McD’s Launches the Nutrition Network

I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious here: McDonald’s is not the most nutritious option.  The most nutritious meal that you can serve your family is one that is well balanced, probably follows the tenets of USDA’s My Plate and it might involve Super Foods such as salmon, eggs, quinoa and the like. The ideal nutritious meal, if you’re lucky, is served at home and not at fast food joints.

So, what is the biggest fast food chain doing touting nutrition?  Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out. Today, along with some of my fellow NJ/NY bloggers, I’m attending a press event that is announcing McDonald’s New York Metro Nutrition Network Launch.

Last year, the company pledged their commitment to offer “improved nutrition choices.”  Their longterm plan involves menu evolution and nutrition awareness communication.

When I was invited to participate in this media event, what piqued my interest wasn’t the promise of a tray full of Shamrock Shakes, but instead, the opportunity to connect with representatives to get answers.  My journalism background has me itching to learn their side of the story, beyond a press release. I need to hear in-person their stance on Pink Slime, GMO and additives that may or may not be added to some of their “healthier” options. Why still offer sodas as an option for the Happy Meal?  And how about offer a salad on the Dollar Menu?  I often write about ideas on how to make healthier decisions, which includes food choices.  So, it probably seems hypocritical that I even agreed to participate in this media event that involves fast food.  Plain and simple: I need to find answers.

Never say never

Awhile back, a blogging friend once asked me why I didn’t attend a past McDonald’s event.  I guffawed and insisted that I’d probably never attend one of those events because I try to focus on healthier alternatives. Never say never…

I’ll admit, I love McDonald’s free wifi and the enclosed playground that kept the kid and me somewhat sane this winter.  We’d eat a homecooked lunch and then go to McDonald’s for a treat and play on the playground.  I’d usually have a coffee or one of their cafes; he’d have a milk and a sundae.  There are days though, where I just don’t have time to comb my hair, nevermind plan dinner or have the energy to make it.  We are a one-car family in the suburbs, and I’m no magician. I’m human.  And that’s where fast food saves the day.  It’s clearly not the healthiest option, but we indulge anyway. As I reinforce to my older kid, fake food is the processed stuff and real food is the stuff you get at home.

So many of us are lucky enough to have many options to eat healthy foods at home, and sometimes at school or work.  Sadly, as I’ve seen in neighboring towns, some families don’t have those options.  Author and TV personality, Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D. is expected to be onhand to share insight at today’s event, and I hope to share some info. that may help families with less options make better decisions.

While preparing for this McDonald’s assignment, I researched and read (and re-read) these helpful articles.
McDonald’s Stops Using Pink Slime Seattle PI, 2/1/12
McDonald’s Healthier Happy Meals Still Unhealthy, The Atlantic, 7/11 (this is a must-read)
McDonalds release on Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices 7/11
Happy Meal Makeover, NYT 7/11

Nutrition Network

Beyond burgers and Happy Meals, I’m most excited about the Nutrition Network, the community outreach initiative that McDonald’s New York is launching.  This new community outreach initiative will award grants to local organizations in the tri state area for grassroots nutrition programs.

I’ll be back with my findings.  Until then, be sure to follow our tweets on the Twitter, under #McDNN.

Costco Recipe Challenge: Savory Pork Sirloin Tip

Earlier in the week, I mentioned that I was participating in the Costco Blogger Recipe Challenge. My team was assigned to Pork Sirloin Tip and we were tasked with slow cooking our recipes.

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I love my slow cooking in colder weather, as I’m sure many of you do too, but I have to admit, I’m also a creature of habit.  This pork challenge was a bit tricky.  The cut was smaller than I was used to, and I was afraid of the pork would get too dry.  Nevertheless, I came up with a fall-inspired recipe, and one that incorporated apples, mustard and a few other ingredients that the family enjoys.

