St. Patrick’s Day Food and Fun

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, it’s time to plan a fun meal.

Most children don’t enjoy a hearty Corned Beef and Cabbage so I’m suggesting quick and easy Reuben Sandwiches.  Our four year old daughter loved Rueben’s, so never assume they’re too young to eat this sweet and savory sandwich.  Add one of these sides,  a green 7 up Salad or Irish Potato Soup and you’ve got a meal!

For the Rueben Sandwiches start with this list of ingredients:

Deli corned beef (turkey pastrami works too)
Baby Swiss cheese
Rye Bread
Sauerkraut (Clausen makes a great dill sauerkraut but you may want to add a couple tablespoons of sugar to a regular can of sauerkraut and create a very mild sauerkraut for your pickiest eaters)
Creamy Mustard/Mayo spread (this is my recipe 2 T. Mayonnaise, 2 t. mustard, 1 t. honey – combine)

Toast the bread and lightly butter, then stack corned beef and cheese on bottom slice.  Place in the broiler until cheese melts.  Remove from broiler and top with sauerkraut and Mayo/mustard spread above – add top toasted slice of rye and serve.

Even the Irish wouldn’t end a meal without a tasty dessert.  I like to have something green and its fun to include your kids.  Try some cookies or cupcakes and add green food coloring, or green icing; add some green sprinkles.  There’s lots of fun to be had when you bring in the whole family.

Remember to include the St. Pat’s trivia into your dinner time conversation.  You may have fun getting out a map or a globe and figuring out just where Ireland is located or how far it is from your city.  Google Maps offers you a glimpse of the terrain.  Learning is fun and why not take advantage of this St. Patrick’s Day opportunity to learn a little more about St. Patrick or Ireland with your family!


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Use it or Loose it!

This sounds so ominous, but food waste is a huge problem in this country and in our homes.  By definition, food waste is the “uneaten food and food preparation wastes” and includes household as well as retail foods.  At our house food waste is usually in the form of refrigerated items that turned green as they grew mold and bacteria, foods that were dated and had reached their expiration, and fresh fruits and vegetables that were buried in the bottom of the crisper and their remains removed with gloves.  In some homes, food waste may also include whatever isn’t eaten at the end of the meal, leftovers!

Food waste is very dependent upon the “waster.”  When I was a young mom my mother-in-law saved everything and served it for lunch or dinner the next day.  I thought it was extreme at the time, but why waste any food when we all have to eat and we cannot afford to “waste” money at the grocery, right?  You may think it’s easier to throw leftovers away rather than saving and storing them, but it’s easier to save a leftover than it is to shop, purchase, and prepare more food.  If you freeze your leftovers it’s like a new meal in a week.

Nationally, food waste is a serious problem for our environment.  It not only impacts our garbage, it effects our landfills.  Wikipedia cited, food scrap represents 19 percent of the waste dumped in landfills and that wasted food rots and produces methane gas.  The impact of food waste is enormous socially, economically, and environmentally.


Financially, food waste can really impact us and our budget.  According to a 2004 University of Arizona study, 14-15 percent of US edible food is untouched or unopened. Wow, that is a lot of food.  If you are the “average” family purchasing $9252 of food each year…that is more than a month’s worth of groceries.   It is just mind-boggling to think we throw away more than a month’s worth of food each year.

So there’s the problem – now let’s talk about how we can reduce the waste in our home?

1.   Don’t buy it in the first place.  Yes, quit purchasing food without a plan.  Don’t bring it home if you don’t have a plan to use it.  For years I went to the store and bought everything I thought I might need, just in case, to avoid planning my shopping trip and to avoid making additional trips to the grocery.  That’s just stinkin’ thinkin’.  Spend 10 minutes (with MealEssence or an hour without MealEssence) planning your meals and menus for a set time period, then go to the grocery and purchase only what you need.  If you use you will easily plan a week of meals in 10 minutes and you can save even more time with our grocery list that is in store order and comprehensive!

2.   Paradigm shift.  Think of the food in your house as a resource.  Then think of it as a precious resource.  Change your attitude toward food waste.  Go green in the kitchen, be a recycler.  Think of ways to use the food you have so you don’t have to purchase more.  Think of it as a savings plan – the more food you save the more money you save.

