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July 4th typically means outdoor barbeque celebrations and my husband’s family is no exception.  Since they live by the water and have a pool, it makes for the perfect location to fire up the grill, get some sun and enjoy the holiday.  My first year at their celebration, I was impressed with the variety of grilled options they had–burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken and Italian sausage.  It seemed like there was something for everyone; however, I then realized there were no fruits or vegetables of any kind.

Let me just say that I was probably the only person who noticed or even cared and I’m certainly no goodie-goodie when it comes to celebrations and eating.  I enjoy splurging just as much as the next person, but I also really love salads, grilled veggies and fresh fruit.  Plus, if I have these options available I tend to eat less of the higher calorie/fat choices.

From then on I made sure I brought along some kind of fruit or vegetable side dish or appetizer.  One year I made a pasta salad that included asparagus, red and yellow bell pepper slices, red onion and grape tomatoes.  Another time it was a potato salad made with a vinaigrette dressing.  I used red skinned potatoes and left the skins on.  I added fresh green beans, red onion and fresh basil.  Not only did I enjoy having the produce options at these events, but I also noticed others were enjoying them as well!  In fact, over time I started seeing guests bring things like fruit salads, vegetables with dip and green salads.

So, this July 4th, be sure to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your menu.  Corn on the cob is perfect roasted on the grill as are many veggies like summer squash and bell peppers.  You can also grill fruits like pineapple and peaches.  And, nothing says summer like watermelon!

Check out a few recent Insider’s Viewpoint posts–the first has some great tips for grilling both fruits and veggies and you’ll definitely want to try another that features a festive recipe for Spinach Strawberry Salad, which is perfect for the holiday.  Enjoy the long weekend and Happy July 4th!!

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I find that the seasons really dictate how much time I spend in the kitchen and what kind of meals I prepare for my family.  For example, you can usually find me making some veggie soup on a chilly, rainy day or roasting a chicken and some butternut squash during the month of January.  I really enjoy spending time in the kitchen during the cooler months–not so much when temps are scorching hot and the humidity is high.

Although we’re only into June, my community has already weathered a few heat waves and I’m certain more are on their way over the next few months.  Since completely avoiding the kitchen isn’t an option, I have to come up with ways to minimize my meal preparation time and make things that are appetizing during the summer months.  This is when I look to fruits and vegetables more than ever.  Meals and their prep during summer are all about quick, easy and light!

Salads, wraps, cold soups like gazpacho–they’re all perfect for warm weather and easy to prepare.  Plus, the fact that so many fruits and veggies are at their peak of flavor this season makes these options even more appealing.  Rather than heat up the kitchen by turning on the oven, I take advantage of the grill.  Aside from the obvious (chicken, burgers and steak), so many vegetables (and fruit!) can be grilled.

This is also a great opportunity to pull out my slow cooker where one pot meals can be made with ease.  For example, add cut up veggies like potatoes, carrots, onions and peas along with boneless, skinless chicken breast to the slow cooker in the morning.  Pour in a can of reduced fat cream of mushroom soup along with some extra herbs for flavor and set the cooker on low.  By that evening you’ll have a meal that is very similar to chicken pot pie without the crust.  Add a salad and some whole grain bread and you’ve got yourself dinner.  Little effort, little mess and little time spent in the kitchen.

There are two recent Insider’s Viewpoint entries, which I think are very helpful.  Gear Up for the Grill has great tips for grilling fruits and vegetables.  Fruit & Veggie Combos for Salads or Wraps has some interesting pairings you should try while so many items are in season.  Enjoy and stay cool this summer!

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As I write this my two teens are finishing up their last week of school and I’m thinking about the 2+ months of free time they’ll have on their hands.  I have a feeling a lot of moms are dealing with this same scenario and, depending on how old your child is, it can be a big challenge to make these next few months fun, but productive.  As teens, if I don’t have a "plan" I know my two will spend the entire summer loafing around, unmotivated to do anything and end up driving each other crazy or giving me more gray hair than I already have!

I learned this the hard way after spending my first summer with them.  It took about two weeks of no school to figure out they needed some kind of structure or else they’d find ways to keep themselves amused that were NOT amusing to me.    I’ve since planned out their summers so that they have a good balance of free time where they do what they want and time spent on things such as summer reading lists, reviewing last year’s lessons and helping out around the house.  They know that a typical week day during the summer they will spend their morning hours working on summer reading and doing one of the chores I’ve given them for that day.  After lunch they’ve got the afternoon to spend doing fun things, but they also know that if it’s a nice day some of that time must be spent outdoors being active.  Playing games with friends, fishing at the local pond or swimming at the community pool are things they do frequently.  I don’t allow them to spend their summers planted in front of the T.V. or video game.

Younger children take more adult supervision and many of the things I’ve already mentioned would work well if mom, dad or a caregiver were included in the activity.  Just recently, Fruits & Veggies–More Matters added some very cool do-it-yourself garden projects for children, which would be ideal for the summer months.  If you have your own veggie garden, get your kids out there to help take part in the growing process.  Not only will they learn about gardening, but they’ll be more likely to eat those veggies when they’ve been part of growing them as seen in a recent About the Buzz article.

The most important thing is to allow them to have some "down" time, but keep them active.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way–if they have some structure to their days the summer months will be more fun for both you and your kids.

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