Archive for the ‘ Food ’ 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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Plan a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu With Udi’s (Yes, It’s Possible!)

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Udi's gluten-free food - sweet potato hummus, sausage and fennel stuffing, roasted beet salad with garlic croutons, snickerdoodle cranberry cream cheese tartRounding up the family together for Thanksgiving (and having them get along) is already hard enough without the added worry of creating dishes to satisfy certain diets and picky eaters. And if you have family members who have certain food allergies and sensitivities (especially to gluten), you might feel even more overwhelmed.

But don’t throw in the towel yet.

Hosting a gluten-free Thanksgiving feast is possible — and Udi’s Gluten Free has simple and delicious recipes that can even convert gluten lovers (like me). Recently, another editor and I were invited to a special Udi’s Thanksgiving luncheon, along with other Meredith editors, to sample gluten-free takes on classic holiday dishes. As a foodie and someone who believed going gluten-free meant eating pale imitations of “real” foods, I was surprised by the versatile spread and even more surprised by the delicious flavors.

On the menu was a whole course that incorporated gluten-free bread, chips, and cookies:

I could definitely see the sweet potato hummus and roasted beet salad on my own Thanksgiving table, which usually has some gluten-free (and dairy-free) dishes made especially for my little nephew, who has a few food allergies. Even if no one in your family has gluten allergies, there are still some benefits to going gluten-free, like taming tummy troubles and maintaining a healthy weight. And some studies have shown a gluten-free diet could possibly help kids with autism, though research results are inconclusive.

Best of all: these gluten-free dishes could easily substitute Thanksgiving mainstays (without sacrificing tastiness) and be worth repeating for Christmas, perhaps served with an additional dessert like ice cream sandwiches made with Udi’s maple pecan chocolate chip cookies. So now that you have some new recipes, I hope this year’s dinner planning will be just a little easier!

More Gluten-Free Foods on Parents.com

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Dinner in a Flash

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Blogger Jessica Fisher is a meal-planning and food-prepping guru. On weekends you’ll find her cooking up a storm, making up to 30 dinners to freeze and then reheat as needed throughout the month. This freezer-cooking method inspired her first book, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead & Freeze Cookbook, which hit bookstores recently. Fisher also shares tips for managing meals, home, and family on her two websites: LifeasMOM and GoodCheapEats. We asked the mom of six (!) how she gets dinner on the table in a flash so that you can, too.

What inspired you to share your cooking and home-making experiences in a blog?

I have always been a home cook, starting when I was about six or seven years old. My mom let me have free reign in the kitchen, so I was primarily self-taught. Many of my jobs as a teen and in college were food-related, including catering and waiting tables in restaurants. Over time I learned about food, from prepping to eating.

GoodCheapEats is all about food for families: how to get dinner on the table in a timely manner, make it fun for kids, and remain economical. I started it because, at the time, our family was in debt. By cutting back and being smarter about spending and saving, we paid off $18,000 in about a year and a half.

How does freezer-cooking fit in?

When I was pregnant, my friend and I decided to try freezer cooking for the first time. We spent the whole weekend cooking up a bunch of meals, packaging them, and then freezing them. That week, it was incredibly nice to come home and reheat a dish the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. To have that luxury for a month was totally worth the two days I invested!

That was 17 years ago. Since then, I’ve conducted personal research and it’s been all trial and error. My family is used to my experiments, many of which have led to culinary adventures and memory-making!

You have six children ranging in ages from 5 to 16. How do you manage such a large dinner table while staying on budget?

We typically serve buffet style up at the counter. I will plate for little ones and everyone else serves themselves—it’s so much easier this way.

By planning and cooking everything in advance, the cost-savings are huge. This way, I can buy in bulk and then make a month’s worth of dinners for about $300. That means each meal for eight people costs about $10—that’s a great ratio. Plus, I’ve saved on energy bills from using the stove and other appliances less often.

What other benefits might families see from using the freezer-cooking method?

Saving time, keeping a healthy diet, and having peace of mind. Once I fill my freezer, I don’t have to think about, “What’s for dinner?” until next month. Freezing is my sanity saver. Plus, it saves us from going for fast food when we’re in a pinch—that’s why I always keep burritos or soup in the freezer!

So what exactly can we put in the freezer?

There is so much that can freeze, that it’s more about what can’t: soft cheeses, anything with mayo, deli cheese or meats, and obvious items like salads. The “What Can’t You Freeze?” section of the book goes into more detail.

