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Tanvi Ahuja

This Pesto Pasta Salad Is the Perfect Summer Lunch

Eat your veggies (and pasta, too) with this simple pesto pasta salad.

With summer in full swing, we’ve entered the season of beach vacations, barbecues, and days spent outdoors. There’s nothing like a warm day with friends to boost your mood, and we all know how important it is to stock up with lots of good food and snacks to make the outdoors-y days all that much better.

That’s what this pesto pasta salad is for. It’s hearty yet light, comforting yet fresh, and satisfying yet healthy. It’s a great one to pack in tupperware and bring along to the beach, to a park, to a barbecue, and even to school or work. Sure, it’s great for summer, but this meal is good for literally any time of year – just switch up the veggies to what’s in season. It’s the perfect way to eat your greens and your pasta, too!

I love the salty, herby brightness of pesto. When paired with its classic companion, pasta, how could it go wrong?

Time: 20 minutes

When to eat it: lunch or a light summer-y dinner – perfect to bring along to picnics and barbecues!

Perks: delicious, easy, barely any cooking required, filled with veggies, easy to pack

Makes: 1 serving, but can easily be doubled, tripled, or decupled (x10!)

Sh*t You Need:

75-100 g dry pasta (fusilli is my favorite for this)
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, depending on how thick your pesto is (more if it’s thicker)
Salt and pepper, to taste
A handful of whatever veggies you want, blanched or raw (my favorites include peas, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and asparagus – sometimes just one, sometimes a combo of them)
3 tablespoons of your favorite pesto (red, green, store-bought or homemade all work)
2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or chopped pistachios (feel free to add more!)
A big bunch of leafy greens – spinach or arugula work best
Lots of good quality shaved parmesan

The recipe:

1. Cook pasta according to directions. Let it cool slightly.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the pesto, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. That's it!

4. Pack to bring with you on the go or enjoy immediately. It can even be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

 

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Reality Check: You Don’t Have to Exercise for Hours to Be Healthy

General health guidelines suggest we all get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day. Disclaimer: I’m definitely no medical professional, nutritionist or anything of the sort, so these are just some thoughts and a reminder of this guideline.

To some of you, this may seem like nothing. To others, it may seem like a big step up from your current fitness routine. 

Well, first let’s establish what exactly qualifies. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, gentle cycling, swimming, and mowing the lawn. Surprised? I sure was. I always thought this meant things like jogging, things that feel like focused exercise.

In this very inspiring, but also equally influential, world of health and fitness, it’s easy to feel like you need to take these guidelines to the extreme. Ten (even three) mile runs, hour-long spin classes and yoga that makes you sweat buckets full – these are all great, but only if you are doing them because you want to. Moving your body should not be a chore. It should help relieve stress, not stress you out.

This is your reminder that doing no “real” exercise is okay. As long as you are getting in some daily movement, you can meet the requirements. You don’t have to break a serious sweat every day to be healthy.

This is not at all to say hitting the gym or going on a run are bad. It’s just meant to show you don’t have to go crazy in your quest for health.

The idea of a gym, fitness classes and the like only came about in the past fifteen to twenty years or so. Before that, exercise came in the form of simply moving around as part of one’s daily routine. And it can still be just that way. 

Takeaways

First, don’t ever feel like you need to force yourself to exercise. It’s simply not needed to be healthy. Just get some movement in daily. 

Second, working out should not be your number one priority – you have a fun to have, friends and family to spend time with, and dreams to chase.

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My 5 Favorite “Dips” for Roasted Sweet Potatoes

You know those foods you used to hate when you were younger but can’t live without (or, at least, like) now? Well, sweet potatoes fit in that category for me.

I’m not really sure what inspired me to give them a second chance, but I know it was in my sophomore year of college when I realized I liked loved them. Yup. That’s a whole 19 years without sweet potatoes. At least I’m making up for it now.

I eat sweet potatoes several times a week with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and sometimes even as a snack. I’ve tried many different cooking methods – steaming, boiling, roasting, mashing – and to be completely honest, the only one that has really stolen my heart is roasting. I love the way the sweet potatoes get all crispy & chewy on the outside and retain a very fluffy, soft, starchy interior. Maybe I’ve not been doing the steaming, boiling, and mashing right, so if you love them, your suggestions are welcome!

While I haven’t been too creative with my sweet potato cooking method, I have been with the dips I use with them. A bit of salt and spices go a long way, but try roasted sweet potatoes with some sort of dip and you’ll be in food heaven.

First, roast your sweet potatoes with whatever oils and spices you wish. Cubes, wedges, rounds, halves or whole – all work, so go with whatever floats your boat. When they’re almost done roasting, whip up one of these five these simple, nutritious and smashingly delicious dips.

