Monthly Archives: November 2011

It’s a Meal Strata

If company is coming to your house over the holidays or you are looking for an easy, delicious lunch or supper try our It’s a Meal Strata.  This meal is easy on the pocketbook and the waistline.  I like it because it is packed with vegetables, which lowers the calories, and it does not have much bread.  I like to serve hot whole wheat bread with it.

You can use any vegetable that you want for the strata.  I usually use onions, mushrooms, green or red peppers and zucchini.  You can also add leftover corn, peas, and broccoli.  I have made it with and without the ham and once substituted cooked turkey.

When I can, I try to sauté the vegetables and cut up the ham and bread ahead of time.  Then once I am ready to prepare the meal I stir everything together and bake.  While the strata is in the oven I can get a fruit tray cut, the table set, and the milk poured.

PS – Santa might like this on Christmas morning.

It’s A Meal Strata


  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 cups sliced or chopped vegetables
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 3-ounce package (or 1/2 of 8-ounce package) light cream cheese (also called Neufchatel), softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cubed day-old bread (about 1 slice)
  • 1/3 cup cubed cooked ham
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the vegetables so they are about the same size.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Turn off heat and pat the vegetables with paper towels to remove the moisture. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Stir in vegetables, bread, cubed ham, and pepper.
  6. Pour into a greased 8″x 8″ baking dish or small casserole dish.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the egg mixture doesn’t jiggle. Remove from heat, sprinkle on the cheese and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Planning Saves Calories and Dollars

Continuous tiny tastes of food throughout the coming days do not make a difference in the short run, but little bits from now through the New Year can result in unwelcome weight gains.

Alice Henneman from the University of Nebraska has a short video, Tiny Tastes Can Total Big Calories over the Winter Holidays, that show how bites can add up to excess pounds.

During the holiday season I find it hard to resist sampling the food I am preparing or baking.  Plus, there are more special social occasions with great food.

I think being mindful of the problem is a great first step.  Here are a few strategies I have used to curb my tendency for taking many tiny tastes:

  • Chew gum when cooking or baking.
  • Volunteer to take fruit and vegetable trays to family dinners and parties to ensure that I have something healthy to snack on.
  • Be the last in the food line, taking a plate of food, eating it, and moving out of reach from the buffet table.
  • Select one favorite holiday treats to take to all the events I plan to attend, spend one day making and then freezing them.  Then I stay out of the kitchen and spend time decorating or making non-food presents.
  • Tell myself that food tasting in public is not safe.
  • Commit to writing every bite down so I can see what I have consumed.

Buying gifts for the holidays can also get out of control: buying presents here and there, trying to balance the amounts you have spent for each person and then buying more to even things out.  For me, developing a strategy for buying presents includes, taking time to make a gift list, budget for each gift, and brainstorm ideas before you go to the store.

I would love to hear your strategies for saving calories or dollars this holiday season.

Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner

Are you having guests over for dinner on Thanksgiving?  Dreading the extra stress, expense and calories? Here are some helpful ideas.


Do not go overboard with variety. You do not have to have everyone’s favorite holiday food at one meal.  Do you serve mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sweet potatoes?   Do you serve two meats?  Think about eliminating some of the options.  With more variety, the more ingredients you will have to buy and store, the more serving and leftover dishes there will be and the more everyone will eat.

Take guests up on their offer to bring something. Be ready with a list of dishes you can have guests bring.   Some of your guests would love to show off their cooking skills with a salad or dessert.  Others with less time or ability could be asked to bring a dozen rolls from the bakery, a purchased dessert, or some type of beverage.

Simplify your recipes.  Every dish does not have to be fancy.  I love fresh or frozen green beans with a touch of olive oil more than green bean casserole.   I would rather have our Holiday Fruit Salad than a salad with a little fruit and lots of whipped topping or sweetened condensed milk.  I also love our Guiltless Pumpkin Pie.

Use some convenience foods. Homemade stuffing will cost less, especially if you save bread crusts or buy your bread at the day old store.   However, boxed stuffing is often on sale around the holidays and adding sautéed onions, celery and peppers is always a good substitute.

Know how many people are attending dinner. This is important so you do not end up making too much food and spending extra money. Make only as much as you need for the people that are attending unless you are deliberately planning for leftovers.  Here’s a planning guide to get you started

A couple of years ago we planned a dinner using these tips from Healthy Holiday Dinner for 8, including the recipes and shopping list.  The cost might be a little more than $30 now, but this holiday meal will not break your budget, make you fat or stressed out.

Organizing your kitchen

Organizing your kitchen will save you time and stress (any time of the year, but especially when we are doing lots of extra holiday cooking).

It is so much easier to prepare food when you do not have to hunt for tools, ingredients, or dishes.  It takes less time to prepare and clean up when you can see what is in a cupboard or drawer.

Here are a few things I try to do:

  1. Figure out how many plastic grocery bags, empty disposable containers, rubber spatulas, measuring spoons, etc. I really need.  I toss or give away the extras and do not add to my collection until I am below the number needed.
  2. If I have not used something in over a year, I probably do not need it (just like clothes in your closet). I just gained space by clearing out a top shelf of special glasses that I cannot reach and rarely use.
  3. Store things I only use once a year, such as coolers, roaster pans, grill equipment, waffle iron, and special serving dishes, in the storeroom or garage.
  4. Store things close to where they will be used and with other things they will be used with.  For example, I have baking supplies, measuring cups and spoons stored together close to the mixer and baking pans.
  5. Do not buy special gadgets that are used for only one purpose.  The Simple Dollar had a great blog on “stuff”.   More stuff equates to lost $$, time buying, cleaning, getting rid of the stuff, and you eventually need more space/bigger kitchen to store.

Organize your KitchenThink about your own kitchen, as eating habits change and children grow up. If you want more ideas for organizing your kitchen and reducing clutter, check out these websites:

Save time with an organized kitchen

BYU-Idaho Education Week:
Coping with Clutter

University of Illinois:
Dealing with Clutter