How does your freezer-cooking method work?

Choose recipes that have common ingredients. When chopping onions for one dish, you’re doing so for multiple dishes—just like a larger commercial kitchen that has a prep cook. Once everything is prepped, you simply put the items together in different ways. This is what cuts down on time and hassle.

To save time, get as many things as you can. I call it getting my “maids” working: my two slow cookers, bread machine, and stock pots on all stove burners. Use the technology at your disposal to help get your timing right.

When you’re ready to freeze, plastic zip-top bags are good options, but I love heavy-duty plastic containers with lids. Just be sure all food cools completely before stowing it away. Chilling dishes in the refrigerator first works well.

Label dates and names clearly, not only for food-safety reasons but also to avoid mistaken identities. One night, my husband thought beef gravy was chocolate ice cream. Yuck! And don’t forget to rotate your stock—all items should be used within two to three months.

So can moms combine pre-made, frozen items with fresh items?

Of course! I highly recommend stir-fries: freeze your choice of protein prepared in a sauce. Then, when you’re reheating, add fresh peppers, onion, and snap peas.

How can moms who’ve never cooked in bulk get started with make-ahead freezer cooking? What are good learning curve tips? What about easy first recipes?

It depends on how comfortable you are with cooking to begin with. If you’re a home cook with a little experience, it can be a smooth transition. If you haven’t cooked from scratch very much, it can be overwhelming.

I always suggest that if you have a favorite meal, start with that. This way, you know your family likes it and you simply make a double or triple batch. If you’re only freezing two meals during your week of cooking, you can experiment with how you package it and how your freezer responds. Then, move on to making short meal plans.

To get started, choose a couple of recipes and just go for it—it takes practice so try, try again. You can’t really lose with the plans in the book, especially because I’ve already made grocery lists for you!

Does this mean mom has to sacrifice her entire weekend cooking to make the weeknights easier?

There are shorter ways to cook in bulk. Sometimes I make several dishes over the course of a few weeknights, after kids are asleep. If you don’t want or need to do a full 30-day prep, it can be as easy as doubling or tripling dinner.

Or try recycling menu plans. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week. Try having a meatloaf night on Monday, or tacos on Tuesday. That takes the guesswork out of it. With things like pizza, you can vary the toppings each week and keep it healthy with salad and veggie dippers on the side.

Okay, so you had a crazy weekend and your freezer stock is out. What is your go-to recipe during the week?

If worse comes to worse, I always have red sauce frozen and pasta in the cupboard. Having a back-up plan takes the pressure off—because sometimes, we just don’t have the time or energy!

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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Tried-and-True Recipes for Weeknight Dinners

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to putting a healthy, appealing dinner on the table day in and day out. But, finding no-fail recipes can be a challenge. Moms and food editors Kathleen Brennan and Caroline Campion have come to our rescue with their new cookbook Keepers. A collection of quick and easy (but interesting) recipes, the book is also a friendly guide for the beginning cook that promises to reveal the secrets to happiness in the kitchen. 

Q: What is a “keeper”?

A: A keeper is a recipe that you turn to time and again because it’s foolproof, the best of its kind, and a crowd-pleaser. Most people have at least a couple keepers in their repertoire—their mom’s macaroni and cheese, a roast chicken they’ve perfected, a favorite brownie—but we wanted to give families a book filled with weeknight keepers to help them get from Monday to Friday, week after week.  And we paired them with lots of tips and advice to help them become better cooks in general, too.

Q: What are some tips for moms who are just starting to cook for families?

A: Start simple. Master the basics first: a balanced vinaigrette that you can use to dress a simple green salad, warm grains, or leftover roasted vegetables; a basic tomato sauce that you can make almost as quickly as opening a jar of tomato sauce (which generally has added sugar, unpronounceable preservatives, and excessive salt); a turkey chili that you can make ahead and keep warm on the stove on those nights when everybody is eating at different times. Mastering these basics will give you an amazing head start to feeding your family! 

Q: How can cooking at home help families who are on a budget?

A: This is a no-brainer: if you were to spend a week feeding your family a menu of take-out and frozen dinners and then compared the receipts with those from a supermarket shopping list for home-cooked meals (beef stir-fry, turkey tacos, chicken pot pie, pizza with store-bought dough), you would see how much you save by making dinner. Plus, you know EXACTLY what went into the food and chances are it will be healthier and more delicious. But we’re not saying that you shouldn’t ever order in pizza. In fact, we recommend giving yourself one night off from cooking Monday to Friday, whether that means serving pizza, leftovers, sandwiches, whatever.

