by Jessica Grelle, Mother-of-two and founder of Mama Jess organic pasta sauces
As a mom of active kiddos, I understand that dinnertime can often be sacrificed for sports and activities. We are all doing the best we can, but taking a little time out to re-commit to a family mealtime a little more frequently can be really beneficial. It doesn’t have to be all from scratch either; Heinen’s Prepared Foods counter makes it easy to prepare healthy meals in a snap. Whether it’s on Sunday, or any day of the week, family dinners are not just a great time to connect. They’re also a great time for parents to model healthy eating habits and introduce new foods.
Thankfully, my husband and two sons have been great recipe testers, letting me force more and more veggies on them! Their feedback helped me develop the recipes for my line of Mama Jess organic sauces which you’ll find on the shelves at Heinen’s Grocery.
As I develop new recipes to pack as many veggies as possible into dishes kids want to eat, some of the best feedback comes from my own boys during our family dinners. But testing recipes is not the only reason why I place a high priority on sitting down together at the dinner table.
The whole mission behind my company is to get Americans to eat more veggies. Being in the food industry and the founder of a food company that specializes in sauces for family dinnertime, I have access to a lot of eye-opening statistics on America’s dinnertime habits.
Did you know that only 4% of Americans are eating the recommended daily amount of vegetables? That’s why Mama Jess sauces all have added veggies providing better nutrients while you eat pasta sauce and enchilada sauce and more veggie-packed meals!
Countless research on family dinnertime have reached the same conclusion: Children who have regular dinners together with their parents do better in almost all areas of life, from higher grades, to maintaining loving relationships, to staying at a healthy weight and staying out of trouble.
A University of Minnesota study recently found that families with elementary age children eat 2 of 5 meals in the car and 50% of overweight elementary school children eat meals in from of the television. Some motivating facts indeed!
I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to entice my boys to eat healthier is to involve them in the meal planning process and engage them in conversations that hold their attention at the dinner table. Like tonight, for example, we’ll be having dinner on the patio featuring a dish I created (with Heinen’s ingredients) called Mexican Veggie Bowls.
Mexican Veggie Bowls are an easy and light summer dinner, but can be enjoyed year-round. All these recipes and ideas (see below) can be applied to a Taco Tuesday Night or Friday Fajita Night (yes, I let my kids name some weekly meals for a nice routine. Meatless Monday is my favorite and this recipe can be used for it as well). These veggie bowls just leave out the shell or tortilla, saving us some calories and carbs.
I love the Mexican Veggie Bowl concept for a few reasons:
1. You just throw everything you want together and it’s delicious. It’s great for families with a variety of eating preferences. I’m a believer of making one meal and everyone eats it…even if it’s not his or her favorite meal.
2. The opportunity to eat a lot of vegetables. I count 8 in this meal alone…Yes! (Cauliflower, Spinach, Corn, Tomatoes, Jicama, Peppers, Black Beans and Cabbage) This works well with Heinen’s huge and fresh produce department.
3. This meal lends itself well to leftovers. With all the chopped veggies you can easily create a salad, quesadillas, tacos, loaded nachos, etc.
4. All the goodness of a Chipotle-style burrito without all the calories!
5. Great meal to have mini-chef’s help chop or place toppings in a lot of bowls. Many hands make light work.
With these build-your-own bowls, you can enjoy a lovely dinner with a lot of toppings passed around or buffet style. Everyone’s dish will look different and that is what makes it so personalized. Here’s what my veggie bowl looks like…
Here’s a look at my son’s Veggie Bowl. (He doesn’t like to mix it up yet!)…
An important part of every dinner should be conversation and communication. One of our favorite things to do at dinner is play a dinner-friendly version of “Would You Rather” and a round of sharing the best part of our day. We started this when our boys were really little and it continues today. It’s a fabulous and fun way to really get to know each other and share a lot of laughs.
We’d love to hear what quirky dinner conversation starters your family has too! Feel free to share them in the comments so we can all join in the fun. Mama Jess will be sending coupons to the best responses. Having a little structure to the dinner conversation helps everyone linger around the table and, after working hard on a delicious meal, that what every cook wants!
Want to recreate our Mexican Veggie Bowls for your own dinner table? Here are couple recipes to get you started: Cabbage Salad, Cilantro Quinoa and Cauliflower Rice.
My favorite side dish to all my Mexican recipes is Cabbage Salad; it adds a little refreshing crunch and is cabbage is a really healthy cruciferous, cancer-fighting vegetable. This recipe is so fast; you’ll see why I always make it!
1 head cabbage – shredded
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 T. honey
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1. Thinly shred the cabbage.
