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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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Vitamin-Enhanced Waters: Help or Hype?
by BrandDoctorKerry

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There used to be three things you could count on: death, taxes and, and chemical-free water in a bottle. Now there are two. Yes, the Grim Reaper still looms, and no politician we know is calling for an end to their beloved taxes. But do take note – someone is screwing with our screw-topped waters!

By now you’ve probably noticed the new kids on the bottled water block of your local grocery store. Next to your spring and glacier waters there’s an oasis of “vitamin-enhanced” waters.

Vitamin-enhanced water… hmmm, on the surface it sure sounds like a super idea, right? Well, no. These products are all wet. They take this week’s prize for the most blatent Healthy Food Imposters.

Case in point:

Dasani Plus, Vitamin-Enhanced Flavored Water Beverage

Take a look at the front label. It seems to imply the product is extremely healthy. You can’t help but imagine this water is enhanced with super vitamins that will defend and protect your health!

But read the fine print and it becomes clear that the only thing this water will defend and protect against is being healthy. See for yourself.

(8 fl. oz., 0 calories, 0g fat, 25mg sodium, 0g carbs, 0g protein, 10% Vit E, 10% zinc)

Ingredients (chemical additives are in bold) Filtered water; Natural Flavors; Citric Acid; Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Benzoate and EDTA (to protect taste); Phosphoric Acid, Acesulfame Potassium, Ginseng Extract, Zinc Gluconate; Sucralose; Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E); Yellow 5; Red 40

Decoding the Fine Print

We dislike being manipulated by sneaky marketing types. But it’s obvious to our food sleuths that this manufacturer designed the front label with the average unsuspecting shopper in mind. It’s chock-full of trickery.

For starters, each serving only provides 10% of the RDA for Vitamin E and Zinc. We hate to douse good intentions but that’s just not a very substantial amount. Sadly, what is substantial are the chemical additives pumped into this once-healthy beverage. We found:

• Three chemical preservatives – potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate, and EDTA.
• Two artificial chemical sweeteners – acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
• Phosphoric acid, a chemical additive found in most soft drinks.
• Two artificial color additives – yellow #5 and red #40.
Just to be clear, they took an unadulterated bottle of water and mixed in a bunch of chemical additives, insignificant amounts of vitamins, artificial coloring and a splash of fizz for good measure. Oh, then they upped the price and slapped a colorful yet misleading label on the bottle.

It’s a brilliant idea… in a marketing and sales kind of way. But for the uninformed consumer, it’s just plain wrong.

Reality Check

The bottled water aisle is one place where it a pays to be a super-savvy shopper who’s soaked up a little BrandAid know-how.

Don’t be fooled by the health hype on ANY brand of vitamin-enhanced water. Bypass the front labels, and go directly to ingredients list. Regardless of the brand, you’ll find all the clues you need to drink in the facts not the fluff.

Remember, when you’re armed with a little BrandAid know-how,
you’re in control at the grocery store.

And when you're linked up with a proven diet based on your unique personality, you will lose weight. Click here to start losing weight today.

Kerry McLeod is eBrandAid.com's chief Brand Doctor and a regular blogger here at Diet.com. Kerry's mission in life is to teach food shoppers how to cut through the clutter at the grocery store in order to find the truly healthy brand-name foods. If smart food shopping appeals to you, go to eBrandAid.com and sign up for free newsletters.

September 7, 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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