Dark Chocolate Grahams: A versatile everyday or holiday snack

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I have recently discovered a new found love for graham crackers.  I think this discovery fully unveiled itself due to my husband's serious love of fro yo.  Yep, fro yo.  One of those discoveries you make in marriage I guess, ha.  Can't say I can complain :)  I have started keeping a box of graham crackers in the pantry for our frequent fro yo outings.  Seems odd, I know, but I do this so that I can have a crunchy non-chocolate topping for my yogurt.  The place by our house, and many others, only have granola as a non-chocolate option and it is usually chocked full of almonds or other nuts.  So I have resorted to bringing my own toppings (which I often pair with dark chocolate chips, my favorite) or I have them ready to crush on top when we bring it back to the house.  To be clear, I don't have a severe nut allergy that prevents me from eating products made in facilities that may have produced nuts and if a nut touched something I was eating I would be fine.  However, ever since I turned about 29 or 30, give me a handful of nuts or a couple of tablespoons of almond granola and my face gets red and splotchy and itchy.  So, I'll pass on the nuts, thanks.  Oiy.

Anyway... these yummy bites I'm sharing today are an unplanned result of these graham crackers I keep stocked and a surplus of melted chocolate left over after another recipe I was trying to make failed.  While semi-frantically trying to figure out what the heck to do with all of the melted chocolate before it cooled down, I remembered that box of graham crackers tucked away in the pantry.  Funny how sometimes our best or favorite ideas come out of not having a plan at all or from another idea's failure. I often find life making me want to forget this and I constantly have to remind myself of those failed attempts that have lead to something much better.  It keeps me reaching out and trying new things, fighting that fear of failure.

These particular treats started simple with dark chocolate on graham crackers.  Then I realized I had pumpkin seeds in my drawer.  Then I remembered my cinnamon granola.  Perfect!  These guys are crunchy but smooth,  sweet but salty and, of course, chocolatey.

Fast-forward a few weeks when I wanted to make a Halloween treat while, at the same time, trying to think of what else I could do with the chocolate grahams.  I basically asked myself, "What foods are Halloween colors?" and chose my ingredients from there (not crazy complex).  Can't say I've ever been a huge fan of the orange and dark chocolate combo and I usually can leave coconut alone.  However, despite my hesitancy, they were the colors I needed so I committed to giving it a try.

Let me tell you, friends, I'm so glad that I did.  They are not my usual sweet, but I will absolutely make them again! They are different and unique.  The dark chocolate is very rich and bold and the coconut and orange really balance it out so that there isn't one flavor that overwhelms.  The coconut shavings are unsweetened so lend a sort of mild sweetness to balance out some of the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  The orange zest makes these little guys lighter with that pop of citrus mixed in.  So fun and yummy!  

Stay tuned because they will probably be making an appearance again come Christmas, and maybe every other holiday to come.  But for now, here are the details on my dark chocolate grahams, both regular and Halloween.

Happy Halloween & Happy Fueling!

Taylor

Dark chocolate grahams

Ingredients:

  • 5 - 8 full graham cracker sheets (will be 20 - 32 grahams)
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (65% cocoa or greater)
  • Toppings for Halloween Grahams:
    • 2 tablespoons orange zest (from 2 naval oranges) - see pic below
    • 1 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut - see pic below
  • Toppings for Pumpkin Granola Grahams:
    • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
    • 1/4 - 1/2 cup granola

 

Directions:

1.  Use the zest of 2 large oranges (this came out to about 2 tablespoons)

1.  Use the zest of 2 large oranges (this came out to about 2 tablespoons)

2.  Prep 1 tablespoon of shredded unsweetened coconut.

2.  Prep 1 tablespoon of shredded unsweetened coconut.

3.  Prep your grahams on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

3.  Prep your grahams on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

4.  Make a double boiler by adding about 1 inch of water to a large pot. 5.  Turn the heat to medium or medium-high and place a heat-proof bowl over the pot (make sure bottom of bowl does't touch the water). 6.  Place your chocolate chips in the bowl.

