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Darla Isaacson is right! I hope you read and enjoyed her last article (“Swifly Fly The Years”) as much as I did. I had my own sweet “joy and rejoicing in your posterity” moment  this week.  I’d lost the recipe for an old family favorite, a Lemon Chicken Soup that I had adapted to perfection.  My last few attempts at what I thought I had memorized after countless times making it were just not quite right.

My online searches had been unsuccessful.   A text to my newly married daughter Kelly yielded a treasure in a quickly returned text which included the photograph of the exact recipe from the original cookbook, along with my own handwritten notes!  Her big sister Emily had created a cookbook with family and friends’ special recipes as a wedding present. I must have sent the recipe to her at some point.  What a sweet thing to see and recall.  Not just the soup, but the memories that went with it that my daughters are passing forward.  Precious.

It doesn’t take a college degree to understand that Good Foods + A Good Moods = Happy Times!  Though my little equation seems simple, we all know that creating a happy family meal is a true challenge with different tastes, preferences, needs and ages that  deserve respect and attention. In an eternal perspective, happy mealtimes now are a significant part of the binding and bonding that make strong, happy families prepared to enjoy and feast together later as eternal families.  In short, happy family mealtimes are important and they are worth the daily effort!

After nearly 30 years of feeding my own family, I had to laugh when I read that even Sister Marjorie Hinckley joked that 4:00 pm and kids asking what was for dinner gave new meaning to D&C 38:30 “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”

My own sister, when I became engaged over 35 years ago, joked “Are you SURE about this? Do you know that marriage and a family means fixing meals for a lifetime that do not have cereal and milk as the main course?” Of course, they’re both right!

Like most families while our children were all at home, we had members that would eat anything enthusiastically and those that would eat nothing with expressions on their faces that suggested intentional parental abuse. We had those that were diligently counting calories, carbs and fiber, and those that everything in sight and lost weight in the process. We had kids that genuinely enjoy whole grains and veggies, and those that were sure they needed medically authorized and documented reasons to even look at them.

What’s For a Healthy Dinner? Soups, Salads, and Side Dishes Served Buffet Style

So what did we do then? What do we do now since it’s just the two of us?  In 2014 we read Jane Birch’s Book “Discovering The Word of Wisdom” and stopped buying and cooking meat, substituting beans instead. A can of kidney, pinto, garbanzo, navy, or white beans works in every soup recipe! Beans are so much easier and less expensive to include. They taste great, too! My favorite resource for getting comfortable with cooking and eating beans is the book “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. (We do eat meat occasionally, but just for special events or when we’re the guests.)  We cooked meat while our family was growing up in moderate amounts. We still do at family gatherings, but also have a vegetarian choice for those who want it., i.e. two crockpots of spaghetti sauce, one without meat.

In looking back over the years, some things have changed, but many have not.  With my children’s preferences as they got older and became teenagers, I did not cook meals, but lots of options with veggies, grains and fruits, and let people fix their own plates.  Fresh and frozen vegetables were and continue to be staples!  A baked potato night, with chopped veggies to top as desired was and is always a hit.  We often do that with the leftovers from a vegetarian chili night. Salad bar night, once again with lots of chopped veggies in different bowls to choose as desired as topping options, is easy, delicious and fun.  Burritos, with canned refried beans and several veggie topping options to dress up your own burrito is always tasty and a hit.  Whole-food plant-based eating cookbooks feature many side dishes that quickly become main dishes, and we usually double or triple what we cook so that there’s enough for a meal and leftovers.

We operate on the “pantry principle” meaning that our grocery shopping revolves not so much around specific recipes, but around veggies and grains and beans so there’s always a variety to make a meal from.  Sometimes, however we need a little inspiration.

1) Meal Planning and Family Home Evening:  Good news! Healthy recipes and menu plans are easy to find in books and online. When our children were at home, we sometimes went to the library and checked out cookbooks with lots of pictures. We’d  browse through them for Family Home Evening.  Everybody would choose something that looked good and we’d add it to the meal plans for the week.   Now that it’s just the two of us, we do the same with cookbooks from the Vegetarian and Whole Food Plant Based shelves of the library.

You’d be amazed at the recipes and the seasonings!  We have joined a vegetarian club that meets once a month.  It’s fun to join with others who love to eat this way and appreciate some new insights into what others are eating and the chance to taste it at the monthly pot-luck suppers.

2)  Kids Know Best: I  found out early that little children really want to see and understand what they are eating. This is a divine law of health that actually makes meal preparation easy as the less prep and cooking is the best for our health too!  For example, they much prefer a cut-up apple with some raisins and a stick of celery rather than an apple salad with mayonnaise, or to see a little pile of peas and carrots, rather than have it in a casserole.  Perhaps this is why just putting the food out buffet style works so well as everyone sees and chooses exactly what they want.

