What’s for Dinner Now?

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The phrase “what’s for dinner?” has certainly changed as more people are staying home, restaurants are often only offering take-out, social distancing is eliminating group meals, and grocery stores intermittently have limited stock.

A former coworker posted online that she was doing some homeschooling and grown-up training with her 10 and 12 year old sons. She had them doing the inventory of the food in the cupboard and freezer so they would know what foods were available to eat while they were staying home. She said she was amazed of some of the dates they found on the items and how many things she had forgotten were in there.

Now that they have an inventory, they could begin meal planning from what’s on hand.

Would your clients find this exercise useful? I know I will! And here's a collection of ways that they can get this project started...

Step #1: Count the vegetable options. Look at canned and frozen options too. These could be used for vegetable sides or added to soups or casseroles or even used as salads as your fresh options are used up.

Step #2: Are there any fruits? As you run out of fresh fruit choices look to any frozen or canned fruits on hand. What about raisins or dried fruits -- add them to salads or use them as snacks.

Step #3: List the protein items available. These could be canned or dried beans from the cupboard or meats, fish, or poultry from the freezer. Canned tuna and chicken would be good options here too. Nuts could be used as snacks or added to salads.

Step #4: What are your grain choices? Can you use them as main meals (pasta, risotto, casseroles) or mix them with other foods for soups or sides or even cold salads? Oatmeal and cereals are great for breakfast. Hopefully there are some whole grains there, maybe muffin mixes or pancake mixes. Check the packages, there may be some interesting and different serving suggestions.

Step #5: What’s left? Are there frozen packaged meals that could be used for lunches or side dishes?

They’ll also need to do a quick survey of what else is available for meals -- especially items in the refrigerator. Look at the condiments, cheeses and fresh produce while they last.

My friend’s sons could be given the assignment to look through cookbooks and online and come up with two or three meals that could be made from the foods in their home. No quick trip to the store to pick up something extra. The challenge -- it should be nutritious -- each meal should contain a protein, a fruit, and a vegetable.

I’m betting there will be less complaining about meals when the kids help do the planning and the cooking, even if the foods aren’t their favorites or don’t “go together” like they would under normal circumstances. By taking control of this opportunity, my friend is making it a great teachable moment, a way to keep the kids busy and make use of the the foods on hand.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

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