2. In a small bowl combine remaining dressing ingredients. Whisk well and cover cabbage.
3. Season with additional salt and pepper.
Quinoa is a great substitute for rice with any meal. Plus, it is a plant source of protein with all the essential amino acids. This recipe is delicious and I often eat it alone for lunch. Toss with avocado, cherry tomatoes & beans and it’s the perfect salad for a picnic or Ravinia! It’s REALLY green if you use a lighter color quinoa. In pictures I used a red quinoa because that’s what I had in my pantry. Heinen’s carries several varieties of quinoa.
1 cup dry quinoa
1 ½ cup vegetable broth or water
(optional –if made just as salad, add cherry tomatoes and chickpeas)
2 cups fresh spinach
1 bunch cilantro
2 small cloves garlic
Juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. agave nectar
1/2 tsp. cumin
dash of salt and pepper
1. Heat the water in small pot to a boil.Add rinsed quinoa. Reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. For the dressing, add all ingredients to blender or food processor. Mix till smooth. Add the dressing to quinoa after it is cooked. You can serve this hot or cold. I prefer cold, so chill in refrigerator 1 hour before dinner.
Cauliflower ‘Rice’ is pretty popular right now especially among the low-carb or Paleo lovers. I simply love it for another chance to increase the veggie content of our meals. It is delicious, light and really doesn’t even taste like cauliflower. I have made cauliflower rice by grating it or throwing it my food processor. It’s a messy process. The easiest way I have discovered to make it is detailed below. Be sure to follow directions or you’ll end up with puree. I use my Vitamix, but any blender or food processor would work. You can use this technique for cabbage or broccoli stems for fine slaw or salad recipes.
1 head cauliflower
2 cloves garlic
1 T. olive oil
salt to taste
1.) Wash the head of cauliflower. Quarter and remove stem. Chop a couple more times.
2.) Fill blender or food processor with cauliflower and water to top of cauliflower (don’t need to measure water because you’ll be straining it out). Blend for 10-15 seconds. Any more than that will make puree! If there happens to be a piece of cauliflower left, move onto next step and re-do the large piece with water for 10 seconds.
3. Drain cauliflower in fine mesh strainer, press water out with back of spoon or spatula.
4. Heat large pan to medium high. Add oil and garlic. Sauté for 1 minute.
5. Add cauliflower to pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and allowing all water to cook off.
6. Squeeze lime and salt over ‘rice’, sauté 3 more minutes or until a little golden.
Here is a list of options for any Mexican Night or Mexican Veggie Bowls:
Grilled chicken (I marinade ours in Mama Jess Bien Good Enchilada Sauce)
Black beans – toss with limes juice, olive oil and sea salt
Tomatoes, sliced or chopped
Tortilla Chips – we love Xochitl Organic, non-GMO found at Heinen’s
Jicama – in photo I sliced and served as chips
Mama Jess Bien Good Enchilada Sauce – we top our Veggie Bowls with this sauce every time! Did I mention this sauce already has 7 veggies in it?
Having our own Heinen’s Grocery makes it easier to feed my family healthy foods. When Heinen’s opened in Barrington two years ago, I was quite happy with such a high quality grocer and a Mama Jess customer being so close to home.
My favorite departments at Heinen’s are: Produce, Fresh Seafood & Wellness. I’m a self-admitted produce snob. I have driven miles out of 60010 to shop the best produce sections, but now I have it right here at Heinen’s. Not only do they have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, they have high quality produce. Heinen’s also carries a great selection of organic produce. I’m always appreciative when they bring in seasonal organic treats like plums and peaches – often very hard to find outside local farmer’s markets.
Our family meal tonight has taken full advantage of Heinen’s produce section. But just a mention of the fresh seafood selection – it has never disappointed! We’ve cooked up some restaurant quality swordfish, tuna, salmon and cod. Another section of Heinen’s that pleasantly surprised me is their Wellness section. Kadi, their Wellness Consultant, does a great job of staying on trend with all the hottest ingredients in the natural health world. They have a great selection of chia, flax seeds, raw foods, and gluten free foods.
If you’re looking for foods to inspire healthier eating at home, you’ll find an endless supply of ideas at every turn inside Heinen’s Grocery in Barrington. And you might find me there, too, shopping for our next family dinner!
Thank you to my family for being my constant recipe testers and letting me force more and more veggies upon them! And thanks to Heinen’s for being our hometown grocer for Mama Jess sauces and fabulous, fresh veggies! And finally thank you to 365 Barrington & Heinen’s for reminding us the importance of family dinnertime! Let’s all join in the dinnertime fun!
Keep eating your veggies!
Jessica Grelle (aka Mama Jess)