not as strong as the non-“light” varieties.

Low-Fat vs. Non-Fat:  In most cases, I have found that there is very little calorie difference and a LOT of taste difference between low- and non-fat.  This includes cottage cheese, sour cream and cheese.  I do use fat free milk, though.

Measuring and Weighing:  I measure and weigh EVERYTHING.  When I say that each day I have a chicken salad with 4oz of chicken, that means I weigh it.  If I say ¼ cup of cheese, that means I measure it.  It’s not possible to know how many calories you are consuming if you don’t measure and weigh. 

Do yourself a favor – invest in a good, digital food scale and keep it out on the counter.  Yes, it’s going to cost about $50, but take a minute and think about all the money that you’ve put toward weight loss in the past – weight loss plans from which you gained it all back, fat burning pills that just made you jumpy, all the special foods and/or shakes, etc.  Trust me – invest in the scale.  You’ll have it around a lot longer than all of your other weight loss investments.


Oven-Baked “Fried” Chicken

Coating - you have several options here:

  • You can grind up a high fiber cereal like fiber one – this is a bit lower in calories and will add significantly to your meal’s fiber count.  Grind it up in a coffee grinder or blender.

  • You can use cornflake crumbs - I like to just buy them as crumbs.  You will find them in the baking aisle in the store.  They are more finely “ground” than you will be able to get them.

  • You can use breadcrumbs – I would not suggest using them exclusively as they are high in calories (unless you like to make your own) – again, hard to get them ground up fine enough.

  • You can mix up any of the above in your own concoction to balance fiber, flavor, etc.

Once you decide on the method, add seasoning as you would for any fried chicken recipe.  Seasoned Salt, Garlic Salt, Seasoned Pepper and Poultry Seasoning make a nice flavor.  Coat chicken with either egg whites or an egg-substitute product.  You can also use buttermilk.  Shake the coated chicken in the dry coating mixture.  Place on a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray, or olive oil spray.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until done.  The amount of cooking time will depend on the size of the pieces that you use.  I suggest sticking with skinless white meat.  Small boneless skinless breast strips will take only 25-30 minutes, whole breasts (boneless or bone-in) will take about an hour.

Pizza on Wraps

Fold wrap in half, spread with Pizza Sauce of your choice, top with ¼ cup of 2% cheese, bake in the oven at 450 degrees until cheese is melted.

Huevos Rancheros

This is one of my favorites.  On the bottom, start with a wrap.  You can toast it ahead of time in the oven or not, either way.  Then I use seasoned refried beans.  I season them with one packet of chili mix per can of beans and add some jar tomatoes.  Use a slotted spoon to add the tomatoes and then add juice to your desired consistency.  Now add some scrambled eggs.  You can use Egg Beaters, or what I like to do is to use six egg whites with one yolk for every two people.  You can put a little grated cheese on top if you want and then pop the whole thing in the oven to melt the cheese.  Serve it with a little sour cream, some taco sauce and/or salsa.

Marinated Chicken Breasts, Rice and Veggie

Lawry’s has some excellent very low-cal 30 minute marinades.  Whenever you bake or grill some chicken ALWAYS make enough for at least two meals and use the leftovers for one of my meals below that are made with leftover chicken.  For this meal, pop the chicken in the oven, add some minute brown rice and a canned or frozen veggie.

Mexi Rice

For every two servings of Minute Brown Rice, put the rice in a pan and add one jar of tomatoes and season with Mexican Seasoning (or any other spices you like such as chili powder or Tabasco).

Chicken Enchiladas w/Leftover Chicken

Get a package of enchilada mix and follow the directions on the package using leftover chicken and corn tortillas.  This is great when served with Mexi Rice

Turkey Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes and Veggie

I make a simple meatloaf with Jenny-O extra lean ground turkey, one 15 ½ or 16 oz can of tomato sauce and one egg (or the equivalent amount of Egg Beaters). I season it with my seasoning mix.  Put one package of the turkey in a bowl, add ½ the can of tomato sauce, the egg and seasoning to taste.  Mix this all together and put into a baking dish.  Put the rest of the tomato sauce on top.  If you want, you can also slice an onion and put that on top too.  Bake in the oven for an hour at 350 degrees or until done.  Add some mashed potatoes - either boxed or fresh - and a canned or frozen veggie.

Boca Burgers, Cottage Cheese or Soup

I use two burgers, and serve them either on whole wheat or Wonder light buns.  I often eat them with no bun at all.  I “sauté” up red bell peppers and onions in non-stick spray and top the plain burgers with them and some A1 Sauce.  I find cottage cheese or a low-calorie soup to be an excellent side dish.