3.   Teach your children not to waste their food.  Children may be the worst offenders of food wasting, choosing what they will and will not eat.  Teach your child at an early age that food is valuable, and costly, and we need to eat all of what we have.   We often make wise choices at the grocery and offer fresh fruits and vegetables but later “give in” to letting our kids choose the less healthier choices just so they eat.

4.   Portion control.  If a recipe calls for 8 servings and we have a family of four we often follow the recipe instead of adjusting it to the amount we need.   We live in a super sized world with a lot of super sized parents and children.  Now is the time to take control of our portions.  Waste can also include overeating.

I read an article that found bananas were the most wasted food with milk coming in second.  Bananas should never go to waste because they can be frozen whole with the skin at any stage of ripeness, then used for baking banana breads, cakes, or muffins.  As for the milk, we purchased milk by the gallon for many years, and as our family shrunk we continued to buy gallons of milk and we were having to throw away expired milk.   Now we purchase 1/2 gallons.  Note:  milk is easily frozen and used later.  You can even freeze and drink it later.  So the next time you go on vacation and have a full gallon of milk just put it in the freezer and allow about 24 hours for it to thaw when you return.  It works!!

This blog should make you think about wasting food.  You may have some great ideas of your own for eliminating food waste so please share them with us.

We would love to hear from you!


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Mardi Gras Fun

This is my Mardi Gras Dinner Plan for Tuesday, March 8th.   I don’t normally blog about specific meal plans but I do like to celebrate historical events so why not try this meal plan on Tuesday!   Mardi Gras has so much historical significance and you should celebrate Mardi Gras this year with a fun family meal.

Wikipedia explains, “Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”… to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season,” which starts on Ash Wednesday, March 9th.   Mardi Gras is celebrated in many different parts of the world but most Americans associate this celebration with New Orleans.   For many years, we had family in New Orleans and this gave us the opportunity to learn a little about Mardi Gras.  New Orleans food is among the best in the U.S. and Cajun cuisine is very spicy and delicious – so why not give this Fat Tuesday a try at your house.

Shrimp Gumbo is a proven winner at our house – full of flavor with chunks of sausage, chicken, and shrimp.  It’s very easy to make and definitely a one dish meal; add some crusty bread, an Iceberg Salad with Yogurt Honey Dressing, and an easy-to-make “King Cake” (recipe below) and you’ve got a Mardi Gras dinner the whole family will enjoy.  You really can’t go wrong with this Mardi Gras meal and hopefully you will be able to teach your family something new about this historic carnival.

I found a very easy recipe for King Cake and even younger children will enjoy making and decorating it.  Mardi Gras tradition is to hide a baby in the “cake” and who ever gets the piece with the baby is said to have good luck or something like that.  They also are responsible for bringing the cake to next year’s celebration!  For more about King Cake and it’s history check out this Wikipedia article, it’s definitely worth the read!

King Cake Recipe
2 Rolls of refrigerator Cinnamon Rolls with Icing (I used Grands, Cinnabon)
1 small plastic baby
Sugar Sprinkles – yellow, purple, green or you can color sugar with food coloring

1.     Open cinnamon rolls and unroll each roll, twisting together into the shape of a circle or oval.

2.     Bake as directed on package, I added about 5 minutes and they were not over baked.

3.     Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then stick the baby inside the bread.4.     Frost the top of the bread while it is still warm.

5.     Sprinkle with gold, purple, and green sugar.

6.     Serve warm!

You and your family can enjoy this very simple meal while learning more about a holiday tradition that is celebrated throughout the world.   Enjoy!


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Meal planning really works!

As I left the grocery store this week, I realized that since I began using many things have changed at the Risner house.

1.   Our diet has significantly improved. We used to eat the same things over and over again (I call them my brainless meals…the ones I know by memory and use standard ingredients), but now we are open to trying just about any recipe on the site because it automatically puts the ingredients on our shopping list.  Trying new recipes is never a challenge and we enjoy the variety!

2.  We spend less at the grocery store.  We used to buy a lot of stuff without a real plan or purpose, but now we only buy what we need and need around 30-40% less.  That is a significant savings (last year Jan/Feb grocery bill averaged $104.00 per week but now we are spending about $70.

