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Pulling off Easter Dinner– A few tips to keep it simple.

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Hosting a large family dinner can be a daunting task, especially at a holiday. There are a few things you can do to ensure that the day goes smoothly and guarantee that you enjoy the day too. No one signs up to host a family meal saying, “Sure, I’d love to have you come over to a enjoy a stress-filled, resentful, exhausting nightmare together.” But, this is what these days are for some frazzled hosts.

This post was inspired by a hopeful co-worker who popped into my classroom this week to ask for help. She is hosting Easter dinner for her entire family for the first time ever. She was feeling intimidated, but hopeful that with a few suggestions, she could pull it off. I gave her some tips and a sold menu, and she left work on Friday feeling determined and optimistic. After seeing her relief, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with all of you.

1. The Menu

My co-worker had the challenge of incorporating traditional favorites, but accommodating a family member who is vegetarian and a family member who is vegan. Here is what we came up with:

Honey Glazed Spiral Ham— Don’t be afraid to go with a store-bought ham. They are very tasty and easy to make.

Oven Baked Risotto— This is a crowd favorite, and if made with vegetable stock & a butter alternative, it will please both the vegetarian and vegan. Additionally, it’s a sophisticated alternative to potatoes.

Quiche– A quiche is a nice option for vegetarians, and it works for meals throughout the day. Go plain, or add variety with different vegetables.

Clementine Balsamic Glazed Carrots— Roasted whole carrots are a beautiful symbol of the spring season. Not to mention, the flavor is the perfect complement to the sweet ham.

Garlicky Green Beans— Toss some skinny fresh green beans with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh minced garlic. Saute until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, and transfer to a serving bowl quickly so they don’t over cook.

Spinach and Strawberry Quinoa Salad— Adding cooked & cooled quinoa is a great way to add texture and update this classic salad.

2. Appetizers

My advice is to limit appetizers when hosting a large sit-down dinner. The first reason is practical. Since you are spending so much time, energy, and money on this meal, you don’t want your guests to fill up on snacks before dinner. The second reason is procedural. You will be far less stressed as a cook if you are not trying to prepare appetizers when you really need to be devoting your time and energy to the main course. I would suggest a simple cheese and cracker plate and some fresh fruit. Fruit is a great option because if hungry kids ruin their appetites with fruit, is that really such a bad thing?

3. Working Ahead 

The key to sanity and effective kitchen management is to do as much as you can ahead of time.

A few days before:

  • Set the table
  • Clean the house
  • Shop for groceries
  • Make the quiche and freeze
  • Lay out serving pieces and cookware needed
  • Clean the fridge, creating space for prepped ingredients and leftovers

The day before:

  • Wash the fruits & vegetables
  • Do all dishes and run the dishwasher. Be sure to unload it too!
  • Make quinoa and store in the fridge.
  • Pre-slice the cheese.
  • Defrost the quiche in the fridge.

The day of:

** Keep up with dishes and cleaning in the kitchen as you are cooking. Staying on top of things and keeping the kitchen clean as you cook will reduce your stress later.

  • Before guests arrive–
    • Prepare the salad (do not put the dressing on until you are ready to serve it)
    • Make the ham, slice it off the bone, and arrange on a platter.
    • Warm the quiche.
    • Assemble to fruit plate.
    • Measure and prep all ingredients for the green beans, carrots, and risotto.
    • Arrange the drink table. Add ice and cold beverages just prior to guests’ arrival time.
  • About an hour before dinner–
    • Make risotto & carrots.
    • Let guests know that you will be eating in an hour.
  • Fifteen Minutes before dinner–
    • Warm ham and quiche in the oven.
    • Toast rolls or bread.
    • Dress the salad.
    • Make green beans
  • Five minutes before dinner–
    • Put the food on the table.
    • Encourage guests to get a fresh drink
    • Start the dishwasher with any random dishes left over from the prep.
  • Dinner time–
    • LET IT ALL GO!!
    • This is what you have been planning for. Be sure to sit, enjoy dinner, and take time to have good conversation with those you love!
  • After dinner–
    • Let guests help to clear the table.
    • Put away clean prep dishes from the dishwasher.
    • Load the dishwasher with dinner dishes.
    • Sit and enjoy family and your dinner success!
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My Heirloom Garden

Normally when you hear of heirloom gardening, it is in reference to heirloom tomatoes or heirloom seeds, but never an actual heirloom garden. Well, this weekend, as a family, we created our very own heirloom garden.

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Recently, while trolling through Pinterest, I came across this great pin about creating a garden from an old dresser. When I suggested the idea to my husband, he thought I was nuts and equated me to my very eccentric neighbor who plants plastic flowers.

Well, I had to expand my current garden, especially after the drastic guerrilla gardening measures I took last season! I had a strong need to expand, a creative vision, and an old, slightly warped dresser that belonged to my grandmother long ago. So, yesterday morning, while I sipped my coffee on the patio and gazed at my unplanted garden, I decided that I would turn my grandmother’s ugly dresser into an adorable garden, regardless of what my husband thought.