4.  Make a double boiler by adding about 1 inch of water to a large pot.

5.  Turn the heat to medium or medium-high and place a heat-proof bowl over the pot (make sure bottom of bowl does't touch the water).

6.  Place your chocolate chips in the bowl.

7.  Stir the chocolate chips as they begin to melt.  I stir pretty continuously to make sure I don't burn the chocolate.

7.  Stir the chocolate chips as they begin to melt.  I stir pretty continuously to make sure I don't burn the chocolate.

8.  Once the chocolate is melted, turn off the burner. 9.  Use a small spoon to spoon out about 1 - 2 teaspoons of melted chocolate and spread over each graham. 10.  Top with shredded coconut and orange zest.

8.  Once the chocolate is melted, turn off the burner.

9.  Use a small spoon to spoon out about 1 - 2 teaspoons of melted chocolate and spread over each graham.

10.  Top with shredded coconut and orange zest.

Want To Mix It Up?

Try other variations like this one below, using pumpkin seeds and granola.  

Dried cherries would also be really good on it with pumpkins seeds - maybe around Christmas time (got the red and green thing happening).  Or you could, of course do crushed peppermint, which I bet would also be super yummy.

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What's In This??

Dark Chocolate: flavonols (the darker the chocolate the higher the content), iron, magnesium, copper, manganese

Orange Zest: vitamin C

Coconut: fiber

Pumpkin Seeds: protein, vitamin K, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, manganese, fiber

Granola (I used KIND Cinnamon with Flax Seeds): protein, fiber, healthy fat (the flaxseeds contain omega-3's)

 

Oven Baked Chicken Tenders

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It is finally starting to feel like fall here in Texas with the suddenly crisp breeze and cold air that make me run back inside for my sweater and instantly bring to mind memories of and excitement for football, fall sports, holidays, decorating, parties and tradition. And, of course, food is a part of this too.  With these new temps and memories and excitement also comes a change in the foods we see in magazines and on tables and in new recipes that pop up.  I love it - a new season with new star fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.  Of course, my schedule doesn't change and, like most of you I am sure, it gets even busier (for all of the reasons mentioned above) so my need for fairly quick and simple recipes stays constant.  

As fall and cooler weather rolls in, so does my desire for something a little heartier.  This time of year makes me crave those soups and stews, hot gooey grilled sandwiches, bowls of warm roasted vegetables, and sliced tenderloin or pan seared chicken, cooked in the skillet with lots of spices and sauces.  The challenge here is always - "how do you get heartier while still still feeling energized to tackle the day"?  Well, that's what I want to continue to discover and share with you this season.  My goal is to bring you some of the classics you love and some new ideas that you might love.  I hope you find simple & delicious recipes that satisfy that fall or winter craving but that leave you energized to tackle your day or fueled for your run or workout. Follow along and, even if you don't actually try a recipe (which I certainly hope you do!), I hope that the meals & recipes you see inspire you to try something new, think outside of the box, or stick to the health, wellness and / or training goals that you have created for yourself this year.

To kick things off, I'm starting with these Crispy Oven Baked Chicken Tenders.  I think cooking chicken and turning it into a recipe that people really love can be tough.  Chicken can be bland and tough if not cooked just right.  This recipe was the result of:  (1) wanting a new chicken recipe that could be used for various dishes throughout the week, (2) making something kids might enjoy and (3) lightening up a hearty favorite, fried chicken.  The first time I made these a good friend was my test subject, hehe, and she loved them!  I, however, always my worst critic, thought there was room for improvement.  So I adjusted a few components here and there and came up with the recipe I'm sharing today.  Paired with a little prepared or homemade Tangy Honey Mustard it is a winning combo if you ask me.  So, I hope you enjoy these and that they make an appearance on kitchen tables, at tailgates, in lunch boxes and on party trays this season.

