Limited on time to plan Easter Dinner?

Menu planning takes time and creativity - two things most of us want more of!

When Easter rolls around (or other holidays), we find ourselves back to scanning recipes trying to make our holiday beautiful, special and delicious.  Let Dream Dinners help make your Easter a cinch.

Try this Easter Dinner Menu:

Honey Chipolte Pork Roast
Honey Chipotle Pork Roast with Almond Green Beans

Roasted Heirloom Potatoes

Strawberry Feta Spinach Salad

Rustic Country Rolls

Luscious Lemon Bars

Save your Holiday Menus

Have you ever sat down to a wonderful holiday meal or even a normal family dinner and thought, ‘Wow! That was perfect?’  Sometimes we land on a winning combination of sides with our entrée that we’ll want to remember and repeat. Why not start saving your favorite menus?

Create a ‘Menus’ file on your computer or start a ‘Menu Card Box’ like you would for recipes.  You can have a section for each major holiday, special events/parties, and everyday menus that work well for you.  When next year rolls around, repeat last Easter’s menu, or, add variety by substituting an item or two.  It’s much easier than starting from scratch.

With the baseline menu planning done, you can spend more time on something that stirs your creative energy like making a special beverage, decorating the buffet table, or preparing little gifts!

Happy Easter!

Helping your Kids Have a Hospitable Heart

Stephanie AllenThere’s something so heartwarming to see my kids practice hospitality as young adults. As parents we spend years teaching them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ among a host of other manners, so it’s nice to know it eventually pays off!

Arrive with a gift in hand.
Besides the usual table manners regarding napkins, elbows, and full mouths, I taught my kids to never go to a party empty-handed. They would always bring something to share like a bag of chips or soda. Today, it warms my heart when my daughter makes grandma dinner and my son brings her flowers.  Recently, my son went to a friend’s in Eastern Washington and I asked him what he brought. After mentioning donuts and some other items he chirped, Continue reading

Outdoor cooking tips

Family-BBQ-4-kidsNo matter the season, more and more of us are cooking outdoors. During the warm summer months outdoor cooking and dining are even more popular. Here are some steps you can take to stay healthy and reduce your risk of illness during the summer months.

When meat and other protein foods are cooked at high temperatures, chemical compounds can form that are believed to increase risk of some types of cancer. To decrease formation of these compounds use a lower flame on your grill, trim away fat on meats to avoid flare-ups and marinate meat prior to cooking.

The heat of summer makes for perfect outdoor BBQs, but it also sets the stage for foodborne illness. Leaving food out for even a short period of time in the heat can result in rapid growth of harmful bacteria. Here are some tips to help you keep food safe:

  • Immediately refrigerate all perishable items when you get home from the grocery store.
  • Keep meats and other perishable foods refrigerated until ready to use, and pack coolers just before leaving.
  • If using coolers, keep out of sunlight and avoid opening too often (a good rule is to keep beverages in a different cooler to avoid opening frequently).
  • Return foods to the refrigerator or cooler immediately after serving.

For cooked foods:

  • Completely defrost foods prior to cooking so they cook evenly.
  • Cook completely; use Dream Dinners cooking instructions which include safe minimum internal temperatures, so there is no guess-work.
  • Use clean utensils and platters for cooked foods to avoid contamination of prepared foods.

Source: Cindy Farricker, MS, RD, CDE, Registered Dietitian, Dream Dinners, Inc.

Making Dinnertime a Priority

Stephanie Allen

I remember well, my years spent at the Snohomish Soccer Fields. Both of my kids played and their staggered practice times not only cut into our family dinnertime, but bulldozed right over them. Even the weekends were affected since my son’s games were on Saturdays and daughter’s on Sundays.

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Eventually, I realized, “This isn’t working!” Sometimes it takes a while to catch up to the reality of our circumstances.

My friend had an ah-ha like this too, she realized that treating her toddlers to fast food had become a habit.

Her mentor asked, “How many meals do your kids eat in the car staring at the back of your head?” Ouch!

We all wake up in moments like this to realize we’ve somehow slipped from our priorities; the casual exception has unintentionally become the rule. This is the learning curve of life when we get an opportunity to do a little realigning.

Is it worth the effort to gather everyone around the table?
We know that families are positively influenced by the time shared conversing and relaxing over a meal. Research proves what we intuitively know; kids become better conversationalists, Continue reading

Making a Difference, No Matter How Small

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In just one morning at a Mother’s of Preschoolers Group, I heard two real-life stories that begged me to ask myself, “How do I encourage people when their need hangs heavily on a scale – too much for me to resolve?” One mom was expecting to move to a new home in a week and a half when suddenly their arrangements fell through and they have no place for their young family of four to live. The other mom is raising two small kids while her husband is serving away in the military. She planned to visit him after 5 months of being apart and now they can’t afford it since she lost her job.

