New year, some new recipes that are working…

Much as more exercise and eating less should be top of my resolution list, I know that the chances of major change there remain elusive for the time being.  So I am focusing on areas where I think I can have an impact and we are off to a promising start.

Part of the reason for the lack of recent posts is that we had resorted heavily to packaged and prepared foods to get us through the last few years.  While Trader Joe’s fish nuggets and chicken fried rice, Annie’s mac and cheese, Bell & Evan’s various breaded chicken option have helped us get through many a night with full bellies and not too many battles, we are finally ready for more real food.

We had stumbled upon a few home cooked options during the packaged food option bonanza with the greatest hit being pasta with mild italian sausage, broccoli, and parmesan tossed in chicken broth and the perennial hit of breakfast for dinner with an all fruit smoothie.

My resolve to branch out strengthened with two parallel developments in my daughters’ relationships with food.  The first was the adoption of the Wellness in the Schools initiative by the girls’ NYC public school.  The program brings healthier menu items and more scratch cooking to the school cafeteria as well as cooking lessons and demonstrations.  My first grader, in particular, has loved learning more about food (the second grader has an issue with tomatoes which have factored heavily in both cooking lessons so far) and has embraced the message of home prepared foods being healthier than processed foods.  There has been an adjustment period but they have finally adjusted to the healthier version of the cheese and pbj sandwich options.  My first grader opted for the lentil chili on Thursday and liked it and they both regularly partake of the salad bar.  I actually need to buy some romaine and slicing tomatoes this week!

The second development, as unlikely as it sounds, is that I introduced them to Master Chef Junior and they were quickly hooked.  I was hoping that seeing kids around their age being knowledgeable and skilled with a wide range of sophisticated foods might encourage them to be more open-minded and so far, so good!

So what has worked well enough so far to make it into a monthly rotation?

The first success was roasting pork using the Game Day Nachos recipe from the New York Times.  I just roasted the pork and skipped the rest.  I used half of the pork with some fresh pineapple and a squeeze of lime juice to make soft corn pork tacos.  My first grader even asked for them the next day for breakfast.  My second grader is more of a pulled pork fan so I prepared the rest of the pork with some barbecue sauce on a bun.  She took the leftovers as lunch the next day.

The second success was the chicken soba soup recipe on the side of the Whole Foods Organic Chicken Broth carton but without the soba.  I prepared it two ways.  The first time, I added an ample handful of udon noodles so it was chicken udon noodles that you could eat with a fork.  The second time, I went with a more modest amount of egg noodles for a more traditional chicken noodle soup.  The evening that I cooked it, the girls both needed a bedtime snack because the cooking aroma was that mouthwatering.

On the dessert front, I finally got them to try my fruit cobbler.  This one was 1 cup blueberries, one cup sliced strawberries, and diced asian pear.  I tossed the fruit with a tablespoon of brown sugar.  The topping was a combination of one cup of flour, one cup of sugar, one egg and a teaspoon of baking powder combined until crumbly.  On top I sprinkled one teaspoon of cinnamon sugar and 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  Big hit at Wendy’s playdate with one of her classmates even though Evie was unimpressed.

The final success is roasted cauliflower.  A nearby restaurant serves it and this was my second attempt at creating it at home and the more successful one.  I took a head of cauliflower florets and microwaved them with some water for 4 minutes on high until they were beginning to get tender.  I tossed them in some olive oil and then sprinkled them with panko.  I made a spice mix of salt, pepper, and garlic powder (3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper) and sprinkled it on top of the cauliflower.  I then drizzled more olive oil on top and baked covered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes and then uncovered for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  It is savory and melts in your mouth.  My first grader gave it a thumbs up.

I’m hoping that this particular bandwagon continues with more hits to come.  Ideas, as always are welcome!

