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It’s a question posed to moms and dads every day, sometimes repeatedly and often with great exasperation. The constant quizzing – day after day after day – can quickly bring you to a moment when you realize you just might break if you have to plan and prepare one more dinner.

And yet you do. The family eats, and everyone is happy (for the most part). But probably before you even finish clearing the table it hits you: You have to do this all over again tomorrow.

For the families who have way too much on their plates, we feel your what’s-for-dinner pain. Check out this dinner survival guide.

SJ Folks & their go-to recipe

Chicken and penne in vodka sauce – I bake the chicken in vodka sauce for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, and while the chicken is cooking, boil water and add pasta. Easy, delicious and no prepping necessary.
——— –  Elise Ethington, Burlington

Jalapeño chicken sausage, cruciferous crunch and half a bag of sweet potatoes – I roast the sweet potatoes, sauté the crunch and sausage before adding the taters and seasoning accordingly.
——— –  Elizabeth Adams, Marlton

Chicken breasts with some defrosted mixed vegetables. Quick and simple to maximize your time binging on Netflix.  –  Dave Pallas, Riverton

Pasta is my family’s go-to. About five times a year, my dad spends a whole Saturday making a big pot of gravy that gets divided up and frozen. When we need a quick meal, we throw some pasta in a pot and thaw the gravy. Tastes like it took hours!  –  Andy Nocera, Berlin

My easiest (but still healthy) meal is salmon and a sweet potato. I put salt, pepper and lemon on the fish and bake it on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes. The sweet potato I wrap in a paper towel and microwave for around five minutes.  –  Mandy Miceli, Voorhees

Pasta with meat sauce, sloppy joes, tacos; basically anything with ground beef. It’s the easiest thing to cook quickly.  –  Leah Marie Freiling, Clementon

Carnitas – it’s a Mexican comfort food, and one of my favorites. I learned how to make them in Mexico.  ——— –  Pat Fisher, Burlington

Breakfast for dinner: eggs, bacon, toast.  –  Michael Nocella, Voorhees

Chicken tacos with sour cream and lime coleslaw. It’s only five ingredients, plus seasoning, and it only takes 10 minutes to make. It can be put on rice or in traditional taco shells, and it’s fresh and healthy!
——— Elyse Convery Viana, Riverside

aaron mccargo, aaron mccargo sj magazine, aaron mccargo food network, sj magazine what's for dinner, sj magazineDon’t Put Your Grill Away Just Yet

SJ’s celebrity chef Aaron McCargo cleaned up on the fourth season of TV’s “The Next Food Network Star,” and the Camden native hasn’t stopped there.

“I always ask folks, ‘Why do you stop grilling when it gets cold?’ You get all the same benefits without having to stand outside and deal with the heat and the bugs,” McCargo says. “I’m a year-round smoker and griller. My grill stays right outside my back door.”

McCargo heats up his charcoal grill for classic cold-weather comfort foods like brisket and pork loin, but that’s not all.

“If you’re big on casseroles and baked pasta dishes, do ’em on the grill,” McCargo says. “It’s amazing what you can do by wrapping the pan in foil and sitting it on your grill. You can set it on two bricks to keep it off the direct heat and use your grill just like you’d use an oven.”

McCargo takes things one step further. On Thanksgiving, his oven is free to bake pies and sides all day, because the turkey is out back on the grill.

“I butterfly my turkey and set it in a roasting pan on a bed of vegetables,” he says. “Then I set it off to the side on the grill and let it cook in the indirect heat all day. For those who want to do a traditional turkey, you can put it on the grill for half the cooking time to get that smoky flavor and then finish it in the oven.”

Foodies to follow

From restaurant reviews to recipes, these SJ food bloggers are the folks who can tell you where to go or what to make.

What the heck’s a bonbon?
whateverworks.typepad.com/bonbon
Tuckerton’s Cindy Dudas doesn’t take food too seriously. Her popular blog is full of laid-back recipes for normal people.

South Jersey Locavore
southjerseylocavore.com
Robin Shreeves is all about eating local. The Barrington native’s blog features recipes for whatever Jersey produce is in season.

Eat Along the Shore
eatalongtheshore.com
Founded by Brick resident Gary Cunnane, Eat Along the Shore gives readers restaurant recommendations up and down the coastline and usually includes some cool Jersey Shore food history.

May I Have That Recipe?
mayihavethatrecipe.com
Cherry Hill sisters Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox are of Lebanese-Jewish descent but were raised in Barcelona, Spain before settling in South Jersey. Their popular recipes, often featured on Buzzfeed, Food.com and Shape, bring the flavors of their heritage and childhood to your kitchen.

1.18
The average hours per day Americans spend eating and drinking
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

 57
Percentage of dinners eaten at home that were actually made at home
NPD Group

110 minutes
Average time U.S. men and women spend cooking each day (compared to 150 minutes per day in the 1960s)
National Intitutes of Health

cauliflower

There’s Cauliflower in This?

Tips for getting picky kids to pick up a fork

Certified nutritionist Kathryn Nicewicz Friedman, director of integrative healthcare at Lourdes Wellness Services and mother of two, knows what it’s like to deal with a pint-sized picky eater. She says there are a number of ways to make sure your children are eating healthy – and still smiling.

Let them help

If kids get excited by the idea of creating their own meal, Friedman says, they may be more likely to finish everything on their plate. “Have them build their own salad or shish kebab or fill their own burrito,” Friedman says. “If you’re making personal pizzas, let them put the toppings on themselves. Tell them they can pick any topping they want, as long as one is a vegetable.”