Q: I love some of your tips, especially “season like you mean it” and “taste your food first”. Why are these so important?

A: There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of time and effort on a meal and then having it taste like sawdust because you forgot to add the salt—yet a very common mistake! And it’s easily avoidable if you taste the dish before you serve it. 

Q: What is your philosophy regarding buying organic?

A: For many families, buying organic is just not in their budget, so we say buy organic when possible, but also when it counts (so organic fruit and vegetables—yes; organic ketchup and Oreos—no). We also think that eating locally can be equally important as eating organically: supporting local farmers and shopping at farmers’ markets.

Q: Is it realistic to think that kids can help cook on a busy weeknight?

A: It depends on a few things: your mood, the kids’ interest, how much time you have. Base it on what works on that particular night. At the very least, maybe they can help set the table, toss the salad, or grate the cheese, so they are involved in the process of getting dinner done but no one is making anyone crazy. But there’s nothing wrong with saving the more involved cooking-together experience for lazy Sundays.

Q: What do you do find is the most challenging part of putting nourishing and appealing meals on the table day in and day out?

A: Probably time and scheduling. We think the best strategy is to try and sketch out a plan of what you’ll be making for the week ahead of time. So if Monday is going to be particularly hectic, plan on making one of our “lay-up” recipes like angel hair pasta with spicy tomato cream sauce, and if on Wednesday you know everyone will be eating at different times—what we call a “staggered” dinnertime—prepare something that holds well on the back of the stove, like our smoky turkey chili or Japanese “meat and potatoes”. If on Thursday night you have a bit more time, then make our roasted chicken breasts with sweet potatoes and kale salad. Another strategy that helps us deal with the week ahead is to try and make a few things on Sunday that you can serve during the week: roasting a few sheet pans of vegetables or making one our “lifesavers”, sauces and dressings such as magic miso-mayo and chimichurri, that keep for several days and make anything taste better, including store-bought rotisserie chicken or leftover grains and veggies. 

Q: Picture this: you’ve just made a healthy, from-scratch meal in 30 minutes. SUCCESS! And then your kids won’t touch a bite. What next?

A: Do not stress—children are unpredictable creatures! One day they will devour an entire plate of your homemade fish fingers and the next time you make the exact same dish they will tell you it “looks different” and refuse to take a bite. You can cajole them all you want—cry, beg, bribe—but once they’ve decided they don’t want something, that’s probably it. Rather than going into short-order cook mode (a habit worth avoiding) and not enjoying the meal ourselves, we say, “This is dinner. Mommy is not making anything else, and I would love for you to try it because I think you will like it.” And if this fails, we do what one experienced mom of grown kids taught us and put bread and sandwich fixings on the table and invite them to make their own sandwich.

Q: What is your goal with this cookbook?

A: There are so many resources these days for people looking for help in the kitchen. You can type the word “chicken breast recipe” into the computer and it will come up with a zillion choices. But how to find one that will actually work, not call for an ingredient you probably don’t have, tastes terrific, and can be ready before the kids start to revolt? It’s often a crapshoot. That’s where Keepers comes in: every recipe is tried-and-true, most can be made in about 35 minutes or less and none call for pricey or exotic ingredients. We share lots of advice about how to stock your pantry, how to shop, season your food, and improve leftovers. It’s meant to be your go-to resource for Monday to Friday dinners, and even better, it’s like having a knowledgeable, but fun friend alongside you in the kitchen. Now if the book could also do the dishes, you’d be all set.

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Parents Pinterest Board Takeover

Friday, September 27th, 2013

If you’re like many busy parents across the country (including us), it can be tough to come up with quick meal ideas to keep your family healthy and happy. Enter food blog superstar Stacie Billis. The author of “One Hungry Mama,” a family-friendly food blog with tips, tricks and recipes to encourage healthy eating, is also a child development specialist who produced her own organic family food brand. She believes that keeping an eye on what kids eat is just as important as monitoring what they play with and watch on TV. For the month of October, Billis will be joining the fun over on our Pinterest page and pinning her favorite recipes, parenting tricks and other One Hungry Mama-approved picks.

