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
Make Comfort Foods Healthier: 10 EZ Tips
Fall is here and for many that brings cravings for comfort foods! Who doesn’t remember their favorite casserole, stew or slow cooked pot roast? The thought, taste and smell can bring you back to mom’s cooking and the warm memories of home. And, mom was smart!
Casseroles, stews and chilis are low in cost and make multiple servings. Plus, what’s more convenient than a one-dish meal!
However, when you think about these recipes now, you might notice that they are often high in calories and fat. But don’t let that stop you from starting your own tradition -- healthier, new versions of old, familiar comfort foods!
Read on for tips on modifying casserole-type dishes.
10 easy ways to modify comfort foods
A few simple modifications can shave quite a few calories and fat off of a recipe without sacrificing the flavor.
1. Use lower-fat, lower-sodium cream soups such Healthy Request by Campbell’s. And, mix with non-fat milk, if called for.
2. Use evaporated skim milk in place of cream and try healthier versions of mayonnaise and sour cream.
3. Swap white pasta and white rice for brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
4. Reduce the amount of cheese called for in the recipe by half.
5. Use leaner versions of meat, such as extra lean ground beef or turkey. Or, substitute chicken or turkey breast in place of beef.
6. Go veggie! Try a healthy vegetarian stew or all bean crockpot chili- veggies and beans are very filling!
7. Use lower sodium tomato sauces and broths.
8. When making enchiladas, skip dipping the tortillas in oil. Instead, cover the tortillas with a wet paper towel and microwave for a few seconds until softened.
9. Reduce the meat and add veggies! Try carrots, bell peppers and corn in chili, or squash and mushrooms in enchiladas. Another example is right in this issue, where we take beef stroganoff and make it veggie!
10. Keep portions under control by filling at least half your plate with salad.
Lighter Tuna Casserole
2 cans chunk style white tuna
6 oz whole grain noodles (3 cups)
1/2 cup celery
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup non-fat sour cream
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
1 zucchini, diced
3/4 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1 tomato, diced
1. Drain and flake the tuna. Set aside.
2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse in hot water.
3. Combine noodles with the tuna, celery and onions.
4. Blend in the sour cream, mustard powder, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
5. Spoon half the mixture into a 2-quart casserole sprayed with cooking spray. Top with half the zucchini. Repeat layers.
6. Top with the cheese.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
8. Sprinkle with the chopped tomato.
Nutrition Info (based on 8 servings): 267 calories, 19g protein, 35g carbs, 6g fat, 2g saturated fat, 355mg sodium, 5g fiber
October 9, 2008
The Weight Conscious Kitchen: What To Stock
Have you ever thought about stocking your kitchen according to your goals? Well, give it a try - you’ll benefit by meeting your health and weight goals.
The following ideas are grouped according to common health goals. If you have multiple health goals, you don’t have to stick with one of the below – try mixing and matching or alternating!
Weight Conscious Kitchen (fiber filled and low calorie)
Produce: apples, bananas, berries, broccoli, dark green lettuce, dates, green beans, kale, pears, pineapple, spinach
Grains: whole wheat bread, pumpernickel and rye breads, flax, whole grain cereal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta (or blend), whole wheat pitas, oat bran pancake mix, low-fat granola, whole wheat couscous
Protein: soybeans (edamame), lentils, all types of beans, chicken breast, turkey, lean ham, lean roast beef, extra lean ground turkey, fish or shellfish, tofu or tempeh
Dairy: non-fat or low-fat milk and yogurt, soy milk, reduced-fat cheese, part-skim mozzarella
Healthy Fats: almonds, peanuts and peanut butter, walnuts, olive oil, olives
Frozen: low-fat ice cream, sorbet, fruit juice bars, fudgesicles, frozen unsweetened fruit, frozen veggies, veggie burgers, healthy frozen meals, vegetarian low-fat burritos
Snacks: hummus, baby carrots, low-fat string cheese or individual cheese (try Babybel Light or Laughing Cow Light), whole grain crackers (try Ak-Mak), snack-size 94% fat free popcorn, 100-calorie packs
Stay Healthy Kitchen (rich in antioxidants, folic acid, lutein and fiber)
Produce: apples, apricots, avocados, beets, bell peppers, berries, broccoli, Brussels spouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, dried plums, grapefruit, kale, kiwi, shitake mushrooms, oranges, raisins, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (and tomato sauce)
Grains: whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, bran cereal, oatmeal
Protein: beans, lentils, low-fat chili
Beverages: purple 100% grape juice, pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice, green tea (moderation for juices)
Freezer: frozen fruits and veggies, bean-based burgers
Heart Healthy Kitchen (rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and fiber)
Produce: avocados, bell peppers, berries, garlic, kiwis, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots
Grains: oatmeal, brown rice, bran cereal, wheat germ, wheat barely
Protein: soy products (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, soy burgers), beans, lentils, fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines or trout, eggs fortified with omega-3’s, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, hazlenuts
Healthier Spreads: vegetable spreads fortified with plant sterol/stanol esters such as Take Control or Benecol or try lower fat/trans fat free spreads such as Brummel and Brown
Beverages: 100% orange juice, red wine (moderation of course!)
Freezer: frozen fruits and veggies, veggie burgers, frozen fish
September 29, 2008