3.  We also spend less time in the store. We only buy what we need now that we plan every trip and it just doesn’t take as long.  Also, we don’t spend extra time looking for items or back tracking because our list is in store department order.

4.  We save time and money on extra trips to the store.   We rarely need to go to the store mid week.  I used to run to the store and pick up extra items throughout the week and typically ended up spending another $40-50 (add that to more savings).  Now I buy everything I need the first time and don’t have to go back.

5.  We don’t eat out as often.  We used to eat out occasionally, about once a week, but now we enjoy eating at home more because the variety and the food is just better.   We don’t panic at the end of a long day because we don’t know “what’s for dinner?” and eat out because we’re too hungry and tired to figure it out.

6.  Our nutrition has improved.  I recently read that one of the best ways to lower your sodium intake is to eat at home!  Restaurants’ as a whole serve high sodium food (that does not take into consideration the extra fat either).   Fresh is another way to lower sodium intake.  When you plan ahead you don’t make hasty decisions at the grocery, you make wise choices in advance.  Additionally, we are able to control the fat the goes into our diet and are now much more aware of what we are eating.  There are no hidden fats when you add them yourself!   MealEssence’s nutrition info on each recipe helps us balance our nutrients.  Since beginning the planning our meals are fresher and there is no need for boxed, prepared, or pre-cooked meals.

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President’s Day fun and food ideas!

President’s Day may not be a family holiday at your house, but it should be!  We should celebrate holidays with our children to teach them about whatever the holiday may be and President’s Day is a perfect example.  A lively family discussion about the Presidents, past and present, will encourage your child to be engaged in our country and knowledgeable about our history.

I recommend starting off with a President’s Day Quiz.  They can easily been found on line and I have added a link for a very easy quiz to get you started!   You may choose a question or two depending how age appropriate this is for your kids.  Start a day or two ahead and get them thinking.  You may even want them to choose a menu for the celebration and have them do some presidential research!

When our children were young we went to the library and found a cookbook about the Presidents’ favorite foods and recipes.  We would choose a president and then find his favorite meals.  We learned that even though George Washington is said to have chopped down a cherry tree, he didn’t do it for the pie.  Martha baked cakes, not pies, and George preferred Ice Cream.  This is fun for kids of all ages.  They love to learn and where better to learn than your kitchen.

I was born on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birthday, so I chose him this year.  As I was looking through various websites about President Eisenhower, I found that Pancakes were one of his favorite foods.  What an easy dinner in honor of our 34th President.  Your children will love having Pancakes for dinner.  Eisenhower was an unsung hero, Five Star General that led us to victory in World War II.

Pick another president if you like, there’s about 44 to choose from and so much to learn.  This doesn’t have to be hard, it can be lots of fun!

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Decorating Valentine Cookies

This is similar to a blog we posted during Christmas, but will be even more useful for my favorite Valentine’s Day treat, cut Sugar Cookies! I like to decorate sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day because they are so easy to store, bag, and give and, in my opinion, this is the best sugar cookie you will ever eat!  You can easily pick up some themed (hearts) bags at Hobby Lobby or Micheal’s and present a lovely, inexpensive Valentine’s Day gift to the ones you love.

Valentine’s Day is a great day to say, “Thank you”, to people you appreciate day in and day out and a decorated cookie is a very simple, inexpensive way to do just that.

1.  Heart shapes are the way to begin – I recommend purchasing some good cookie cutters in heart shapes.  I bought mine years ago and they just keep on giving. Browse the Internet for decorating ideas and designs that will enhance your creative juices.  After deciding in advance how to decorate, you can draw different patterns on paper to use later.  This is a great idea and you will appreciate how much it helps when you’re ready to decorate your cookies; simplifying the process and improving the designs you make on each cookie.  Here’s a picture of my patterns, it’s hard to see but definitely gives you the idea of how to decorate.

2.  Make the cookies first.  Sugar Cookie Recipe is hands down the best cookie recipe you will ever find for decorating.  Make your cookies and store in the freezer in zip lock bags.  NEVER bake and decorate on the same day – it can be exhausting – you will do much better decorating later!  I promise.  One more thought, be sure you don’t over bake your cookies – brown is not the goal, firm is the goal, tap them to check for firmness.

