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Baked Vegetarian Casserole

By Marni Sumbal 

For many people free time is a thing of the past. If only there were 30 hours in the day, we could exercise at any time of the day and sleep wasn't necessary! Especially for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, who try to squeeze in a healthy 6-15 hours of training/exercise per week, meal planning is easier said than done. You must understand that when you embark on a lifelong decision to live a healthier life (aka change eating habits and/or become more physically active), it takes slow transitions to find what works for you. Depending on the time of your life, you will likely change your eating routine to complement our lifestyle. Although there may be a few days per month that you just can't find the time to exercise or prepare meals, you will hopefully compensate by staying healthy on all of the other days during the year. Maybe you are the person who seeks frozen meals as an alternative to fast food. While companies, such as Amy's Organic, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice provide convenient, portioned controlled meals, there are many frozen meals on the market that are not so friendly to your waist line. 
For example:

Stouffer's White Meat Chicken Pot Pie 
10 ounces - 1 serving
Calories: 660 calories
Total Fat: 37 grams
Saturated fat: 14 grams
Sodium: 1060mg
Carbs: 62g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 19g

Stouffer's Chicken Lasagna
7.8 ounces per serving - 5 servings
Calories - 400 calories
Fat - 13g fat
Sodium - 740 mg
Carbs - 54g
Protein - 16g

A problem with frozen dinners is that the servings may be deceiving when trying to serve 5 people after the meal is defrosted. On the other hand, because frozen dinners are very low in calories (often 350 calories and below), such as Amy's Brown Rice and Vegetables at 250 calories, you may be likely to overeat later in the evening because you are hungry. Although I do believe that you can feel satisfied with a 350-400 calorie meal (with the right foods) you may feel hungry because of the lack of nutrients in the frozen dinner to provide a substantial filling factor. 

For people who want a hot-cooked meal but just don't have the time to chop and prep, try this baked vegetarian casserole that can be prepared in about 5 minutes and ready in about 20-25 minutes (about the time it would take you to microwave a box of rice)!

Baked Vegetarian Casserole

Veggies - canned, fresh or frozen (if using canned, give a rinse before using) (I used fresh jalepenos, canned chickpeas, fresh chives, fresh whole mushrooms (sliced), fresh roma tomatoes (sliced), canned black beans, frozen corn and fresh onions. Veggie burger - my favorite is the Bruschetta Boca burger 1/4 cup cooked rice or pasta (I used long grain rice) 4 egg whites + 1 whole egg 1/8 cup skim milk 1/3 cup vegetarian stock (you could even use 1 can of vegetarian soup with vegetables if you'd like, instead of the vegetarian stock) 1/8 cup stuffing cubes or croutons Spices - pepper, paprika, no salt garlic and herb (or your favorite no salt seasoning) 2-3 tbsp. shredded cheese

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a non-stick loaf pan, sprayed lightly with non-stick spray, put all the veggies in the pan and mix. Add crumbled veggie burger (cook for about 1 minute in microwave to defrost). Scramble eggs and milk. Add vegetarian stock and spices. Scramble again with fork. Pour liquid mixture over veggies in loaf pan and press down veggies with a spatula. Crush croutons or stuffing cubes either in baggy or between two plates. Sprinkle croutons/stuffing over veggies. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes or until top is golden brown. Turn off oven. Place cheese evenly over crumbs and leave in oven until ready to eat (or until cheese is melted).

Serve with Asparagus:

While casserole is cooking, lightly coat asparagus with 2 tsp olive oil and lemon pepper seasoning. Cook for 5-8 minutes or until asparagus is soft. 

Marni Sumbal holds a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and is certified in Adult Weight Management by the American Dietetic Association. Marni is a Level 1 USAT coach and is currently pursuing a registered dietician degree. She is a Hammer sponsored athlete, 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship finisher and just finished her third IM, the Ford Ironman Louisville Triathlon on August 30, 2009, with PR of 10 hours and 54 minutes. Marni enjoys public speaking and writing. She has several published articles in Hammer Endurance News, Cosmo Girl and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes monthly to IronGirl.com and Beginnertriathlete.com. You can check out her blog at trimarni.blogspot.com.

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