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7-Day Menu: Quick 'n Yummy Family Dinners
by SallyKetchum

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Autumn is mainly a back to school time for me, even though I’m not in a classroom, learning or teaching. When my three kids were young it seemed that, like many moms now, I was in and out of school nearly daily, busy with PTA projects, sports boosters, or helping room mothers. I loved it!

Autumn also means hectic days with different schedules for different kids. We are so busy nowadays, and also, it seems more kids are determined “to do it all,” and kids doing all is mighty hard on the parents, especially working mothers. Fatigue after a hard day can leave even the most creative, brainiest of cooks left with that question, “What can I fix for dinner?”

Since fall is also a harvest time, some kitchens are running the canning and freezing marathon now. While putting food by for winter, it’s easy to raid the bounty for a few meals for the immediate future.

It’s easy to make partial meals for convenience when there is little time to cook. This means family-sized packets of vegetables in various forms, tomato sauces with herbs or spices that will sauce pasta or be the basis of chili, packets of soup starters to freeze, ready to thaw-heat-and eat soups, and even some casseroles to freeze. (Before baking, sprinkle with crumbs and dot with butter.)

A family might even get the kids involved, and make “prep packages” on a weekend night with everyone working in assembly line fashion. It’s fun and also a reason to get the family together.

Years ago, we tried to bring everyone together once a week for “family meetings” to discuss individual concerns. (Our kids dreaded family meetings because they thought we parents always bullied them. Probably true... until the kids took high school debate.)

At one of these meetings, we decided that we would make a loose plan for a week’s dinners, nothing set in cement or spaghetti sauce, of course, but a plan with a general entrée category for each day in the week. This time, the kids’ input was important, and their input made the plan successful.

The results went something like this:

Monday: Pasta Night
A pasta, a vegetable, a tossed salad, and bread (usually hard rolls). Pasta with red sauce, or Alfredo, or white clam or perhaps a creamy seafood sauce.

Tuesday: Kids’ Choice
But they had to declare their choice on Sunday, giving the cook shopping time. This was often hot potato salad because each child could pick out his favorite part, the sweet-sour potatoes, bell peppers, onions, or sausage, etc.

Wednesday: Ethnic cuisine
Usually easy Mexican, but sometimes Eastern European (goulash), British (fish and chips), Italian (meatballs in red sauce), Russian (stroganoff), etc. A slaw, fruit or salad completed the meal.

Thursday: One Pot/One Item Dinners
Stew, chicken or beef pies, pasties, clam and corn chowder, or corned beef. (Why do some folks only have corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Tip: For the few extra cents, choose flat cut over point cut. Flat cut means savings in the end in use and ease for leftovers.)

Friday: Health food and Diet Night
This usually turned out to be balanced, but low-calorie meals for us, the dieting parents, and large portions of healthy food for our in-shape, athletic kids (along with some basic education about the foods on the tables, hopefully with a joke or two.) Groaners: Why did the tomato turn red? It saw the salad dressing. What is green and goes to summer camp? A Brussels Scout. How do you fix a cracked pumpkin? With a pumpkin patch?

Saturday: Surprise Day
Anything goes! Even eating together, but with modern Saturdays, it usually means fast food or filled-at-home sack lunches or picnic hampers, food to be eaten after hockey or soccer practice or on the way to friends. The best surprise: the family cooking together when the day’s events are over.

Sunday: What's cookin'
Usually do-it-yourself breakfast with foods laid out
A mid-day Sunday dinner, a pot roast, stuffed pork chops, or steak on the grill, but a meal with a starch, vegetables (maybe two), relishes, and dessert (might be just cookies). Snacks or sandwiches in the evening.

As I cooked those busy back to school days and through the long school year, our family routine gradually altered the original plan. Plans for certain nights faded.

Monday wasn’t always pasta because we often had leftovers from Sunday, a day I like to cook. But Easy Night Friday stuck: Diet and health food sets the tone, a great way to start a fall weekend.

Still, I have our old entree-for-the-day plan perking along in the back of my mind. I’m lucky; I never have to ask, “What can I fix for dinner?”