Think pink

Or blue or purple or green. Because kids are drawn to colors, Friedman suggests choosing their favorite and making a fruit and veggie-packed smoothie. “As long as you have a good ratio, with a fruit that’s sweet enough to mask anything else, you can get some vegetables in there.”

Let them choose

If your child has a choice about what to eat, Friedman says, they may be more likely to eat what you want them to. “Create choice in the ways they can have something,” Friedman says. “Offer them their protein on a lettuce wrap, in a tortilla or over rice. They’re eating the protein, but they have some say in how they eat it. You can’t make them a buffet every night, but I think to a point it’s a good idea and makes your life easier.”

Get sneaky

“Sometimes you just have to do a little camouflage with the vegetables,” Friedman says. “You can puree zucchini and make chocolate zucchini muffins or bread. I’m not saying it’ll be completely hidden, but it’s chocolatey enough that most kids will eat it. You can also try adding a vegetable puree to a burger or meatloaf recipe.”

$3,977
Amount average American family spends each year on groceries
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

$2,625
Amount average American family spends eating out each year
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

How to cook when you don’t have time to cook

With two busy teenagers, Voorhees residents Missy and Rob Miller don’t have much time to think about dinner. On nights when Megan, 13, is at dance rehearsal for hours and Jon, 15, is practicing with Eastern High School’s marching band, Missy uses one kitchen appliance to solve her family’s scheduling issues: a slow cooker, or Crock-Pot.

“Once fall starts and the kids are busy, we’re never all home together at dinnertime,” says Missy. “Having a meal in the Crock-Pot means it’s hot and ready even though we’re eating at different times. It’d be nice to have dinner together, but at least everyone is being fed.”

chickencarnitasMissy preps and freezes meals like chili, meatballs, and sausage and peppers on weekends, so when the busy weekday mornings roll around she can just turn on the Crock-Pot and forget about it.

Missy tries to think outside the box when it comes to Crock-Pot meals. While she loves a traditional roast or stew, she says one of her favorite recipes is for Mongolian beef.

“It’s so easy to make. I think it has like five ingredients,” she says. “It’s so much better, cheaper and really just as easy as ordering take-out.”

The Best Kid’s Menus in Town

Sometimes it is OK to throw in the towel and let someone else do the cooking.

The Melting Pot
Maple Shade
This dinner is fun, even for mom and dad. You cook your meal fondue-style, right at your table. The best part is dessert – you pick the chocolate flavor for the fondue, and everyone shares a never-ending plate of goodies like marshmallows, cake and strawberries.

Tortilla Press & Tortilla Press Cantina
Collingswood and Merchantville
Chef Mark Smith has 13 nieces and nephews – 13! They’re the inspiration behind the Tortilla Press’ Kids Eat Free night. On Mondays, families receive a free kids meal with every adult meal purchased.

Silver Diner
Cherry Hill
Your kids can join the club at Silver Diner – literally. Membership gets them a free shake on Kids’ Night (Tuesdays from 5 to 8 pm) and a free kids meal on their birthday. Plus, the kid’s menu emphasizes healthy creations like gluten-free quinoa coconut pancakes, organic apple sauce and chicken pizza quesadillas.

Yokohama
Maple Shade
Kids love the dramatic cooking at Yokohama’s hibachi tables. The friendly chefs turn onions into a flaming volcano, and they’ll even throw vegetables into your kids’ mouths – yours too. (Give it a try. It’s actually fun.)

The Pop Shop
Collingswood and Medford
Your kids will always love a visit to The Pop Shop, but on Saturday mornings they don’t even have to get dressed to go. Kids who show up in pajamas between 7:30 and 10:30 get free breakfast with the purchase of an adult meal

SJ chefs on the one thing you need in your kitchen

High-quality canned tomato products. They are versatile and have a long shelf life.
——— –  Jack Connor, Executive Chef, The Madison

A good chef’s knife. Never buy knives in a set. Find a knife that is comfortable in your hand, no matter the cost.  –  George Kyrtatas, Executive Chef, Sweetwater Bar and Grill

A toaster oven is the perfect appliance for heating up small quantities. It’s also very versatile; you can bake, roast, toast, broil and brown.  –  Vincent Tedeschi, Chef Educator, Academy of Culinary Arts, Atlantic Cape Community College

Salt and pepper.  –  Kebin Xie, Executive Chef, Wegmans, Mount Laurel

 

Up Your Kitchen Game

If you want to improve your cooking cred or just need a night out, you’ll find cooking classes all over SJ.

In the Kitchen Cooking School
Haddonfield
Master the flavors of Italy, Spain, Thailand or Vietnam, or keep it close to home and learn new ways to use local ingredients.

Gourmand Cooking School
Point Pleasant
Learn to roll sushi, make your own mozzarella and stuff your own eclairs. Gourmand even offers mixology classes, so you can serve your guests dinner italic>and< a drink.

Viking Cooking School
Atlantic City
This culinary school, located inside Atlantic City’s Harrah’s Casino, is the perfect place to spice up date night. Different-themed packages are offered nearly every Friday night.

In My Grandmother’s Kitchen
Locations in Merchantville and Moorestown
Pasta, pasta and more pasta. Once you’ve mastered a basic egg dough in the Pasta 101 class, you’ll move on to lasagne, gnocchi and, of course, cannoli. 

October 2016
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