Grilled Chicken and Veggies

I have a nice, non-stick grill pan that I bought at Target.  I grill up a bunch of my favorite veggies like onions, bell peppers, yellow squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, whatever.  I spray the pan with Pam and add 1 tbsp of olive oil.  I generally make two meals worth of veggies and use them again in a couple of days – say on Boca Burgers or something.  Next, I grill up a bunch of chicken – lots more than I need.  I season it with seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce.  I freeze the leftovers in 3oz portions to use later on a chicken salad or any of the recipes you see where I use “leftover” chicken.  If you want to heat it, just put it in a baking dish, wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Leftover Grilled Chicken with Pasta

Yummy – just cook up some whole wheat pasta of your choice, add a simple marinara and top with warmed-up grilled chicken.

Stir-fry w/Leftover Chicken, Snap peas, Broccoli, Onions, Water Chestnuts and Baby Corn

Here is another use for that leftover chicken.  Buy a package of stir-fry seasoning (in the Oriental foods section in your local store).  Don’t add the sugar or whatever it says.  Just dump it over the stir fry and add some teriyaki sauce until you get the consistency you want.  Again, I use a non-stick pan with Pam and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  I use frozen broccoli and snap peas.  The water chestnuts and baby corn come in a can.  You can heat the chicken in the stir-fry pan or in the oven and then top the veggies with it.

Quesadillas, Mexi Rice and Refried Beans

Spray a non-stick pan with Pam, and cook a small amount of onion and pepper until it’s soft.  Get a giant La Tortilla Factory wrap (see above) and cover 1/2 of it with the cooked veggies and 1/4 cup of shredded cheese of your choice. Fold the wrap in half and place in the pan, flipping until cheese is melted and wrap is browned on both sides.  Serve it with Mexi Rice (recipe above) and/or fat-free refried beans.

Turkey Sloppy Joes and Three Bean Salad

Here’s an easy one!  Get a can of Manwich or, if you prefer, packaged Sloppy Joe mix.  Brown the turkey and add the sauce.  Serve it over whole wheat bread or Wonder light buns.  I like to serve this with cold canned Three Bean Salad.  You get a salad and a veggie all in one.

Hot Dogs and French Fries

I use Hebrew National 97% fat-free Beef Franks.  They are high in protein and low in fat and calories.  We have them on Nature's Own 100% whole wheat hot dog buns.  I serve them with baked sweet potato french fries – a nice treat, but be sure to weigh the fries so that you don’t over do it.

Beans and Wieners

Ok, here’s the thing about baked beans:  they are really good for you; lots of fiber and protein.  But if you are planning on weighing-in somewhere the next day, I would plan this meal for another night.  For some reason, I always weigh heavy the day after this dinner.  The calories aren’t excessive, it’s not true weight.  They just sit heavy in your stomach for a day or so, but this is also a good thing because they do fill you up.  To make this meal, I dump a can of beans in a casserole, top with my veggie hot dogs and bake for ½ an hour at 350 degrees. 

Chili, Chips and Onions

My chili is a two-step process.  First I cook up a package of ground turkey, using my own stock seasoning mix (see above) that I keep on hand.  I use as much as I want for this meal and freeze the rest in meal-sized portions.  I use 1/3 of a package for two people.  I take the cooked turkey and add a package of Chili Seasoning, one 8 oz can of tomato sauce and one jar of diced tomatoes.  Heat it up and set it to simmer.  Then I take corn tortillas and cut them into fourths.  Spray a non-stick cookie sheet with Pam.  Lay the chips on the sheet and spray the chips.  Broil the chips in the oven until brown.  BE CAREFUL – they burn quickly.  You really need to stay focused on them.  They take a couple of minutes or so to start browning and only a few more seconds to get crispy.  Flip the chips over and brown the other side.  The second side will brown in a fraction of the time of the first, so check them every few seconds.  Serve the chili with the chips and some diced onion.  I like to put yellow mustard on mine.

Pancakes and Chicken Sausage

Trader Joe’s has wonderful chicken breakfast sausages that are about 43 calories each (130 calories for 3).  They are low-fat (for sausage) and really tasty.  For pancakes, take some time and look at the labels on the box mixes.  Pick a mix that only requires adding water, that way whatever the calorie count stated on the box, that’s all you have to worry about.  Krusteaz has some good lower-calorie mixes that are quite tasty.  Make the pancake mix a little thinner and you get more pancakes out of it.  Rather than syrup, I like to have mine with fat-free cream cheese and berries.  I buy a package of frozen berries and heat them up in the microwave.  A little trick that I learned from a friend to allow everyone to eat at the same time is to put a platter in the oven at 250 degrees.  As you cook the pancakes, place them in the oven on the platter and they stay warm until all of the pancakes have been cooked and are ready to eat.

Chicken Sausage, Sauerkraut and Veggie

The Trader Joe’s chicken sausages (mentioned in the previous recipe) go really great with sauerkraut.  Serve them with some spicy mustard; add a veggie and maybe a potato and you are all set. 