1. Smashed avocado & lime

Simple, classic, easy. Avocados are already king of the foodie world, and they go with so many things. Sweet potatoes are no exception. I like keeping it super simple with just a little salt and lime in some mashed avocado, but I occasionally switch it up and add chopped tomatoes too. Plus, the fat in the avocados helps your body absorb the beta carotene and other nutrients in the sweet potato better (as is true with many of the following dips).

2. Tahini honey sauce

The bitterness and creaminess of the tahini works so well with the sweetness of the sweet potato. My method for the dipping sauce: 1 part tahini + 2 parts water + 1/3 part honey + squeeze of lemon juice = perfection.

3. Creamy scrambled eggs

Ok, so not really a dip, technically, but if your scrambled eggs are super creamy, it could definitely pass as one! But seriously, eggs and sweet potato make a wonderful combination.

4. Hummus

Another classic. Warm, crisp sweet potato wedges and cool, creamy hummus are great on their own and beyond incredible together. Get your favorite flavor and go to town.

5. Greek yogurt & nut butter

 

A photo posted by Lex (@restoring_radiance) on

Sweet potatoes are sweet, after all, so why not try a sweet combo? This is creaminess on top of creaminess on top of richness and healthy indulgence. Sweet potatoes, greek yogurt, nut butter of choice, what more do you want?

So what are you waiting for? Get roastin’ and dippin’!

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The “Best” Avocado Toast

The perfect version of the #basic favorite.

So, this post is going to be controversial. At least in this health and fitness, and hence avocado-obsessed, community. But the good kind of controversial, I hope.

Avocado toast has taken the world by storm. Walk into (almost) any somewhat-modern cafe and you’re sure to find it on the menu. But most of all, it’s become a favorite go-to breakfast, lunch, snack, or even dinner for when people want something healthy, delicious, and quick.

But let me be honest, when the avocado toast trend kicked off a few years ago, I was not with it. But now I know why. I was doing it all wrong. I never used the right bread, ripe-enough avocados and didn’t play with flavors and textures at all. I’m sure we all have our own ways of doing avocado toast, and this recipe is what I deem to be the best version of it. For those of you who aren’t avocado toast lovers, try this out. And for those of you who already are, give it a shot anyway – you might just find a new way to eat trendy toast!

I now eat avocado toast in some form or another almost daily. Check out my Instagram to see the number of times it’s featured on my feed. No shame.

And yes, while this is my trusty avo toast method, I’m always open to trying out new variations, so I would love to see your suggestions! Tag us on Instagram @fituniversity and use #fituniversity to share your faves with us.

fullsizerenderThe “Best” Avocado Toast

Time: 10 minutes

When to eat it: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight… ANYTIME

Perks: Delicious, nutritious, quick, and easy!

Makes: 1 hearty serving

Sh*t You Need:

2 medium to thick slices of your favorite hearty, dense bread
1 ripe medium avocado
juice of 1/2 a lime
pinch of salt, to taste
pinch of dried red pepper/chili flakes, to taste
2 tsp mixed seeds
handful of fresh mixed greens or arugula

The recipe:

1. Toast your bread.

2. While your bread is toasting and cooling prep your avocado topping. I like to let my toast cool a little before I top it with the avocado to avoid soggy toast disasters!

3. For the avocado, either cube it or mash it. I used to be a major fan of cubing, but have recently converted to mashing. Play around and see what you prefer.

4. Place the cubed or mashed avocado in a bowl, squeeze in the lime, and add the salt. Give it a quick stir.

5. Finally, top your mostly cooled toast with the avocado, a few chili flakes, a sprinkling of seeds, and the greens.

6. Enjoy!

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The Love-Hate Relationship with Biking in College

Cambridge is definitely a biking campus. I mean, you could get around solely on foot (or using the public bus, if you so wish), but it’s bound to be a real struggle. Activities happen all over the place, lectures and labs are on opposite ends of the city, and your accommodation is unlikely to be bang smack in the center of town.

I got my bike on my very first day in Cambridge, which is now over three years ago. To be completely honest, once I had the bike, I was sure I was going to avoid using it unless absolutely necessary. I mean, I was very comfortable riding a bike and everything… but in a city? With cars on the same road? In the rain? Cold? None of those sounded very appealing to me. I probably ended up using my bike twice a week on average.

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Fast forward to today. My bike is my “baby”. I can’t imagine life at Cambridge without it. It cuts travel time significantly, allows me to view the world from a (slightly) different perspective and well, just makes the whole experience very Cambridge. That said, there are still days when the thought of having to get out of bed and bike somewhere is the last thing I want to do. I’d say my predominately hate love-hate relationship has definitely transformed into a predominately love love-hate relationship with biking around Cambridge, but those less-than-okay days still do exist. So, here goes…

A few thoughts on the loves and hates of biking around in Cambridge:

Love #1: It’s fast.

Simple as that. Biking is quicker than walking any day. And when you have to get from A to B with not much time between classes/labs etc., this matters.

Love #2: It’s a great form of physical activity.

