Chicken & Spinach Quinoa Bites

It never ceases to amaze me  how many uses quinoa has. One great use for  this wonder “grain” is a gluten-free replacement to flour or breadcrumbs. I’ve already made turkey meatloaf using quinoa as the filler. This time, I took inspiration from Iowa Girl Eats’ Mini Ham & Cheese Quinoa Bites. Instead of ham and cheese, I opted for chicken & spinach. Why, because I love chicken and spinach! (Also, ham doesn’t really agree with my wife).

chicken & spinach quinoa bites

Oh, and I kept the cheese of course. Why? That’s a silly question. You don’t need an excuse to keep or add cheese to  a savory dish.

Six ingredients and an hour (mostly unattended cook time) and these are ready to go. I listed this recipe under appetizers, but you could have it for breakfast (eggs!) or dinner. Leftovers make pretty good lunches as well. So basically, eat them whenever you want. :)

These quinoa bites were decadent yet healthy with under 350 calories per quinoa “muffin” and lots of protein and iron. That said, they are a little high in cholesterol at about a third of your daily value. One way to get around that is to use egg substitute. The biggest problem I had was not eating them all at once!

Chicken & Spinach Quinoa Bites
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 6
  • ⅔ c. quinoa
  • 1⅓ c. water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup raw spinach, chopped
  • ½ c. shredded mild Cheddar cheese
  • 2 small chicken breasts (or 1 large)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine quinoa and water in small pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, cook chicken on George Foreman grill approximately 5 minutes until no longer pink inside. Let rest for 5 minutes then dice into ½" pieces
  4. In medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Grease muffin pan with cooking spray. Spoon mixture into each muffin cup.
  5. Cook for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let sit 5 minutes before serving
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 Calories: 311 Fat: 10.3 Saturated fat: 3.5 Carbohydrates: 34.7 Sugar: 0 Sodium: 116 Fiber: 3.8 Protein: 19.5 Cholesterol: 112

Alternative versions of this recipe

There are several different ways you can prepare this dish. You could try a different protein, such as the ham used in the original recipe, or simply cook the chicken a different way. Shredded chicken works very well here as well.I haven’t tried it, but I bet black beans would go well in these. Possibly pair the black beans with corn and salsa to make a southwest variety.

Likewise, you could try changing the spinach to another green vegetable, such as kale or shredded zucchini. Basically, experiment with your favorite protein and your favorite vegetable in these quinoa bites to find your favorite way of eating them.

Quinoa Bites for those who haven’t tried quinoa

For those who haven’t tried eating quinoa yet, incorporating it into a larger dish, such as these quinoa bites, is a great introduction. You get the taste but you don’t start out with this big heap of strange new food on your plate. So, you can take the fear of trying a new food off the plate by hiding it in something larger. That is how I’ve recently started eating cottage cheese, by using it as a substitute for ricotta in my spinach and butternut squash lasagna (recipe coming soon). That’s right, I overturned over 20 years of saying I didn’t like cottage cheese simply because my ricotta went bad. Who knows what you will like if you find a new way of eating it?

What is your favorite way of eating quinoa?

Zuppa Toscana Soup Recipe with Chicken

This Zuppa Toscana recipe is inspired by what you find at Olive Garden, but  much healthier with milk instead of cream and chicken instead of sausage. While it may be a fraction* of the calories, it is 100% of the taste! This recipe is under 200 calories per serving, so you don’t have to feel bad about eating this rich, creamy soup.

Zuppa Toscana is Italian for “Tuscan soup.” So, saying “Zuppa Toscana soup” is actually redundant. Like CAT Test or Volkswagen car.  Well 3% of US searches for “zuppa toscana” include the word soup, so it doesn’t hurt my SEO to include it! Of course, while this soup has its roots in a Tuscan-style potato soup, what they serve at Olive Garden is about as Italian as “French toast” is French. Their recipe calls specifically for Oscar Mayer Real Bacon Bits. The Oscar Mayer brand is from Chicago. My version doesn’t use any bacon, although I guess you could use chopped up turkey bacon to give it the flavor and crunch without the calories.

Chicken Zuppa Toscana soup

*The Olive Garden website lists their Zuppa Toscana soup at 170 calories, but entering the ingredients from the Olive Garden cookbook into the calorie counter website I use shows the value to be 341. I guess they must just use smaller bowls!

