Finding a relatively healthy dinner on a busy night can be a burden for the most prepared parent. Personally, I teach evening pilates classes twice a week and I’m always looking for quick and easy dinners. Here are a few that I have tried recently with my family:
BBQ chicken in the crock-pot: take a package of chicken breasts and place them in the bottom of your crock-pot. Pour about a cup of barbecue sauce over the chicken. Cover and cook on high for three hours. I serve mine with quinoa and peas. I defrost two cups of frozen peas and cook one cup of quinoa (following the instructions on the package). When the quinoa is ready, I stir in the defrosted peas and serve with the chicken.
Garlic-lime chicken fajita: Truly, I use the pre-measured package that McCormick sells, but you can always measure out your own spices. In addition to the pre-measured spices, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup lime juice (I often squeeze fresh lime juice but juice from the container works too), some olive oil, chicken, peppers (I use red, orange or yellow because the kids eat them) and onions. The marinade can be made ahead and it cooks quickly in a skillet. You can use corn, whole wheat or flour tortillas. Warm the tortillas in the microwave or place them in a warm oven. This meal also creates another way to add veggies. You can cut up tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and anything else you would like to add. Place them in bowls and let your kids build their own fajita. It is a fun and easy mid-week meal.
Lemon-oregano chicken: I came to this recipe after forgetting to marinate my chicken. I cut up chicken breasts into small pieces (they cook faster this way) and placed them in a skillet, zested one lemon and squeezed the juice directly over the chicken, sprinkled a little salt, 1/8 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, smashed three garlic cloves and tossed them in, a teaspoon of oregano (tablespoon if you have fresh oregano) and a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir it all around and cook over medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes (depending on how big your chicken pieces are). I love sautéed spinach with this meal. I add about a tablespoon of olive oil to another skillet – you can use just oil - I add a tiny amount of salt, pepper, garlic powder and nutmeg. Warm the skillet to medium-high and add fresh spinach. Continue to swirl the spinach around for about 5 minutes, until it is all wilted. You can add brown rice or quinoa to round out the meal.
These are just a few ideas for those mid-week doldrums. Enjoy!!
Veggies from the patio garden
I have the opposite of a green thumb and yet I try to grow a garden every year. Over the last few years, I have learned my limits and where to put my plants. My yard is very shady, so I use a lot of planters on my deck (the sunniest spot on our property). Each year the kids and I plant seeds and watch them grow. Given my lack of a green thumb, this usually results in my buying seedlings when the weather is warm but the kids enjoy selecting seeds and watching them sprout.
It is fun to take the kids to the store and let them pick vegetables to grow in our garden. You would be surprised at what they pick out. I don’t sway them from picking vegetables that they don’t usually eat or limit them to foods that will grow better in New England. Once the weather warms up, we plant the vegetables outside and the kids play an active role in watering the plants and picking our vegetables. They are willing to try anything off the plant. The cherry tomatoes rarely make it into the house. It may not become their favorite food, but at least they try something new. My youngest also picks herbs off the plants and eats them on the deck. He can smell very minty at times
Involving the kids in the process makes for a great project and helps them learn about where food comes from and makes it more fun to eat their vegetables. My older son’s school took this philosophy and created a garden at the school. A group of volunteers and a lot of help from the community has led to a great garden. The entire school planted seeds and the kids were able to go out and check the progress. Each student was able to pick from the garden at the beginning of the season and again at the end. They were even able to supply the school cafeteria with lettuce and vegetables for salads in the fall. Being New England, the growing season isn’t very long but they certainly made the best of it.
It doesn’t take much to start a few plants. Put soil in an old egg carton and then have the kids place one seed in each spot. Continue to water and you will see sprouts quickly. The squashes tend to have big sprouts so the kids really like to see them. They will need to be transferred to bigger containers as they grow or they can go outside if you live in a warmer area. Making it a family adventure helps to ease the work and more fun to share the bounty. A fresh salad from the garden makes summer dinners that much more fun!
Here are a few links about starting a garden:
I am lucky enough to live in a town where the community and schools support each other. My son is in elementary school and this year I was fortunate enough to volunteer for what they call, enrichment clusters. Each school in our town offers a variation of the same program through 7th grade. Some schools find time during the school day for these enrichment clusters and others have them after school. Regardless, they are amazing!