In addition to being our guest pinner, Billis also lends her voice to the Huffington Post and Cool Mom Picks, where she is a regular contributor. Her work has also been featured in publications including Parents magazine and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine to name just a few.

Happy pinning!

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Chop To It! How To Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

After writing more than 21 cookbooks and contributing to numerous national publications, mom-of-two Sally Sampson decided to dedicate her skills to the fight against childhood obesity. In 2010, ChopChop: The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families was born. The quarterly delivers lively food fundamentals for kids (and adults!) to doctors’ offices, schools, and homes across the country. Now, the clever cooking guide is available in book form. ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family features more than 100 recipes to get your kids in the kitchen. And if these fun ideas don’t inspire your little ones, Sampson has a few tips that just might do the trick.

ChopChop is dedicated to teaching children cooking skills and healthy eating habits. Why is this mission important to you?

Before I created ChopChop, I was writing cookbooks but didn’t feel that was enough. I knew I could do more than write recipes; I wanted to make a difference. Teaching nutrition and cooking to a child helps her understand that there’s a difference between an apple, apple juice, and apple-flavored products. Then she can make better food choices, and that results in better health. Plus, cooking is such a wonderful way to bond with your kids! I just think it’s the greatest, most important thing.

How did you come up with the name “ChopChop?”

You know, it’s the funniest thing: we spent days and days listing different names and none of them felt right. Then one day I just said, “ChopChop.”And it stuck.

I have to ask—what were the duds?

One of them was “Picnic,” another was “Nosh.” And there were a million versions with “Kids Cooking.” When I look at them now, they really just don’t fit.

How can kids get their hands on a copy?

Subscribe! Or find copies in your pediatrician’s office, hospital, or school. If your school doesn’t have issues available, you can visit our website or call us to set up a classroom subscription. Some schools have even gathered sponsors and created custom editions!

The magazine received the James Beard Foundation Publication of the Year Award for 2013. What was that like?

It was great! It gave us gravitas in the food world—Mark Bittman has written about us in the New York Times, and our readership has close to doubled in subscriptions. As the only kids’ magazine to receive the award, in addition to being a non-profit, we’ve really stood out.

Reviewers have credited the cookbook with teaching their own children math and measurements, science and chemistry through cooking, and nutrition. What other benefits are there to cooking as a family?

It’s such a great way to connect with your child as a parent. In some ways, that’s the most important thing about cooking. It’s creative, fun, and uniting. Food is also a really good way to understand other cultures. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat hummus or salsa. Through cooking together, new foods and tastes feel more familiar.

At what age should parents start bringing kids into the kitchen?

Immediately—it’s never too early! If you have an infant, bring her into the kitchen in her high chair and tell her what you’re feeding her. Say, “I’m cooking carrots. Carrots are orange.” Start a monologue with your baby. As she gets older, continue your monologue but start to ask questions. Ask, “How many cherry tomatoes are there?” And have her toss them into a salad.

Then as your child grows, gauge her ability. She will be interested in being part of it. Children want to be a success in the adult world and being in the kitchen is a great way to do that—just be sure to let her take the next steps and progress.

It might be hard at first for parents to get their kids in the kitchen—what do you suggest?

Start very small. Tell your child you need his help. Just say, “We’re having pasta tonight, can you pick out the shape?” Then give them more choices: “Let’s plan out your meals for school lunch.” To make it easier (and healthier) for my kids, I made a chart of acceptable options and they chose which lunches to have on which days. Tiny things like that can get kids very excited about participating.

How did you encourage your children to eat a variety of foods?

This was my point of view on dinner: I never made two meals and I never made them try anything. I never said, “You have to taste it.” Instead, I told my kids that if they didn’t like what I made, they could have cereal (non-sugared Cheerios), cottage cheese, or yogurt. If there isn’t an amazing alternative your children will eat dinner. Otherwise, if you make it appealing not to eat what you make – by offering chicken nuggets for example – why would they eat it?

As for picky eaters, don’t make it a big deal. Just keep putting other foods on the table that they might say they don’t like. Avoid defining your child as a picky eater and don’t give her pickiness a lot of attention.

The cookbook proves that you don’t need to be a “foodie” in order to cook well and healthfully. Instead, it presents cooking as a fun life skill that everyone should know and enjoy. Was this part of your goal?

Yes, of course. It’s really simple and easy to cook and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or esoteric. We need to help the generation of non-cooks raising non-cooks and get them into the kitchen. I’ve even had retirees and college students send letters, thanking us for helping them become better cooks.

