3 Ways to Start a New Habit

3 Ways to Start a New Habit

Healthy Foods
3 Ways to Start a New Habit

by Leanne Ely, CNC

Dear Friends,

One of the pitfalls in trying to get a new habit going (like making dinner, for example) is not being clear on the goal. It’s one thing to say you’re going to make dinner every night instead of eating via the drive thru, but it’s another thing entirely to quantify your goal.

Here are three things you need to do to make a new habit:

1– Make a serious commitment, not just run your mouth. As SHEs (Sidetracked Home Executives) we are the Queens of Running Mouths. We talk a blue streak, but actually doing something about it takes a while before we get that it isn’t the talking about it that will do it, it’s the DOING something about it that will do it! For dinner making, that means committing to meal planning, making a grocery list, shopping and then making the time to prepare the meal. It takes a little doing, but it is well worth the effort.

2– Examine the benefits of doing all of this. It’s huge—your children do better in school, are less likely to do all the things you DON’T want them doing and are happier, more secure and nutritionally, better fed. You’ve heard me talk time and time again of the value of the family dinner table—psychologically, socially and nutritionally. One meal can make that much difference!

3– Have a back up plan. There is no shame in ordering pizza ONCE IN A WHILE or making breakfast for dinner, or anything else that shortcuts your way to the dinner table. The big thing here is actually EATING together.

And please remember this. No one likes a dinnertime martyr anymore than they like the housekeeping martyr. Don’t be afraid to tell “your people” what you need. Have your kids help with dinner (hands on nutrition; life skills that will serve your children forever), have your husband help with grocery shopping and everyone pitch in for dishes. Dinner and meal making can be a family affair if you will help orchestrate it. Have a family meeting, get your crew on board and go for it! It’s worth the effort!

Leanne Ely, Your Dinner Diva since 2001
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What a Waste

What a Waste

Dinner Diva
What a Waste

by Leanne Ely, CNC

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “waste not, want not.” We’ve all grown up with that saying. In our parents and grandparents time, the very idea of wasting food was unthinkable. Today, it’s the norm with nearly 40% of food purchased wasted every day.

When you consider that the most flexible thing in our budgets are groceries, it’s hard to imagine we’re throwing away $40 worth of food for every $100 spent. Imagine the ATM machine spitting out five 20 dollar bills and then taking two of those 20’s and putting them in a paper shredder. That is a great picture of what food waste costs you. Are you willing to shred 40 bucks each time you take $100 out of your bank account?

Take it a step further: that 40% translates to 29 million tons of food being wasted each year. That’s enough food to fill up the Rose Bowl every 3 days. The cost of this waste? $100 billion annually.

Another place of waste is spending your food budget money on eating out all the time. Unless you’re splitting stuff on the dollar menu regularly, there’s no way you can stay within budget eating out all the time–unless you have a ridiculously large food budget, but then, wouldn’t you rather put some of that cash toward something else besides food?

Waste is abhorrent whether it’s the government wasting taxpayer money or the personal waste happening inside your refrigerator week after week. Money is money and in this economy, it’s hard to come by. Wasting like this is as bad as spending frivolously—it shows a serious lack of respect for the value of a buck.

The antidote to curb these kinds of waste all points back to planning—if you don’t make a menu for the week, you are missing out on being able to take advantage of your grocery stores sales, you miss the peace of mind that comes with having a plan and you miss out on saving quite a few bucks.

This week, make a menu. As another old adage goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

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Menu Planning Tips to Keep Your Holidays Jolly

Menu Planning Tips to Keep Your Holidays Jolly

Food For Thought
Menu Planning Tips to Keep Your Holidays Jolly

by Leanne Ely, CNC

In the hustle-bustle of the holidays, it is so easy to have good intentions go awry. Every year the reminder that you need to get on the stick and get organized to make the holidays happen, is exacerbated by the fact that the retailers can’t seem to resist putting the holiday decorations out earlier and earlier.

I almost had a panic attack when I saw my local Wal-Mart unloading back-to-school supplies mid-July, and Halloween goodies by mid-August.

