How to reduce waste and stress over family meals

Dinner Reinvented

Yesterday’s dinner becomes tonight’s “reinvented” dinner with the addition of some new ingredients.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to prepare a “real” meal every night. I go for the whole shebang – a proper entrée, lots of vegetables, prepared well and on time.

The end result of all that cooking is that I make too much and we often have leftovers that no one wants.  We end up being like so many Americans, throwing out perfectly good food! Yet to my children,  you’d think “leftovers” meant I’d “left” it outside for a few days to let bugs run “over” it.

Unwilling to continue wasting food, or my efforts, I set about making two nights a week “Dinner Reinvention Night.” Yes, it’s having leftovers, but it sounds better than that and even better than “recycling dinner” which conjures up visions of plastic and cans.

I’m talking about taking bits and pieces of leftover meals and making something completely new with it. It’s working! Here are some examples:

Original meal:  Herb-coated pork chops and cubed, broiled potatoes.
Reinvented meal: Greek Salad – Thinly sliced pork chops plus the potatoes atop lettuce greens, adding feta cheese, Greek olives and a lemon and oil dressing.

Original meal: Baked chicken with roasted carrots, celery and onion.
Reinvented meal: Chicken & Noodles – chop up the chicken and veggies, put it in a pot of chicken broth and, when boiling, add lots of wide egg noodles so that it’s more noodly than soupy.

Original meal: Grilled steak
Reinvented meal: Fajitas – Slice the meat thinly, sauté multiple colors of peppers plus onion. Add things like refried beans, guacamole, chopped tomato and cilantro.

Original meal: Pot roast with roasted root vegetables.
Reinvented meal: Pot pies or Shepherd’s Pie – layer diced meat and veggies (plus additional, frozen veggies) and any gravy you might have made and top with a pastry crust for pot pie or with a layer of mashed potatoes sprinkled with parmesan cheese for Shepherd’s Pie.

This way, I’m really only doing major cooking a few nights and then some “rearranging” of ingredients the other nights.  I’m also using my crockpot or pressure cooker when I can to make even those original meals a little less work.

So far, it’s working. There’s no more waste. The kids see it as an entirely new meal. And I get to feel like I delivered on a good meal for the family with a lot less pressure on myself.

Please share your ideas for making the most out of leftovers by leaving a comment below.

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Now, THAT’S a Sandwich By Edan Goode

The one thing my children dread about a new school year (well, besides homework, long hours, having to get up so early and tests) are sack lunches. They are “sick, sick, sick of sandwiches”, they’ll tell you and I can’t say that I blame them. No matter how much I try to switch things up with different bread and different fillings, sandwiches just get boring after a while. Now, if I was a really fabulous, inventive, high-energy, creative parent (which is never going to happen and I’m fine with that), I would make “Insanewiches” (http://www.insanewiches.com/, St. Martin’s Press), as inspired by the book of the same name by Adrian Fiorino.

This new book came across my desk recently and put my ham and cheese between two slices of wheat bread to shame.  It’s a fun, incredibly inventive book with great photos that could, and should, double as a coffee table book!

Adrian Fiorino was kind enough to share one of his recipes with you, dear E.A.T. blog readers.  I think I could actually manage this one, although, for my kids’ tender palates, I’ll substitute mayonnaise for horseradish sauce.

Sandwich Dominoes
by Adrian Fiorino, author of “Insanewiches” and creator of “insanewiches.com”

Competitors often slap dominoes down emphatically when they’re lining up the dots. “Take that!” they’ll say, harshly rubbing it in. But if they tried the same with these Sandwich Dominoes, they’d just end up with a smooshed sandwich. When eaten as a snack, this finger food fills in the hunger gap quite nicely between games.

