When your creative juices are flowing, it's pretty easy to put something tasty and healthy together.
But what about those late afternoons when you arrive home from work totally drained? Or, when someone has the flu? Our daily lives don't yield us much margin when things are out of balance. Or so it seems.
Like last night.
My granddaughters spent the evening with us because their dad had a bug. I had to get my income tax information gathered for a meeting with our accountant this morning, so I did have much time to think about dinner.
Everyone wanted soup. This was one of those few times when I was too pinched for time to cook, so I picked up a large can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. (Maybe for me it's a carry-over from the days when my mom would haul a tray of that very same soup, some crackers, and a dish of fruit upstairs to whomever of the six of us might be sick. I put it in the "comfort food" category.)
But 7-year-old Ashleigh was taking this all in as she watched me scramble.
"I'll fix a side dish," she offered.
I watched her as she stood before the open refrigerator, humming to herself as she pulled things from the vegetable tray. She's seen me do that plenty of times, and listened as I babbled about "combining this" and "mixing that." She was ready to try that herself.
It didn't take her long to put something together. The serving wasn't a large one, but everyone got a taste. It was really good!
She proudly ticked off the ingredients as we each savored a few bites: a few spoonfuls of some edamame salad (with chickpeas, red peppers and black beans), a few raisins, some torn leaves of kale and cabbage. She topped it with a little lemon juice mixed with water.
Don't envision a fridge with a healthy stash of these items. She was combining remnants here!
But that's the point.
Eating well doesn't require either a chef or a recipe. It's just a matter of combining foods that are good for you, and when you're working with fresh vegetables, it's not a hard thing to do.
If you're used to partnering Ranch Dressing with any vegetable you serve, it's an adjustment to move away from that. But there are lots of lighter, healthier dips and toppings for vegetables that you can have available in your refrigerator and cupboard that will keep that nutrition level higher.
What was most amazing to me about that little supper last night was how good Ashleigh felt about contributing something, because she did it all by herself. And her little vegetable dish helped balance my "not so great" food choice.
Taking the time to show your kids around the kitchen and talking with them about what foods to buy for in the refrigerator can be very empowering for them, and entertaining, too!
Most families are watching their pennies very closely these days, and buying food every day is a part of most everyone's lives. Letting kids be a part of that process can be fun for them, and can teach them important life skills that will always serve them well.
Paula M. Anderson is a local writer who has done presentations on Eating Well throughout the community. She has just published "Eat Well, Be Well," a booklet for forming a healthy relationship with food. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.