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I don’t know about your family, but mine comes home starving every day from school and work.  We tend to eat dinner early (typically 5 or 5:30) so an after-school snack at 4 pm could easily ruin dinner.  However, it’s hard to keep my daughters (and husband) out of the kitchen, and I can’t help but feel annoyed to see them snacking as I’m making dinner.  I’ve found putting out a plate of veggies or fruits and dip satisfies their snack cravings and is something I don’t mind them eating.  If you enter the house at the same time as your hungry spouse and kids (or if you are that hungry spouse!) it can be made the evening before and taken out of the fridge as you walk in the door.

Veggie platter

Quite simply, I fill this sectioned tray with veggies or fruit, and put salad dressing or yogurt in the middle.  On this occasion it was snap peas, red peppers, carrots, celery, zucchini, and cucumbers; but other times it’s baby spinach, cantaloupe, grapes, watermelon, or whatever my family enjoys.  Cover it with plastic wrap and have it ready for whenever your family needs it.  Even if the kids don’t eat their vegetables with dinner, they’ll have gotten a head start.  In fact, many kids are more likely to eat fruits or veggies as a snack than if it was on their dinner plate.

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If your kids will eat soup, it can be a great way to get almost anything into them.  With a blender, food processor, or stick blender, you can puree veggies, fruits, proteins, or beans, and they’ll literally disappear into the broth.  Even if your kids will eat their dinner without disguise (as mine will), soup is still a fun way to help the vegetables go down, no spoonful of sugar necessary.  If your kids tend to be picky, get creative and rename the soup something fun.  Transformer soup, martian soup, princess and the pea soup, or whatever will get them smiling.  Provide an interesting garnish– shredded cheese, tortilla strips, whole grain goldfish– and the fun will go even further.

Green soup

Broccoli is one vegetable that gets a bad rap.  My kids love it, but I know many children (and grown-ups!) who do not.  Soup is a great way to serve broccoli, as no one will ever see past the “fun” green color.  I found this recipe a while back in Parents magazine.  Its base is stock, not milk or cream, which is healthier, and dairy-free; both of which are important to many families.  I made it as a first course on Easter, and it was the perfect elegant, simple, tasty soup that “looked like Spring.”  Even my 92 year old Grandpa (who does not like broccoli, as it turns out) scraped the bowl clean. Later it occurred to me that I could’ve also tossed in a handful of steamed spinach before pureeing, so I’ll try that next time.

To make, heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a large stockpot.  Sauté ½ an onion (chopped) over medium heat.  Add one medium potato (peeled and chopped), three cups broccoli (chopped), and three cups vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer, covered, 12-15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.  Stir occasionally.  Allow to cool slightly, puree in small batches or using a stick blender.  Stir in one cup of shredded cheese, if desired.  Serves four.

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I’ve decided that eating fresh pesto is like eating summer.  If you grow your own basil, then what’s the difference between basil and summer, really?  To me, they’re fairly synonymous.  Cooking with home-grown fresh herbs is one of the treats of the season, and I look forward to it all winter long.

 Making Pesto

My basil plants were overflowing with great-sized leaves the other night, and I decided it was time for some pesto.  Every year at the end of the season I make a few batches of pesto, and freeze them to use throughout the winter.  This batch, though, did not last past dinner.  In a food processor, combine 2 c. well-packed basil leaves and 1/4 c. chopped nuts (pine nuts or walnuts).  Pulse till shredded, then add 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 c. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp. ground pepper, and pulse again.  Add 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese, and pulse until smooth, pushing down as needed.  If you’d like to freeze this in a jar for later use, don’t add the cheese until it’s been thawed and you’re ready to serve it.

A Pesto Pasta Salad

Once the pesto was ready, I poured it over a lb. of cooked pasta, then stirred in 8 oz. of cubed fresh mozzarella and a handful of grape tomatoes.  Served with some fresh fruit, it was the perfect savory, gooey dinner that satisfied the whole family.

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Everyone knows how to make salad. A salad as a main course, though, is much trickier, especially if you are feeding it to children.  It must then be filling, supply adequate protein, and most importantly, be interesting. There are a few restaurants at which I look forward to ordering a big salad.  Like anything else, I analyzed what made the meal so special, and recreated it at home. What makes a salad enticing enough to serve as dinner? For me, it must be super fresh, offer plenty of variety, and contain items that challenge my expectations. It’s not the basics, like lettuce or carrots, which make the salad, but the extras that transform the dish from a side plate to a main attraction.

The Big Salad

Here are three salads-for-dinner I’ve made recently.  As you can see, there are some basic tenets, like romaine lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs.  Then there are the toss-ins that make each salad a little different– beans, crunchy noodles, homemade croutons, different fruits, etc., so that each salad is unique.   I use salad night as an opportunity for a vegetarian meal, letting the eggs and beans serve as the primary protein, but grilled chicken or steak could be a nice addition.  Finally, I always arrange each item on the plate individually, rather than a big messy pile, and then it’s fun for my kids to dip and eat.

Big Salad, one way: Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, steamed carrots, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, strawberries, chow mein noodles, and cucumbers.

Big salad, another way: Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, diced apples, grape tomatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, zucchini sticks, cantaloupe, and hard-boiled eggs.

Big salad, a third way: Romaine lettuce, baby spinach, zucchini sticks, steamed carrot sticks, red peppers, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, fresh berries, homemade parmesan garlic croutons.