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Ingredients:

Pork Sirloin Tip
3/4 cup of mustard–I chose a spicy mustard
1/2 cup of applesauce
2 tablespoons of brown sugar or maple syrup
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon sage
salt and pepper to taste
2 apples, sliced into quarters

Combine ingredients to make a paste and coat the entire sirloin tip.  Sear covered pork on medium heat on the stove, until pork has a light brown crust and paste starts to carmelize.  I chose to sear the pork first so that it would brown and not shred as much.  This step is totally optional.  Transfer pork and remaining paste to crock pot.  If there’s not enough “sauce” to cover the bottom of pork, add more mustard and applesauce.  Cook in crock pot for 4.5-5 hours on low heat.  For last 45 minutes, add apples.

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This turned out to be a sweet, but savory pork dish that was hearty, but still light.  The apples made it sweet and fresh, but the mustard gave it the bold flavor that our family loves with pork.  We served it with white rice, steamed veggies with the warm apples on the side.  It was a great way to incorporate the apples we picked on our recent apple picking adventure, not to mention a flavorful way to end our week!

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My kid who isn’t a mustard fan loved the dish, more than likely because of the sweetness the apples gave it.  My husband, however, said he could have used “more” mustard.  Next time, I’ll probably make a sauce from the leftover juices in the crock pot.  Everything’s better with a little more sauce!

If this recipe inspires you, be sure to check out Costco’s great deals for National Pork Month.

Giveaway

Want to win a Costco/Pork gift pack containing a $25 gift card to Costco?  Send me an email jen (at) nextkidthing (dot) come and tell me about your favorite pork dish!

Full disclosure:  This is a sponsored post as part of the Costco Recipe Challenge.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Crockpot Cooking for the Costco Pork Recipe Challenge

Despite being MIA lately due to a variety of reasons, the kid and I have found ourselves in the kitchen more often than not.  When we’re not enjoying the last few days of outdoor weather, I love that the kid is so adamant about being helpful in the kitchen. (Well, sometimes, anyway.)  I really do feel that it creates an ongoing dialogue about not only how to cook and what we eat, but also, it keeps him engaged in food in general.  Perhaps, one day, he’ll marry a lucky lady and he’ll be the cook of the house…
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Nevertheless, our latest adventure in the kitchen involves one of my favorite stores–Costco–, delicious meat and creating recipes.  In case you weren’t aware, October is National Pork Month, and of course, we’ll be cooking in honor of that. I’ll be taking part in the Costco Blogger Recipe Challenge this week.  Aside from the shopping for the challenge, I’m having a fun time dreaming up recipes for this challenge.

My group was assigned the Pork Sirloin Tip as our cut, and Crockpot cooking as our method.  I’ve never cooked with a pork sirloin tip, but I suspect it’ll be similar to a pork loin. (Here’s a helpful overview of types of cuts of meat.) As one of my mom’s frugal grocery shopping techniques, I’ve been known to buy the big pork loin when it goes on sale.  I cut it and stash in the freezer, and it makes for delicious lean chops or easy roasts and more.
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Cooking Fun: Lawry’s Summer of Flavor

Since retreating to the suburbs last year, our family has been enjoying the convenience of more space, the luxury of our own yard and even, the simplicity of having a dishwasher!  As awesome as city living is, enjoying life’s little luxuries within your own home, I have to say, is a little more than awesome.

For our first summer in the suburbs, one luxury that I’ve probably enjoyed the most has been grilling in our backyard.  After 10 years of city dwelling and not being able to grill out, I’ve made up for lost time and have been grilling, what seems like, morning noon and night…and even in the rain.

Ingredients for grilled steak quesadillas

Not only is grilling much more convenient in the summer, it keeps the house cooler.  And since I’ve become quite the grilling queen this summer, I’ve had a great time experimenting with recipes and techniques. So, when I was asked to participate in Lawry’s Fabulous Summer of Flavor, thanks to my friends at The Motherhood, I happily obliged!