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First, I enlisted the help of my girls. After my husband grudgingly carried the beast upstairs, we went to work wiping it free of dust and grime.

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Next, we removed all of the drawers and flipped it on its back. I left the drawer dividers intact so they could serve as a planting guide. The girls were ecstatic that I let them paint it for me. It just needed to be covered, so it was a perfect painting task for kids. It did not need to be a fancy paint job since we hid this surface in the next step.

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Once dry, we covered the exterior with 24 in. woven picket fencing to give the garden a polished professional look. (I really don’t want to be that crazy neighbor who plants old furniture in her backyard!) Here is where my husband gets the credit…I will admit that he suggested the picket fence idea. Ok. So we nailed each picket to the dresser, covering all four sides. We used two nails, one towards the top and one towards the bottom. Finally, we used wire cutters to remove any excess fencing and bent the ends of the wires to avoid the sharp edges being exposed.

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At the end, we decided to drill some holes. We drilled a few in the bottom and along the sides, between some of the pickets, close to the ground to allow any excess water to drain. Finally, we moved it to a nice, level, sunny spot in the yard, and filled the bottom with gravel & stone to encourage good drainage, and then filled the rest with soil and compost.

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I have started seeds indoors for a few veggies, and when the weather warms up, I will fill the garden with zucchini, tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Happily, I was able to take an old heirloom that had lost its luster and re-purpose it into an afternoon of family time, fun memories, and a hands on lesson in nutrition, which are all heirlooms in their own right.

Be sure to stop back and check the progress of my garden.

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Sunday Dinner

This morning, I cooked special pancakes for breakfast, and we will be on the go for lunch. Now,  I am wracking my brains for a different Sunday dinner. All of this thought caused me to question what all of you do for Sunday dinner…While the traditional side of me wants to cook the great big family meal, the tired mommy in me is thinking low key and nutritious, but how nice does take out sound? Just wondering where you all fall in my mental debate…

 

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Dinner Sanity Through DOJO!

Hallelujah!! I have found a new weapon for my mom arsenal. While I am a firm believer in family dinners, and we strive to sit down together as much as possible, I also realize that the dinner table can be a source of parental stress for me. From the start, my kids have been raised with an expectation of polite manners and conversation at the dinner table. I expect them to remain seated, behave like normal human beings, and ACTUALLY EAT THE FOOD!

Lately, my kids have left a lot to be desired. Some nights I feel like I am playing “Whack a Mole”, with all 3 of my kids randomly popping out of their seats. Other nights, it’s the “I don’t like this” chorus. (This is a whole other blog post in itself!) As a working mom with little time, energy, and patience, I was at my wit’s end…until I discovered one of the greatest educational/parental tools on the planet!

CLASS DOJO!

If you are not aware of this web based tool, allow me to introduce you. Class Dojo is a free website for teachers and school professionals to create behavior tracking plans though interactive media. I was first introduced to the dojo plan through my daughter’s second grade teacher. My daughter is delighted by her little monster avatar and the tally of points she is accumulating. As a mom, I am delighted by the weekly report that I receive via e-mail.

So, here we were, happily progressing, watching Amelia’s dojo points grow, when the light bulb went off. I am a teacher. I have a master’s degree in education, and I have extensive experience with behavior modification. Why can’t I use this at home to improve my kids’ dinner behavior?

Feeling like a rock star, I set out on my quest for dinner sanity. I went to www.classdojo.com to create an account. I first set one up for my real classes, as it is an awesome educational tool. Then I registered as my kids “teacher”, and I used the very easy interface to develop my “dinner dojo”.  Each of my kids were assigned a little monster avatar (the symbolism is much appreciated). Then I customized the behaviors to suit my dinner needs.

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Positive Behaviors:  helpful, good manners, cleaned up, stayed seated, positive conversation, ate well, tried new foods, made healthy choices.

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Negative Behaviors: disrespect, out of seat, rude behavior, wasted time, not eating, negative language, made a mess, not a helper.

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This site is so easy to use. Once you set up your account on a computer, there is an app, so you can control it from your smart phone or tablet! Yup, that’s right. This momma broke the “No Technology at the Dinner Table” rule and plunked the iPad right in the center of the table. What resulted was one of the nicest dinners we have had in months. Not only did everyone eat, stay seated, and clean up after themselves, but we were able to have meaningful conversations that felt like real connections. I hope that this new tool can help us get back on track to peaceful dining.

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If you think that this app can save your sanity too, here are my tips:

  1. Go to www.classdojo.com
  2. Set up an account as a teacher. The parent option only allows you to see your child’s progress in a specific classroom.
  3. Use the great tutorials to help you navigate and create on the site.
  4. If you have tech savvy kids, give them the student code so that they can check their own progress with their own account.
  5. You can also share the parent reports with other meaningful adults (the other parent, a grandparent, or babysitter)
  6. Expand past dinner. I also have a general expectations dojo for my kids. I chose to separate the two because they have to earn good dinner dojo to get fast food or other less nutritional treats.

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I really urge you to try this tool. If you do, please report back and let us know how it works for you. Hopefully we can restore peace and sanity one dinner table at a time J