7-Day Menu: Quick 'n Yummy Family Dinners
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
7 Scary Things In Your Food
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.
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.
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
Happy Halloween: Best, Worst Candy
We’ve officially kicked off the candy-themed holidays with a big bang – Halloween! If you’re scared by the candy invading your home, office, school and every business you walk into, I understand!
It can be hard to stick with a healthy eating plan when candy is staring you down everywhere you turn.
While it may seem impossible to keep your hand out of the candy jar, it’s not impossible. Read on for some tips on sticking with your plan and which candies are not so spooky.
13 Spook-tacular Tips
• Buy candy the day before Halloween and buy only what you need.
• If you buy candy - buy something you do not like or try lollipops (they are harder to overindulge in!).
• Discard leftovers or donate leftovers to your local church, charity or neighbors and set a specific date to rid of candy.
• Don’t shop for candy when you are hungry.
• Try to give away all of the candy you bought – a good deal for late trick or treaters!
• Try non-food treats such as stickers, pencils, erasers, bracelets or plastic spiders.
• Try healthier treats such as 100-calories packs (crackers, cookies or fruit snacks), juice boxes, microwave popcorn, mini boxes of raisins, sugarless gum, mini packs of baby carrots or peanuts.
• Vow to keep a munch log and record every innocent treat you eat!
• Read the nutrition facts before you empty the bag and throw it away.
• Plan a treat into your day but try to keep it under 150 calories. You can use this as a substitution for your normal treat.
• Vow to walk 10-minutes for every extra treat that you eat.
• Follow the same rules your kids follow – you probably don’t let them indulge in Halloween candy whenever they want!
• Make your dentist proud and brush your teeth after each treat – this will also help signal that you are done with the treats.
Some candy facts are downright scary and others not so much – take a look at my top 5 best and worst picks.
Say no to these candies in the jack-o-lantern (these “snack” sized treats can easily add up to more than a regular candy bar!):
1. Snack Size Twizzlers: 130 calories
2. Snack Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: 110 calories
3. Snack Size Butterfinger: 100 calories
4. Fun Size M&M’s: 100 calories
5. Snack Size Milky Way: 90 calories
Say yes to these candies in the jack-o-lantern in moderation (remember, just because they’re little doesn’t mean they don’t add up!)
1. Mini Tootsie Roll: 13 calories
2. Reese’s Mini Cup: 35 calories
3. Treat Size Box Milk Duds: 40 calories
4. Miniature Box Raisins: 45 calories
5. Treat Size SweetTarts: 50 calories
Have a lot of trick and a little treat this Halloween!
Shauna Schultz, RD
October 31, 2008