Expect the Best Pregnancy

Creamy Polenta, Shrimp, and Vegetable Bowls

Creamy polenta, shrimp and vegetable bowls

Creamy Polenta, Shrimp, and Vegetable Bowls are an easy way to include seafood in your eating plan.

I love quick, delicious dinners, don’t you? These creamy polenta, shrimp, and vegetable bowls are easy enough to make on busy weeknights, and elegant enough for guests. That’s my kind of meal!

I first wrote this post in 2016. I recently changed the recipe and I wanted to make you aware of the improvements. I’ve also added tips for customizing these bowls depending on what ingredients you have on hand. I love polenta and shrimp, but if you want to use chicken or another type of seafood, that works, too!

Eat Seafood Twice a Week

Experts recommend eating at least two seafood meals weekly, and as many as three meals ( a total of 8-12 ounces) in a week’s time if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Seafood is rich in protein, healthy omega-3 fats that support heart and brain health, and other nutrients, including choline, which is often in short supply in the American diet.

Shrimp is one of Americans’ favorite types of seafood: we eat an average of nearly 4.5 pounds a year per person. (I’m pretty sure I am a top consumer!) Most of the shrimp we eat is imported, but shrimp is also harvested and sold in the U.S. As fish go, shrimp is considered one of the safest.

Frozen shrimp and other frozen seafood are useful to have on hand to make meal prep easier, but you can also use the fresh variety, too.  You can even make these creamy polenta, shrimp, and vegetable bowls with frozen shrimp and you don’t have to thaw it before cooking!

How to Make Whole Grain Creamy Polenta

Creamy polenta is a mixture of cornmeal, water, butter, and cheese. (I add some milk to mine to make it creamier.)  I prefer whole grain cornmeal for its taste and health benefits.

For this dish, you may want to use a medium or coarse-ground cornmeal; packages of cornmeal labeled as polenta are usually coarser grinds. You can substitute grits for cornmeal but you won’t get the same results or the same nutrition profile.

Customize your Creamy Polenta, Shrimp and Vegetable Bowl

I am not into fussy, precise recipes. In fact, I love recipes that people can change around to suit their needs and what’s in their pantry at the moment. Here are some tips for making do in the kitchen:

  • No spinach? Kale works well in this recipe, too. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure the bowls would be delicious with other greens, such as collard and beet, and with broccoli.
  • Canned, drained diced tomatoes can be swapped for the red bell pepper.
  • If you don’t have cornmeal in the house, or you don’t want to use it, swap pasta, farro, or rice. Farro is a whole grain, and whole wheat pasta and brown rice are, too. Any of the three will help you meet the suggested daily intake of at least three servings of whole grains a day.
  • Cooked chicken can take the place of shrimp. Polenta pairs well with chicken, meat, and seafood.

I‘m a big believer in using what you have on hand. Read this for how to make ingredient swaps that work. 


Creamy Polenta, Shrimp, and Vegetable Bowls

A simple, delicious meal in a bowl!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: highprotein, polentabowl, shrimpbowl
Servings: 4
Calories: 378kcal

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large red bell peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 5 cups baby spinach, stems removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup whole grain cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup 1% low fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 16 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • fresh chopped chives for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  • Place water in medium saucepan over high heat. Cover.
  • Add oil to large skillet. Heat oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, red bell pepper, and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  • Add the spinach and saute for another 3 minutes or until the spinach has just wilted. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and stir well. Remove from the heat.
  • When the water has boiled, slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the salt. Turn the heat to low and simmer the cornmeal, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the milk, cheese, and butter and stir until the butter is melted and the polenta is creamy. Cover and set aside.
  • Return the skillet to the medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp is pink on both sides, about 5 minutes.
  • To serve, divide the polenta evenly between four bowls and top with the shrimp-vegetable mixture. Garnish with fresh chives, if desired.

Notes

Per serving: 378 calories, 16 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 210 milligrams cholesterol, 618 milligrams sodium, 30 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 31 grams protein, 653 milligrams potassium, 208 milligrams calcium 

pin for Creamy Polenta, Shrimp, and Vegetable Bowls

 

Beef and Mushroom Burgers

Beef and mushroom burger topped with tomato on plate with salad.

Use mushrooms to go further with meat.

You’ve probably seen the news about a possible shortage of meat, and higher meat prices, but even if you can’t buy all the beef you’d like, you can still enjoy juicy, delicious meat burgers.  Beef and mushroom burgers are better for you and are a great way to stretch the meat you have on hand.