Real hardship and suffering are all around us.  Often our own resources are not enough to help. Yet, doing nothing because we can’t do everything is no solution.  We certainly don’t want to just pat people on the back and say, “It’s all good; you’ll get through it.”

On March 22nd, a massive landslide in Oso, a rural northwest Washington town, Continue reading

Developing your Kids’ Conversation Skills around the Table

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Can your Kids Keep an Interesting Conversation Going?
My young adult son and I were recently noticing other people’s inability to hold a conversation. Perhaps you’ve observed conversations that fizzle once you no longer carry the dialogue by asking inquisitive questions.  My son works in an industry with a lot of adults, and although younger than most, he finds this same challenge. We soon discover that age, education, and leadership position are no guarantee for the ability to dialogue with others. The point is not to depreciate the person who has a difficult time with conversations, but, to ask, ‘How can I make a difference in my family to develop this life skill?’

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How’s Conversation Modeled at your House?
Growing up, we learn basically by being modeled or taught. When were you modeled or taught to have conversations? How do kids learn to dialogue today? A healthy conversation includes eye contact, reading body language, showing interest, empathetic listening, and offering feedback. It won’t happen in front of a computer, TV or smart phone.

With my kids, dinnertimes were the best setting to have conversations as a family. (Bedtime stories and tucks-in were a close runner up!)There’s so much research supporting the value of family meals in the well-being of children. They develop a richer vocabulary; have higher grades, self-esteem, and resilience.  Most likely, it’s not the food that’s making this difference but the quality interactions happening at the table.

How Can You Develop Your Kid’s Conversation Skills? Continue reading

What Does your Food Speak?

Stephanie AllenPotlucks at my work are the best! From homemade tamales to quiche and fruit, we’ve got it covered. The dishes we share with each other hints of our heritage, hidden talents, and favorite indulgences.  Potlucks are hospitality ‘group style.’ They’re a chance to say, ‘You matter to me.’  Who knew food could speak so much? Well, it can, if you want it to.

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What does food speak in your home?

This week, my husband went out of his way to bring home Wild Mountain Blackberry Cobbler from my favorite restaurant after my long fast from such delicacies! That spoke love. Yesterday, we all dug into the refrigerator for leftovers since our kitchen plumbing was torn up. That spoke, hum, real life.

The messages communicated by our family meals will change like the weather, because that’s reality. If I can affect our family’s home climate, I want to make most of their days sunny.

I’ve got time for you. You matter. I thought of you today. Those are the predominate Continue reading

The Puget Sound, My ‘Home Away from Home’

Stephanie Allen

Driving the boatBoating in the Puget Sound with my husband Vern at the helm is my favorite ‘home away from home.’ There is something peaceful about inhaling the salty breeze, watching sunlight dance on the water, and taking in the grandeur of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges from the east and west. I love rushing out to snap photos of sunrises and sunsets, always unique and saturated with color. Time on our boat never gets old. “Ah,” I’m often in wonder at the beauty surrounding us. This is my heaven on earth.

olivia-playing-on-beachAt night, waves lull us to sleep; we hear the lines moan and the water splash the stern. By day, we drop anchor in our favorite bays and come ashore to enjoy the beaches and island hikes. Other times we moor at charming ports like Salt Spring Island or Roche Harbor and enjoy the quaint shops and local fare.

Even in a small space like our boat, we always make room for company. I love hosting! Before dinner, adults share conversation over glasses of wine or we steal moments away to snuggle our little granddaughter, Olivia, with a book and a blanket. Her eyes show delight, glancing up from storybook scenes to the water all around.

Herb Crusted Flank SteakAs an added bonus, with Dream Dinners, we get to eat gourmet food wherever we go! I always have a freezer full of meals we can thaw and prepare (instead of cramped cupboards overflowing with ingredients). My favorite entrees to serve on our boat are Herb Crusted Flank Steak and Greek Island Shrimp. The minimal preparation and easy clean-up make it possible to focus on each other and causes our guests to feel like royalty wherever we sail!

Life is full of ups and downs, so it makes time even sweeter when we can cruise around the Sound and get away from it all. I’m so grateful!

Stephanie

PS. Our post was inspired by DogVacay.com who asked, ‘What’s your favorite Home away from Home?’

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Stephanie Allen is Co-founder and President of Dream Dinners and a New York Times best-selling co-author of The Hour that Matters Most.
Naturally a visionary and optimist, Stephanie hopes to inspire America through her nurturing voice of encouragement, assuring families…    

“You’re doing a great job!”