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So, for this assignment, our NYC team was tasked with creating recipes that incorporate Lawry’s newest marinades–Balsamic Herb and Original Seasoned Salt– as well as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.  My family has long considered Lawry’s Seasoned Salt an essential kitchen spice, for as long as I can remember.  And when I was first learning to cook back in my high school and college days, I became fast friends with the convenience of Lawry’s marinades.  You can’t beat the 30-minute marinades, not to mention the savory selection.

To go hand in hand with my grilling obsession, I came up with two summertime recipes that incorporate the grill, convenience and kid-friendliness.  For my Lawry’s Summer of Flavor recipes, I came up with Grilled Steak Quesadillas and an Easy Steak Salad.

Grilled Steak Quesadillas

For the quesadillas, I included steak cubes that were marinated in a mixture of Lawry’s Original Seasoned Salt marinade and the Chipotle marinade that I already had onhand.  I also made a super easy, super fresh pico de gallo to sprinkle within the quesadilla.  And, of course, cheese!

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What I love about quesadillas is that they’re filling enough to be served as an entree for lunch or dinner, or if you like, they can be served as apps.  Quesadillas are perfect kid-friendly meals because they’re finger foods and like my guy reminded me, Dora (as in Explorer) likes to make them.  Um, okay!

Finished products: Steak Quesadillas

As much as I love to cook, I refuse to cook more than one meal.  I don’t agree with special meals for kids, but I do believe in getting the kids involved during mealtime.  I thought getting the kid to help out with the quesadilla-making was great.  Even though he insisted he does not like tomatoes, he still spread some pico de gallo amongst the cheese and ate it too.  From my experience, getting kids to help out, not only curbs pickiness, but it gives kids a sense of achievement, in that they created what they are eating.

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This was the second or third time I’ve done this recipe, and it really is such a fun outdoorsy, grilling-type of food.  From the freshly made pico de gallo to slicing up the grilled steak, I love sitting out on the patio putting it all together.  And the flavors when all put together are so, so good.  Serve it all up with some guacamole, salsa, chips, and it’s a fiesta!  Only thing that would’ve made this meal better would’ve some Margaritas and Sangria! YUM!

Easy Steak Salad

This Easy Steak Salad is exactly what it sounds like!  I marinated some steak cubes with Lawry’s Balsamic Herb marinade. And I also marinated some veggies with the same marinade.  I grilled it all up and served the grilled steak and veggies on top of a fresh green salad.

Easy Steak Salad

For the salad, I incorporated a few different lettuces, cucumbers and shredded cheese.  I then served the grilled steak and veggies on top of the greens.  The marinade was so flavorful, that none of needed more dressing.  It was so good—perfect for a fresh summer lunch.

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See below for the recipes and a giveaway!

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Most Memorable S’mores Face

As I announced earlier this summer, we were asked to participate in a fun Say S’mores campaign. For this campaign, I was given the task for capturing the most memorable S’mores Face. With an “independent” 3-year old. making a memorable S’mores face wasn’t hard at all.

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Now that we have a yard, making S’mores together is a family favorite; we have 3 or 4 boxes of graham crackers and Hershey Bars and other supplies onhand at any given time. My husband made our firepit out of scrap bricks, so, making S’mores after dinner is our go-to summertime dessert. After a day of fun in the sun, there’s truly nothing like hanging out in your backyard with your family, listening to the crickets and other creatures, while eating S’mores together under the glow of a crackling bonfire.

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And believe me, after spending all of last summer homeless and displaced, we truly appreciate family rituals like making S’mores in our homemade firepit…and the messier, the better!

Here are a few photos from our most memorable S’mores faces from the other week!

Say S'mores

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And be sure to check out a quick video where I try to get my normally-loquacious son to share a cheesy grin. Apparently, S’mores is serious business for him!

And if you’d like to check out the Say S’mores photo contest and enter your own memorable photos, be sure to head over to Hershey’s Say S’mores Facebook page!

Giveaway

Interested in winning a S’mores kit?  Just send me an email to jen (at) nextkidthing dot com and tell me what your family’s favorite summertime activity is.  Please make sure the subject is Say S’mores!