Why mushrooms are good for you, your food budget, and the planet 

Mushrooms are tan or white, and are often disregarded for their lack of deep color, which is taken to mean that they’re not worth much nutritionally. Wrong!

Mushrooms supply B vitamins, selenium and other protective compounds, and when producers expose them to ultraviolet rays, mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D found in the produce aisle.

Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about mushrooms’ sustainability: it’s possible to grow up to one million pounds of mushrooms on a single acre of land, and producing a pound of mushrooms requires less than two gallons of water. That’s good news for the environment.

How to use less meat and not miss it 

Mushrooms have a meaty texture and a savory taste called umami which pairs well with meat.  I also use mushrooms to replace meat in marinara sauce and pizza, too.


Beef and Mushroom Stew forgoes some meat for mushrooms.


Substituting mushrooms for some meat, no matter what type, increases vegetable intake, which is always a good idea. It addition, combining mushrooms and meat naturally decreases the calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in a typical beef burger.

 

mushrooms on a cutting board

Mushrooms provide a savory taste and meaty texture.

How to make beef and mushroom burgers

In my beef and mushroom burger recipe, each burger uses just two ounces of lean beef.  I serve the burgers on whole wheat hamburger buns, along with a large green salad topped with olive oil and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for extra crunch and nutrition.  I like to garnish my burger with a horseradish/mayonnaise mixture, sliced tomato, and lettuce.

finely chopped mushrooms

Processing cooked mushrooms makes for a consistency that’s closer to ground beef. 

 

Beef and Mushroom Burgers

Delicious, juicy beef burgers that use less meat and more vegetables.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: beefburgers, healthierburgers, mushrooms, umami
Servings: 4
Author: ewardrd

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces baby bella mushrooms or white button mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces 93% lean ground beef
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup seaonsed breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 2-ounce whole wheat buns, toasted or grilled, if desired

Instructions

  • Chop mushrooms into 1/4-inch pieces.
  • Add oil to medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan, place in medium mixing bowl, and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Place mushrooms in a food processor or blender and pulse until they take on a paste-like consistency, about 10-15 seconds.
  • Add the mushrooms back to the mixing bowl and add beef, black pepper, eggs, breadcrumbs, basil, and Worcestershire sauce. Combine thoroughly.  Form mixture into 4 patties of equal size.
  • Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
  • Cook burgers for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until they reach an internal temperature of 160˚F.
  • To serve, place patties on buns with desired toppings

Notes

Per serving (burger and bun): 
360 calories; 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat); 141 milligrams cholesterol; 771 milligrams sodium; 40 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 27 grams protein

beef and mushroom burger on a plate with salad pinterest

Simple, Healthy Thai Peanut Chicken

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a new family dinner recipe, and by that I mean an easy and delicious dish that everyone likes and is quick enough to make for a weeknight meal. This Simple, Healthy Thai Peanut Chicken recipe fits the bill, and there’s a bonus: You only have to clean one pan!

Thai peanut chicken breast on a bed of white rice served with cooked broccoli.

How to Cook Simple, Healthy Thai Peanut Chicken

This recipe originally appeared in my book, Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy, and it was called Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken. I made it a slow cooker recipe so that it could be ready at the end of a busy day. When I was pregnant and the mother of young children, knowing that dinner was already in the works was such a relief!

I thought it might be helpful to also include directions for stovetop cooking for when you want to make a quick meal with very little clean up, so I’ve included both cooking methods for the recipe in this post.

Also, feel free to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken breast meat. Thighs are less expensive than chicken breast, and some people prefer their flavor.

I think peanuts make everything taste better, but If someone in your family has a peanut allergy, it’s good to know that the recipe also works with sunflower seed butter.

The level of spiciness is up to you.  The sauce gets its warmth from the ginger and the salsa, but you can also add cayenne pepper to take it up a notch.  The original recipe doesn’t call for cayenne, as it can aggravate the heartburn that pregnant women often experience.