Most importantly, include family favorites in your salad, and always keep one or two of the ingredients changing.  It’ll never be the same old, and with the opportunity to raid the garden or the farm stand for fresh fruits and veggies, salad for dinner is a treat, not a punishment.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy cooking!

I can never seem to have enough recipes for main dish vegetarian entrées, as variety seems key in meatless cooking.  As I’ve said before, vegetarian eating benefits not just your health, but your wallet and the planet as well.  Twice a week is our personal goal for non-meat meals, and I am always in pursuit of something new.  I was happy to discover and enjoy this recipe, as was my family.  It comes from Jessica Seinfeld’s Double Delicious.

Black Bean Burgers

This burger is so filled with veggies and protein that adding just fruit and a whole-grain bun was enough to qualify as a balanced meal.  To make, sauté ½ c. chopped onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, and 1 ½ c. mixed, diced vegetables (squash, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms and corn) in 1 tsp. olive oil until softened.  Combine mixture with 2 (15 oz) cans of black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 egg, 1 c. whole wheat breadcrumbs, ¼ tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Blend until some beans are broken and mixture holds together.  Form into 6 patties (1/3 c. each).  Sauté patties in 2 tsp. olive oil until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.

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All the rage are “five ingredient cookbooks,” and I can see why.  A meal consisting of five ingredients or less is likely to be quick and uncomplicated to assemble, and inexpensive.  Who can resist the allure?

Fresh basil is peeking out of our garden (if you aren’t growing any, you must get yourself a pot- it’s the easiest and most rewarding plant!), and I couldn’t resist using some the other night for one of my favorite simple meals- a summer pasta salad.  This one has five ingredients simply because it requires nothing more. 

A Simple Supper

Boil a pound to a pound and a half of tortellini.  Once cooked to your liking, drain and transfer to a bowl.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and toss with halved grape or cherry tomatoes, chunks of fresh mozzarella, and chopped fresh basil.  Season with salt or pepper, if desired, and serve warm or cooled.  It’s a light meal, but the mozzarella and the cheese in the tortellini provide decent protein, and if paired with some steamed vegetables and fruit, dinner is served.  Leftovers work excellently as a lunch for school, and the pasta salad is perfect for a potluck meal or picnic.

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Breakfast for dinner (aka “brinner”) is one of my family’s favorites, and a great way to plan a vegetarian meal into the week.  We keep the formula pretty consistent, but vary the details a bit.  Breakfast for dinner is always a starch (waffles, pancakes, toast, or a quick bread like zucchini or banana), egg with vegetables and cheese (scrambled, omelet, quiche), and fruit salad.  As my friend Kristi recently taught me, if you are restricting (or eliminating) carbs, you can make your waffles, pancakes, etc. with almond or coconut flour.

Breakfast for dinner

On this night, we had pumpkin challah french toast, scrambled eggs with low-fat cheddar and baby spinach, and cantaloupe.  This french toast recipe is my all-time favorite– the bread is soaked in a bath of egg, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pureed vegetable (pumpkin in this instance).  The recipe originates from the Sneaky Chef, but instead of using her recipe for orange puree (which is a blend of carrot and sweet potato) I use whatever pureed orange vegetable I have in the freezer; (usually pumpkin, butternut squash, or sweet potato).

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On average, I try to cook two vegetarian meals a week.  I have a few reasons for this: our health, our wallets, and the environment.  In other words, vegetarian meals are often healthier (no artery-clogging animal fats), usually more affordable than buying beef/chicken/etc., and there is less energy usage to produce, transport, and sell vegetarian items than animal proteins.  The two caveats to vegetarian night: my husband is less than interested in eating a non-meat meal, so I have to be really creative and make the meal enticing; and I worry about sufficient protein.  A true vegetarian night cannot be a bowl of pasta– it must consist of beans, dairy, eggs, or a combination of the three, and I make sure we’ve all had a high-protein lunch to balance out the day.  Lastly, it helps if vegetarian night includes fresh bread, as everyone here loves it, and gets dazzled by a crunchy loaf of warm goodness.

Our most recent vegetarian night

Spaghetti squash parmesan, steamed vegetables, sliced pears, and braided whole wheat bread.  This is my older daughter’s all-time favorite meal, and credit goes to my friend, Danielle, who first introduced me to this dish.  It’s incredibly simple to make, and has an additional health boost hidden inside.  To make this dish, cook both a spaghetti squash and butternut squash.  Either wash, pierce with fork, and microwave each for 2-3 minutes per lb, or prepare the spaghetti squash as instructed here and butternut squash as instructed here.  Next, scoop the spaghetti-like strands from the spaghetti squash into a 9 x 13 baking dish (I always prefer glass dishes).  Gently mash the butternut squash, and mix 2/3 cup of butternut squash with one cup of your favorite marinara sauce. Mix well into spaghetti squash strands.  Spread two cups of shredded light mozzarella cheese over the top of the baking dish, and cover with foil.  Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly.  The butternut squash may seem like a surprising addition, but it mellows the tartness of marina, and makes it more appealing to children.

Along with the meal, we had Braided Whole Wheat bread.  This recipe came from Canada’s Best Bread Machine Baking Recipes, and was quite easy to make.  For those without a bread machine, I’m sure the recipe could easily be adapted to be made by hand.  I used to be quite afraid of making bread and shaping dough, but after a few attempts, it is surprisingly easy, and the results are well worth the effort.

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Happy eating!

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