Livening Up 'Boring' Foods For Dinner

Looking for ways to 'liven up' foods you and your kids have gotten bored with? Here are some suggestions.

-'Bake' waffles or pancakes with the syrup in the batter. I've tried using fruit juices, but that doesn't work very well.

-When you make the batter, add blueberries, strawberries or any other kind of fruit you need to use before it goes bad. I will say that blueberries make them turn out a funny blue-grey color, but I actually think that's cool.

-When you buy pasta, get some shape other than the standard 'spaghetti'. Kids will especially like eating bow ties or spiral noodles. For even more fun, get the multi-colored kind.

-Pick one ingredient and challenge yourself to find a different way to use it for three or four nights a week. For instance, suppose I picked up some zucchini and squash. On Monday, I could lay slices out on a piece of tin foil with oil and spices drizzled over it. Enclose it in the tin foil and bake it for roughly 8 minutes, or until you hear it sizzle. On Tuesday I could cut them up into chunks, fry them in oil until they are just softened and add to pasta sauce. Wednesday I can chop them up the same way I did on Tuesday, fry them in soy sauce and add them to fried rice or in a stir-fry. On Thursday, you could bread them with egg, flour and cornmeal, bake them and serve them as 'zucchini fries.' The challenge alone will get your 'cooking-wheels' turning.

-Use different kinds of spices. For instance, you could bake your chicken in lemon juice and cover with pepper. You could also use soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, barbecue sauce, cumin, curry...the list goes on. Last week I even baked chicken in the signature sauce of a local barbecue restaurant and it was a huge hit! If you can make use of a 'local' specialty in a different way, do it!

-Instead of using 'regular' butter for your bread, use 'Italian butter'-olive oil with freshly-cracked pepper, oregano and grated parmesan cheese. This is great with a nice 'crusty' bread.

-Use a soup- or dressing-spice mix in ground beef. Ranch burgers are especially good. You can also add steak sauce (A-1 or Heinz 57) directly into the meat to give it a nice 'boost'.

-Rather than using your 'standard' tomato sauce for pasta, use a pesto or white sauce. You can get pesto in mixes or bottles at the store, or you could make it yourself with olive oil, cilantro, basil, garlic and pine nuts. You could also try a different variety of red sauce, such as arrabbiata (the word means, 'hot and angry') sauce with red chili peppers or a vodka-tomato cream sauce. No, the vodka in the sauce won't get you drunk. You can usually find bottles of these sauces in the store, but has several recipes you can use at home.

-Use food coloring. Different colors can make food fun without affecting the taste. We used to enjoy using it to make our Rice Crispie treats green or black so my dad wouldn't eat them. Apparently the colors had some sort of psychological effect that made the treats look moldy or rotten when they really weren't. You could also use things like chocolate chips and sprinkles to make pancakes more interesting.

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