Simple, Healthy Thai Peanut Chicken

This easy recipe can be ready in less than 30 minutes or cooked in a slow cooker.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chicken, easydinnerrecipe, peanutbutter
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup tomato salsa
  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger, and more if desired
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 4 lime wedges (optional)

Instructions

  • Slice chicken breasts into ½-inch thick pieces and season with the black pepper. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  
  • Add chicken and cook for about 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned, turning each piece once.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the salsa, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper, if using, with a whisk. Add the salsa mixture to the skillet. 
  • Cover, and cook for another 10 minutes on medium heat or until chicken is fully cooked. 
  • Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the skillet, and place on a serving platter. Spoon the sauce from pan over the chicken. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro, and lime wedges, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving (without optional ingredients):

  • Calories: 274, Total fat: 15 grams, Saturated fat: 3 grams, Cholesterol: 93 milligrams, Sodium: 619 milligrams, Carbohydrate: 8 grams, Dietary fiber: 2 grams, Protein: 28 grams, Calcium: 34 milligrams, Iron: 2 milligrams

Notes

Slow cooker instructions: 
Season both sides of chicken with black pepper. Place the chicken in the slow cooker.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the salsa, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper, if using, with a whisk. Add the salsa mixture to the slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the slow cooker and place on a serving platter. Spoon the sauce from the slow cooker over the chicken. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro, and lime wedges, if desired.

What to Serve with Simple, Healthy Thai Peanut Chicken

I serve this meal with a variety of side dishes.  Any type of rice, or rice or soba noodles, pairs well with the chicken.  Green beans, broccoli, and asparagus are also good choices to complement the flavors in the recipe, but use whatever vegetables you have on hand.

You can swap cooked, riced cauliflower for the rice or noodles for a lower carbohydrate meal.

If you choose to make this chicken dish spicier, fruit, such as honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon will help balance the heat, and they are also a good source of fluid.

 

Thai peanut chicken, white rice, and broccoli on plate.

Tips for Better Snacks

Chocolate bar, computer

Snacking can be good for you if you make the right choices.

 

Adults consume 400 to 900 daily calories as snacks daily, and half of all children take in about 600 calories between meals, which is enough to qualify as a meal! Use these tips for better snacks and upgrade mini meals for more energy, better focus, and good nutrition.


It’s OK to snack. The problem is that snacks are often rich in calories, fat, and sodium, and low in nutrients.


What is a healthy snack?

It’s natural to get hungry between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, especially for young children and teens. Kids need to energy grow, and adults who skimp on meals, or skip them, need snacks, too.

Think of snacks as balanced mini-meals, not meal-wreckers. For example, when you combine cheese, whole grain crackers, and fruit, it’s OK to eat lightly at your next meal.

There’s no limit on snacks, but they should be balanced. And, you should account for snack calories as part of daily calorie needs so that you don’t eat too much. It’s easy to confuse snacks and treats.

Bowl of popcorn.

Popcorn is a whole grain and makes a healthy snack.


When kids snack at home, have them eat at the table.  Eating at a table encourages mindfulness about food.


Make protein a part of better snacks for kids and adults 

Cookies, chips, and candy temporarily curb hunger, but they aren’t particularly filling in the long run, in part because they lack protein.

Protein promotes eating satisfaction, and may contribute to easier weight control.

Protein-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy, lean meat, poultry, and seafood, also provide vitamins and minerals, including choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 for brain health. And, soy, beans, nuts, and seeds supply fiber, which we need every day.

Piece of whole grain bread spread with peanut butter.

Peanut butter and whole wheat bread is a nutrient-rich, filling snack idea.

Carbohydrates are part of healthy snacks for kids and adults

Carbohydrates are found in foods such as milk, fruit, vegetables, beans, bread, cereals, pasta, rice, and other grains, and in cookies, cakes, and other sweet foods and beverages.  

Nutritious, satisfying snacks combine protein and carbohydrates, preferably the complex kind. 

Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Popcorn is a whole grain. 

Raw red and yellow peppers, carrots, large leek, onion, and garlic

Fresh raw vegetables are full of fluid and help you feel fuller for longer.

 

Complex carbohydrates, including starch and fiber, take longer to digest. In addition, complex carbohydrates are generally found in foods with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant compounds that support health.  

Tips for better snacks to make at home

  • Double Berry Smoothie: 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen wild blueberries, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries or strawberries, 2 tablespoons milk, sweetener of your choice. Combine in food processor or blender and drink immediately.
Double Berry Smoothie is made with wild blueberries and dairy milk and yogurt.

Double Berry Smoothie

 

  • Small bowl of whole grain cereal and milk or fortified soy beverage. (Most plant milks don’t supply as much protein as dairy or soy.)