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

 

CRISPY OVEN BAKED CHICKEN TENDERS

Everything you'll need for these chicken tenders.  I used Plain breadcrumbs here b/c it's all I had - but usually I use whole - wheat breadcrumbs.

Everything you'll need for these chicken tenders.  I used Plain breadcrumbs here b/c it's all I had - but usually I use whole - wheat breadcrumbs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound raw boneless skinless chicken tenders (already pre-cut in the package as shown in pic)
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

 

 

Directions:

1.   Line a medium sized baking dish with foil or parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 2.   In a large mixing bowl, mix together the buttermilk, Dijon mustard, and egg white. 3.  In a shallow bowl or baking dish (I usually use a baking dish) add the breadcrumbs, salt and Italian Seasoning.

1.   Line a medium sized baking dish with foil or parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.   In a large mixing bowl, mix together the buttermilk, Dijon mustard, and egg white.

3.  In a shallow bowl or baking dish (I usually use a baking dish) add the breadcrumbs, salt and Italian Seasoning.

4.  Dip each chicken tenderloin into the buttermilk mixture and then dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture until entirely coated in breadcrumbs.

4.  Dip each chicken tenderloin into the buttermilk mixture and then dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture until entirely coated in breadcrumbs.

5.  Place each coated chicken tender on the lined baking sheet. 6.  Bake tenders in preheated oven for about 15 - 20 minutes (depending on size & thickness of your chicken tenders).

5.  Place each coated chicken tender on the lined baking sheet.

6.  Bake tenders in preheated oven for about 15 - 20 minutes (depending on size & thickness of your chicken tenders).

7.  After done baking, remove chicken tenders from oven, turn broiler to high and place chicken tenders back under broiler for about 2 minutes to brown the tops.

7.  After done baking, remove chicken tenders from oven, turn broiler to high and place chicken tenders back under broiler for about 2 minutes to brown the tops.

8.  Remove and serve plain or with honey mustard dressing and enjoy! (And I served mine with mac & cheese cups, a recipe to come on the blog, and a side mixed greens salad)

8.  Remove and serve plain or with honey mustard dressing and enjoy!

(And I served mine with mac & cheese cups, a recipe to come on the blog, and a side mixed greens salad)

 

Sweet & Simple Slow-Roasted Veggies

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Hello there!  Today's recipe isn't a very complicated one.  It's actually one that I probably could have simply put in an Instagram post and called it a day.  However, in just the last month or so, this has already become a favorite and it is officially on my list of less stress, no fuss, prep it-leave it-love it recipes.  I would be excited to prepare this whether it's just me for dinner, if we have last-minute guests or if  I've had a month to plan.  

"Why?" might you ask?  Well, several reasons:

  1. It meets one of my Cardinal Rules of Cooking... have one item on the menu that can be thrown in the oven or left over the stove to cook for a while.  I really like to have one item roasting in the oven when I'm preparing a meal.  If you have one thing that can be thrown in the oven and left alone, it frees you up to take care of your more "high maintenance"  meal items.
  2. Roasting veggies is a Game Changer.  After being in the oven for 45 minutes, these carrots are soft and tender and caramelized and those pearl onions - well, to me, they basically taste like candy - so soft and sweet and caramelized like the carrots.  They add pizzaz to any dish.
  3. They make great leftovers!  This shouldn't be surprising coming from me at this point as most of my recipes can double as something else on any other day.  Because these are heartier vegetables, I can pack up the remaining veggies, store them in the fridge and heat them up the next day.  I've paired them with other veggies, chicken, chickpeas, crumbled cheese, you name it.  It has been a good item to pack up and reheat for lunch at work or throw with a new protein on a different night of the week. Quick and simple and satisfying. 