Potato Medley w/Leftover Chicken

You know, no matter how I cook it, I hardly ever cook chicken for just one night.  It just makes life so much simpler to have cooked chicken readily available whenever possible.  This is another one of my favorite items from Trader Joe’s.  They have a potato/veggie mix in the frozen foods section called “Potato Medley”.  All you have to do is to heat it up in a pan.  I add teriyaki sauce to mine and then top with leftover chicken that I’ve heated up.

Chicken Bowl w/Leftover Chicken, Rice and Grilled Veggies

Start with a bowl of brown rice.  Add your choice of vegetables; grilled, steamed, whatever you like.  Top it all with leftover chicken.  Add some soy or teriyaki sauce if you want. 

Eggs and Potatoes

For the potatoes, I like to use frozen Potatoes O’Brien.  Spray a pan with Pam and add a tbsp of olive oil.  For the eggs I use Egg Beaters or if I use regular eggs (my preference) I use one yolk for every three eggs.  You can add some ham steak to this or put it all in a La Tortilla Factory wrap and top with salsa and a small amount of light sour cream.

English Muffin Pizzas

This is an old-time family favorite.  I like to use either whole wheat or light English muffins.  Slice the muffins and toast them.  Put some pizza sauce on them and then top with shredded 2% cheese.  You can add some veggies if you’d like.  Put them on a cookie sheet and heat at 450 degrees until the cheese melts.  I like to serve these with cold Three Bean Salad or some cut-up apples and bananas.

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Ground Turkey

Brown and season ground turkey (one package of turkey will make four servings).  I use my seasoning mix (see above).  Mix in 1/2 cup (per person) of cooked brown rice.  Wash bell peppers, slice tops off and remove the “guts”.  Stuff the peppers with the turkey rice/mix.  For every two peppers, use one 15oz can of tomato sauce.  Pour the sauce over the pepper and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until peppers are softened.

Chicken Taco Salad

For this meal I use taco shell bowl forms.  You can get them at kitchen stores.  Follow the directions on the forms and bake one of the La Tortilla Factory wraps to create an edible bowl.  Of course, you can also serve it in a regular bowl.  Start with a can of refried beans (one can makes two servings).  Add a jar of tomatoes and a package of taco seasoning.  Put the bean mixture in the bottom of the bowl.  Add shredded lettuce, some chopped onion and top with chicken.

Chicken Burritos

Yet another idea for leftover chicken!!  Like I said – ALWAYS cook more than you need.  These “leftover” dishes are very quick when the chicken is already cooked.  Again using the La Tortilla Factory Wraps (no, they don’t pay me; I just find them useful and versatile).  Use the chicken as the basic part of the burrito; add lettuce, onions, peppers, whatever you like.  Top with some salsa and sour cream.

Pork Chops, Sauerkraut and Veggie

I cook pork chops in one of two ways.  One method is to “fry” them in a non-stick pan with Pam and 1 tbsp of olive oil, brown and season with seasoned salt, seasoned pepper and garlic salt.  Another method is to brush them with bbq sauce and bake them at 350 degrees for an hour.  I fry them if they are thin, but for thick ones, I find that baking cooks them more evenly and I don’t have to stand over them.  Either way, they are really good with sauerkraut; it adds a lot of flavor with very few additional calories.  Add a salad or your favorite veggie.

Tandoori Chicken, Rice and Veggie

This is a simple and easy way to make really tasty chicken.  Don’t forget to make extra for leftovers!  Make a marinade of:  1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, 1 tbsp curry, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp garlic.  Marinate for at least one hour.  I usually let it sit overnight.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Serve it with rice and a veggie. 

Pasta Primavera w/Chicken

Cut up onions, peppers and peeled yellow squash into chunky pieces.  Sautee them in a non-stick pan with Pam and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  While they are cooking, boil some whole wheat pasta.  When the veggies are soft, add some tomato wedges and cook until the tomatoes get soft.  Pour the veggie mix over the pasta and top with chicken.

Spaghetti Squash Primavera w/Chicken

This is an alternative to the above recipe using spaghetti squash instead of pasta.  You can buy the squash year round in any grocery store.  There are several ways to cook it; in the oven, in the microwave, or by boiling.  I prefer boiling.  I pierce the squash four to six times through with a fork and put it whole in a large pot to boil.  When it gets soft (about 45 minutes to an hour) set it aside to cool.  When cooled, slice the squash in half.  Scoop out the seeds and throw them away.  Take a fork and pull the flesh away from the rind.  It will “string” away from the squash and look just like spaghetti.  You can cook it up and string it ahead of time and then just re-heat it in the microwave when you are ready to use it.  You can use it in any dish you would normally use spaghetti in.

Chicken Marinade with BBQ Sauce and Orange Juice

This is one of my favorite marinades and when using leftover chicken it makes the most delicious chicken enchiladas.  To make the marinade, empty one bottle of your favorite bbq sauce into a plastic container.  Add either 1/4 cup orange juice or the juice of one orange.  Stir them together until they are well-mixed.  Place the chicken in the marinade and marinate for at least one hour.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.  I serve it with mashed potatoes and salad.