October 5, 2009

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7 Scary Things In Your Food
by BrandDoctorKerry

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By one estimate, there are over 3,000 food additives being used with the approval of our government. Knowing which additives are safe and which ones may be toxic or carcinogenic can be a tricky proposition – even for the most seasoned label reader!

Here’s what we’ve done to make this matter easier to digest. We’ve compiled a list of the 7 worst and most commonly used junk ingredients that are found in leading brand name foods (even in many foods portrayed as healthy).

Make it a point to avoid these deadly 7 additives and you and your family will be well ahead of the health and weight loss curve!

7 Worst Junk Ingredients to Avoid

1. Sodium nitrate (also called sodium nitrite)

This is a preservative, coloring, and flavoring commonly found in processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, cold cuts and smoked fish. Studies have shown that it reacts with the body’s digestive acids to form a cancer-causing agent called nitrosamines. So double-check that “healthy” turkey for carcinogens before you gobble down your sandwich!

2. Aspartame (aka NutraSweet/Equal)

In scientific terms, this is a chemical combination of two amino acids and methanol. It’s better known by the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, which are sweeteners found in countless “diet” desserts, drink mixes and soft drinks. Aspartame was once thought to be a safe artificial sweetener, but it is now believed to cause cancer and neurological problems such as dizziness and hallucinations.

3. Acesulfame-K

This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is often found in chewing gum and soft drinks. When tested in the laboratory, it caused cancer in rats. And that makes this additive a lot less sweet in our opinion!

4. Artificial food colorings

There are food colorings being used that are linked with cancer in animal testing as well as behavioral disorders in children. These include Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3 and Yellow 6. Amazingly, these colors have been banned in the United Kingdom yet remain in many American foods. They can easily be avoided by choosing natural foods that aren’t chemically or colorfully enhanced.

5. MSG

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in many soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees and restaurant food. This nasty additive can tinker with the nervous system causing side effects like migraines and overeating in some individuals. MSG appears on labels under several aliases, including yeast extract and calcium caseinate. It’s even been found on the labels of organic products! Here’s a list of the common aliases for MSG.

6. Trans fats

Trans fats cause heart disease. It’s a proven fact. Before purchasing any packaged food, check the ingredients list. Even if the label boasts “0g trans fats” BEWARE… the product may still contain up to a 0.5g of trans fats per serving, if you see the words partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list. It’s important to avoid even the smallest amount because it can raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol, making you susceptible to all kinds of health problems!

7. Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate is a preservative used in many foods and beverages. This ingredient is known to cause hives, asthma and other allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. New research shows that it may also cause behavioral disorders in children. One more reason to avoid this harmful ingredient: When used in beverages that also contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C) it forms benzene, a known carcinogen. Some drink manufacturers are still using this toxic duo, so you may have benzene lurking in your favorite drink!

Kerry McLeod is the founder and Chief Brand Doctor of eBrandAid.com, a bi-weekly e-newsletter that educates shoppers on how to find the healthiest and best-tasting foods at the local grocery store. McLeod has recently been featured on CBS 46 News, Martha Stewart Living Radio, Forbes.com, Diet.com, and the Vancouver Sun. She has been a contributing writer for eDiets.com, Diet-Blog.com, Atlanta Sports and Fitness and Jezebel magazines. She has also authored the popular diet and nutrition book The Last Diet Book Standing. For more information visit www.ebrandaid.com.

January 15, 2009

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The Flexitarian Diet
by JohnMc

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Are you ready to lose weight, be healthier, prevent disease AND add years to your life?

Then you're ready for The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill).

Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner didn't cook up the term "flexitarian" -- it'a a cute combo word that means flexible vegetarian -- but she did write the recipe-packed book being rolled out by major publisher McGraw-Hill in early October.

"The scoop is you don’t have to give up your carnivorous cravings," Dawn tells Diet.com. "You simply ingest few extra vegetarian meals here and there.

"The idea is you choose a flexible vegetarian way to live. It's not necessary to go cold turkey on meat; instead you start beefing up vegetarian recipes."

Dawn says there have been hundreds of studies that link vegetarian or semi-vegetarian eating to preventing or lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other ailments.