I actually got the idea from an episode of Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten (I soak up the Saturday mornings when I get a little time to watch these cooking shows - they both inspire and teach me).  She had a spotlight on one of her favorite chefs who was roasting tons of veggies and I knew I had to try some variation of what was featured.  While all of those veggies looked delicious, I decided to keep it simple and stick with two or three staples that would then allow me to throw in some extra veggies at the end.  

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I've always been intrigued by those mini organic carrots at the store (not the baby carrots, but the ones that look like smaller regular carrots, right out of the ground).  I also LOVE onions when they are roasted.  If you have never had them before - you HAVE to try it.  Seriously a game changer.  Roasting onions softens them and makes them wonderfully sweet and earthy.  That's pretty much my base.  And then I have the liberty to add any other veggies to it.  This last particular time, I roasted broccolini separately because it doesn't take as long to cook (I have a double oven so that's helpful).  I threw them in a preheated oven when there was about 15 minutes left on the carrots & onions and then threw them all together on the skillet once they were done (which you'll see in the pics below).

The perfect side dish for many different entrees, PLUS they reheat well for veggie bowls (with chicken / beans / tofu / etc.) another day or night that week.  Oh, and my favorite part of the evening when I served these?  When my husband said, "You know, you have really gotten me to like a lot of vegetables - vegetables that I didn't think I ever liked".  Win!

So, here you go, my Sweet & Simple Slow Roasted Veggies

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

Sweet & Simple Slow Roasted Veggies

INGREDIENTS

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  • Two 8-ounce bags of small organic carrots (or I've use about 1 pound of the large carrots, cut off the greens & cut them in half)
  • 1 pound mixed Pearl & Cipollini onions, skin removed and ends removed
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried Italian Seasoning
  • 1 - 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with foil or parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl mix together the carrots, pearl onions, olive oil, Italian Seasoning, and salt until vegetables are well coated.
  4. Divide vegetables evenly between the 2 baking sheets.  I used 2 baking sheets b/c they would be too crowded on just one and would probably end up steaming instead of roasting (not what you want).
  5. Place vegetables in the oven on the top or middle rack (placing veggies on the bottom rack will likely cause them to burn easily - at least that's what happened to me the first time I made these!).
  6. Cook for about 45 minutes, mixing the vegetables with a spatula halfway through (for even cooking on all sides) until the carrots are soft and easily cut with a fork.
  7. Remove the veggies from the oven, serve and enjoy!
ON THE PLATE:  Sweet & Simple Roasted Veggies | pan seared salmon | toasted Dave's Killer Good Seed Bread

ON THE PLATE:  Sweet & Simple Roasted Veggies | pan seared salmon | toasted Dave's Killer Good Seed Bread

You can, of course, add more root vegetables to this mix such as:  parsnips, beets, turnips, and radishes), but IF you want to add more non-root vegetables, I suggest cooking them separately at their own temperature and time.  I like adding broccolini (2 bunches from Central Market) with these and to do that I:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss my broccolini in about 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  3. Spread broccolini out evenly on a lined (with foil or parchment paper) baking sheet.
  4. When there are about 20 minutes left for my root veggies I put my broccolini in the preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through (so that broccolini cook evenly on all sides).
  5. Once done, the root veggies should be done as well so add them to the sheet with the root veggies, mix all together and serve with dinner!
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Cooking Note: Cooking is not always an exact science.  If you can't find the exact product that I used above - you can adjust a little.  For example, in this recipe I got the onions from the bulk bin at Central Market.  However, at Tom Thumb, these usually come prepackaged in anywhere from 7 ounce to 10 ounce plastic containers.  As long as it's around 1 pound you should be fine (for these directions) and the onions will still come out tender, caramelized and absolutely delicious!  Same goes for the carrots - I get the small bags when I can, but the other day I could only find the large organic bunches at the store - so I purchased two bunches and, when I got home, washed them, cut off the greens and cut each carrot in half so they would all be about the same size.  Just like the onions, they turned out delicious.  This made enough to serve me and a very hungry husband with a couple of days of leftovers.  If you're cooking for 1 you could plan to have more leftovers, or go down to 1 of everything and decrease the oil and seasoning by about 1/2.

