My 9 for '09 List - FamilyEducation

My 9 for '09 List

January 06,2009
Sweet Pea Chef
Jessica Efird

Jessica, aka the Sweet Pea Chef, is a former U.S. Senate staffer/weekend gourmet turned full-time mom/family gourmet. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two sons.

Whether you have come up with a list of healthy eating goals for your family or not, I thought I would throw some ideas out there for you. 

Most of these ideas are constant (not just New Year's) goals for our kitchen. Need a little encouragement for your kitchen? Here are nine ways we seek to improve the healthful factor of our kitchen:

1.    More Whole Grains
2.    Deliberate Snacking/More Fruit and Veggie Snacks
3.    More Beans and Legumes for Protein
4.    Less Food Waste
5.    More Organics Without Breaking the Bank
6.    Continue Natural/Nonprocessed foods
7.    Expand my Lunchtime Meal List (also more lunches for SPH)
8.    Continue to have R and G Involved in the Cooking
9.    Eat More Greens

Do any of these nine things strike a chord with you and your family? I challenge you to take an idea or two from this list and make it your own. Or come up with your own healthy goals for your kitchen. Write down the goals, if you wish, maybe even post them somewhere where you will be reminded of them throughout the year.

Over the next several days, I’ll share some ideas I have found helpful for applying these goals to daily living. Here's the first item on the list:

“More Whole Grains”

What kid doesn’t like pasta? Okay, I am sure there are children out there who are not big on pasta, but generally speaking, pasta is a kiddie staple. The great thing about pasta is that it is so versatile, budget-conscious, and easy to make -- and with one simple change, it can become exponentially more healthful.

White pasta, rice and bread have only about half the amount of important nutrients such as zinc, Vitamin E, folic acid, and others, and provide far less fiber than their whole-grain counterparts. If you want a slew of great information about the health benefits of whole grains, visit the Whole Grains Council website. If you start your kids on whole wheat pasta, they’ll never know the difference, and they’ll be much healthier for it.

If you have a child who is weary of whole-grain pasta, here’s a tip:  It is a whole (ha!) lot easier to hide whole grains in a baked pasta dish, rather than in a plate of spaghetti marinara. Whether you make a healthy version of Mac and Cheese, Baked Penne Pasta or Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini, there are lots of ways to conceal your whole-grain switch.

One of my favorite baked pastas is my recipe for Baked Couscous. Whole Wheat Couscous can be found in most grocery stores, and it's probably the easiest to substitute without anyone noticing.

Baked Cheesy Whole Wheat Couscous

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon olive or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped into small slices (about one small zucchini)
1 cup frozen or canned corn, drained if using canned
1 cup cooked sausage, ham or other meat, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack or Swiss Cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 additional cup chicken stock (together you will need one standard 14 oz can of broth)

In a microwave safe dish, bring one cup of stock to a boil. Add the couscous and cover. Let stand 5-10 minutes while you cook the vegetables.

In a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil and then add the onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and then add the zucchini and corn. Cook for about 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown slightly.  Add the meat, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the cooked couscous into the pan with the zucchini/corn mixture. Add 1 cup of the cheese and mix well. Add the egg and additional chicken broth, and stir well. Spoon into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Top with the remaining 1 cup of cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the top begins to brown.

I love this dish because it is a good “whatever we have on hand” meal. I usually have the staples in my pantry/refrigerator, and the vegetables can vary, depending on what we have available. I have used all sorts of different combinations, and they always seem to work!

SPC