 

  • 1 serving plain one-minute oats prepared in the microwave with 8 ounces milk and topped with 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

 

  • 4 cups low-fat microwave popcorn tossed with 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese; 8 ounces milk

 

  • 1 cup canned lentil soup topped with ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

 

  • ½ cup cottage cheese and 6 whole grain crackers

 

No Bake Oatmeal Raisin Cookies make a delicious vegan, gluten-free and no-added sugar snack.

No Bake Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are ready in 5 minutes, are vegan, gluten-free, and contain no added sugar!

 


Try these delicious smoothie recipes


 

Tips for better snacks to take on the road for hiking and walking

  • Trail mix: whole grain cereal, raisins, peanuts

 

  • ½ tuna fish or turkey sandwich on whole grain bread and a handful of cherry tomatoes

 

  • 1-2 reduced-fat mozzarella cheese sticks and 6 woven wheat whole grain crackers

 

  • 1-2 hard-cooked eggs and a 1-ounce whole grain roll

 

  • Carton of Greek yogurt and fruit

 

  • ¾ cup dry roasted edamame

    Whole almonds are a delicious, satisfying snack.

    Almonds, and other nuts, pair well with cereal and fruit for a quick snack at home or on the run.

  • 10 small whole grain pretzels and hummus

 

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter and 10 baby carrots

Tips for better snacks for kids and adults

Pasta Salad with Chickpeas and Cottage Cheese

 

Pasta salad with cottage cheese and chickpeas.

Whole wheat pasta and chickpeas provide fiber and other nutrients that support health.

 

Macaroni salad is a staple at summertime picnics and BBQs across America. While this perennial favorite gets gobbled up by the ton every year, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the typical recipe. Pasta salad with chickpeas and cottage cheese is a better, more satisfying twist on this American favorite.

 


Read: Dozens of recipes for pasta salad with all kinds of interesting ingredients.


Meat and vegetables on skewers on a charcoal grill.

Pasta salad can be served as a side dish with meat or fish.

Pasta Salad is Good for You

Pasta salad with chickpeas and cottage cheese isn’t only for the warmer months; it can be a healthy option year-round, too. Here’s why.

Cooked and cooled pasta (any kind) is a source of resistant starch, a type of fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut that help prevent colon cancer and support overall health. Legumes, such as chickpeas, and cooked and cooled potatoes, also provide resistant starch. Foods rich in fiber can help prevent, and manage, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Meatless Vegetarian Pasta Salad Recipe

I like a hearty pasta salad that’s more than a side dish.  Here’s how I build a better pasta salad to enjoy as a meatless meal or as a side dish.

Whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat pasta is a great way to include whole grains. I like the slightly nutty taste of whole wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber than the regular kind. I favor shapes such as rotini because the ridges hold onto the dressing.

Overhead shot of uncooked whole wheat pasta.

Whole wheat pasta is brimming with manganese, a mineral you need for strong bones and cartilage, and for many other bodily functions.


Read: Why carbohydrates are good for you


Legumes. Chickpeas, a type of legume, and pasta are a satisfying combo that you can really sink your teeth into.  Legumes provide protein, and fiber, which helps to better regulate your energy levels, and they supply iron, folate, and phytonutrients, which are plant compounds that protect cells from damage.

Cottage cheese. I like cheese in my pasta salad for the taste, as well as the protein and calcium. Using low fat cottage cheese in place of some of the feta cheese cuts down on calories and saturated fat.

Bowl of cottage cheese with a wooden spoon.

Low fat cottage cheese has 11 times less saturated fat than feta cheese, but is lower in calcium.

 

Plate of Pasta Salad with Cottage Cheese and Chickpeas.

Pasta Salad with Cottage Cheese and Chickpeas can be a side dish or a main meal.

 

Pasta Salad with Chickpeas and Cottage Cheese

Delicious pasta salad that's good for you, too!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chickpeas, cottagecheese, cottagecheeserecipe, macaronisalad, pastasalad
Servings: 12

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta, uncooked
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Cook pasta until just about done (al dente). Drain well and place pasta in a large serving bowl.
  • Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley, onion, cottage cheese, and feta cheese. Combine well.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add the dressing to the pasta mixture and toss until well combined. Serve chilled.

Notes

Per serving: 253 calories; 10 grams protein; 40 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams fiber; 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat); 6 milligrams cholesterol; 284 milligrams sodium; 80 milligrams calcium.

Pasta salad with chickpeas and cottage cheese

 

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