WHAT'S IN THIS??  NUTRITION NOTES:

  • Carrots - vitamin A | fiber | potassium | vitmamin K
  • Onions - fiber | vitamin C | part of allium group, that may reduce risk of some cancers
  • Broccolini - vitamin K | iron | vitamin C 
  • Olive oil - monounsaturated fat | vitamin E

Italian Zoodles & Shrimp!

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This is another recipe that came about from pure curiosity - (1) I have always been curious about all of these zucchini noodles I see in stores and have heard people talk about (I know, slow to jump on the zoodle train), (2) we got a zucchini spiralizer as part of a wedding gift, which spurred my intrigue, and (3) when trying to search for zucchini noodle recipes for clients, I surprisingly came up with very few results!  Now, don't be mistaken here - I'm all about those regular old fashioned pasta noodles.  However, I just had to try these zucchini noodle creations and, of course, my fun new kitchen gadget, and, to my excitement, I got a new recipe for friends and clients along the way!

Now, I had somewhat expected for this to turn into a recipe I could recommend to others, but what I didn't quite expect was for it to become a new quick and simple dinner staple for our table at home.  I made it the first time as a complete experiment, and was able to get it on the table in about 30 - 40 minutes.  So, this past Sunday when we were pressed for time to get to an evening lecture, I didn't hesitate to turn to this simple and delicious zucchini and shrimp dish that Kyle & I had enjoyed so much on its first debut at the table.

I quickly grabbed all of the ingredients out of the fridge, spiralized (or as I like to say, "zoodled"), did some quick slicing and mincing, and got the skillet ready to go.  

Friends, this recipe is yummy and so fast (and even faster if you prep a few things ahead)!  The zucchini gets cooked down in the cooking process and mixes with all the other flavors and I tend to forget I'm eating a rather bland (on it's own) vegetable.  The hearty mushrooms, salty Parmesan and zesty seasonings make this a refreshing but still filling dinner for the family to enjoy.  I hope you enjoy this as well and that it, or some variation of it, can also be used as a staple to get you through some of those crazy busy days or nights!

So here you go, the recipe for my Italian Zoodles & Shrimp.

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

 

ITALIAN ZOODLES & SHRIMP!

Recipe Serves about 2 - 3 people (or 2 people and leftovers for lunch the next day)

Ingredients:

         Good look'n zucchini!  About 8 - 12 inches

         Good look'n zucchini!  About 8 - 12 inches

  • 3/4 pound raw shrimp
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup Italian dressing (whichever is your favorite!)
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used a garlic press)
  • 2 cups sliced white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Zest from 1 medium lemon
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

Directions:

                             Getting there...

                             Getting there...

                                   Zoodles!!

                                   Zoodles!!

  1. Pour Italian dressing and shrimp into a sealable plastic baggie (like Ziplock).  Seal and place in the refrigerator to marinate for about 2 hours or more.
  2. Peel off the skin of each zucchini (use a vegetable peeler or a knife) and slice the ends off of each zucchini.
  3. Using a hand-held spiralizer or one that attaches to a Kitchen-Aid (I used a mini hand-held that you can see in the pic here and it worked great), spiralize your zucchini into a large mixing bowl.  This should make about 6 to 7 cups of "zoodles".
  4. In a large skillet heat olive oil on medium heat.
  5. Add minced garlic and saute in the olive oil about 3 minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic.
  6. Add the marinated shrimp to the skillet (I had larger shrimp so had to cook them in two batches).  Don't add the marinade to the skillet - only add the shrimp.
  7. Cook the shrimp about 3 minutes per side (may vary depending on size of the shrimp).  Remove shrimp from the skillet and set side, covered, while you prepare the zoodles.  Leave any juices / spices in th epan.
  8. In the same skillet where you just cooked the shrimp, add the mushrooms and cook about 5- 7 minutes until they start to soften.
  9. Add the "zoodles" and cook for about 10 minutes until they start to soften.  Add the lemon juice and lemon zest about halfway through cooking, sprinkle with salt and gently toss to incorporate all ingredients.
  10. After the zoodles have softened, add the Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning, toss to combine all ingredients and get all of those great flavors mixed together.
  11.  Add the shrimp to the skillet, toss and serve!