 

Dreaming the Dream 12 Years Later

Stephanie Allen

Spring sports are in full swing (think baseball, mowed grass, and lots of time in a lawn chair on the side lines)! What spring sport(s) do your cheer on: baseball, softball, track, tennis, lacrosse, girls’ soccer, golf, swimming, and/or volleyball? Who knew there were so many options? Although wonderful and meaningful, they impact our schedules more than ever.

girl_soccer_ball2The novice parent has little foreknowledge of just how much life is going to change when junior joins the team or how challenging it will be to have family dinners together again. Maybe after they graduate!

My children are older now so the change in seasons doesn’t have the impact it once did. Back in the day I struggled to juggle work, family responsibilities and the never ending sports schedule.

The challenge of getting dinner on the table for a busy family Continue reading

Go Green!

We wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, why not eat green?

Dark green vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that have the ability to boost immune function, support healthy eyes, skin and bones and fight conditions such as cancer, and heart disease. They’re low in calories and packed with nutrients. What’s not to like?

Here are some green vegetables that are great additions to your dinners.  All have something in common – they are all cruciferous vegetables (members of the cabbage family).

Broccoli

Broccoli

Broccoli is a very versatile vegetable which can be eaten raw in salads, or steamed, stir fried or roasted.

  • Broccoli is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and vitamin B6.  It reduces the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer and helps maintain healthy eyes, hair and skin.
  • 1 cup of cooked broccoli provides nearly 50% of daily vitamin A and 170% of vitamin C, 40% Folate, and 20% vitamin B6 requirements.  As with all dark green vegetables it is a good source of bone building vitamin K.

Bok Choy

Sometimes called Chinese white cabbage, Bok Choy is often used in stir fries, it is also good lightly steamed, or added to salad. Continue reading

When are Expectations of our Kids Healthy or Harmful?

Stephanie AllenThis week we were talking with our son about his grades, all Bs and two Cs, and I joked, “I always thought you would get A’s!”

It wasn’t funny like I thought.

boy_homeworkI apologized, as I know he does his homework every night. But, then I asked him, “How did that make you feel.”  (This is a magical question I’ve come to know).

He said, “It makes me feel stupid, like I’m not good enough.”

Woah!

I take it back. Is it too late to take it back?

My crash lesson woke me up to the fact that my expectations can have power, and sometimes negative power to discourage and deflate my kid’s self-image. Continue reading

St. Patrick’s Day History Fun

How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day?

Why not have a green-themed dinner party?
On the back of each guest’s place card, write a trivia question using these fun facts below about St. Patrick. Go around the table and have each guest share their question and see who knows the most about the holiday.

Cattleman's PieNeed green menu suggestions?
Why not try Cattleman’s Pie with green peas, Bacon Ranch Green Beans and Key Lime Pie.

Also try this fun link for an easy St. Patrick’s Day Punch:
http://pocketchangegourmet.com/st-patricks-day-punch/

St. Patrick’s History Trivia
Did you know St. Patrick wasn’t Irish? He was born in Britain.

Kidnapped from his British homeland, he was taken as a slave into Ireland.  After 10 years he returned to Britain and became a priest.  Through a dream God called him back to Ireland where he preached the gospel to the very countrymen who enslaved him.

St. Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the three persons of the holy trinity and converted many people to Christianity.

St. Patrick died March 17, 461. Today people wear clovers and anything green to celebrate the Irish and the Saint who made a lasting impact on the people.

Have a very fun, green St. Patrick’s Day!

 

Sharing Laughter while Sharing Meals

Stephanie Allen9 Ways to Invite the Light-hearted In

Recently, my husband and I went to lunch and we got the giggles about something that was funnier to us than probably anyone nearby. The freer we were to say what we really thought, the more silly we became. We all have memories like this and then we say, “You just had to be there!”

I have to admit it; we are grown-up kids. When we say something slightly inappropriate or tell an awkward story on ourselves, it becomes funny. There are as many different styles of humor as there are people; some are witty, Continue reading

Mardi Gras is March 4th!

Seafood Cioppino

It’s a flamboyant day of festivals, parades, and carnivals colored with purple, gold, and green. Join the fun and decorate your table with colorful masks, beads and crowns while you enjoy our Seafood Cioppino! It’s a hearty stew full of sea bass, shrimp and a kick of spices.

To make the day extra festive, get out the glitter, sequins and glue and let your little ones decorate their own Mardi Gras masks. Also visit these sites for bright, colorful table setting ideas:

http://southerncharmbyfarica.blogspot.com/2012/02/mardi-gras-tablescape.html

Hosting ‘Hang-ups’ worth Bagging (Part 2)

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If you want to host more often but never get around to it, see if these tips will help you overcome the most common hosting hurdles:

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We are limited on space
Overflow into your yard, deck, and even garage. (Crowds can be cozy)!

I don’t know what to do
You don’t have to provide entertainment since guests love to visit, but, if you like, link your meal with an activity: a football game or TV finale, cards or games, a crafty project (carving pumpkins/ making snowmen), or a playful competition. Continue reading