Professional chef and holistic health coach Carla Contreras—who's honed her craft everywhere from the iconic Daniel Boulud’s DBGB restaurant to competing on Food Network's Chopped—says it's not so easy to eat healthy when you're constantly surrounded by decadent dishes.
"On the other hand, you know how to make good-for-you foods taste really good," she says. "Knowing that dressing up steamed veggies, grilled protein, or soups with flavor boosters like fresh citrus and herbs can change your cooking—and your life. Besides, life is too short to eat plain steamed vegetables." And that's what makes her one of our 2018 Wellness Winners.
"Dressing up veggies with flavor boosters like fresh citrus and herbs can change your cooking—and your life."
After having two babies in two years (and gaining 35 pounds), an urge to find balance brought Contreras to the new Weight Watchers Freestyle program, which features more than 200 zero Points® foods (like shrimp, chicken breast, beans, eggs, and veggies) that you can freely snack on—total foodie win.
To get a closer look at some of her genius cooking hacks, Contreras took us behind the scenes (AKA into her kitchen) to see exactly what a health-minded chef eats in a day.
Scroll down to see her day in food—plus get one of her go-to recipes for an easy-to-make, nutritious meal.
Contreras sets a personal goal to eat greens three times a day, so adding them into her breakfast is a must. Her go-to's are skillet eggs with sautéed kale or swiss chard, or a green smoothie with fresh ginger, spinach, kale, banana, cinnamon, hemp or chia seeds, and almond milk for on-the-go mornings.
"My newest wellness practice is meditating with my children at breakfast," she says. "It’s hilarious to watch an 18-month-old take a deep breath in and out."
For lunch, her greens come in salad form with a base of romaine, arugula, frisée, or baby kale topped with roasted chicken breast, eggs, or salmon (all of which are zero Points®).
And that's all made easier with meal prep. She roasts a whole chicken once a week and keeps seared wild salmon burgers in the freezer to have on hand for emergency meals.
"Meal prep doesn’t have to take hours—unless you want it to," she says. "Cutting some veggies, roasting a chicken, and maybe making a soup can make healthy eating doable and it can all be done in an hour or so, if you are efficient."
Dinner is also veggie-heavy, featuring hearty choices like roasted butternut squash, broccoli, and sweet potatoes (which are crowd pleasers with her kids). She piles her plate high with veggies, and has a small portion of her kids' main dish (like butternut squash mac and "cheese" or rice with kimchi) on the side.
"The more veggies you eat, the better you feel about your choices, plus, your body needs those nutrients," she says. "When you don’t know what to eat and reach for junk, your body ends up searching for those missing nutrients, which can make you feel depleted and sluggish."
After tucking her kids into bed, she brews a lavender chamomile latte, and on the occasion she's craving a treat she'll have one of her homemade coco cups (made with coconut butter, cacao nibs, nuts, and seeds).
"The beauty of Freestyle is that nothing is off limits, but the focus is on eating real, whole foods," Contreras says. "Once you consistently follow this approach, your body actually starts craving foods like lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits, which means food that makes you feel amazing and gives you energy."
Easy Poached Eggs Recipe
"Making perfect poached eggs, with their Instagram-worthy runny, jammy egg yolks, is as easy as cracking an egg into a muffin tin," Contreras says. "I often make a big green salad and top it with a poached egg, smoked salmon, and a mix-and-match medley of raw and fermented veggies, which are all zero Points®. The egg yolk gives the salad a rich, creamy feel, so I don’t need tons of olive oil for dressing."
And her secret ingredient? "Two teaspoons of everything bagel spice ties this all together, and don’t forget a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. The difference between a good salad and a great one is salt!"
1 or more large eggs
2 Tbsp of filtered water per egg
¼ tsp white vinegar per egg, optional
Sea salt and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper, to taste
1-2 tsp of homemade everything bagel spice, optional
Optional (zero-Points®) add-ons
2-3 cups of arugula, baby kale, or chopped romaine
sliced watermelon radishes
squeeze of lemon juice
fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro leaves
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Add two tablespoons of filtered water and ¼ teaspoon of white vinegar to each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin. The vinegar will help you achieve a more set egg, so use less if you like yours more runny.
2. Crack your eggs one at a time into a small bowl, and then pour each egg into a muffin cup. This will prevent adding broken yolk into the pan, which is fine but not ideal (save the eggs with the broken yolks for scrambled eggs). Wipe any excess egg that you may have splashed on the top of the muffin tin.
3. Bake the eggs until runny but set, 10-12 minutes. If you like the yolk more cooked, you can bake them for longer.
4. Remove muffin tin or ramekins from the oven and carefully pour out the excess hot water into the sink. Using a small spoon, gently loosen the eggs from the tin or ramekin by running it along the outside edge of each egg, then gently lift it out.
5. Serve with your choice of fixings!
Photos: Courtesy of Carla Contreras
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