Sunday, August 3, 2008

Help for the Dinner-challenged

I'm very excited about my brainstorm this week; A "virtual dinner coach" manual!
I have had numerous clients over the past several months ask me for help with dinner. Women who have 'a life' often don't have the organization in place to plan dinner meals. This is because planning dinner is complicated: It means planning entire meals for days ahead of time, making a grocery list, going to the grocery store (or sending someone reliable enough to pick up what's on your list), remembering to thaw out what you're making ahead of time, and--my personal biggest challenge--having all the food you're cooking be ready at the same time! Throw into the mix all of the different food preferences of others in the house, and it's tempting to just throw your hands up in the air and order out.
But having a healthy meal at home is very important family time. It's an opportunity--and sometimes the only opportunity--where everyone sits together, facing each other, without the tv on (at least that's the rule in our house!), and gets to talk about how their day went. You all have each other's undivided attention. Of course there are numerous research studies that show children who eat at home with the family more nights than not, do better in school, are less likely to have problems with substance abuse, and are far less likely to have weight problems as they grow up. Here's one example of a movement to encourage parents to have dinner with their kids at home:
So, what does the busy Mom do about shopping, cooking, planning meals??? Well, I have a simple formula and a simple routine: Dinner is (1) an entree, (2) a starch, and (3) a vegetable or fruit. Sometimes, if I have a lot of extra energy, I might even have garlic bread or a salad on the side! If I have a whole extra hour at some point, I even make a dessert :) To help me plan meals ahead of time, I have a recipe binder I keep in the kitchen. It has recipes I've been handed, cut out from magazines, or found on line over the years. Most of them are very simple and I use the same dozen ingredients regularly. They take 30 minutes or less, and I take total advantage of the conveniences offered in supermarkets today: From the rotisserie chicken I can just take home and eat, to the boxed mix of sweet potatoes, a healthy balanced meal does not have to take hours to plan and prepare.
I suppose it's because I've been working on this for years that it seems simple and routine to me. Although I do remember numerous times having my mother reassure me, "with practice, all the dishes will be ready at the same time--it takes practice". I realize after speaking to so many women that it is still one of their biggest challenges. So, I'm thrilled to be putting together this 'virtual meal coach' to show others that planning a dinner meal can be worked into your household routine, and become a healthy habit that doesn't overtake the rest of your week.

Included will be the binder with several recipes each for poultry, beef, pork, and seafood; there will be suggestions for side dishes included with most entrees; one section has potato, rice and vegetable recipes and ideas; one has a few dessert recipes; I'll have sample menus for 2 weeks; and a list of basic pantry items to stock so it's easier to go grocery shopping without worrying about forgetting what you'll need for a recipe.
There will be the option of receiving the binder, all put together, with the recipes each in their own plastic slipcover (so you can pull it out, cook dinner, and just wipe off any spills from the plastic before putting it back in its place!); or you'll be able to just download all the included sheets yourself and put your own binder together and save on the cost of the notebook, shipping and handling, etc.
Send me your comments and suggestions so when this is all put together (very soon, I hope) it will be something you will find useful for your household!

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