3.  Now that you’re ready for the decorating, get out all of your decorating supplies. Pastry bags, tips, food coloring, sprinkles, offset spatulas, and toothpicks are important tools for cookies decorating.  If you don’t own some of these items, maybe it’s time to invest.  I would start with a decorating kit, Wilton makes one with all the basic tips, bags, and fittings.  You’ll be surprised how often you use them once they’re under roof.  Be sure to pick up a small offset spatula to make frosting quick and easy.

4.  Begin with a double batch of Butter Frosting, then divide it into bowls for colors.  I like red, pink, and white; I will use 3 bowls and divide accordingly.  It’s always good to save a little frosting in case you need more of one color later.  Some people like to use Royal Icing for decorating but I say DON’T…this Butter Frosting adds to the great taste of this cookie!

5.  Frost every cookie with a base coat of frosting.  Ice them all before you start the decorating.  This is the palette for your decoration.

Now you’re ready to add the details using the patterns you found in step 1.  Be careful if you’re using a pastry bag because butter frosting gets thinner as it warms up, so depending on how stiff your frosting is you may need to add a little powdered sugar or refrigerate your bag intermittently.

Remember, as you begin to decorate, that this doesn’t have to be perfect.  I think that sometimes we defeat ourselves by thinking we have to do things perfectly if we’re going to do them…that’s not true.  Your children, friends, and family will appreciate this gift and even the imperfections will taste good enough to eat!  So do your best and enjoy the process.

6.  Once the cookies are decorated place them on a rack and put them in the freezer to harden quickly – it’s a quick freeze.   If you make them ahead they stay fresher if you freeze them and thaw in minutes at room temperature.

Once they harden you can stack them, gift bag them, or whatever you like.

On this Valentine’s Day I hope you will consider sharing the “heart-shaped sugar cookie” love.  Your valentines will enjoy these wonderful treats and appreciate the the time and love that you put into making them.  Happy Valentine’s Day!


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Valentine’s Day Ideas for the ones you love!

Valentine’s Day is just a week away and it’s time to start planning some special valentine treats and share the love!  Your valentines may come in all shapes and sizes and they may like different types of treats, so we have selected a broad variety of recipes to feature this Valentine’s Day.   We have something for everyone and some great ideas for food gifts.

Here’s a line up of great ideas for your Valentine’s Day gift giving:

Heart shaped Sugar Cookies (check out this week’s blog about decorating); I’m dedicating an entire blog to these gorgeous cut-outs!  Check back in tomorrow for lots of great decorating ideas – but make the cookies now so you’re ready to decorate them!Red Velvet Cupcakes that can be gift bagged easily. This recipe is moist and delicious and the presentation makes it a real treat!Heart-shaped Strawberry Cake, this is a beautiful cake for the ones you love and loaded with strawberries!  My daughter, Liz, was born on Valentine’s Day so over the years I have purchased heart-shaped baking pans, cupcake pans, cookie cutters, jello molds, etc.  They are nice to have for weddings, engagements, or just to say I love you for no occasion at all.Next in our line up is a Fresh Strawberry Pie; this pie is a proven winner with large whole fresh strawberries (on sale this week – just for Valentine’s Day).  This pie is not finished but I wanted you to see the inside.  We will finish it off with homemade whipping cream – piping it on adds to the presentation.Strawberry Shortcake is a quick and easy dessert for busy families that may not have time to plan ahead.  In as little as 30 minutes you can serve up this tasty dessert.Linzer Heart Cookies are so elegant but not really difficult, I like the chocolate drizzle that finished them off.  This cookie is filled with strawberry or raspberry jam and absolutely delicious!Nothing says, I love you like a kiss and a chocolate kiss is even better – Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies. These cookies are so easy to make and so good!Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies are a wonderful Valentine’s Day treat – loaded with chocolate for your special chocolate lovers.This isn’t a great picture, but it is a great cake!  Tiramisu Cake, uses a boxed cake mix and includes lots of coffee flavor and Kahlua…then you top it off with a wonderful Marscapone and whipped cream frosting and sprinkle with cocoa powder for a great presentation.  This is a delicious cake no matter what the occasion.