I may not have my holidays down pat by September, but I do have meal planning down to a science. During extremely busy times, like the holidays, I always fall back on these important tips:

1. Implement the 10 o’clock rule: Ideally, your meals should be planned out for the week. Not everyone is “there” yet, though. So here’s a fall-back plan. If you know you’ll be shopping in the afternoon or out doing some kind of holiday activity, make sure you have planned what you will be having for dinner the night before by 10 p.m. You need to also plan for enough time to make it.
If, on the other hand, you know you’ll be home all day, but busy with baking, crafts, decorating, etc., make sure you have decided on dinner by 10 a.m. Pull out something to thaw, check ingredients — make sure you’re ready to roll before the dinner hour and before you’re forced to call the pizza guy again.

2. Use a servant: We all have them — those indentured servants that live in our dark cupboards in the kitchen. You know, the appliances that were going to make our lives easier, that we all just had to have? That crock pot is the ultimate indentured servant, waiting to whip up culinary wonders while we are out all day at work, shopping or whatever.
Plan a little time to get everything in the crock pot in the morning and leave the rest of it up to your servant, the crock pot. It’ll take care of everything and promises not to burn it, too. What more could a busy person want?

3. Go into a deep freeze: Next time you are making dinner, try doubling or even tripling that meatloaf recipe and freezing the extra portion. It really doesn’t take much extra time, and believe it or not, if you stock your freezer this week, by the time the holidays are going full throttle, you should have a mini-mother lode of dinners just waiting to be thawed and heated. Now that makes freezer cooking a breeze! Get more help with freezer meals here.

4. Make it convenient: Once upon a time, I wouldn’t normally buy lettuce in a bag, already washed and ready to go. Times sure have changed! In my opinion, this kind of convenience really pays off — like during the holidays, for example. Make a list of convenience foods you might not normally buy, and make sure you have a few on hand to use “just in case.”

5. Try breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs and toast really are substantial and take all of 10 minutes to make. If you put a little cheese on top of the eggs and pour orange juice into wine glasses, and maybe even light a few candles, no one will suspect you didn’t have the time to do your normal dinner “thing”— and the kids will love it!

These tips can carry you through the holidays with hardly any effort. Plus, they may be able to help you out at another stressful time, too. In any case, give them a try.

Sometimes a couple of tips make the difference between dinner being there . . . or not!

Healthy Snacks for Hungry Kids – Part 2

Healthy Snacks for Hungry Kids – Part 2

Dinner Diva

Healthy Snacks for Hungry Kids – Part 2

by Leanne Ely, CNC


Last week I shared some ideas for feeding those hungry munchkins that are home for the summer. Need more ideas? These snack ideas came in from moms – tried and true snacks that are healthy and keep kids (and adults!) happy. Try these out for yourself and see what you think:
1.Our favorite is celery sticks with peanut butter. Put a few raisins on top and you have “ants on a log”

2. I am one of those moms always in the dilemma of looking for healthy food that the kids will eat and like! Here are a few my two enjoy (besides some of the ones you already mentioned):

3. Yogurt

4. Popsicles or Jell-o made with fruit juice (Vitamin C & Calcium fortified)

5. Bananas with peanut butter (this actually makes a pretty good meal!)

6. Homemade quick bread/muffins – I always use at least half whole wheat flour, and try to sneak in some other good-for-you ingredients like wheat germ, flax seed meal, etc.

7. I found the best microwave popper at the grocery store. It is basically a bowl with a slightly raised lid. Just scoop the popcorn in and put in the microwave. No oil or anything. It works better than stand alone air poppers since it can go directly in the dishwasher. We spray some “I can’t believe it’s not butter” on it or sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and good to go. My main thing was to mention the popper though – we found ours at Krogers.

8. My son loves homemade granola bars and even brags to his friends about how good they are. I use the recipe from Quaker oats (on the box). Quaker has lots of granola recipes at http://www.quakeroats.com/cooking-and-recipes/content/recipes.aspx and just use the keyword granola. We add dried cranberries, dried cherries, raisins, and chocolate chips. His teacher even asked for the recipe! The other snack I bake a lot is banana bread, from scratch, not a mix. Applesauce can replace the butter.

9. This homemade microwave popcorn is easy for those that don’t have an air popper.
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1 lunch-size brown paper bag
1 piece of tape
1/4 teaspoon salt (if desired)
1 tablespoon butter (if desired)
Put popcorn in the bag. Fold the top over twice and secure with tape. Microwave for 2-5 minutes on high, until you hear the kernels finish popping. Transfer to a large bowl and drizzle with melted butter. Stir well. Add salt.