We started putting sliced fresh fruit on the table at dinner when our children were young, and still do almost every night.

I’m not one that particularly enjoys cooking, so it was a no-brainer to have kids help.  It’s a fun way to be together and the warm fuzzies that go with spending time with a parent and contributing to the family meal are significant.  Who cares how the veggies are chopped for a salad or soup?  No need for perfection here!   In addition, they learn how to cook! It’s been a revelation to them to go off to college and on missions to find out how little their roommates and companions know about kitchen basics.

3) Separate the Carbs: My best strategy to please everybody, and still is, is to cook the carbohydrate portion (pasta, barley, rice or potatoes) of the soup or salad separately. This allows for those who want to control their portions (or no carb at all) to do so. For hungry teenage boys, make sure there is extra bread. Those that want/need more to fill up, simply fill their bowls with more of the carb, with some whole grain bread, or another bowl of cereal, God bless their hungry little souls.  Another reason for providing the carbs separately is that adding the rice or pasta to a soup turns any leftovers into a casserole as the grains absorb the broth.

4)  A Pretty Table Is a Happy, Healthy Table and Serving It Up:  I truly believe that our Heavenly Father created a beautiful world because he knows we function better in lovely surroundings. We can follow that lead at mealtimes.   It takes so little effort to set a pretty table. (That’s another article!)  For portion control, we use dinner ware with smaller-sized dinner plates and bowls, or even the salad plates for both portion control and saving space in the dish washer.  Children prefer smaller dinnerware as well.   It may take some serious shopping to find these, as so much of the popular china has over-sized dinner plates and bowls, but is well worth the effort.   Don’t forget thrift stores as a great place to find wonderful dinnerware to keep things interesting.

We gather around the set table for a blessing, then for the main course everyone usually takes their plate to the stove to dish up the portions that are right for them, then return to sit down.  It saves on dishes at the end of the meal and clean up time as well.

5)  Dealing With Leftovers: “I am a Child of God …”  For me the end of a meal and clearing up afterwards is a wicked danger zone where I can easily nibble a full second meal if I’m not careful.  I have three strategies:

a) Children’s leftovers don’t need to be eaten.  What a concept! When feeding small children just offer them less so you waste less!  Get down to the level that they see the dinner table and plates so you can see how BIG it all really it is and no wonder they’re overwhelmed!  If you start with about half of what you think they’ll eat (on the smaller plates) and let them ask for more when they’re ready, they’ll eat better and you’ll waste less.  Ohhhh the many peanut butter sandwiches with one bite eaten that I’ve  finished myself so food would not go to “waste” – who was I kidding????  It is not impossible to make a half or even a quarter of a peanut butter sandwich!

This approach works even better for grown-ups! Start with less yourself, then wait for a bit before serving more and you’ll often find that you don’t need more because it takes the stomach a bit of time to register fullness.

b) With children’s plates that have remaining food, mentally visualize the reality that they are treasured friends or guests.  After all, you’d never think of eating off the plate of a non-family guest!

c) My favorite strategy for dealing with children’s leftovers is to lovingly say to yourself “I am a child of God!  My body is not a trash can …. My body is not a trash can!”  This statement is especially helpful at the end of the meal clean-up where it feels wrong to just throw food away.  Eating it yourself is not a blessing for anyone.

We like to make clean up a snap with plenty of leftover containers with lids that fit and match.   We also use lots of zip-lock bags in various sizes as a handy temporary holding spot for leftovers.  A good-sized plastic container in the refrigerator easily holds these zip-lock bags of leftovers.

Of course, mealtime traditions are as personal as the clothes you wear, so I hope sharing our family’s style and favorites is helpful for you!  And while there are more truly healthy recipes than anyone can begin to count, I would like to share our family’s all-time best-ever lemon chicken (or bean) soup.  It is light and lovely for a spring or summer meal, yet so flavorful and filling that it’s delightful for winter meals too.

The Allen’s Favorite Lemon Chicken (or Bean) Soup

10 cups chicken broth (I use bouillon cubes)
3 celery stalks, sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
OR 2 cans large white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 large eggs, beaten
½ cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp. dried oregano (although I always add more)
1 Tbsp. dried parsley

Combine broth, celery, carrots and onions in a large stockpot; bring to a boil.  Add chicken and
simmer for 15-30 minutes. Combine eggs and lemon juice, gradually add to soup and stir with a fork until ribbons form. Sprinkle with oregano and parsley.  Cook the rice separately.  To serve, place
desired portion of rice in individual bowls, then add the soup.  Makes about 12 unbelievably delicious servings.

It’s worth repeating: Happy mealtimes are the gateway to happy times and memories that last forever!
Bon Appetit!

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been a columnist for Meridian Magazine for 11 years,  providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success and happy living both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999.  She has presented for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents of a growing number of darling little ones. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE