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By Chef Devin Alexander, Special to BiggestLoserClub.com
I truly believe that I would still be obese if my grandmother hadn't gotten me in the kitchen at a young age. I love food. I find comfort in food, and I always have. Thus without the skills to make foods in a healthier way, I would have either had to somehow acquire willpower (I can't even imagine that happening) or I'd still be tipping the scales.
So in honor of "The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook" being released today, I'd like to challenge you to cook with your children one night this week. Trust me, it can be simple and enjoyable! If you've been following my blogs, you've noticed that my favorites happen to be a lot of kid favorites. I love fast food, I love mac and cheese and even spaghetti and meatballs. I've recreated so many dishes that your kids are bound to love, that you really have no excuse not to cook with them. But just in case you're still intimidated, I've included a preview recipe from the new cookbook below: "Spirals and Balls". It's a take on spaghetti and meatballs that you, your kids and even your wallet will love.
Family really is so important. But it seems like between soccer practice, business trips, spin class and PTA meetings, there's less and less time in the day for families to really spend quality time together. Especially when it seems that the internet and text messaging have completely taken over even the tiny bit of time we do have at home. This is why I love cooking as a family. Not only can you get healthier meals and make sure everyone is being properly nourished, but working as a team, makes it a snap.
Sure, it may be a hassle to plan a family night where everyone can be together in one place at once, but it is well worth the effort. Remember, too, eating together doesn't always have to happen during dinner. There are several ways you can implement family traditions based around different meal times.
To get started, eat breakfast together at least once a week. I know breakfast is usually the most challenging meal to get children to eat because everyone is rushing out the door trying to get to school and work, but it's the most important meals. So why not give it its due attention? Who says you can't make quick design-your-own smoothies or omelets? Your children can pick their favorite fruits for smoothies or their own omelet fillings, then you can throw them together. Or you can slice some seasonal fruit and have the kids chose which fruit they would like on top of their whole wheat, low-fat freezer waffles. This will allow your family to start the day together in minutes, even if you don't always end it together. You'll model healthy behaviors and the whole family can be creatively and collaboratively involved in the kitchen and the cooking process. Plus, it's a fun way to teach them about nutrition.
Another way to get your family involved in family meals is to have a cooking contest between the children and parents or girls versus boys! A little competition always gets people fired up. For dinners, you could assign jobs for each person so that everyone is contributing to the meal. Have one person set the table, another person chop vegetables and someone else mixing ingredients. If it's really hard to squeeze family meals into your schedule, there's always dessert! But, keep it healthy! Set up a mini fruit and frozen yogurt bar for the children so they can make the desserts! Help the kids make smoothies that you call, "milkshakes" (they'll never know they're not milk shakes with all the colorful fruit you can use)! Or buy rocket pop molds and fill them with fruit juices. They won't mind that they aren't sugar-laden if they're in cool shapes.
Seriously, it's important..and it's simple. So take my challenge. Pick a night this week, or even a Saturday morning and try one of your favorite kid-friendly recipes. Or one of these from the brand new, "Biggest Loser Family Cookbook". These are recipes are hands-on so children and parents can both enjoy cooking and eating them!
Happy cooking (and eating!)
Spirals and Meatballs
This is one of those dishes that's just as kid-friendly as spaghetti and meatballs. And you can get your kids involved in mixing and shaping the meatballs to save you time and start them feeling comfy in the kitchen at a young age. This is one time when they can play with their food!
8 ounces fiber-enriched rotini pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
3 cups Main Event Marinara Sauce (page TK), heated
New Favorite Meatballs (page TK), heated
4 teaspoons grated reduced-fat Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Divide the pasta among 4 serving bowls. Top each with 3/4 cup sauce and 8 meatballs. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the Parmesan over each bowl and serve.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving: 481 calories, 37 g protein, 76 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat (2 g saturated), 63 mg cholesterol, 13 g fiber, 528 mg sodium
Main Event Marinara Sauce
Canned tomatoes will always vary slightly in taste depending on where they were packed, what time of year they were harvested, etc. So sometimes the same recipe for sauce might require a touch of salt, while another may require a hint of sweetener. Here, we added very little of each and loved the results based on our canned tomatoes. If you need to, feel free to add another hint of salt or honey. Just be sure not to overdo it.
Olive oil spray 1 cup minced yellow or white onion
2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste (optional)
Spray a medium nonstick saucepan with the olive oil spray and place over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until just becoming tender (they should not brown), 4 to 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and with a wooden spoon stir in the tomatoes, water, tomato paste, honey, oregano, basil, and pepper flakes until well combined.
Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour. Season with salt, if needed.
Makes 7 (1/2-cup) servings; about 31/2 cups sauce
Per serving: 63 calories, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, less than 1 g fat (trace saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 15 6 mg sodium
New Favorite Meatballs
A lot of people opt for turkey or chicken meatballs and sausage, thinking that they're much leaner than beef. If you buy them pre-prepared, that does tend to be the case. But even the chicken and turkey meatballs and sausage you find at the grocery store or in restaurants derive at least 50% of their calories from fat and contain an insane amount of sodium. Yikes, right? That's why I make my own-they taste better and I can use real beef or real pork when I want. And if you and your family don't truly enjoy these meatballs more than the packaged chicken or turkey ones, I'll be shocked!
Olive oil spray
2 egg whites
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound 96% lean ground beef
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a large nonstick baking sheet with the olive oil spray.
In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix together the egg whites, oats, and milk until well combined. Add the parsley, onion, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes and mix until combined. Mix in the beef until well combined.
Make 32 uniform meatballs, each about 11/4" diameter (use a cookie scoop or 2 tablespoons for ease). Roll the balls with your hands and arrange, not touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink inside.
Makes 4 (8-meatball) servings
Per serving: 194 calories, 26 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat (2 g saturated), 60 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 252 mg sodium
Strawberry Limeade Smoothie
I've always been a big fan of strawberry lemonade and I love limeade. Here I've combined these two flavors to create a limeade smoothie. I use Fiber One's key lime pie-flavored yogurt to add extra fiber- it'll fill you up. If you can't find it, or if it's not in your budget, you can use any lime yogurt. You won't get as much fiber, but it will still be delicious!
1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
6 ounces fat-free, fiber-enriched key lime pie-flavored yogurt
1/4 cup fat-free milk
Zest of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Sugar substitute (such as Splenda), to taste (optional)
In a blender with ice crushing ability, combine the strawberries, yogurt, milk, lime zest and juice, and sugar substitute. Blend on high speed or Ice Crush setting until smooth.
Makes 1 serving
Per serving: 228 calories, 9 g protein, 55 g carbohydrates, trace fat (trace saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 13 g fiber, 134 mg sodium
Sure, you're familiar with strawberry shortcake . . . it's just about the perfect treat. Well, here's a new fave that's likely to please a crowd of any size and any age-and it certainly doesn't hurt that you don't have to slave over it for more than a couple of minutes. 4 low-fat, whole grain or whole wheat waffles 2 cups sliced fresh strawberries 1/2 cup fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed
Toast the waffles according to package directions. Place one waffle on each of 4 plates and mound 1/2 cup strawberries on top. Spoon 2 tablespoons whipped topping over each and serve.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving: 113 calories, 3 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat (trace saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 221 mg sodium
Devin Alexander is the author of The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook (Rodale 2008) and The Biggest Loser Cookbook (Rodale 2006).
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