Chicken Zuppa Toscana
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • .5 pound chicken breast
  • 1 large russet potatoes
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 14 oz (1 can) low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cup of water
  • 1 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cups kale
  • ½ cup 1% milk
  • ½ tsp corn starch
  1. Grill chicken on George Foreman grill until no longer pink. Set aside to cool.
  2. Cut potatoe in half, then slice into 1" slices.
  3. Place potatoes, onion, broth, water, garlic and seasoning in large pot over medium-high heat. Cook approximately 20" minutes until potatoes pass the "fork test."
  4. Reduce heat to simmer. Cut chicken into 1" chunks. Add to pot with with kale.
  5. Mix corn starch and milk together. Stir into soup. Simmer for 10 minutes until kale is softened and soup begins to thicken.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 429g Calories: 193 Fat: 2.4 Carbohydrates: 20.1 Sugar: 3.3 Sodium: 124 Fiber: 2.8 Protein: 22.3 Cholesterol: 50

How Zuppa Toscana soup made me a believer in kale

I spent a long time believing that I didn’t like kale. It was actually Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana that rid me of that misconception. I have had a love-hate relationship with dark leafy greens, such as kale. Some I don’t like at all. Collards are in this group, and for a long time, so was kale. Others are like spinach. I like it raw but not cooked. I had tried raw kale and found it too bitter for my liking. Since my experience with dark leafy greens had been liking it raw or not it all, I figured if I didn’t like raw kale, I wouldn’t like cooked kale.

Then my wife and I had lunch at Olive Garden back in November. She ordered a bowl of the Zuppa Toscana. I had a taste and discovered I actually did like kale. It just has to be cooked first! The rest was history.


Cucumber Citrus Salad

My wife and I recently started participating in the Bountiful Baskets program. Bountiful Baskets is a take on the farm-share concept. It’s a volunteer-run produce buying co-op. Every week there is something a little different inside your basket. Last week I found myself with cucumbers. My wife doesn’t like them, so I am usually stuck making pickles with cucumbers I receive. But this time I decided to try something a little different. I wanted a salad, but not a salad with a bunch of lettuce in it. We always have Mandarin oranges in our fruit bowl, so I decided to make a simple cucumber citrus salad.

Cucumber Citrus Salad

Actually, I got the idea from the Bountiful Baskets blog. Their blog shares recipes that highlights different ingredients in the basket that week. So when they put cucumbers in the basket, co-founder Debbie shared her cucumber citrus salad.

Of course, I changed it around a bit. For my cucumber citrus salad, I took out the celery, used Mandarin oranges instead of navel oranges, crushed almonds instead of slivered (it’s a lot easier), added tomato, and made a simple lemon vinaigrette. Some of the changes were for reasons of taste, most were simple expediency. As I like to remind everyone here, if you can read a recipe, you can cook, but don’t let the recipe intimidate you into buying ingredients you don’t have or don’t like.

While it is snowing here in Colorado today, we did have a good run of nice spring weather and nothing says warm days are here again than citrus flavors and summer vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes. I had this for lunch last weekend sitting on my patio enjoying temperatures in the upper 60’s. I used to be a winter person, but I’ve come to find that spring is now my favorite season. Warm days without being hot, crisp mornings, and flowers blooming everywhere.

Cucumber Citrus Salad
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Side
Serves: 2
  • 1 cucumber, sliced into 1" chunks
  • 1 tomato, sliced into 1" chunks
  • 1 Mandarin orange
  • 1 TBSP crushed nuts (I used almonds)
  • 1 TBSP. vinegar
  • 3 TSBP. olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon (approximately 1 TBSP)
  • pinch of salt
  1. Slice cucumber lengthwise in half. Slice each half in half again to make large spears. Cut cucumber spears into 1" pieces. I like to cut on alternating diagonals to create different shaped pieces.
  2. Dice tomato into 1" chunks. Peel orange and separate into individual segments. Add all ingredients into medium-sized bowl. Lightly toss to coat vegetables in dressing.
  3. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow dressing to soak into vegetables.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 275 Fat: 22.9 Saturated fat: 3.2 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 1935 Sugar: 12.2 Sodium: 160 Fiber: 2.5 Protein: 2.6 Cholesterol: 0

The last step of letting it sit for 5 minutes is probably the most crucial, since that will allow the salt to draw water out of the the veggies and the vinaigrette dressing to seep in.

Adjust the amount of lemon juice to suit your tastes. Most recipes will call for mixing the vinaigrette dressing ingredients together before adding to the salad, but just like my stance on wet and dry ingredients in cookies, I don’t believe in dirtying another bowl when everything is simply getting mixed together.