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THIS??

Zucchini -  fiber; fluid; some vitamin C

Mushrooms - riboflavin, niacin, copper, vitamin D (varying levels depending on the mushroom);

Shrimp - protein; niacin; B12; iron; phosphorus; selenium

Garlic - an allium with a rich phytochemical composition that may help reduce atherosclerosis & the risk of stomach and colon cancer 

Lemon - vitamin C

Mediterranean Lunch Wrap

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On a mission to keep lunches fueling and interesting yet easy, I started to brainstorm ideas for something I don't have many recipes for - wraps.  Always a fan of veggies, I loaded this week's wraps full of a variety of veggies, included some source of protein and added additional components to give it lots of flavor and keep it from being dry.

This wrap is loaded with so much goodness you should definitely give it a try.  The combination of carrots, and chickpeas, cucumber and lettuce give it that satisfying crunch that is then balanced by the smooth roasted red peppers and creamy hummus.  And that crumbled feta is the perfect salty counterpart to the sweet roasted red peppers and drizzles of balsamic vinaigrette.  

Fun fact - studies have found that the human brain's reward system is more stimulated when there are more senses being stimulated in a food.  Looking at sweets - it's why we tend to go for the more decadent desserts like the salted caramel toffee nut crunch ice cream..... with the hot and cold,  smooth and crunchy, sweet and salty - there is so much going on here! (To learn more about this you can check out the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.  I find it extremely interesting!)    To me, this wrap does all of those things, but in a meal that fuels the body, the workday, and your workouts.

I hope this gives you a new fueling recipe to add to your collection or, as always, I hope that it at least inspires you to make some version of your own.

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

 

MEDITERRANEAN LUNCH WRAP

Ingredients:

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  • 1 whole wheat wrap (The warp pictured here is the Multi Grain with Flax variety from FlatOut)
  • 1/4 cup plain hummus (I used the Original Whole Foods variety.  It's my fave!)
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced & quartered cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 - 1 cup spinach & romaine mix
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 - 1/2 tbs. crumbled feta
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette
  • ~2 oz. of protein of choice (1 - 2 chopped hardboiled eggs / 2 oz. chopped, shredded, or rotisserie chicken / cooked lean ground beef or lean ground chicken breast, or tofu)

Directions:

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  1. Lay parchment paper out on a flat surface like your kitchen counter (need enough paper so that you can wrap your sandwich wrap in it).
  2. Lay wrap out flat onto parchment paper.
  3. Spread hummus evenly across middle area of wrap.
  4. Top wrap with the carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, and chickpeas - centering ingredients in the center of wrap.
  5. Top with crumbled feta cheese.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic.
  7. Roll up your wrap, cut in half and enjoy!
  8. To keep it from being super messy, or when I'm preparing this and then packing it for lunch that day, I wrap it in parchment paper to keep all the ingredients from spilling out before I get to eat it.  I'm thinking a tutorial on how to wrap these wraps is soon to follow.... Enjoy!

 

WHAT'S are some of the benefits?

Along with complex carbohydrate (mostly from the wrap & chickpeas), protein (from your protein of choice, chickpeas & whole-wheat wrap), and little fat (from your hummus & feta), this wrap provides you with some....

Roasted Red Peppers: vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A

Spinach:  vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium

Carrots:  vitamin A, fiber

Chickpeas (and hummus):  fiber, protein, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese

Cucumber: fluid and fiber

Feta:  protein, calcium, phosphorus