Yes, walking is great. But the bike ride gets in some more intense movement in my day without needing to get in a structured workout.

Love #3: It builds confidence.

Regularly being on road with cars and other bikers has made me much more confident on the bike. Those effects permeate throughout other things in life and make me an all-around more confident person.

Love #4: It gives you a different view on life.

Whether it’s whizzing past beautiful sights, biking over bridges, or chatting with friends along the ride, everything looks a little different on a bike. I love the different perspective I get when I’m on my bike.

Love #5: It’s eco-friendly.

Biking is such a green mode of transportation. Okay, so is walking, but both of these beat the bus any day!

Love #6: It brings about a mindset shift.

This has probably been the biggest thing for me. I used to be so apprehensive about biking. I used to dread it, to say the least. But I’ve learned to not only be okay with it, but truly enjoy it and in general, it’s made me a much more flexible and a stronger person. True, this may be a culmination of all the others put together, but I feel strongly about it and hence it deserves to shine and standalone.

So, I obviously love biking, but the “hates” exist too…

Hate #1: It’s no fun in the cold (and dark).

My hands get extremely cold. Like extremely. Hence, biking in the cold can be painful. My hands freeze, my ears freeze and my nose turns Rudolph-red. Having grown up in Asia, I find 3:45pm sunsets pretty mentally tough. And biking in the dark is just not fun, and it can even be a little dangerous. 

Hate #2: It makes carrying multiple things a real challenge.

Going to a potluck, coming home from grocery shopping, or anytime I have to carry multiple things, biking is less than ideal. I do have a basket, which makes life slightly easier, but doesn’t totally solve the problem.

Hate #3: Parking can be stressful.

As I said before, Cambridge is a biking city. This means bikes are everywhere, and also that trying to park your bike in a safe place sometimes takes longer than the bike ride itself. But you find strategies if all the places are filled, like locking your bike to your friends’ bikes (at least groups of three, to be safe). That said, it can be a hassle.

It might seem to some that this is exaggerated, unnecessary, overplayed. For some it’s simply a matter of occasionally getting on a bike or not. I totally get that. But for me, the biking journey has been a defining part of my university experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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No, I Didn’t Always Love Staying Fit (But I Do Now)

If I had to describe my fitness journey in a few words, I’d say: it’s taken a complete 180-degree turn.

As a young kid, I was probably one of the laziest of the lot. My friends could be running, jumping, and skipping all around me and I’d be perfectly content sitting, watching the world (and my friends) run right on by. I generally came in last place in every short sprint race and made any (and all) excuses possible to get out of swimming lessons.

Even at parties, I’d tap my toes while everyone else was throwing their hands up in the air, shaking their hair around, and well… just being kids. I realize that at this point, I’ve made my kid self seem like a loser. I wasn’t completely lame… but when it came to physical activity, I preferred to sit out.

swimFast-forward a few years. I finally learned to swim – through lots of forced lessons, I must add – and even began to enjoy it. In third grade, I found myself signing up for the swim team. But still, I lived for the days the lightning siren went off. I used to live in a tropical climate and the siren meant practice was called off for the evening due to the weather. And even weather permitting, I went to the minimum number of required practices and was primarily motivated by the chocolate muffin my mom may have brought me to eat on the way home. I’ve always been a “foodie”, you see.

Shift forward another few years. I started running here and there, picked up a bit of tennis, dabbled (not for long) in golf, and kept on swimming. I went on to be selected for the varsity swim team. There, I swam the long(ish) distance events, travelled around for competitions, and started to feel a real sense of comfort and exhilaration from being with my #swimteamfam.

One thing led to another, and eventually I began running on the weekends. I also would do hour-long sessions on the stationary bike at the gym to be “fit and healthy”. And to some extent, I was—but not necessarily for the right reasons. Exercising just felt like something I had to do. It was an escape from SAT practice. Fitness was a big part of my life, but in hindsight it wasn’t my conscious choice. Rather, it was just a passive following of what I thought “being fit” looked like. And I was doing it all wrong.

Which brings me to where I am today: now I workout because it feels good. What’s the point if it doesn’t? Health is as much, if not more, about happiness than all the other typical nutrition and fitness stuff that goes along with it. I really do love getting sweaty, moving around, feeling the fresh air, hitting the gym with friends, going for runs in the park with my dad, and even taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I stay fit when and how I want to.

Who wouldn't love this post-run view?

Who wouldn’t want to stop and enjoy this post-run view?

Sometimes, I may not do a real workout for a month (*gasp*) and other times I work out six days in a row. And for me, this just works. Some days I eat like a nutritionist (or let’s just say mostly healthy) and other days I eat cake for breakfast, ice cream sundaes for lunch, and pizza for dinner. PS. My body craaaves veggies the next day.

YES, you can eat this and still be "healthy".

YES, you can eat this now and then and still be “healthy”.

Because all in all, healthy and fit are two words that equate to: #balance.