Nothing says, “I love you” like a breakfast of Belgium Waffles with fresh fruit.  Children and adults alike will enjoy this one.  This recipe picture includes a cream cheese, whipped topping and peaches (you may want to use strawberries or raspberries for Valentine’s Day) – sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!

I hope that this gives you some great ideas for this Valentine’s Day!  Remember to add the love!

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Super Bowl Food Line up

If your house is like ours, everyone needs fed during the Super Bowl.  The commercials alone work up an appetite and don’t forget the cheering!  Well, here’s a line up of recipes that is sure to please both teams this year.

Super Bowl food is a lot like Tailgate food, without the parking lot.  Since everyone wants to enjoy the game, it’s good to make things ahead that are ready to eat and easy to prepare in advance.

Shop today, don’t wait.  The grocery is already getting busy and crowded so don’t wait til the last minute unless you plan to spend extra time parking, shopping, and standing in check out lines.

Remember, Super Bowl XLV is this Sunday, 6:30pm.  You can easily prepare these dishes on Saturday and enjoy the pre-game activities on Sunday.  Here’s our line up:

Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip
Burrito Roll ups
Oven Barbecued Beef Brisket with Potato Rolls
Dill Dip with celery, broccoli, and carrots
7 Layer salad
Monster Cookies (man size)

Whether you make all of them or just a few, remember that saves time and money at the grocery.  You can easily plug these recipes into our meal planner and print a shopping list in under 5 minutes…once you arrive at the grocery, your list is categorized by store departments, to save more time at the store and eliminate impulse purchases, too!

We hope your team wins!

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Avocados – How to enjoy them!

I just got an email with this great article on avocados… check it out!  It has a lot of information about buying, storing, and enjoying fresh avocados.  Then check out the avocado recipes at!

The heart-health benefits are worth the read, and they are also rich in potassium, Vitamin E, fiber, folate, and Vitamin B6.

You may want to check out more information about the Avocado and it’s history.  I had never seen an avocado tree although my husband has attempted to grow one from the seed for many years.  Avocados are so tasty and the key ingredient in fresh guacamole, as well as many salads and appetizers.  Check out some of our recipes and enjoy the benefits of avocados today!

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Groundhog’s Day Food for Thought

Groundhog’s Day is really a fun holiday to enjoy with your family.  It’s not a big event around the world and by 8am most of us have all but forgotten the importance of this day.

According to Wikipedia, the folklore goes like this, “if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly “see its shadow” and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks”.

So as tradition goes, we all gather around the TV early in the morning to see when spring will arrive.  There are many ways to share information with our children but visual hands on learning is best and cooking is a great hands on activity.  There is a website dedicated to the groundhog and you can visit it for more information and ideas.  Here’s a link to some Fun Facts about groundhogs that you will definitely want to read and share.

Watching the groundhog come out of his burrow on television is a beginning, but consider renting or purchasing the movie, Groundhog’s Day (a comedy, PG rated, starring Bill Murray, made in 1993).  This is definitely a fun way to “honor” the holiday and you may want to watch it the day before as a prelude to the holiday!

Food for Groundhog’s Day should consist of ground hog (get it?) – so we recommend sausage links for breakfast accompanied by “themed” pancakes.  The theme is, of course, groundhogs.  The great thing about pancakes for any occasion is that you can make them in the shape of whatever you choose the “theme” to be.  So for today, we should try groundhog-shaped pancakes.  At our house, even if the pancakes don’t look like your theme, they love the activity and enjoy the effort.

Our groundhog dinner recommendation is Pork Sausage Delectable; a wonderful rice/pasta, sausage casserole.  It requires simple chopping that older kids will enjoy and it’s a very easy to assemble kid-friendly meal.  Dessert is a must for any holiday gathering – so perhaps a Carrot Cake?- they are herbivores!

This may seem like a cheesy idea, but try it and you will see that your kids are going to enjoy it.  They will learn and understand Groundhog’s Day and whether this holiday is a priority to you or not, you will make a memory.

Memories last forever and the more you make now, the more you’ll share later!  Have a happy Groundhog’s Day!


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