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Here a chick, there a nugget…

We have long embraced chicken nuggets and I suspect they will be a staple in our family for at least the next decade. My one attempt to make them myself didn’t seem quite worth the effort. I some times go the semi-homemade route with the Fresh Direct Parmesan coated chicken breasts but knowing that within 20 or even 2 minutes, we can have a reasonably nutritious protein source that the whole family can embrace is something that makes life, and working parents’ dinners, easier. I’ve even had breakfast requests for them and decided it is a variation on chicken and waffles.

We have sampled three frozen varieties so far but would be open to trying the penultimate if you have a brand that you like better. So far, here’s the family’s take on the three:

1) Coleman Natural Chicken Breast Nuggets: The verdict–two thumbs up, two thumbs down. My husband and youngest didn’t care for them. My eldest thinks all three brands are equally delicious and consumes them with gusto. I rank them higher than the Perdue version below since they have more real chicken taste and are antibiotic-free. On the other hand, we love their natural bacon. Just made some this morning!

2) Perdue Dino Nuggets: The whole family will eat these but they are second choice for my husband and I on taste but first place on the convenience front. We all like them better in the microwave which takes a grand total of 90 seconds. The kids love the dino shapes of course, too. They don’t really taste like chicken and have a bit of a pepper kick sometimes but all in all, a great staple to have on hand and something I feel comfortable asking the sitters to make them for dinner. Ready in a snap and no hands on time so they can focus on the girls. They also have the most attractive price per serving.

3) Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets: These are far and away the adults’ favorites and the girls like them, too. They taste like chicken and seem to be made from much less processed cuts. The price is higher but then so is the quality. When I see them on sale, I stock up!! If we have the 20 minutes to prepare them, we recommend these as the way to go. However, they are best when prepared in the oven and there is no recommended microwave option.

Do you like any of the above? Are there others you recommend to knock these out of our freezer? Anyone give the Applegate Farms ones a whirl?

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Turning the ideal into reality, however fleetingly

Most of my posts have been about finding make ahead, quick to table meals that my family will eat for dinner. While we’ve made some progress on that front, despite almost 5 years evidence to the contrary, my husband always has a vision of us sitting down to a meal together where everyone eats what is served and stays at the table for at least 15 minutes. Usually, if we manage 5 minutes and two alternate meals being offered, it’s a typical night at our place.

After a heart to heart and since I am on hiatus, I actually managed to make it happen last night with a little help from ravioli and gelato from Eataly (more on that from my current round up of NYC food indulgences on Laura’s Loves).

I told both girls that if they wanted gelato, it meant eating dinner and staying at the table for the treat. Worked like a charm. I’m not sure a treat after dinner is sustainable in the long term unless it is the only treat of the day and the portions are very modest but maybe if we keep it up for a week or so, the sitting at the table and eating behavior will become more habitual. Thoughts? Alternate strategies that work?

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A new chapter begins…

I’m about to embark on a new job soon that will hopefully be less stressful but will require me to give up the flexibility of working a day per week from home. Figuring out to get groceries in the house and deliver at least one or two homecooked meals for weekday dinners just got more challenging!!

I’m feeling very fortunate this week to have transformed my zinio.com klout perk into a subscription to Every Day with Rachael Ray. I spent Friday night flipping through the virtual pages and think there are a ton of make ahead ideas that might make it into our regular rotation. I particularly liked the Noodling Around with Lasagna feature with a ton of ideas for transforming lasagna, often no pasta involved. I’ll try to report back soon–maybe I can make one per week during my few week hiatus between jobs… Thanks klout, zinio and Rachael Ray!!

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Some times it’s just about me and relaxing

With such hectic lives as working parents, we rarely get downtime–there’s always pressure to be running errands, finishing up work from the office, exercising, and all the other “should’s” of life. About once a month, I do manage to carve out some time for relaxing and often head to a coffeehouse to read or otherwise recharge with some caffeine.

