Archive for the ‘ Solutions ’ Category

Sunday Saver: How to Reduce Food Waste and Slash Grocery Bills

Friday, November 8th, 2013

“When my daughter wakes up, she opens her eyes and asks ‘What’s for dinner?’”

“I wish I was kidding,” Alex Guarnaschelli laughs. ”By the time she’s eating breakfast, I better have an answer for her.”

Like moms everywhere, this Food Network star faces The Dinner Question. (And thus, trips to the market and food storage tasks.)

Alex, the author of Old-School Comfort Food and mother to a 6-year-old, is the executive chef at Butter in New York City. Last year, she became one of Food Network’s Iron Chefs, and she is a regular judge on Chopped.

Every morning Alex goes to the kitchen to plan her entire day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.

Making a plan of attack on your groceries will save time, money, and cut back on waste, she says, which is why she partnered with Glad for the Save It Sunday campaign. The movement, which encourages participants to protect and preserve food, centers on the Sunday ritual of grocery shopping.

“It’s the one day of the week when you can commit to setting aside time: for shopping, cooking ahead meals, and storing other items—it’s about starting the week on the right foot,” she says.

Alex does a lot of her cooking on Sunday, which is why the pledge really speaks to her. But it also goes a step further.

“Ironically, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook—because I’m doing it all day everyday and by mid-week I’m fried,” she says. “Taking that time on Sunday, and getting joy from it, is wonderful.”

A proponent of reducing waste, Alex is extremely conscious of the issue both at work and at home.

“When I talk to my team about how to prep and store 100 pounds of beans for the restaurant, the same thing applies when I go home and make braised short ribs for my daughter,” she says. “You have to be very proactive.”

According to a 2012 study by the National Resources Defense Council, the average American household throws out 25 percent of the food purchased—roughly $1,500 worth each year.

 

Try Alex’s tips for saving time, money, and reducing food waste:
• Make a meal plan.

“Figure out what you are going to do with everything you buy,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to have an agenda—you’ll feel like you’re pulling a fast one on everybody because it’s so easy!”

Read the Parents meal-plan guide to get started.

 

• Stop thinking about leftovers as, well, leftovers.

“Instead of looking at packaging as something that lets you recycle and throw back in the scraps no one ate, think about it as a new beginning,” she says. “And, by making a plan, you’re actually ensuring there aren’t any leftovers.”

Plus, “leftovers” can be better than the first time around: “Growing up my mom would make a big batch of meatballs and sauce and, to me, the sauce tasted better two days later,” she says. “It’s not a leftover—it’s something you created that got better with age or other ingredients.”

 

• Don’t be hard on yourself.

“Some weeks, I don’t have my act together,” she says. “As a busy working mom, there are nights when I have to say, ‘Guess what kid, it’s fried eggs tonight.’ And that’s okay.”

 

• Reorganize your fridge.

“The crisper can be the kiss of death. Don’t put your fruits and veggies in there,” she says. “Instead, fill it with club soda and put your produce on display. My favorite thing to do is put herbs in a jar of water on the top shelf, or sometimes right on the kitchen table.”

 

• Buy different ingredients.

“Challenge yourself to use new items—like a bunch of thyme or mint—by taking one little step each day for a week. In order to use it up, you’ll find creative ways to add the ingredient to dishes.”

 

To join the #SaveItSunday movement, visit glad.com. If you pledge, you’ll be entered to win a meal prepared by a personal chef.

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Kid Equipment 101: A Lesson in Assembly

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

One thing you’ll never have enough of in your child’s early years: gear. There will always be some gadget to comfort and entertain your little one. But sometimes putting it all together can be frustrating. As the new resident builder (aka: editorial assistant) for the lifestyle department, I understand the woes of toy construction. Follow these tips to make your next build less of a pain.

1. Don’t assume.
You may think you know how one part connects to another, but most of the time, you’ll be wrong. I was all confidence when I started building a Learn and Crawl car, only to realize I screwed a side panel together without a vital piece. To avoid repeating your work all over, just stick to the steps. Try reading ahead to make sure you follow instructions in order.

2. Be creative.
There will be times you just stare at the directions with no clue what they mean. When pictures and text seem vague, that’s the time to take a mini break from building. When you return to the project later, a genius idea may hit you, as it did for me when attaching the bouncer seat of this Evenflo activity station. Looking at how the product is pictured on the box can also be a great resource. That’s my go-to trick for inspiration.

