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Published: Tuesday, 11/5/2002

Moms as meal-planners

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Betty Bassett and children, J.T., 7, and Victoria, 4, fix Yogurt Granola Parfaits. Betty Bassett and children, J.T., 7, and Victoria, 4, fix Yogurt Granola Parfaits.
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Betty Bassett wants to include new foods in her children's diet. But dealing with everyone's special food requests is a real dilemma, says the mother of J.T., age 7, and Victoria, 4, and wife of Jim.

"It's not like one size fits all," she says about menu planning.

Jill Roman wants to cook large quantities and freeze portions for later in the week to feed her husband, Dan, and children, Peter, age 3, and Molly, 6.

These women are members of Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, a group at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Toledo, which recently discussed menu-planning challenges. Deciding what to serve that will appeal to spouses and children and still provide variety was a lively topic.

With infant twin daughters, Cynthia Orner says, "I have no time to cook." She says, "chicken or beef," that's the nightly choice, but how to make it different is the puzzle.

Whether you're a parent of a picky eater or a mom in search of time-saving strategies, providing variety and cooking something convenient, nutritious, and reasonably priced takes planning.

The MOPs members have exchanged recipes, especially for casseroles and meals that can be cooked quickly. But they also want new ideas.

Jill Roman prepares vermicelli with pork and broccoli. Jill Roman prepares vermicelli with pork and broccoli.
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"I like vegetables," says Mrs. Bassett, whose family will eat them raw, but not cooked. "My mom had a huge vegetable garden when I was growing up." The children were involved in the cooking. "We snapped beans. There's something about sitting on a porch and snapping beans. Of course, my kids eat them raw."

To get her children to try new foods, Mrs. Bassett started a game with paper caterpillars. With the help of her neighbor, who bought the segments at a scrapbooking store, each time J.T. or Victoria eats a new food, a segment is added onto the caterpillar, which is strategically placed on the refrigerator door in the kitchen. Mrs. Bassett notes that you can make your own caterpillar segments "and have your kids help."

J.T. has segments for squash and tomatoes; Victoria tried chili, squash, teriyaki sauce, and green olives. "This year, J.T. is remembering our traditions for Thanksgiving, so holidays are a good time to try new foods," his mother says.

Mrs. Roman was surprised by how much her daughter likes a recipe she adapted from a cookbook for a stir-fry pork and vermicelli pasta. "She [loves] it now. She likes eating the noodles," Mrs. Roman says.

Trying new foods

Parents have acquired assorted ways to get children to eat new foods.

Mrs. Bassett has her youngsters get involved with food preparation. Among J.T. and Victoria's favorite snacks are Yogurt Granola Parfaits. They select the glass they want to use and then layer yogurt, fresh sliced strawberries, and granola. They love the parfaits for snacks or for breakfast. They can use different fruits and yogurt flavors.

Last summer, Nestle Nesquik ran a contest that asked parents to send in their most fun and creative nutrition ideas, and tell how they succeeded in getting their children to eat and drink more nutritious foods and beverages.

The grand prize winner was a mother who devised a Vegetable of the Month Club. Children competed to determine the month's winning vegetable. Once it was selected, they shopped together and cooked together. During the month, the vegetable was eaten raw, broiled, roasted, sauteed, marinated, boiled, stewed, dipped, barbecued, in casseroles and fricasseed.

Among the runners-up was Julie Oliver of Fremont. Her entry: Combine a trip to the library with a trip to the grocery store by incorporating a theme from a children's book. "My son's favorite book at the time was The Gingerbread Man. I used a cookie cutter to cut his pancakes into the shape of a gingerbread man. Cookie cutters can be used to cut sandwiches, meat slices, cheese slices, just about anything," she says. "You can make a meal with a theme. To accompany a book abut the sea, we made an octopus out of a hot dog. After reading a book about Eskimos, we made penguins from olives." Now Joshua, 4, "eats everything" and he helps with the cooking.

Other runners-up in the Nesquik contest included these ideas:

  • Grill fresh vegetables, chicken, and beef over a grill or campfire together.

  • Teach children to make happy-face pita pizzas.

  • Develop an Alphabet Eating Adventures calendar: Each day is assigned a letter of the alphabet, and a fruit or vegetable beginning with that letter is eaten.

  • Mix raw spinach in with any food that requires lettuce, such as salads, tacos, or sandwiches.

  • Add fruit slices to your child's water for a little fruit flavor.

  • Create a variety of wholesome mini muffins, such as banana nut, carrot raisin, and pumpkin with dried cranberries.

  • Make simple fruit kabobs on pretzel sticks with slices of bananas and strawberries.

    Entr e variety

    Expanding the recipe repertoire is not as difficult as it may sound. Mrs. Roman found that the Stir-Fried Pork with Vermicelli, which she served with broccoli, could be just as easily made or served with other vegetables, such as snow peas or baby carrots, and other meats like chicken or beef. Knowing that her family liked the flavor of the sauce meant that she could expand her ingredient list.

    She also discovered the convenience of cooking vegetables in the microwave. Fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and squash can be quickly microwaved in minutes in a microwave-safe glass dish with a half cup of water and sealed with plastic wrap.

    When you are pressed for time, think creatively about convenience cooking. A 30-minute solution is Chicken Pesto Pizza using precooked chicken breast, a prebaked pizza crust, 1 jar prepared pesto sauce, 1 6-ounce jar of artichoke hearts, and a half cup of mozzarella cheese. If pesto and artichokes are too eclectic for your family's taste, pick another topping. In a preheated oven this takes 8 to 10 minutes.

    In Not Just Beans by Tawra Jean Kellam (www.not-justbeans.com, $17.95 plus shipping), the author recommends leftover roast beef be used in barbecued beef or beef and noodles. She includes recipes for Beef Stroganoff, Swiss Steak that can be cooked on low in the slow cooker all day, and Pepper Steak.

    Equally enterprising with recipe ideas is 300 Best Comfort Food Recipes by Johanna Burkhard (Rose, $19.95) with 20-Minute Chili using lean ground beef or turkey, Pork Chops with Honey and Thyme, Easy Asian Flank Steak, and Yummy Parmesan Chicken Fingers.

    Use beef in fajitas, steak salads, grilled with new potatoes, or as a stir-fry.

    Precook chicken breasts for casseroles, to saute with pasta, or to make a chicken divan.

    Moms may not believe it now, but someday your children will remember all of your dishes as home cooking.



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