So which recipes are best for kids when cooking for the first time?

Smoothies—they’re so adaptable: If a recipe calls for an apple, you could replace with a pear. If you can’t have milk, you can use soy milk. It’s also really fun to watch the blender—it’s like it’s exploding!

Sandwiches are also great to make with any age kids. Our Rainbow Sandwich recipe challenges them to fill their bread with as many colors as possible. For this, I suggest putting out a spread of cabbage, tomatoes, colored cheeses, and other options. It shows kids that a sandwich doesn’t have to be ham, mustard, and cheese.

What are your favorite family recipes?

Vegetable chili. You can make it spicy or not, and you can serve up little bowls of onions, avocado, hot sauce, cilantro, and yogurt to personalize it. It’s a great way to get kids to try new things. And they love putting together our other adult-like “Make It Your Way” meals.

And about the term “kid-friendly:” Why don’t you use it?

I don’t think there’s kid food and adult food. We don’t have anything in the magazine or book that’s not appropriate for an adult. I highly discourage having a two-meal dinner. Food is food. And you shouldn’t have anything in the house you don’t want your child to eat!

What else should readers should know?

If you’re trying to change the eating habits of your family, take really small steps. If you eat out five times a week, and you can cook one meal a week at home, that’s a good step. Really big changes really fast don’t work. Take baby steps. It’s okay.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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Cookbook Q&A: The Lunch Box Queen

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Back-to-school means back to packing lunch boxes, and any parent that packs a school lunch knows that putting together a healthy, appealing meal, day in and day out, can be a daunting task. Happily, Parents contributing editor and Weelicious blogger extraordinaire Catherine McCord is here to inspire us with her new book Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals

Why a lunch box cookbook? 

I’ve been obsessed with school lunch since my son first started preschool 4 years ago. I became fascinated with everything from the perfect lunch box to what goes inside.

How can parents encourage kids to expand their culinary horizons, especially when it comes to lunch?

The more you can get your kids involved, the better. Try taking your child to the farmers market or grocery store and let them pick out their fruit or vegetable of choice. Keep a running list of favorites. Remember that variety is the spice of life!

What should every lunch include? 

I make sure that every lunch I pack has a fruit, vegetable, carbohydrate and protein with a little sweet treat too. If you send a balance of foods you’ve done your job.

Why is it important to pack a colorful lunch?

Kids eat not only with their mouths, but also with their eyes. If lunch looks interesting to the eye, it can be more exciting to eat.

How often do you include treats in the lunchbox?

I like to add a little sweet treat almost everyday. That could be homemade fruit leather or a cookie or even a few yogurt-covered pretzels. 

Do you make your kids’ lunches in the morning or the night before? Is it okay to pack lunches the night before?

It always depends. Most times I get the fruit, vegetable and sweet treat ready in the lunch box the night before. Then I prepare the main event or sandwich in the morning.

What are some strategies time-strapped parents can use when it comes to making creative lunches?

Keep a list of your child’s top 10 favorite foods and make sure to have them on hand at all times. You would be surprised how many interesting, simple recipes you can come up with off that list.

How can the freezer help when it comes to lunchtime prep?

Your freezer is a total lifesaver. I freeze everything from pancakes to cookies, waffles, muffins and more. Whenever you bake pop a few items in labeled zipper bags so you can add a special treat or make pancake sandwiches when you run out of bread.

What are your kids’ hands-down favorite lunches?

That’s tough! The most requested are usually Veggie Tortilla Roll Ups, Sushi Sandwiches, Banana Dog Bites and veggies with Veg-Wee Dip. Having said that I’ve never given my kids the same lunch in 4 years, so they’re used to variety. 

What doesn’t belong in a lunchbox?

White food. I really hope that lunch can be an opportunity for kids to fuel their bodies with nutritious foods.

What did you eat for lunches when you were a kid?

I ate cafeteria food every day from kindergarten through high school. I dreamed about being able to bring my own lunch. I used to skip recess to hang out with the lunch ladies. When I look back I realize I have been interested in the subject of school lunch for years and years.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

 

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Cookbook Q&A: A Chef Mom Shares Her Secrets

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Michelle Dudash is an Arizona-based Registered Dietitian and Cordon Bleu-certified chef. She’s also a busy mom who wants to feed her sometimes-picky 4-year-old a healthy, balanced diet. Over the years she’s created appealing family dishes and helpful strategies for getting a home-cooked meal on the table quickly. She shares her recipes and advice in her cookbook Clean Eating for Busy Familiescookbook

 Q: What do you mean by “clean eating?”