Full disclosure: This post is part of my participation in the Hershey’s “Say S’mores” Promotion. As always, all opinions expressed are mine.

Healthy Choice Meals Offer Convenience and Wholesome Options

Things have been non-stop around here for the past few weeks.  There have been a few days, actually, where making lunch for myself was near-impossible due to such a hectic schedule.  And as much as I’d try to avoid prepared foods because of all the unwanted added “extras”, I’m glad they’re there when you need them.

I recently had the chance to try some Healthy Choice meals.  And with the way things have been lately, I think I may have found a new go-to lunch that definitely beats fast food or take out.  I’ve always enjoyed the Healthy Choice brand, but it’s been awhile since I’ve had their frozen food. Apparently, I’ve been missing out.

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I picked up two Healthy Choice Cafe Steamer meals at my local Target. As a sidenote: I noticed that my grocery stores also had them, as did Costco.  I think I stood in the freezer aisle for 15 minutes trying to decide which meals to try.  I was so indecisive, because all the choices sounded so good.  I ended up grabbing two meals that sounded like a meal I’d make:  Chicken Pesto Classico and Balsamic Chicken.

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I was impressed by the ease, convenience and innovation of the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers.  There are other types of meals, but I was drawn to the Steamer variety, since that’s typically how we cook our veggies on a regular basis.  After microwaving the meals, I found that the meals retained the flavor, shape and colors, unlike other frozen meals I’ve had in the past.  The ingredients, for the most part, were acceptable and met my expectations.  My main concerns were the plastic steamer used in the microwaving process and sodium levels.  But overall, I would certainly stock my freezer with a few of these meals for lunch at home or at the office, or even for dinner when I can’t cook.

And as my 3 year old said: “the noodles are so yummy, they make my dance feet.”  So, yeah, I think he enjoyed them too.

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Cooking With Kids Video Series Debuts

Michelle Obama initiated a movement when she started her Let’s Move campaign to emphasize the importance of combating childhood obesity.  Jaime Oliver embraced this same movement in his own way with Food Revolution, where he’s gone on to raise awareness of how skewed the food “system” has become and educate families about eating better.

Because I’ve become so interested in food and how it pertains to our kids, I’m always impressed when a company I already admire joins this movement.  In line with getting kids to make healthier decisions, Weight Watchers, perhaps the favorite weight management program among my friends, has launched their “Cooking with Kids Web Video Series.

The Cooking with Kids video series, featured on Weight Watcher’s site, aims to bring to life “teachable moments to help kids value fresh and healthy foods to instill good eating habits at an early age.”  Through this video series, Weight Watchers hopes to take kids beyond the kitchen to discuss topics like where the food is harvested, the culture behind the food and the difference between fresh food and processed. And as we’ve seen from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, it’s clear that these are topics that many kids don’t know about.

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Navigating Food Allergies: At Camp, On Sleepovers and Playdates

With the warm weather upon us, for many families, that usually means vacation, camp and extra time spent with friends and family.  For us, that means we ship the kid off to Va for a few weeks to our parents.

But for many families like ours, the logistics of spending time away from home also means managing kids’ food allergies.  Just because a kid has food allergies doesn’t mean that can’t have fun while they’re away from home; in fact, many organizations and establishments have found a way to safely navigate around kids’ food allergies, working together with families to ensure that everyone has fun!

I’m excited to once again take part in a conversation on TheMotherhood.com, and this time we’ll be discussing Navigating Food Allergies:  At Camp, On Sleepovers and Playdates!

Allergies, in general, affects so many families, so I know this topic is something that many of you may find informative.  And even if your family isn’t directly affected, since food allergies are so much more common now, having this sort of knowledge onhand certainly doesn’t hurt.  So, please, join us today!

Navigating Food Allergies:  At Camp, On Sleepovers and Playdates on TheMotherhood.com

When: Tuesday, April 12, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: TheMotherhood – Join us!