This recipe makes two dominoes

You’ll Need:

2 small sandwich wraps

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 slice of roast beef (have it cut thick at your deli counter)

1 large slice of Swiss cheese

1 romaine lettuce leaf, washed and dried

Instruments:

Cutting board, 23⁄4-inch square cookie cutter, chef’s knife, black edible marker

Assembly:

  1. Lay the first sandwich wrap on the cutting board, and slather it with horseradish.
  2. Next, lay the roast beef, Swiss cheese, and romaine lettuce on top of the first wrap and top all ingredients with the second wrap.
  3. Place the cookie cutter on top of the second wrap.
  4. Using the cookie cutter as a guide, carefully cut away the excess with your knife. You will be left with a square sandwich.
  5. Cut this square in half to make two identical rectangles.
  6. With your marker, draw a line centered along the width of each rectangle.
  7. Lastly, draw the dots with your marker.

Top 5 Family-friendly Food Products by Edan Goode

One of the perks of being a food writer/reviewer, is that a lot of interesting food is sent my way, in hopes that I will find it spectacular and will review it. I make it very clear to the companies that my heart and duty lie with my readers, all you parents out there who want to know whether a certain product is worth shelling out your hard-earned money for when trying to feed their kids well. So here you go, dear E.A.T. Readers, my humble opinion of the best of the food products that have come across my desk. All have a healthy bent to them and some are locally-made, as an added perk:

Metromint Water in Chocolatemint

Topping my list is a product I’d seen recently in the grocery store and thought “that’s gotta be either gross or great”. Turns out, the answer was “great”! How could I doubt the combination of three of my favorite things – water to be refreshing, mint to take it up a notch and chocolate to round it out in deliciousness. Do I gush too much? It’s worthy. When I was sick, I loved Chocolatemint. When I was overheated from a workout, I loved Chocolatemint. When I was vegging on the couch watching a chic flick, I loved Chocolatemint. I’ve tried the other flavors like Peppermint, Orangemint and Cherrymint and, while tasty, they just aren’t as yummy as the combination of mint and chocolate in this drink. Be sure to have it chilled for maximum joy.

CLIF Kid’s Zbar Crispy Snacks

My kids love eating bars and why not? They are wrapped and ready all the time. I even keep a box of bars in the back of my Mom-Van to stave off hunger and trips to fast food joints in a hunger emergency. However, I will not buy bars that are basically a candy bar with some oats mixed in. That’s why I was glad to sample CLIF Kid’s Zbar Crispy, an organic, crispy rice bar with 8 grams of whole grains. They have oats, fiber, calcium and vitamin D – all good stuff. They are absent of processed sugars and high fructose corn syrup.  They come in chocolate, chocolate chip and peanut butter.  Our kid testers loved the chocolate chip one best.

This August, watch for the Full Moon Brownie Zbar which is full of brownie with white chocolate chip goodness. I’ll be wrestling my kids for them.

Chobani Champions

Greek-style yogurt is all the rage for it’s creaminess and health benefits above and beyond regular yogurt. Having grown up on my grandmother’s homemade plain yogurt, I have high criteria about what Greek yogurt is supposed to taste like. Of all the ones I’ve tried, I like Chobani the best for its creamy texture and lack of chalky after-taste. I was glad to hear that they are the first to have created a line of Greek-style yogurt aimed at kids, with kid-friendly flavors, VeryBerry and Honey-Nana. They were a big hit with the kids and with me.

Oogave Sodas

What is it about a cold soda/soft drinks/pop – whatever you call them in your neck of the woods? On a hot day, there’s nothing like fizzy bubbles over ice, going up your nose! I just don’t want to give it to my kids except on rare occasion. Oogave sodas appealed to me on many levels – they are from a local company, are organic, sweetened only with agave nectar and are caffeine-free. No high fructose corn syrup or preservatives. Plus, I like the pretty, pale colors in the bottles. The Root Beer rated high with all testers, adult and child. Strawberry Rhubarb and Watermelon Cream were a bit too fruity for the adults but went over big with kids. Vanilla Cream was a bit cloying for all while Grapefruit and Key Lime were popular with adults who thought they’d be great with a splash of vodka or rum! My particular favorite was the Ginger Ale which didn’t taste like any ginger ale I grew up on. It tasted like…ginger! What a concept. Fresh and a little exotic.

