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Feeding the Family: Plan Ahead for a Less Stressful December

LAS CRUCES -- As the holidays approach and families are busy shopping, decorating, and untangling strings of lights, daily meals can get lost in the shuffle. Taking time for planning can make sitting down to good meals a little easier in December, said a New Mexico State University nutrition specialist.


"The first thing to remember is don't try to be superman or superwoman," said Martha Archuleta, with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Don't try to do it all yourself, and don't be afraid to delegate a little bit."

She said families can take a break at the end of a meal or while they are watching television to plan the meals for the next week. "Each family member should have some mealtime responsibilities," Archuleta said. "Certainly, kids can get involved in some food preparation."

By dividing up the work, no one member of the family is caught in a frenzy to keep meals on the table.

Another way to cut down on the work and the stress is to think "simple." "Especially around the holidays, we're thinking about elaborate meals. Sometimes those expectations are just a little bit unrealistic," she said.

One of Archuleta's favorite easy meals is spaghetti, salad and French bread. "You can make a spaghetti meal in a matter of minutes by adding a little hamburger and mushrooms, green peppers and carrots to some canned spaghetti sauce," she said.

Besides being tasty and colorful, the added veggies make the sauce go a little further, Archuleta explained.

Another good combination is a hearty soup or stew, some fresh fruit and a little bit of cheese, she said.

"Some other ideas for quick and easy meals include putting on a pot of beans in the morning, or even a pot roast," she said. "It really only takes a few minutes to put pot roast in the crock pot. Add some carrots and potatoes and you really have a very hearty, tasty meal."

Time also can be saved by making double batches of foods like lasagna, muffins, or yeast or dessert breads.

Planning ahead comes into play again for grocery shopping during this season. "You want to make sure you are stocked up on the staples like pasta, rice, dried beans, and canned fruits and vegetables," Archuleta said.

She also has suggestions for making the more elaborate holiday dinners easy to manage. "Oftentimes, people don't mind bringing side dishes. In fact, they enjoy it. They feel like they are contributing," she said. "If you've offered your home and you are doing the turkey or the ham, don't hesitate to ask friends and relatives to help."

Anything that makes holiday meals less stressful means more time for visiting. "If you aren't focussed just on the food, you can enjoy each other's company. I think that's the real key to the season," Archuleta said.