My son’s school has them on Friday mornings for six weeks. These programs are run by parents and volunteers within the community. Each year the school looks for people to volunteer and it is amazing at the variety of programs they offer. There is everything from crafts, sewing, sign-language, the police department and fire department each offer classes, hip hop dance, ice skating (at the community center next door), tennis, gymnastics, rangers from a town beach come in and talk about nature in the area, cooking, photography, and the list goes on. Each child brings home a booklet with all that is being offered and they select their top eight choices. (It should be noted that these clusters are free to students and the PTO covers the cost of supplies)
At the end of six weeks each group creates a presentation to be shared with the school community. Today was the cluster celebration and it was inspiring. To see the wide range of talents offered and the variety of programs was amazing. It is something that I had seen in writing, but to witness it was truly special.
What a great opportunity to volunteer! Look into your own school system and see if they have anything similar. It would work at a community center as well. The children get an invaluable experience and I am sure you will get the same if not more from interacting with kids. You don’t have to be a super parent or member of the community – you just have to show up and be yourself. The more people are involved in their community, the healthier it is for everyone. Happiness is the best medicine around and these kids will definitely put a smile on your face for the entire day.
Everyone misses a day of exercise or eats the extra potato chips, but it’s how we acknowledge the act that makes the difference. Often when people are just getting started on any new venture each misstep seems so much bigger. Making the conscious decision to be kind and understanding to yourself will make the difference. Instead of thinking the entire project is a bust because it wasn’t immediately successful, congratulate yourself on getting started. You can always pick up where you left off.
I often see students in exercise classes get frustrated that they aren’t at the same level as other students and give up. Remember that some people have been coming multiple times a week for months or years. Appreciate the gains that you make with each class or each day. Enjoy the moments of success. Don’t let missing classes or eating something extra get the best of you. Life happens, you can welcome it with a smile or let it stop you. By accepting it and starting over, you will reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and not let a speed bump keep you from reaching your goal. If you are in a difficult situation repeat “finding kindness” in your head until the negative thoughts leave. Each time the negativity rears its ugly head, repeat “finding kindness” again. It takes conscious kindness to move you forward.
A few quotes to help keep kindness in your thoughts:
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, Emile
Kindness is like snow–it beautifies everything it covers.
CROFT M. PENTZ, The Complete Book of Zingers
No real change happens overnight. It takes small, intentional steps. Part of being conscious in our choices is picking a few new foods to try. An easy place to start is trying some new foods that aren’t scary. It all comes down to preparation.
Chicken sausages will never be the real thing but they are really tasty when prepared correctly. We love to grill (you can saute them as well) the Italian style ones with peppers and onion. Put them on a nice roll with spicy mustard and you have a tasty meal (we also put a large green salad on the table). We experiment with some of the fancier flavors in pasta dishes. I slice them up and brown them in olive oil with garlic and whatever veggies I have in the fridge that need to be used. I add a little water, chicken stock or white wine to create more of a sauce. Then I serve it with any type of pasta I have in the house. It doesn’t need a lot of pasta because the sausage and veggies are the primary focus.
Ground turkey is great to put in dishes like chili and tacos. Add these meats to meals that are already flavorful and they will be delicious. Sometimes, I brown up a little turkey kielbasa and add it to my chili for a little added spice. I am pretty basic in my cooking and use Betty Crocker’s chili recipe. As for ground turkey or ground chicken tacos, we use the basic old el paso mix or salsa. Tacos give you such a great opportunity to add lots of vegetables to your meal. Another taco idea is to take a few boneless chicken breasts, place them in a crock-pot and pour a full jar of salsa over the chicken. Cook on high for three hours. When it is done, shred the chicken in the pot so that it absorbs more of the salsa and serve in soft tortillas or hard corn shells. Again adding lots of vegetables and avocado if you have some.
The key is to find a few new healthy dishes to try each week. Add them to the weekly menu and buy the ingredients. The more you pay attention, the easier it gets. You will find easy ways to make some of your favorite dishes healthier.
There are many great resources out there. We are huge fans of Ellie Krieger. One of our favorite recipes is her garlic basil shrimp. It is easy and very tasty. Here is the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/garlic-basil-shrimp-recipe/index.html Be sure to thumb through some of her cookbooks or her website. She has great recipes that are filling and most importantly yummy. If nothing else, it will give you some great pointers.
A tasty brussels sprout recipe (trust me, few people hated brussels sprouts more than me before trying this recipe) from Food and Wine follows: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/spicy-and-garlicky-brussels-sprouts
Another great nutritionist website is: http://creatingahealthybalance.com/
Remember to take small, intentional steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your family with trying five new healthy recipes in the same week. Pick one or two. Discover what you like and eventually your entire week’s menu will be healthy foods!