The Naked Edge’s Veggie-Go’s

This is by far the most unique food product that I’ve seen, again, by a local company. The Naked Edge Fruit Leathers are a whole different animal from the ones you usually see, not only in texture but also ingredient. Organic produce, spices and herbs are pureed and dried and are beautiful in their natural coloring. Unique flavors include Mountain Berry Spinach, Sweet Potato Pie, Carrot Ginger Crisps and Cinnamon Spiced Beet.  It could be a hard sell to get kids to try these if they’ve had the usual swirly, mega-flavored and colored fruit leathers. But if you could start your child’s fruit-leather-eating experiences with The Naked Edge, you would have a good shot of raising a child with a more sophisticated, experimental palate. The adult testers enjoyed all of the flavors, noting that they would actually make an interesting accompaniment to a glass of red wine. No, the adult testers are not a bunch of lushes…

What are some of the more interesting food products your family has tried and loved or hated? We’d love to know. 

Brace yourself for these recipes By Edan Goode

Every time one of my children gets a shiny, new orthodontic device installed, along with the instructions come the directives of what foods to avoid: “Carrots only if shredded, apples sliced thin, nothing chewy or sticky,” they tell us.  It’s all to avoid bending, breaking or dislodging delicate (and very expensive) pieces of equipment.

In honor of Dental Health Month, here are a couple of tasty, ortho-approved recipes that the whole family will appreciate.  My thanks to Pamela Waterman for giving me permission to reprint her recipes and photo here from The Braces  Cookbook: Recipes You and Your Orthodontist Will Love by Pamela and Brenda Waterman and The Braces Cookbook 2: Comfort Food with a Gourmet Touch by Pamela Waterman and Amee Hoge.

Parmesan Chicken Tenders
Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts (depending on the size, this could be 2 to 4 halves)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ¾ to 1 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon dried minced onion
  • ¾ to 1 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Directions
Rinse the chicken and cut into strips about ¾” wide by 3” long. In a small bowl, whisk or stir together the egg whites and water. 

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk or stir together the egg whites and water.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

By hand or with a fork, dip each chicken strip into the egg-white mixture, and then roll it in the bread-crumb mixture until evenly coated. You can do about 10 at a time.

Oil or grease a 9” x 13” pan. Lay the strips side by side in the pan and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes; turn the tenders over and bake 10 more minutes or until fork-tender.

Serves 4 to 6 people.

Fudgy Cocoa Bites
Ingredients
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
Directions

Using cocoa powder instead of melted baking chocolate is one of the secrets to baking soft cookies (another is using shortening instead of margarine or butter). If you’re looking for a change from brownies, this is a great melt-in-your-mouth alternative.In a large bowl, combine shortening, sugar, water, and vanilla, using an electric mixer and beating until smooth. Add eggs and mix until blended. Mix flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder slowly into shortening mixture, using low then medium speed.

Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 9 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes about three dozen. Store in a covered container to keep the softness.

Feeding the community (including the kids) by Edan Goode

El Camino Community Tavern
3628 W. 32nd Avenue at Lowell
720-889-7946

Last weekend, we became part of a new community – and it was delicious. While walking around the historic Highlands neighborhood, we discovered a restaurant that puts extra effort into everything they do. It’s as appropriate for a gathering with friends as it is for a well-deserved grown-up date or a casual lunch with the kids. I love the use of the word “Community” at El Camino Community Tavern. It isn’t just a casual place to go –  they are committed to being responsible to and for their guests, much like someone welcoming you into their home.

The space is small and narrow enabling people to get pretty close to each other but not so close that you become part of each other’s conversations. The décor is funky and lighthearted, especially now when it is also decorated for the holidays. (Notice the huge mirror and what the front of the bar is made of.) The staff is friendly, they recycle, grow herbs on their rooftop garden, source locally and are 100% wind-powered. What a great example to us all!

Small additions make all the difference with the food. The Grandes Nachos ($7.95) had layers of refries, jalapenos, carnitas (we had a choice of meats) , cheese and salsa with a touch of pineapple for a sweet counter to the heat. The Smuggler’s Burrito ($8.95), was a giant of a thing filled with grilled potatoes along with the usual beans, rice, and choice of veggies, beef, carnitas, chicken or as a breakfast burrito, all smothered with pork green chili and cheese. Sopapillas ($4.95) had whipped cream, fresh strawberries, raspberries and scoops of homemade strawberry and chocolate ice cream.