"One study found you can boost your life by more than three years by eating more fruit and veggies -- and less meat!" Dawn says.

"People who eat plant-based diets weigh naturally 15% less than carnivorous counterparts!

"It's facts like these that ring a bell with a lot of people who are sick and tired of dieting."

During her candid interview with Diet.com, Dawn confessed the issue of flexitarianism is personal.

"I was a closet meat eater -- a vegetarian who’d sneak meat," she says. "I wanted the health benefits of a veggie diet but i didn't want to give up meat. This is hands down the best thing you can do while still participating in 'meaningful meat events' like barbecues, Cubs games and Thanksgiving!"

Yes, the Chicago resident openly digs into a hot dog or two while watching her beloved Cubs play ball.

"I grew up in typical Midwestern home where there was always meat on table," she says.

"Becoming a total vegan was something out of line and out of touch with who I am!"

Instead, Dawn began working more fruit and veggies into her diet -- and she began suggesting that to clients as well. Five years later, Dawn has a hot new book about to hit the bookstores. In it, you'll find a little science and a lot of recipes -- 100 mouthwatering treats to be exact.

"Follow my plan and in 6 to 12 months you'll find yourself lighter, more energetic and way more healthy," she says.

"If you make the needed lifestyle changes you'll see big changes in your blood work. Your cholesterol level will be on the right track because you'll be eating far fewer saturated facts.

"The book is 60-percent recipes for a reason. At the end of day clients want you to tell them what to eat.

"When they have a meal plan to follow and recipes to cook, they do better."

Dawn's favorite meals include:

Lunch: A Southwestern veggie burger with guacamole. It's under 400 calories and very satisfying, she says.

Breakfast: Her patients really her green apple and sun butter toast which is whole grain toast with sunflower seed butter and sliced green apple. It's crunchy and filling.

Her personal favorite is Swiss muesli which is uncooked whole grain oats. You take the old-fashioned rolled oats and soak them in skim milk, soy milk or unsweetened almond milk. You add chopped apple and nuts like almonds. For extra sweetness, drizzle with honey.

Dinner: Cilantro and peanut stir fry. Substitute chicken or beef id you desire.

"I have a very important equation for followers of the Flexitarian Diet: switch out 1/4 cup of beans for every ounce of meat," she notes.

Tips like that allow you to tweak your own food favorites.

Snack: Pizza popcorn. Dawn admits being a big fan of popcorn. It's natural and whole grain. For her recipe, you simply sprinkle the popped corn with oregano and a little bit of Parmesan cheese.

"After reading about the flexitarian diet in 2003 I finally felt like I fit in," she says. "I no longer had to call myself a vegetarian while eating meat in my closet… I am a flexitarian!"

In addition to the health and well-being benefits, you can save money by following this plan.

"Meat is a costly item," Dawn says. "My plan allows you to decrease how much meat you eat. You will definitely save money.

"Also, most ingredients can be found in a traditional grocery store rather than a pricey specialty store."

You'll also be leaving a lighter carbon footprint by choosing more non-meat meals. It's less taxing than meat on the whole ecosystem.

Dawn says Greece, Spain and many Asian cultures follow a flexitarian lifestyle.

A Few Final Words

By being flexibly vegetarian -- adopting more plant foods and new edibles in your diet, while slightly reducing your meat intake and getting to better know your local produce aisle or farmer's market -- you'll be hooked into better health.

Your immune system will get multiple boosts and ward off diseases like cancer and diabetes. You'll stretch out your life expectancy and out-supplement your vitamins.

Then there's the added benefit of weight loss.

Dozens of nutrition studies have scientifically proven that people who eat a vegetarian diet weight on average 15 percent less than non-vegetarians due to a lower intake of fat and calories, and more fiber.

Follow the Flexitarian Diet and you can expect to see a 20-pound average weight loss in six to 12 weeks -- and you'll maintain it for life.

Now that's something we find very easy to swallow!

About the Author: Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She is the nutrition editor for LifeTime TV's website, MyLifetime.com, hosts the "Healthy Eating" segment on Chicago's "Fox News in the Morning" and teaches cooking classes at The Chopping Block Cooking School.

September 22, 2008

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