3. Use your muscle.
Gear is a lot harder to put together than it looks. Just because parts won’t fit in place doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. You simply need a little more arm strength. Trying to loop a tiny cloth tab through a narrow slot on the seat of this Baby Home high chair seemed impossible at first to me. But with a little force, it gave way eventually. If all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to ask hubby for a hand or two.

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Tooth Fairy Spending Flies High

Friday, August 30th, 2013

No longer just a mystical being, the tooth fairy has become a serious expense for families. A new survey from Visa shows that children are raking in an average of $3.70 per tooth, a 23 percent increase from $3 in 2012. That means a full set of 20 baby teeth goes for $74 these days.

Luckily, Visa’s free Tooth Fairy Calculator can help you determine just how much to leave your little trooper. Available for iPhones and iPads as well as on Facebook, the app allows you to enter several demographic factors, including gender, age and income, to see what the famed pixie is leaving at other similar households.

Though you don’t have to follow the app’s projections, it could be a great opportunity to teach your child the value of money.

When I was a kid, a visit from the tooth fairy always made the pain of shedding a molar worthwhile. Her offerings were greater than allowance because they appeared as if by magic. It made me want to hoard the cash even more to save for an extra special purchase.

Looking back, the tooth fairy sparked the saving bug that would later become so important in my transition to adulthood. A frugal fairy isn’t any less caring about the turmoil of losing baby teeth. She’s just more focused on making sure your guy or girl learns good spending habits for the future.

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Speaking Up For Autism

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

In a crowded political assembly, reporters’ lights flash and hands shoot up in hopes of asking Governor Mitt Romney a question. In the front of the crowd a small hand is confidently raised and called upon.

“My name is Sam Wessels, I am 9 and here is my question,” the boy speaks clearly into the microphone. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 1 in 5 American children have a learning disability. Mine is autism. What is happening to America’s most precious resource, her children, and what do you plan to do about it? Thank you.”

Sam’s mother, Lin Wessels, says she will never forget how stunned the crowd was to see a young boy speak so confidently and clearly in that high-pressure situation.

This fifth grader from Iowa has spoken with every Republican candidate that toured his state during caucus season and most recently had the chance to speak with President Obama. His goal is to be a voice for the many children with autism who cannot speak.

Lin Wessels is a strong autism advocate. She has raised her son to understand that the American political process is meant to work for all people, no matter their differentiated ability.

“When we’re on the way to event I always talk to Sam about what he wants to say and what is important to him,” she said.

The family’s most exciting moment yet came when the Wessels were able to meet President Obama.

Wessels proudly remembers her son leaning into the President’s ear and asking if he would join him in standing up for people with autism.

Wessels puts aside her party affiliations when it comes to advocating for her son and others with autism. She is respectful of every candidate and makes sure her son understands what an honor it is to speak with these important people.

So how can the public and the government stand up for people with autism? Wessels says that education is the key.

“We need to make sure general education teachers are educated about autism so they know the reasons behind these children’s behavior,” she said. “Another important issue is finding ways for adults with autism to work in our society.”

Wessels says that what stands out to her the most about her and Sam’s journey is the amount of people who connect with them.

“No matter where we go or who we address, there are always people who come up to us afterward and remark on how grateful they are for what we do,” she said. “Especially to Sam for his courage and bravery to fight for a cause that is so near and dear to so many, including himself.”

Visit the Wessels’ YouTube channel to see some of Sam’s interactions with America’s politicians, and hear what they have to say about autism.

Learn the 6 facts you need to know about autism on Parents.com.

Photos courtesy of Lin Wessels

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Prop 37: What You Need to Know About the Food Labeling Bill

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

When you head to the polls on November 6, there may be an item on your ballot that you haven’t heard of before. Californian voters will have the option to vote on Proposition 37, a bill that would require foods with genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) to be labeled for consumers. A GMO is a food that has had specific changes to its DNA by genetic engineering techniques. The purpose of these genetic alterations is to make crops more resistant to rain, drought and pests.

Supporters of the bill say that GMO’s have been linked to allergies, organ toxicity and other health problems. Fifty countries in the world, including all of Europe, Japan, India and China, already require labels on GMO’s. Over 400 nationally renowned chefs have signed a petition in support of the bill saying that consumers should have a right to know if their food has been genetically engineered.