Next time, we’ll try the Mollettes ($7.95), part of the weekend brunch with a baguette spread with refried beans, layered with manchego cheese, pico de gallo, roasted jalapeno salsa, served with scrambled eggs. Or a big bowl of Aztec Soup ($6.95) – chicken, tomato, onion, avocado, queso fresco and tortilla chips.

Although there’s always a kids menu available, I wouldn’t recommend taking the kiddos to El Camino Tavern at night. Then, the adults rule, but for lunch or brunch, the clambering of the kids will blend right in with the lively adult conversation and  excellent live music. For around $5, kids can have a quesadilla, flautas, bowl of rice, beans, meat or chicken, a burrito or a PB&J tortilla. Plus, the place is great for games of I Spy.

Even if you don’t live in the Highlands, El Camino Tavern lets us all become part of the community, if only for as long as it takes to polish off a great meal.

The Revolution of school food by Edan Goode

Lunchbox Simplicity(TM)

Here’s my dilemma as a mother (well, I have many but let’s focus on this one): I refuse to send my kids off to school with junk-filled lunches. Despite the litany of  “but the other kids get soda in their lunches….and cheese puffs…and candy bars”, major meany that I am, I continue to send high-quality proteins with a veggie, a fruit and water. To hear the grumblings when I pick them up, and to see the uneaten items shoved to the back of the fridge, you’d think I was packing them frog’s eyes and hemlock.  Yet having them eat hot lunch has not been a better alternative, nutritionally speaking.

Fortunately, they now go to a school that has gotten on the healthy lunch bandwagon. A company called Revolution Foods is offering healthier, high-quality, well-balanced school lunches. Thankfully, my kids have loved every lunch they’ve had so far. Their favorite is the pasta with meat sauce and the chicken caesar salad.  Even though I have packed them similar things in the past, they are more receptive to it because it’s NOT COMING FROM ME! Like so many things, sometimes kids need to hear it, see it, experience it from someone else before they’ll actually believe what you’ve been telling them for years.

For more information about what Revolution Foods is doing, including how to incorporate their healthier ideas into your family’s meal plans, go to the Colorado Parent website and click on “Meet Nicholas Saccaro” who is the vice president and general manager of Revolution Foods in Colorado.

Now, because the Revolution Foods lunches are priced a little higher than “regular” school lunches, I occasionally pack lunches for my kids. Because it is apparently important in the world of packed lunches to have pre-packaged goods in order to be cool (what-ever!), I was glad to hear that Revolution Foods has created a line of packaged goodies that adhere to their philosophy of “never-evers” (no transfats, no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial ingredients).

They offer a Jammy Sammy, a wheat-free sammy bar made with fruit and/or peanut butter such as Peanut Butter & Strawberry. Similar to a toaster “pastry”, the Grammy Sammy has a soft-baked bar filled with organic yogurt such as Cinnamon Graham & Vanilla Yogurt and Cocoa Graham & Banana Yogurt.  My kids loved the Grammy Sammys but found the Jammy Sammys to be a little dry without a glass of milk at the ready. They also loved PopAlongs, a healthier version of a potato chip. These are wheat-free, popped chips made with whole grain rice, corn and oats. They come in original, Cheesy Cheese and Simply Cinnamon flavors.  Their favorite by far was the Mashups. Organic fruit like Berry, Grape, Tropical and the really yummy Strawberry Banana is pureed and put in squeezy pouches. They can be frozen too which serves double duty as a food cooler in their lunch bag. Besides tasting good, I think it was the “squish factor” that made this particular product stand out to my kids. The best part for them was that their junk food-eating peers were oooing and ahhhing over THEIR lunches. Score one for Mom and another one for not giving in!

As a very nice tie-in, 3% of the net product sales of Lunchbox Simplicity is donated to support the Revolution Foods school lunch programs to bring healthy meals to under-served schools across the country.

Lunchbox Simplicity(TM) items are available at Whole Foods and online through their website. To learn more about Revolution Foods, visit www.revfoods.com.