Quick Family Dinners

I do not have children in school yet but as a stay at home mom with 2 babies and a preschooler I need quick dinners. Let’s be honest, all the moms out there, we are surviving! I had a goal when I first became a mom and that was to feed my children the best that I could as often as I could. You see, as a realistic dietitian, I know that sometimes a fast food meal is completely acceptable because we are surviving but I don’t want to give my kiddos fast food as a norm. I also cannot afford to spend hours in the kitchen preparing gourmet meals because I have 3 kids 4 and under. So what do I do? I cook quick and healthy. I thought I would share some tips for making quick and healthy family meals along with a few recipes.

  1. Set it and forget it! Slow cookers are incredible. I swear a working mom had to invent this thing. When I’m doing a slow cooker meal I put the meat and the marinade in the crock the night before and then throw the crock in the refrigerator until the morning. My most recent slow cooker recipe was chicken breast, fresh tomatoes, and a McCormick spice mix (mojito lime) made like the directions on the pack. It was superb! The spice mix was great and except for the corn syrup was all spices and salt. I served it with corn on the cob and creamy cucumbers (sour cream and vinegar…more on the vinegary side).
  2. You go grill! I love using the grill…actually I love making marinades for the meat and veggies that my husband takes and grills. I make a wonderful adobo pork tenderloin that gets grilled. I use the adobo sauce from the canned peppers, lime and orange juice, splash of red wine vinegar, garlic, cumin, turmeric, some fresh herbs (whatever I’ve planted that season) and salt/pepper. I adapted my recipe from Eating Wells chipotle pork and I must say, since playing with the recipe I cannot give the precise measurements that I use but, wow…delicious every time! I would serve that with red skinned potatoes in olive oil and fresh herbs cooked on the grill and a delicious summer salad.
  3. Turn around turkey. Ground turkey is versatile. We add canned sloppy joe mix, taco seasoning (without hydrogenated oils), make turkey burgers and turkey meat loaf . I also add ground turkey to spaghetti sauce for a nice meat sauce and even do turkey meat balls. However you make turkey remember to incorporate whole grains and/or veggies to your meal to round it out.
  4. Fast cooking fish. Most fish cooks very quickly. Baked fish can be done in less than 30 minutes. Shrimp, mere minutes. Select only wild caught and sustainable. We’ll talk about more specifics on why in a later post but wild caught is better for the environment (and your body) and sustainably caught means we’ll have more fish in the future. In my usual meal planning holster I shoot for haddock, cod, tuna, salmon, and shrimp.
  5. Survival night. Yep we have a survival night. That can be anything from left overs to PB&J with cut up veggies or grilled cheese with tomato soup. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be gourmet. Make sure your meal is balanced with proteins, grains/starches, and vegetables…even if that means it is a salad and sandwich night.

Final thoughts: make sure your quick and easy meals have a protein (animal or vegetarian), grain or starchy vegetable, and a non-starchy vegetable. Fill your plate with that non-starchy vegetable and check out my blog on having a balanced diet for more information on what that means!

Challenge: make a meal plan this week using recipes that are quick, easy, and healthy!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip

I’m a sucker for warm dips. From buffalo chicken, to crab, and spinach artichoke dip. There’s nothing better to eat on a brisk football Saturday or Sunday than a savory warm dip! I watch the Food Network a lot…by a lot I mean some of the cooks/chefs are no longer guests in my house but members of the family (Guy, I’m talking about you!). I’m inspired by their passion for food and cooking as well as their funny personalities. Lately I have been watching Nancy Fuller who has a show called “Farm House Rules”. Many of her dishes are high fat, calorie, salt, sugar, etc but the reason I like her is the love she puts into her food. The other day she was making spinach dip and it inspired me. I wanted to make a rendition of warm spinach and artichoke dip that is packed with nutrients, has a little less calories, and a little less fat but still tastes amazing!

When I’m creating recipes I take ideas from many different sources. Whether it is just general knowledge of food science and nutrition or it is various recipes that I have read I tend to tie all of that together and viola, a new recipe. I sent my husband to the store for these ingredients and let him run wild on the brands. I don’t usually have a specific brand that I’m attached to because I’m a budget shopper and try to select the least expensive yet healthiest option.

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Missing from the photo is chopped frozen kale.

In any rate I heated a medium pot over medium-high heat, added oil, garlic, and onions. I sauteed these until the unions were soft and began literally throwing in the other ingredients. It was pretty simple and took me about 10 minutes overall. I made it in a pot but you could also make it in a slow cooker for game day and keep in on warm the entire day stirring it once in a while. Notice my shortcut garlic and short cut onions. Those are staples in my house (check out my blog on kitchen short cuts).

Nutrition Lesson: Unlike a typical spinach artichoke dip I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese…an actual French cheese), and part skim mozzarella cheese. I do not like fat free options unless it’s yogurt or milk. Especially when something should have fat (sour cream is literally cream [fat] that has been soured) it probably needs that fat to be that product…follow me? All cheese needs fat to keep it together including cream cheese. If you completely take out an essential ingredient like fat you have to add other things to it. There’s way too many food additives in what we eat so my tip is either use an alternative ingredient (like Greek yogurt) or use the real deal and just eat less.

Back to the recipe. I enjoyed playing with this recipe. It was the first time I’ve made it and it turned out pretty good! The only changes I would make would be to add even more veggies including artichokes (probably 1 1/2-2 cans), cooked cauliflower, shredded carrots, and shredded zucchini. I think they would be fantastic additions to this and boost those antioxidants!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup diced onion (add more if you like)
8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1, 14 oz can artichoke hearts in brine, chopped (save the brine)
8 oz chopped frozen kale (defrosted and drained)
10 oz chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat canola oil over medium high heat in pot. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is tender. Lower heat to medium – low heat and add cream cheese, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add chopped artichoke hearts and the brine and mix. Place kale and spinach in the cheese mixture and mix. Sprinkle nutmeg, pepper, and salt and mix. Allow dip to cook until ingredients marry (about 5 minutes). Place in serving dish, slow cooker, or keep warm on the stove until service.

NOTE: this is definitely a make ahead dip! Make it ahead and keep refrigerated until the party. Take it out and place into a small slow cooker. Serve with whole grain tortilla chips (corn, wheat, mix of grains). Nutmeg may seem weird but it adds another dimension of flavor!

Dietary restrictions: this recipe is gluten free (get GF tortilla chips), vegetarian, nut free, and soy free

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Final thoughts: Eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun. This recipe isn’t the lowest in calories but it is better than the original and also provides some nutrients through the veggies, probiotics with the yogurt, and and protein with the cheese. Enjoy!

Challenge: even if you don’t make “healthier” versions of your game-day favorites, just simply eating smaller portions. This will help your overall health!