Based on those facts, passing Prop 37 may seem like an easy decision. However, its opponents firmly believe otherwise. According to No Prop 37, GMO’s are products of biotechnology— a safe anti-pesticide process that has been going on for nearly two decades. Opponents believe that by banning the sale of millions of common grocery products unless they are repackaged or made with higher cost ingredients would increase government bureaucracy and taxpayer costs.

To research both sides further, visit CA Right to Know and  No Prop 37.

Do you think GMO foods should be labeled? Let us know in the comments.

Image: Woman checking food labeling in super market, via Shutterstock
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How “Walk To School Day” Turned Out

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

As I posted the other day, I was worried that the bad forecast would literally rain on my parade as I walked my children to school in honor of Walk To School Day. This was a big deal for me–my work schedule prohibits me from driving the girls to school, much less walking them, but I was able to work at home yesterday. Happily, the weather was fine, and not only did I walk with the girls, we even picked up two of their friends along the way. It took less time than I expected, there was no complaining, and all four kids seemed very proud of themselves when we arrived at school. More than 3,700 communities across the U.S. held events to boost participation, and next year I’m definitely going to lead one in our town.

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Will You Walk Your Child To School Tomorrow?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

October is International Walk to School Month, and tomorrow, October 3, is Walk to School Day. The aim is to build awareness for the need for walkable neighborhoods and to promote all of the benefits of walking to school. I’m sure you can guess what they are: Walking helps kids (and their parents) be more active, it fosters a sense of community, it’s better for the environment and your gasoline budget, and it cuts down on traffic.

A great site created by the National Center for Safe Routes to School (yep, there is such a thing) gives all kinds of fantastic information, including a directory of all of the Walk to School Day events taking place around the country. As of this writing, there are 3,794 events happening all over the U.S. You’ll also find safe-walking tips and ways to map your route to school.

Tomorrow’s forecast in my town isn’t looking promising, but I have every intention of walking my girls, ages 4 and 7, the 9/10 of a mile to their school in the morning. I’m so curious to see how they do–I can’t remember the last time either of them walked that far. Fingers crossed the rain holds off…

If you walk your child to school tomorrow, please let us know how it went!

 

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An Easy Way to Fight Child Hunger

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

No Kid HungryWe’ve all seen the heartbreaking images of children in third world countries who are barely surviving due to a lack of food. We all know that this tragic reality exists, but did you know that there are 16 million children living here in America who are battling hunger?

We at Parents take this issue very seriously. We recently ran a report on what hunger looks like in America and interviewed a mom who experienced it firsthand.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is teaming up with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to bring 1 million meals to children in need. They invited us and other bloggers to write about their favorite Italian recipe and for every post they will donate $50 to No Kid Hungry, which will provide up to 500 meals for children in need.

Here’s what you can do to help.

Give
Throughout the entire month of September, Macaroni Grill diners can donate $2 to No Kid Hungry and receive $5 off their next visit. A $2 donation could provide up to 20 meals.

Share
Every time a fan shares a photo from the Mac Grill Facebook Gallery, Macaroni Grill will help No Kid Hungry provide a child with a meal.

Tag
Tweet or Instagram a photo of your Macaroni Grill experience with the tag #macgrillgive and Macaroni Grill will provide a child with a meal.

Here’s one of our favorite Italian dishes, the mega-simple Crockpot Lasagna:

Ingredients:           

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 26 ounce jar pasta sauce
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 15 ounce carton light ricotta cheese
  • 6 lasagna noodles
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6oz.)

Make It
1. Coat a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In a large microwave-safe bowl stir together pasta sauce and water. Cover bowl with waxed paper and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl stir together ricotta cheese and carrot; set aside.

2. Spoon 1/2 cup of the sauce mixture in the bottom of prepared slow cooker. Break half of the noodles to fit the bottom of the slow cooker and arrange over the sauce in the slow cooker. Spoon mounds of half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the layers. Top with remaining noodles, breaking to fit, remaining ricotta mixture, and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Spoon remaining sauce over and top with remaining mozzarella.

3. Cover; cook on low heat setting for 3 hours (noodles should be tender). Remove crockpot from liner and let stand covered for 20 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Tip
Stovetop Method:  Prepare as above, except increase noodles to 8 and layer ingredients in a large deep skillet. Bring to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes.

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