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Eating Wisely

Custom-Made Meals

Brandel D. Falk
Jerusalem Israel
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 26-27

A famous comedian once said, "Give the people what they want, and they'll turn out." You can use this concept for meal planning, too.

Do you have a picky eater (or two...or more!)? Does someone in your family like a wide variety of foods, as long as they aren't touching each other on the plate? Do you sometimes feel as though you have to make a different dinner for each family member?

How about having a salad bar for dinner? Start with various lettuces, spinach, cabbage, beet greens, and add a fresh herb such as parsley, oregano, basil, or rosemary. Include a choice of four or more other fresh vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, radishes, broccoli, kohlrabi, green beans, peas) and maybe offer something with a stronger taste, too (onion, hot peppers). You can also add sliced steamed potatoes, corn, and other cooked vegetables. Be sure to offer some protein foods, too. Cubed or grated cheese, cooked beans, and sliced hard-boiled eggs are all great sources of protein. Add one or two salad dressings and everyone can have a custom-made meal!

But maybe your family isn't into salads. You can take the idea one step further and make a Mexican meal bar with a variety of taco shells, tortillas, and pita bread. Add one or two types of cooked beans and grated cheese. Chopped lettuce and other vegetables (tomatoes, corn, and peppers) go particularly well with this idea, too. Offer a choice of hot or mild tomato sauce or plain yogurt.

Another "bar" idea that works well is a potato and/or pasta bar. Steam or bake one-half to one potato per person and serve with a choice of toppings. Or make long spaghetti and small shaped pasta. Serve with two different cheeses, a variety of vegetables (peas, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, corn, carrots, lettuce), and cooked beans. Add a choice of a few tasty sauces including tomato, salsa, pesto, garlic, or cheese. If you do this often, you can make the sauces in advance and freeze them in small quantities so everyone can have their favorite with no extra work!

This concept also works for dessert or breakfast. Make a fruit salad bar with assorted chopped seasonal fruits, raisins or other dried fruit, chopped nuts, and healthy toppings (plain yogurt, simple dressings). Ingredients such as unsweetened whipped cream or crumbled homemade cookies, can be added sparingly if you so desire.

For breakfast, you can offer a choice of plain yogurt or cottage cheese. Add chopped fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, and grains. Wheat germ makes a nice topping if your family likes the taste. Adding cooked brown rice to yogurt and fruit gives you a simple rice pudding!

The only cooking or mixing involved in any of these is in preparing the dressing or sauce. And you can keep that simple, too. You can make an Italian tomato sauce by just mixing tomato paste and water (enough to get the thickness you like) and adding oregano, basil, black pepper, paprika, and garlic (pressed fresh garlic gives it a great flavor!). A cheese sauce is just a white sauce (check any basic cookbook) with cheese added after it thickens. Use as much or as little cheese as you like, and add a drop of cayenne to improve the flavor and color.

Salad dressings can be equally simple. A basic salad dressing is a mixture of vinegar (or lemon juice) and oil. The more oil you add, the milder the dressing (and the higher in fat). Add some dried parsley, minced fresh garlic, and black pepper, or any other spices your family likes. You can make a fruit dressing by mixing about equal amounts of apple juice (or pineapple...or orange) and oil, plus just a hint of cinnamon or cloves.

Garlic Sauce

4 T. butter
1 tsp. powdered garlic
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients in a small pot. Heat, stirring, until very warm and well mixed. You only use a little of this at a time.

Alfredo Sauce

4 T. butter
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. grated parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a thick-bottomed pot. Stir in the cream and mix frequently until very hot. Mix in the cheese. This is best served immediately, but it can be frozen if you prefer.

Parsley Pesto

2 c. lightly packed parsley leaves
4 garlic cloves
1/4 c. walnuts (or other nuts of your choice)
1/4 c. oil (approximately)

Place parsley, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Grind until everything is well chopped. Drizzle oil in while the food processor is running until the mixture comes together. It will be thick, and strongly flavored; you only need to use a little bit at a time. You can vary this by using any herb you like (fresh basil is traditional).

If you like basil pesto but don't have fresh basil, you can use spinach for the fresh leaves, and add dried basil to give it a basil flavor. You can also add parmesan cheese to the pesto, or just serve parmesan on the side for everyone to add.

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