If you live in the NYC area and love to do so as well, please check out the recent Joe coffee card giveaway post on SheSpeaks–I wrote it and can vouch for the 13th Street and Morningside Heights locations as true havens. I’m looking forward to checking out the others when I’m elsewhere in the city!

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The Healthy Food Fight–Can’t Wait for Some Great Inspiration!

Once upon a time, my food focus was much more squarely on keeping the fat and calories down. I managed to lose a good 20 pounds with a rigorous stint on Weight Watchers and tried to keep most of my meals healthy so I could indulge in the occasional chocolate croissant or cheeseburger. I came up with some options that I thought were relatively tasty but they were pretty quickly vetoed by my husband. Chicken meatloaf sandwiches were a favorite made with ground chicken and Muir Glen’s mild tomato salsa (a wonderful two ingredient meal!).

Now, my focus is on prepare ahead meals that can be on the table in 15 minutes or less and stand a chance of meeting the discerning palates of my husband and my preschoolers. And I could really use a few new ideas!

That’s what I’m delighted to have my work and personal worlds overlap while working on the Aetna Healthy Food Fight as part of my role in Member Engagement at SheSpeaks. We’re partnering with Aetna to get the word out about this wonderful national healthy recipe competition with the finals being hosted here in the Big Apple. I’m hoping that someone from Team SheSpeaks, a member, blogger, or staffer takes the grand prize. And in the meantime, I’m really excited about some tasty, healthy inspiration!

If you’re available tomorrow, please rsvp for the Healthy Food Fight Twitter party. I had never attended one before I took this job and I can unequivocally say they’re the most fun I’ve ever had at work! And if you’re new to Twitter parties, we have this great guide on getting started or feel free to send your questions my way! You could win some fabulous prizes including Circulon cookware to help you in your healthy cooking endeavors!

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Taking stock of where we are and what works (and doesn’t)

So there’s a reason for the long gap in posting: challenges with the juggling act and decidedly mixed results on the introduction of new recipes. However, looking back from where we were when we started, we are definitely making progress even if it seems excruciatingly slow at times. Granted, we have the wind at our backs– my eldest is hitting that magical age between 4 and 5 where she is willing to try new things and discovers she likes more than any of us expected. And our little one still seems very interested in eating whatever is on anyone’s plate other than her own and walking around between bites. And we are learning to go with it.

So where are we? On an average week, we eat takeout once a week–usually Thai, Chinese, or barbecue. Much better than where we started. My husband is a regular at the Greenmarket so right now, we’re enjoying the height of corn season and loads of fresh fruit. And we’ve expanded our routine with a handful of new dishes, many of them with more than a little thanks to Trader Joe’s and blogs like Cooking with My Kid.

What’s been a hit? Sausages surprisingly. Hot dogs, kielbasa, italian sausage, chicken apple sausage, breakfast sausage all seem to be kid friendly, choking hazards aside. Dumplings including the quick and easy frozen ones from Trader Joe’s. Ravioli including the brilliant recipe for ravioli lasagna from Cooking with My Kid. The girls helped me make it with Trader Joe’s organic tomato sauce and their spinach and cheese refrigerated ravioli. I’m planning to try it with other types of ravioli for an expanded option but love that the girls willingly eat spinach in the ravioli. And they love pasta with Italian sausage and broccoli. In fact, fights generally have ensued of late over who gets more broccoli, much to my amazement. And they have moved beyond plain pizza to enjoy toppings as varied as broccoli, pineapple, bacon, and sausage although fresh basil still seems to set off all sorts of preschooler alarms!

I try to remind myself that I was skeptical about any pasta shape except spaghetti well into my elementary school years and the girls love trying new shapes and Evie picked the tricolor today at the supermarket.

Next up? I’m gearing up to introduce Indian since they like curry fried rice, chicken of all cultures so far, rice and bread. Ought to be interesting and we’ll have to dine out since we have a temporary rice at home ban since it seems to turn up for days after a meal in unexpected places.

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