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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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Family Meal Time For The Dieter
by ShaunaS

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Do you consider yourself a short order cook – preparing one meal for yourself and another for your kids? Just because you are trying to lose weight doesn’t mean you need to eat special foods.

There are plenty of healthy foods that you and your family can enjoy! And, did you know that families who eat together eat better?

We’ve put together some tips that will please the whole crowd.

 Remember, mom (or dad) gets to decide what, when and where to eat while kids get to decide how much!

 Get the whole family involved in planning – for example, let your kids choose a meal or two each week. If you need help modifying a recipe, post it in the Rate My Plate board – almost any recipe can be made healthier!

 Picky eaters in the house? Serve one or two veggie dishes and let them decide what to try. Serve veggies in fun ways by cutting them in different shapes or serving them with dips.

 Make shopping and cooking fun! Let your kids pick out there favorite color fruit or veggie at the store and let them help you prepare the meal. When they feel in control, they are more likely to try new foods.

 Have theme nights such as Potato Bar, Tostada Bar or Salad Bar night.

 Keep in mind that kids do like healthy foods! Sometimes we assume they don’t so we don’t offer healthy foods. The truth is, when exposed to different foods, kids will try them.

Not your Average Mac n’ Cheese!
Who doesn’t like Mac n’ Cheese?! This recipe uses whole wheat pasta, reduced-fat cheese and veggies to make it a healthy dish.

1/2 lb or 2 cups dry whole wheat macaroni shells or whole wheat penne pasta
2 tbsp light butter such as Land O’ Lakes Light Whipped Butter
2 cups non-fat milk
2 tbsp flour
2 tsp dry mustard
1 cup reduced-fat shredded cheese
2 cups finely chopped broccoli and carrots
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Black Pepper and garlic powder to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

2. Heat milk in the microwave on high for 1-1 ½ minutes (or until warm but not boiling). Melt butter in a medium sized pan over low heat. Mix flour and dry mustard together and slowly add to melted butter. Whisk until there are no more lumps. Slowly add warm milk to pan, continuously whisking. Turn heat to medium and cook sauce for about 3 minutes, whisking often to thicken.

3. Add cheddar cheese and cook sauce for 1 more minute, stirring with a wooden spoon until cheese is melted. Combine cooked pasta, cheese sauce and chopped veggies in a large bowl and place in a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Spread evenly and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Servings: 6
Nutrition Info: 211 calories, 13 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 220 mg sodium, 7 g fiber

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August 1, 2008

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Couch Potato Teens
by DrDiet

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The age of the typical couch potato is getting younger.

An extensive new study looked at the activity habits of American children; the findings are startling.

As reported in Newsday, “While 90 percent of 9-year-olds get a couple of hours of exercise most days, fewer than 3 percent of 15-year-olds do. What’s more, the study suggests that less than a third of teens that age get even the minimum recommended by the government – an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like cycling, brisk walking, swimming or jogging.”

Many of these teen couch potatoes are also “mouse potatoes” – they spend endless hours at their computers or playing video games. Making matters worse: Many schools have dropped gym class which only encourages more sedentary behaviors.

The twin epidemics of a sedentary lifestyle and obesity go hand-in-hand.

Chronic diseases and the negative effects of an inactive lifestyle used to be an adult-only problem. Not anymore.

We live in such a media-driven society that children today need prompts and reminders to turn off the TV and go outside and play.

It’s important for parents to encourage family-oriented activities that are fun for the kids, like bowling, bike riding, hiking, swimming, walking the dog and playing catch.

Setting an example for kids regarding what an active young adult should be doing will go far in helping the whole family develop healthy lifestyle habits that can last a lifetime.

July 22, 2008

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