10. Cube an eating apple, add some blueberries and lightly sprinkle with cinnamon. Stir to mix the cinnamon. That’s it! You just can’t believe how good this is.

11. Hummus and pita bread, or veggies. You can make your own hummus, but many packaged brands are available and some are tasty and healthy. Kids love to dip things!

12. Cold pasta. Twists, bow ties, etc. Use whole wheat pasta, toss it with a little extra virgin olive oil and even some grated parmesan cheese and take it along in zip lock baggies.

13. I keep two small storage containers in the back of my mini van. One contains snacks for the kids that don’t melt or spoil. I also keep sports drink pouches (in the summer) and fruit juice boxes in the winter (they freeze well). The other contains snacks that I can eat, like dried fruit and nuts, low-carb/protein bars and drinks (for when I’m too busy to eat) and bottles of water. I always keep a bunch of water bottles in the front area, under a seat, so my children and their friends have water at all times. You could also keep a container with baby wipes, paper towels, trash bags, first aid kit, extra socks and mittens in the winter and sunscreen, bug spray, and hats in the summer, but that is another topic.

14. Spread cream cheese with a variety of toppings (ham and cucumbers, salsa and shredded cheese, etc…) on a whole wheat tortilla and either eat it like a rolled sandwich – or slice into “appetizer” bite-sizes

15. Homemade popsicles – the investment for the plastic do-it-yourself ones is well worth it. I have three sets so at least one set is always be in the freezer. Any 100% juice or combination of two works well. Or try bananas blended with yogurt or orange juice. Yogurt with unsweetened crushed pineapple is good too (no need to drain). You get the idea, use your imagination here!

Did you miss the first part of our snack series last week? <<Click Here>> to check it out!

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Healthy Snacks for Hungry Kids – Part 2
5 Tips for Stress-Free Catering

5 Tips for Stress-Free Catering

Dinner Diva
5 Tips on Stress-Free Catering

by Leanne Ely, CNC


A few weeks back, I threw a bash for my husband’s birthday and had nearly 50 people in our house. The food was enjoyable, fun and beautifully presented. I had people falling over themselves thinking I had cooked it all from scratch–well hardly! I could have done it, but why when I can cheat and have a party with that kind of delicious food?

I am going to give you five points on how to cater without the stress, frustration, and hitting your head against the wall. Consider it your cheat sheet.

1.     Veg Out: Instead of buying and spending an hour chopping up vegetables for a simple veggie platter, buy an already prepared veggie tray! It’s cheaper, there’s no prep and all you have to do is transfer all the veggies to your own serving tray and arrange beautifully, removing all hints of predone.
2.     Say Cheese: A simple little cheese platter looks classy and who doesn’t love cheese? Just buy a small wheel of cheese (brie is my preference) and cut out a portion and place on your platter. Add an assortment of crackers, some olives, artichoke hearts, and cornichon pickles. Keep in mind that you ought to place anything with juices (olives, artichoke hearts, pickles) in ramekins or little bowls so it doesn’t make the crackers soggy. Add cheese knives and little appetizer forks for picking up the condiments and you have a great looking platter without a lot of fuss.
3.     Order Out: Repeat after me: you do not have to make the main entrée! It would take hours to prepare if you’re hosting for more than 20 people–so why do it? For my aforementioned bash, I ordered a few burritos from Chipotle Mexican Grille. They’re affordable and use organic and local produce and meat without added hormones or antibiotics so I’m all about supporting Chipotle. To cut down on how many I’d need, I bought half of what I needed and cut the burritos in half, how smart was that?
4.     Double Dip: Dips are one thing I’ll typically make myself–they’re easy, fresher and just plain taste better. The good news is you can make them a few days in advance. Just get your dips made up early, store them in the fridge a few days before and plop them into your pretty serving bowls when you’re ready.
5.     Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder: Presentation counts! It doesn’t take much to make something pretty. Stay organized. When setting up your tables of food consider having more than one table if you have a substantial party on the horizon. Keep your serving platters labeled (I use 3 x 5 cards labeled so friends can help me out when it’s time to put everything out; just get rid of the card after the tray or platter is filled) so you can keep track of what goes where and which foods go together. Flowers and candles are two classic ways to keep up appearances. You can place them almost anywhere and they’ll brighten up your display. Runners, polished stones, acorns – whatever you have on hand! Go with what’s seasonal and available, get a little creative and see what you come up with!

See, wasn’t that easy?

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