Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's For Dinner?

The weather may still remain warm and the crickets continue their nighttime chirping, but when the school buses start rolling down the streets filled with kids on their way to their respective schools we are forced to face the truth - Summer is over. Gone are the carefree days, now chocker-block full of activities from morning until night. Because life can become hectic once the school year starts, sometimes the "family dinner" can go to the wayside - family members grabbing some grub when their personal schedules permit. Yet studies show that the family dinner hour is an important part of healthy living.

Research shows that when families dine together, kids are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables - fewer fried foods, sodas or food that contains trans fats. When younger kids frequently eat dinner with their families, they are less likely to be overweight than other children. Which is a serious concern considering that nearly one in five children aged 6-19 in the U.S. are overweight. That puts them at higher risk for many health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes -- as well as emotional problems.

" 'One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners,' says Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). CASA recently reported on a national phone survey of 1,000 teens and 829 parents of teens. Eating dinner as a family helped kids in many ways. It helped them get better grades, and kept them away from cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, and more".(Source: Family Dinners Are Important: 10 reasons why, and 10 shortcuts to help get the family to the table. Jeanie Lerche Davis, WebMd Feature)

According to the WebMD article there are ten benefits of family dinners:

  • Everyone eats healthier meals.
  • Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
  • Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
  • They're less likely to drink alcohol.
  • They won't likely try marijuana.
  • They're less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • Friends won't likely abuse prescription drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You'll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you're proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home

Ok, now I know what you are saying to yourself: "The days of June Cleaver and Carol Brady are long gone"! The task of making dinner every might may seem daunting, but you don't have to let it be. Even ordering a pizza for dinner counts as a family dinner, as long as everyone is sitting down together at the family dinner table. However, here are some quick tips for making this seem less like "mission impossible":

  • First and foremost, no TV's allowed and no phones answered. Think of this time as an opportunity to listen to each other and share each other's stories from the day.
  • Set a goal. Twice a week, perhaps? Build from there.
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don't have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or frittatas.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep healthy 'appetizers' on hand. Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, and low-fat cheese -- stuff the kids can snack on after school, instead of chips.
  • Use the crock pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You'll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  • Get the family involved in preparing meals and setting the table. If your children don't learn basic kitchen skills, they'll regret it by the time they're off to college.

Our lives as well as our children's lives are enriched with all sorts of activities that keep us busy from morning to night - take time out to stop and smell what's cooking for dinner, and then enjoy it with your family!


The following meals can all be prepared in 20 minutes or less, enjoy!!

Lemon Basil Shrimp and Pasta

Source: Nancy Hughes, Cooking Light, April 2007

  • 3 quarts water
  • 8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups baby spinach


Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add pasta; cook 8 minutes. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done and pasta is al dente. Drain. Place pasta mixture in a large bowl. Stir in basil and next 4 ingredients (through salt). Place 1/2 cup spinach on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 1/2 cups pasta mixture.

Nutritional Information

Calories: 397 (22% from fat); Fat:9.6g (sat 1.5g,mono 5.3g,poly 1.8g);Protein: 31g; Carbohydrate:44.9g; Fiber: 2.4g; Cholesterol:172mg;Iron:5.4mg; Sodium:666mg; Calcium:88mg

Artichoke and Arugula Pizza with Pruciutto:serves 4
Source: Kate Washington, Cooking Light, 2007


* Cooking spray
* 1 tablespoon cornmeal
* 1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough
* 2 tablespoons commercial pesto
* 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
* 1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
* 1 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto
* 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
* 1 1/2 cups arugula leaves
* 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Position oven rack to lowest setting. Preheat oven to 500°

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; sprinkle with cornmeal. Unroll dough onto prepared baking sheet, and pat into a 14 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread the pesto evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over pesto. Place baking sheet on the bottom oven rack; bake at 500° for 5 minutes. Remove pizza from oven.

Coarsely chop artichokes. Arrange artichokes on pizza; top with sliced prosciutto. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Return pizza to the bottom oven rack; bake an additional 6 minutes or until crust is browned.

Place arugula in a bowl. Drizzle juice over arugula; toss gently. Top the pizza with arugula mixture. Cut the pizza into 4 (7 x 5-inch) rectangles; cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories:419(28% from fat);Fat:13g(sat 4.4g,mono 6.4g,poly 0.6g;)Protein:20.1g;
Carbohydrate:55.3g; Fiber:5.7g; Cholesterol:20mg;Iron:3.6mg;
Sodium:1001mg; Calcium:265mg

Grilled Ham and Mango Quesadillas: Serves 4
Source: Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast, Oxmoor House, APRIL 2009


* 1/2 cup mango chutney (such as Sun Brand)
* 4 (8-inch) multigrain tortillas (such as Tumaro's)
* 8 ounces shaved lower-sodium deli ham (such as Boar's Head)
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled queso fresco
* 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
* Cooking spray


1. Prepare grill.

2. Spread 2 tablespoons mango chutney over half of each tortilla. Top evenly with ham, cheese, and onions. Fold tortillas in half.

3. Place quesadillas on a grill rack coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cheese melts. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories:287(19% from fat); Fat:6g (sat 1.6g,mono 0.8g,poly 0.1g;) Protein:20.9g;
Carbohydrate:35g; Fiber:8.1g; Cholesterol:35mg; Iron:1.7mg; Sodium:882mg; Calcium:171mg

Beefy Corn and Black Bean Chili: serves 6
Source:Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast, Oxmoor House, APRIL 2009


* 1 pound ground round
* 2 teaspoons salt-free chili powder blend (such as The Spice Hunter)
* 1 (14-ounce) package frozen seasoned corn and black beans (such as Pictsweet)
* 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
* 1 (15-ounce) can seasoned tomato sauce for chili (such as Hunt's Family Favorites)
* Reduced-fat sour cream (optional)
* Sliced green onions (optional)


1. Combine beef and chili powder blend in a large Dutch oven. Cook 6 minutes over medium-high heat or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Drain and return to pan.

2. Stir in frozen corn mixture, broth, and tomato sauce; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Ladle chili into bowls. Top each serving with sour cream and onions, if desired.

Nutritional Information

Calories:193 (14% from fat; Fat:3g (sat 1g,mono 1g,poly 0.3g); Protein:20g;
Carbohydrate:20g; Fiber:3.4g; Cholesterol:40mg; Iron:2mg; Sodium:825mg; Calcium:0.0mg