May 6, 2002
Make dinner time easier, more enjoyable and healthier
by Julie Unruh
If your family is anything like mine, planning dinner is a chore almost every night. Luckily for me, my husband does most of the cooking. He has to determine what to cook, what time to start it, and how to prepare it while our son tugs on his legs trying to be the center of attention. After working all day, neither of us wants to spend an hour cooking. Usually it's easier to pull a microwaveable meal out of the freezer than to make a healthy meal from scratch. If you have allergies to foods or special dietary needs, you probably have an even more challenging time preparing meals.
Judy House, author of "The Busy House Cookbook" and creator of "Food and Friends" classes, understands the issues faced by many households and offers a way to help. Her goal is to teach people how to prepare healthy, portion-controlled meals for themselves and their families. She focuses on meeting individual dietary needs in all recipes.
House wrote "The Busy House Cookbook" after receiving a degree in home economics and dietetics from the Oregon State University and working with a local hospital teaching newly diagnosed diabetics how to cook for themselves. At the same time, she wanted to make evenings with her family more enjoyable and less hectic.
The basic idea of her book and classes is to cook a week's worth of healthy meals in one to two evenings and store them so there are no leftovers. The book offers tips on freezing foods and prepared meals and includes 71 tasty recipes. After her book was published, friends encouraged House to hold classes to demonstrate how to use the "cook ahead" concept and make the recipes she developed. "Food and Friends" is an intimate, interactive experience where a group of 10-12 people (usually all friends) set up a class at her house.
Each month she offers a new menu featuring six different entrees that can either be used during the week or placed in the freezer to serve later. House even offers a workshop specifically designed for diabetics, members of Weight Watchers, and vegetarians. She also develops other custom menus.
One of House's friends has a daughter with celiac disease (gluten intolerance). According to the creators of www.celiac.com: "The only acceptable treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a 100 percent gluten-free diet for life." House helps develop meals that are enjoyable and yet strictly adhere to the daughter's needs.
Each participant in "Food and Friends" registers via phone or online and lists their specific needs. Since I have a family of three, I requested three servings. If I had an allergy to a food or spice, I would fill out that information on the Invite Page. House even allows substitutions of menu items, like two pork chops instead of one pork chop and one lasagna.
When you arrive at her house in Kingsgate, you are greeted with friendly smiles and delicious snacks by House. The participants are split into groups of 2-3 and each group prepares 1-2 recipes. Workstations are already set up so the fun begins promptly at 6:30 p.m. Bulk items are found in the garage on shelves and in the refrigerator or freezer. Spices and utensils are arranged neatly on a rolling cart. Her garage even has a new industrial size sink, with special thanks to her husband, for making cleanup of large bowls and buckets faster.
All the participants jump right in, and the room is fairly quiet except for the chopping and relaxing conversation. House oversees all of the stations and answers any questions participants may have. As the groups finish their recipe, they divide it into portions already determined by House. The meals are packaged so you can easily take them home and store them in the freezer or refrigerator without taking up a lot of space. Each person's food is put into a box specifically for them and at the end of the session, you load your box into the car and head for home. In a matter of 2-1/2 hours, you have six meals to take home for your family or for yourself - yes, single people go to these classes too!
Examples of the dishes available to cook at the "Food and Friends" class are: teriyaki beef or chicken, herb and apricot pork chops, calzones, cheese manicotti, lemon chicken for the grill, Italian stuffed meatloaf, tamale pie, and chicken cacciatore.
The average cost for a week of entrees with four servings is approximately $78. Custom classes can be designed to accommodate a particular area of interest. With 10-12 friends, you can select a date and a customized menu.
For cookbook purchases or information and registration, see www.foodandfriends.net. or call House at (425) 821-5004.