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Cookbooks offer feast of ideas for healthy family meals

Wed., Oct. 6, 2010

The kids have been back to school now for a little better than a month, so you know what that means: It’s just about time for the dinnertime rut.

It’s easy to stick to the regular rotation for family meals. Everyone eats and no one gets their Spider-Man underpants in a bunch when something unexpected and/or green shows up on the plate.

Still, I refuse to give up on the hope that there is an undiscovered healthy family meal that will leave everyone raving (including me, because of the sheer number of vegetables eaten without complaint.)

Here’s where I’m finding inspiration to keep up the fight:

“Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook,” 15th Edition (Wiley, 2010; $29.95)

What’s great : There are more color photos and step-by-step instructions than ever – perfect for newbies who are trying to cook at home more often.

“Make It Mine” features give great basic recipes with directions for picking the spices, vegetables and sauces that are most likely to get it past the wrinkled noses of the kids at your table – think pizza, noodle bowls, fish tacos and one-pot meals. The tempting photos of “10 to Try” will revive efforts to get your family to try something new. “Cook Once, Eat Twice,” will help cooks serve up tonight’s feast while they reserve their energy for dinner tomorrow.

What’s not : There are some seriously high calorie and fat counts in here. Nutrition information is listed with each recipe.

“The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2010; $34.95)

What’s great : Pick a page, any page – this book is full of the obsessively tested recipes that gave America’s Test Kitchen its reputation, and they’re all healthier. Makeover spotlights show how the test kitchen experts reduced the fat and calories in goodies like oven-fried fish, skillet shepherd’s pie, creamy mashed potatoes and chocolate chip cookies. Push little palates toward healthier proteins with recipes for tofu, vegetarian entrees and get a jump on whole grains with ideas for quinoa, farro and barley. If all else fails, look behind the “Kid Friendly” tab.

What’s not : This is the second binder from America’s Test Kitchen that I’ve broken by dropping it.

“Perfect One-Dish Dinners,” by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010; $32)

What’s great : This might be pushing things a little too far if the audience is particularly picky but there is plenty of inspiration here: braised salmon, penne with turkey and feta meatballs, flatbread pizzas, pulled chicken sliders and simplified paella. Anderson’s one-pot dinners are sophisticated enough that they could be served to guests – that’s actually the point of the cookbook. She’s taken care of the menu including appetizer, salad and dessert. There are lots of shortcuts and make-ahead notes.

What’s not : My little eaters aren’t quite ready for Osso Bucco with Dirty Polenta but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream a little bit.

“Dinnertime!” (Family Fun magazine, 2010; $9.99)

What’s great : This is actually a special edition of Family Fun magazine. The section titles alone speak to me, including 30 Minute Meals, Picky-Eater Pleasers, Cheap Eats, Eat More Veggies and Break Out of Your Rut. Who can resist roasted tomato soup with tiny grilled cheese croutons? It’s a good reminder to make the time to get your kiddos in to the kitchen so they can help. They’ll love filling, pinching and folding the wontons for wonton soup.

The “Side Dish Finder” just may save me from throwing another bag of edamame into the microwave tonight.

What’s not : Order this magazine online at dinnertime and it takes two to three weeks for delivery. However, you get instant access to the online magazine.

“The Food Matters Cookbook,” by Mark Bittman (Simon and Schuster, 2010; $35.00)

What’s great : Concerned about the effects American eating habits are having on the Earth and on personal health, Bittman changed his own eating habits to rely less on meat products and processed foods. He lost 35 pounds as he switched to a diet heavy on beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Dal with Lots of Vegetables, Garlicky Chard with Olives and Pine Nuts and Kohlrabi Stir Fry with Chicken may not be on the menu tonight, but perhaps we can work our way there by way of No-Work Mostly Whole Wheat Pizza Crust, Pan-Cooked Vegetables with Crunchy Fish and Teriyaki Noodles with Asparagus and Edamame.

What’s not : Photos would be nice.

“Eat! Move! Play! A Parents Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy Kids” (Wiley, 2010; $19.95)

What’s great: This book from the folks at Weight Watchers includes lots of thoughtful ideas for dealing with picky eaters, getting your family moving and keeping kids on track with a healthy diet whether they’re toddlers or teens.

Kids will love making Hummus Heads by arranging vegetables on a muffin slathered with hummus or helping to cut fruit for the Breakfast Berry Sundaes.

Island Ginger Beef Stew, Vegetable Fried Rice, Spaghetti Pie and Oatmeal Pancakes with Blueberry-Maple Syrup all sound like they’re worth trying.

What’s not : The book contains 75 recipes, but I wish there were more.

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