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Cooking Together as a Family has Benefits

Will Hehemann, writer/editor/UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Because of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, schools across the country are closed and many parents and caregivers are home due to businesses being closed or work-from-home assignments, Easter H. Tucker, interim family and consumer sciences program leader for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. Parents may be wondering how to strike a balance between work, keeping their children entertained and regular household duties such as cooking dinner.

“All family members may be feeling a bit confused because of changes in their normal routine during these trying times,” she said. “However, the silver lining could be finding new, meaningful ways to spend time together as a family. For example, staying at home together presents a unique opportunity for families to cook a variety of meals with one another.”

Helping parents cook can be a fun educational opportunity for children and teens. The activity is engaging and will give them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. And for parents, teaching their children how to cook a variety of meals can be an opportunity to bond with them.

Tucker said there are many healthy, easy-to-make meals families can prepare together while they are sheltered in. She recommends individuals take advantage of the following tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare nutritious meals on a budget:

  • Plan. Sit down at the computer with your family and pick a week’s worth of recipes on the USDA MyPlate website (www.choosemyplate.gov). Let each member of the family pick out a dish they would like to try.
  • Make a shopping list. Remember to include snacks and beverages for the week. Focus on healthier foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy and protein foods (meats, beans, eggs, lentils and peas).
    “Keep in mind, you may need to plan alternate dishes because you may not be able to find all the items on your list,” Tucker said. “Many of the grocery store shelves could be skimpy or bare due to recent over-shopping.”
  • Buy foods that cost less all year long. Beans and eggs are low-cost, healthy protein foods. Frozen vegetables such as green beans and spinach are also good low-cost choices.
  • Stock your kitchen, but do not overbuy. To make sure healthy ingredients are on-hand for future meals, individuals can also buy canned beans, fish and low-sodium vegetables and soups, as well as wholegrain pasta, brown rice and quick-cooking oats.
    “Just remember not to purposely hoard products,” Tucker said. “We are all in this boat together and should keep in mind that others need access to healthy foods too.”
  • Store fresh foods right away. Use fresh fruits and vegetables and milk quickly to prevent spoilage. Always buy in-season produce as it costs less.

Tucker reminds individuals to wash their hands before and after handling foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is also important to wash hands after unloading groceries. Before cooking, individuals should clean kitchen surfaces such as countertops, cabinet handles, doorknobs and light switches.

“When it’s time to prepare a meal, create tasks for family members of all ages,” Tucker said. “Older children can actually help cut, slice and dice. The younger ones can rinse fruits and vegetables, add ingredients, and help set, clear and wipe the table.”

It is important to look for ways to satisfy the tastes of both parents and their children. For instance, if children prefer plain vegetables, meat or noodles, set some aside before adding other ingredients.

“Even when not preparing a multiple-course dinner together, parents and their children can still have fun and be productive in the kitchen,” Tucker said. “For example, they can learn to make ‘no-cook’ meals such as salads with canned tuna and beans or cold sandwiches with lean meats and sliced vegetables.”

For recipe ideas, nutrition information and shopping tips, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

Tucker recommends the USDA Team Nutrition recipe for salad with vinaigrette dressing. Eat this salad as a side dish or add some chicken and grains to make it a meal.

Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing

Vinaigrette Dressing

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of finely-chopped onion or shallot (if onions or shallots are not available, then replace with 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder)
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) oil
1 tablespoon of vinegar (if using white vinegar, increase honey to 3/4 teaspoon and add 1 teaspoon of water)
1/2 teaspoon of mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon herbs such as chives (optional)
Salad

Ingredients

8 cups of mixed greens

1 tomato, cored and diced

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced 

1 apple, scrubbed well, cored and diced

1/4 cup shredded or crumbled low-fat cheese

Instructions

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, then gather your kitchen tools and ingredients and put them on a clean counter or other cooking surface. 
  2. Wash the tomato, cucumber, apple, herbs (if using), and salad greens. If using prewashed salad greens, you do not need to rinse them. 
  3. Peel and slice the cucumber. 
  4. Dice the apple and tomato. 
  5. Make the vinaigrette: mix ingredients listed above in a bowl and whisk until well-blended. Or, put ingredients in a jar, put the lid on the jar and shake until well-blended. 
  6. Mix the salad with vinaigrette dressing. 
  7. Serve and enjoy.

Source: Team Nutrition Cooks!

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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