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New Ideas For The New Year?

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Pamela Chester
About the author: Pamela Chester
Mom of two; graduate French Culinary Institute; kids cooking program instructor; Master's degree in food studies. Creates kid friendly foods and loves her slow cooker.
Once the New Year starts, it’s time for "out with the old, in with the new," right?
You’re tired of the same old, same old. It’s time to step off the tired old dinner train and onto an exciting adventure down a new and different lane. But some might say, “Not so fast!”

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like change. Although I’m quite an adventurous eater and could make a whole vacation out of trying exotic foods, in day to day life I tend to prefer comfort foods. I make the same meatloaf and pasta sauce recipes that my mom made for us kids growing up. My weekly menu selections may rotate a bit, but tend to revolve around a grouping of about eight or nine tried and true recipes, and even the sides we pair up don’t tend to vary. Or I find one new recipe I like, and tend to make it over and over for a few months until it wears out.

Sure we may add new foods each year, but special holiday foods and meals almost never change. As far as a day to day meal plan, I kind of like being “in a rut” and tend to fill my grocery cart with the same items each week. I know many kids feel the same way. They like sameness and routine. And they don’t like any surprises tossed at them. Plus for us parents, it’s nice not having to reinvent the wheel all the time.

After a month long party season of celebrations and special foods, it feels good to return to some of our familiar comfort foods. That could be just the change you are looking to make!
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But as we all know, eating a varied diet IS the healthiest approach and variety IS the spice of life; so there are some easy and painless modifications you can make to your family's standard repertoire and dining setting to make everyday eating a bit more exciting in the new year.

First off, when it comes to kids, presentation is everything. Kids love to see familiar foods made into their favorite shapes and characters. Or create a colorful dinnertime scene with mashed potato hills, butter pat suns, and broccoli trees, just like the book/movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

In the vein of ants on a log (celery sticks spread with peanut butter and topped with raisins), there is endless variation to the ideas you can come up with to make food fun. A banana octopus or strawberry mouse with raisin eyes and almond ears. Make funny faces out of sliced olive eyes, shredded carrot mouths and alfalfa sprout hair. Snow peas become lily pads for apple frogs or "Snail Sandwiches" (tortilla pinwheels turned on the side with a mini gherkin pickle head poking out, complete with chive antennae). Preschoolers and even older children love these pretend play concepts for food.

Another way to jazz up mealtime presentation is the way in which you serve them. During the holiday season, my son loved to pass out the colorful printed napkins I got at the dollar store. Just that one small change made setting the table so much more fun.

You could also add a new and different twist if you have cloth napkins. Just for kicks, if you have older kids, pull out the good china and candles and eat in the dining room for an even dressier meal. If you have 'em, why not use these things more than a couple times a year? My old neighbor does this once a week, and she said eating in the dining room works wonders for their family conversation. Dinnertime seems to become more civilized.

So what are some other little tweaks you can do to make family meals less repetitive? Start off by adding new condiments or change your side dishes. Instead of the usual pork chops and applesauce, try them with peaches or mango (grilled or pureed). Kids love dipping sauces so you might get lucky when serving an unfamiliar or disliked vegetable, if you just present it in the right way.

So hopefully these easy ideas will get your family started in the right direction for happy and healthy meals in 2011!

Snail Sandwiches

Snail Sandwiches

Made with red and yellow bell peppers or chives, sweet gherkin pickles, whole wheat or flour tortillas, mayonnaise, Monterey Jack or American cheese, sliced turkey, baby spinach

get the recipe

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