A: At its foundation, clean eating means consuming foods in their most natural and least processed state. (Also, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the label, you probably shouldn’t eat it.) Clean eating to me also means opting for in-season foods whenever possible. Finally, enjoy every bite. I’m a food lover and believe that food is something to be savored and celebrated. Enjoy food intentionally while seated at the table, and avoid mindless snacking.

Q: What ingredients are important to you to buy organic? Why?

A: Organic expeller-pressed canola oil, since most conventional canola contains GMOs.

Sometimes, depending on availability, I buy organic meats, eggs, and poultry because that guarantees that these animals aren’t given drugs, antibiotics, or growth hormones.

Q: What are some tips for getting a healthy dinner on the table quickly?

A: Properly stock your kitchen early in the week. That way in the time that you would call in and pick up your takeout order, you could have prepared a fresh meal at home. My book offers weekly, monthly and quarterly shopping lists, breaking down grocery shopping into manageable pieces to provide healthy meals. Try to plan meals ahead and have a go-to recipe arsenal. Your best bet: prepare one-dish or make-ahead meals whenever possible.

Q: Healthy is all well and good. What if a mom has picky kids who won’t eat any veggies, for example?

A: That makes two of us! My daughter loves hummus, edamame, and spaghetti sauce. Beyond that I need to incorporate vegetables into other things like in my Turkey, Vegetable, and Oat Mini-Meatloaves—with mushrooms! I bake them in muffin tins and call them “meatloaf cupcakes,” dicing them and serving over whole-grain spaghetti. My daughter, Scarlet, also loves fruit so I make sure to offer fresh options at every meal. hummus

Children are more likely to try the foods that they help prepare so get them in the kitchen with you. If your child still turns up her nose, don’t give up. Continue to offer—not force—a variety of foods, namely vegetables, with most meals. It can take eight to ten exposures before a child decides whether she likes a new food or will even try it. Eventually, your child will probably surprise you. Scarlet continues to surprise me every day!

Q: How do you feel about “hiding” vegetables in foods so kids eat more vegetables?

A: “Hiding” vegetables should be your last line of defense and used only when necessary. You don’t want to add sweet potatoes to brownies and tell your kids, “Yay, eat up, now they’re healthy!” But even I succumb to hiding vegetables to add more nutrients to my 4-year-old’s diet. It’s still important to continue to offer vegetables in plain sight regularly.

Q: How else can moms encourage their kids to eat healthfully?

A: Lead by positive example. Kids become curious when they see other people, including you, eating—and hopefully it is healthy. Come up with cute names for food that resonate with your kids, like my “meatloaf cupcakes” (or anything-cupcake, for that matter).

Q: What are your daughter’s favorite dishes in the book? 

A: Scarlet’s favorite recipe is Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Dill Dip, which tastes even better than deep-fried versions. She also loves the Scarlet-Approved Lemon Cilantro Edamame Hummus. When I gave her a taste, she said, “I want more” and ate it by the spoonful. Her favorite desserts are Four Seasons Fruit Pizza, Dark Chocolate Whole-Grain Brownies, and Almond Butter Oatmeal & Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies. chicken tenders

Q: What are some simple changes someone could make to improve her family’s diet quickly?

A: Purge your pantry of the junk snacks made of refined flour, added sugars, and lots of sodium. Replace with whole foods, like fruits and vegetables for snacking.

Switch everything in your kitchen to whole-grain, preferably 100% whole-grain, including pastas, breads, crackers, tortillas, waffles and pancakes. If you face some pushback, stick to your guns and only keep whole-grain versions in stock. Your family can take it or leave it. They might not even notice, or eventually they will take it.

Q: What is a typical weekday breakfast in your house?

A: During the week, my husband, daughter and I all eat something different, which is easy to do because I keep plenty of quick-fix items on hand. One of my favorites is oatmeal and a cup of coffee with raw sugar and a splash of milk.

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

A: Right now I am really into Coconut Bliss Vanilla Ice Cream. It’s so creamy and delicious, especially with dark chocolate sauce. I eat dark chocolate regularly, though I don’t consider that a guilty pleasure since I have just a few bites and it contains some beneficial nutrients.

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