What: The class is called Navigating Food Allergies: At Camp, on Sleepovers and Playdates.  Join the experts to talk about ensuring your kids have fun and safe experiences in these environments away from home. Lori Sandler, Divvies Bakery will lead a discussion with Sandy Rubenstein of Camp Wingate*Kirkland and Renee Flax of the American Camp Association who have worked with many families managing food allergies.  Come with questions and your own best approaches. The focus is all about making sure your kids are taken care of physically, emotionally and socially so they can have fun!

The class is sponsored by ConAgra Foods and hosted by TheMotherhood.

The hosts and other co-hosts of this class are:

Lori Sandler, Divvies, http://www.divvies.com
Sandy Rubenstein, Camp Wingate*Kirkland, http://www.campwk.com
Renee Flax, American Camp Association
Caryn Bailey, Rockin’ Mama
Eleanor Garrow, FoodAllergy.org
Jodi Grundig, Mom’s Favorite Stuff
Nirasha Jaganath, Mommy Niri
Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom
Jill Mindlin, parent advocate
Ariella Rogge, Sanborn Ranch Camps
Jo-Lynne Shane, Musings of a Housewife
Abby Shapiro, Camp Source Network

Full disclosure:  I am being compensated for my participation in this webinar, which is sponsored by ConAgra Foods and hosted by TheMotherhood.  As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.

Friday Night Dinner with Fresco by Scotto

If you watch the Today Show, perhaps you’ve seen a cooking segment with the Scotto Family.  Known for their NYC-area restaurant, the Scottos have made a name for themselves by cooking up delicious Italian feasts.

For those not in the NYC area, you, too, can indulge in the delicious Scotto recipes without lifting a finger—well, other than the ones turning on the oven.

Schwan’s, known for their home delivery service and those boxy yellow delivery trucks, offers Fresco by Scotto. The Fresco line offers a variety of frozen, family style Italian meals, the same ones for which the family is famous.

Always reluctant to go the frozen food route, our family gave Fresco a try, courtesy of Schwan’s. We were treated to the new Baked Ziti, which is part of Fresco by Scotto.  And by the way, when I first opened the package from Schwan’s I was amazed at the packaging; all of the food managed to arrive entirely frozen, including the ice cream they sent for dessert.

This entree, which is said to be a Scotto family recipe, was made with three cheeses (Ricotta, Mozzarella and Parmesan) baked with ziti pasta and a hearty tomato sauce.  Best of all, it was ready in about 30 minutes.

Fresco by Scotto

Obviously, not the healthiest of meals, but I loved the convenience of this alternative to other prepared foods.  It was a delicious change of pace to our Friday night pizza and quite timely for our meatless meal in observance of Lent.

Cooking the food was a breeze. I just threw the meal into the oven and it was done in 30 minutes or so. The cheesy garlic bread was just as easy to pop in the oven for a few minutes. And the broccoli they sent, we steamed it in the microwave for a super-quick side dish.

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Cooking Connections Offers Insight on Picky Eaters

The other week, I participated in a great dialogue on TheMotherhood’s Cooking Connections about “Expanding Your Family’s Palate by Placating Picky Eaters.”  The hosts and co-hosts were some of my favorite bloggers, many of whom blog about food and parenting and topics in between.

There were so many great takeaways from our discussion about picky eaters, and I was sure to add my two cents about the experiences I had growing up with an extremely picky sibling.  I loved hearing other parents’ suggestions about getting picky eaters to try new foods, as I’m sure it’s something many of you have experienced firsthand.

My favorite suggestions for placating picky eaters includes eating and introducing colorful foods and involving kids in the cooking process.  My friend Carol said it best: “involving kids in the kitchen gives them a sense of accomplishment…”

Some great insight from the other participants and hosts was the effectiveness they had with the “one-bite rule” to get their kids to try a food before simply refusing it.

“Our rule is you just need to take a full size bite, chew, swallow and then say, ‘Yes, please’ or ‘No, thank you,’” said host Jennifer Leal, Savor the Thyme.

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